Productivity, musical creativity and the return of concerts: how musicians are dealing with Coronavirus lock down restrictions

Local Orange County talent Spendtime Palace unwinding after a rigorous guitar solo. (Monica Grider/Courtesy)

Despite what the slew of cancelled concerts would lead you to believe music is still alive and well online as musicians keep up with creative pursuits solely at home. Practice strays away from the studio and into the sound studio-made kitchen as artists tackle keeping up with their songwriting and beat-making while confined to the pastel whites of their home walls.

Musical artists coming out with new material during this age of coronavirus quarantining is nothing new. Rapper Travis Scott staged a virtual concert inside Fortnite, an online multiplayer battle-royale game, and songwriter Fiona Apple released her new album “Fetch the Bolt Cutters” with the attached video message containing the words “happy quarantine.”

When tough times come about, musicians adapt to creating work by whatever means even if tours for said work to be shown are cancelled or a physical audience is ripped from them. Judging by myriad musicians’ social media accounts, the guitar is not so easily neglected a chord and the piano is longing to have a note struck into it.

Singer-songwriter Sarah Jane based out of Sydney, Australia is a YouTuber of 250,000 subscribers currently working on her sophomore album for both her band The Violet Stones and her solo efforts. Having released her debut solo album in 2019 titled “Absence,” Jane is working towards her second album coming June or July of this year while staying on top of production for the album and keeping in touch with her amassed audience.

“There’s an upside to being in lockdown as I’ve had more time to focus on recording,” Jane said. “When I have shows booked it’s kind of hard to find time to work on both so it’s sort of a good thing. I think the most important thing is getting my music out there so I’ve definitely stayed productive with the production of my records.”

With in-person shows being substituted for livestreaming events on sites like Twitch, Instagram and YouTube, the connection between fans and artists becomes increasingly important as interaction is confined to the eyes behind either screen. Livestreams act as a stand in to provide the connection sought at a show, but from home where performing music is at the forefront even if the moshing is now a nonfactor. 

“I have done one live stream on instagram a couple of weeks ago and I think it went alright,” Jane said. “In regards to when I think shows will be returning, I don’t think anyone really knows as this pandemic is very unpredictable and nobody really knows what the future will hold.”

Pursuing music production at home becomes more manageable thanks to services like FruityLoops Studio that streamline beat-making in the format of a digital audio workstation. It comes equipped with a suite for producing any manner of song-making all at home offering multi-core effects and mixing interfaces.

Musician Andrew Russel seeks better production methods while experimenting at home during this time. Through collaborative efforts with other artists rapping on his beats, Russel aims to eventually put out his own LP record showcasing the fruit of his labor while tinkering away at home due to COVID-19 restrictions.

“I wanna develop my own style and have something that sounds unequivocally like me, as in where Kanye raps, and you know it’s him, I want that for me,” Russel said. “For as horrible of a situation as this is, it’s allowed me to flourish as an artist developing a better work ethic in my art seeing improvement vastly.”

Russel is not as informed on his local scene in Liberty, New York as people are working just as he is on musical endeavors, but the vocalizing of these efforts aren’t heard as widely in the tighter counties of the inner city. 

By not being able to get out and collaborate in person, the communication is delegated entirely to Facebook Messenger as a means to communicate with link sharing conducted through Google Drive to pass around newer iterations of a given beat Russel has been working on.

What happens even when communication isn’t limited by being restrained to just your home? When a network of people is present to work off of in having further ambitions for your own music production at home, it can accelerate the benefits quarantine provides in isolated skill improvement rather than solely acting as a detriment.

Daniel Burnscult, figurehead of Long Beach band Father Electricity and side project Soap, sees lockdown as just a new way to loosen the leash on his creativity rather than let it consume him. To Burnscult, the limitations are what maximizes productivity as, even though the suppression of usual habits and outreach is palpable, it presents new ways to pursue creativity under a different guise.

“With all the free time, as long as I’ve been able to self motivate, the development in my production skills has been accelerated by leagues and miles in many ways,” Burnscult said. “It’s funny because you know you’re limited, but you have to work with those limitations. There’s no other option because you don’t have other people to pitch in.”

Lacking in the people department, especially when it comes to performing new work, this is always an auxiliary luxury according to Burnscult. Burnscult recognizes how egregious it may sound, but he has always found the pursuit of the work more compelling than performing it live meaning shows aren’t wholly missed by him.

Two albums have finished production under Burncult at this time. “Forced reflection” is considered a great aspect of this quarantine to him, offering introspection on musical efforts and taking into account the real strengths of your skills.

“I think a lot of people complain that it’s hard to keep inspired to write while you aren’t really ‘living a life,’ and I recommend reading a book or two, or getting into some online arguments,” Bursncult said. “Keeps things fresh.”

Not everyone in the Orange County music scene may share Burnscult’s sentiments since the performance aspect of shows play a vital role in revenue sourcing and keeping up appearances on social media and in person. Shows are sorely missed by numerous social media accounts such as AltAngeles and ClubQuarantine existing solely to host quarantine centric livestreams for local artists.

Show regular Bree Saenz, who is working on singing and keeping up on songwriting at home in the meantime as she just recently graduated Vanguard University,  sees the work of others as fuel to keep tackling her own pursuits. Whether it’s between writing for her in-the-works band Buzzkill or polishing up her singing, Saenz tries to find time among her busy two jobs work schedule and recently freed-up schooling.

“I’ve seen a lot of people producing a lot of music during this time so people being proactive with their music pursuits is making me a little more active,” Saenz said. “I don’t have a lot of time normally to sing and complete stuff so I see this time as an opportunity to have fun with the process and continue my usual creativity.”

While sad that concerts won’t be returning this year, Saenz will be working in hopes to make it out next year and travel by the time shows will be a regular again as school time has not allotted her much ability to travel beyond Orange County to see bands she normally can’t see.

“Instagram is the best way to stay entertained with music during this quarantine as I follow accounts like AltAngeles who keep us updated on their ‘New Music Fridays’ features to stay tuned on the new music made during quarantine,” Saenz said.

Technology is the tool that separates this quarantine from being an absolute disaster. It’s reliable and manages to keep masses in the loop all from the safety of their homes with Saenz noting that Spotify’s “Discover Weekly” feature alone has saved her boredom and lacking inspiration many times so far.

Private rapper Jesse Validivia talked about how quarantining is supplemented under the cushion that is music streaming and the ambitions of the past. Efforts Valdivia has already made strides in previously have carried over into getting through this time, allowing him to rest on his contributions to his rapping game rather than fretting wasted potential.

“I used to go to the studio in Los Angeles I used, but now it’s closed due to quarantine,” Valdivia said. “I don’t have a recording studio at home so instead I jot down new verses when a rap comes to mind about a subject I’m impassioned by and I go from there on storing these ideas for later use.”

The largest issue facing many musicians and workers at this time is the security of keeping a job and maintaining a financial blanket. Valdivia’s inspirations keep him on track through the strain that is lowered job opportunities for his drone gigs, even if the concern for staying healthy financially outweighs his passion at times.

“Old school hip-hop and funk are what I primarily listen to and during this time it helps even more on keeping a positive outlook on the situation,” Valdivia said. “LL Cool J and Junior Mafia are what initially kicked me on this trend of songwriting, but this time makes it so I don’t write as much as I used to. I am more focused in furthering my own goals monetarily right now with work over writing which used to come to me every week, but for now it comes in waves and, when it does, it’s highly rewarding.”

Monica Grider, guitarist and songwriter for her own private pursuits and aforementioned band Buzzkill, provided an outlook that the quarantine is restrictive on time spent with her bandmates in real life practicing. Without the in person practice to rely on, home endeavors taken in strengthening her melody making have become the forefront of Grider’s practice routine.

“Quarantine has impacted my music production in terms of not physically being able to practice with my band, but it’s also been time that’s pushed me to be more productive and focus on projects I previously had no time for,” Grider said.

Similar to Burnscult, Grider sees this time as a creative challenge to solve with all the pieces in their place waiting to be sorted among the now scattered plans. Options may be limited, but time remains a constant in picking a project back up that had been ditched.

“I wouldn’t say this time is bad for my productivity, but I do think it stunted potential growth and discovery for my band since local shows are on hold,” Grider said. “I’ve come up with a few new melodies and I’ve been writing lyrics constantly throughout these days, practicing the new material I come up with as I go.”

The walls quarantine erects are tackled in numerous ways by a range of different musicians. Coronavirus concerns may not let up anytime soon, but the creative pursuits of artists will trudge on as if the lockdown never occurred in the first place.

Bands may not be able to practice, shows have been more or less totally cancelled outside of the livestreamed variety and tours are nothing more than a dream. Musicians must work with restraints as always and this situation presented is no different. 

The world over is not halted and neither will the melodies strummed through a prospective guitar, musicians will find the tune and continue powering on.