Written in collaboration with LUU’s BandSoc
Without a doubt, now is one of the most challenging times to be a creative. But whereas poets, illustrators and authors can soldier on with a pen and paper, musicians have had to face many more barriers during the pandemic. From the closure of practice spaces to the struggles of accessing equipment to, of course, the complete cancellation of live music events, singers, songwriters and instrumentalists alike have been having a rough time.
But is there a silver lining for budding artists trying to make a start in a musical landscape ravaged by COVID-19? Max Robinson, a singer-songwriter from Hertfordshire, seems to think so.
“Funnily enough, during lockdown I have taken off with my output and my creativity because I never would have had this time to dedicate to my music,” Max tells me. “I am 19, in the summer I would have been out with my mates or going interrailing but obviously, being stuck at home, I’ve had the time to make this EP which I am really proud of. The pandemic has been horrible for so many reasons but for me in a way it’s been a blessing in disguise for my musical career.
Max also claims that the loneliness of self-isolation has undoubtedly affected the mood of the music he has recently written: “You are going through a break-up but you are also all alone at the same time. It probably made it worse not being able to go out and see people, so I poured all of my life at the time into the music. The emotions were amplified because it was my only outlet.”
Although, interestingly enough, other songwriters have leaned more into eccentricity as a result of lockdown lethargy like Joe Norris, the lead singer of indie-pop duo Marsupial Soup. “We have written our most stupid songs during this pandemic like our song about a guy who finds something in a hot tub then goes on an adventure; it’s really strange,” he tells me. “I feel we have this absurd aspect coming in because we are bored and want to write something funny.”
Yet, for other musicians like Lazy Snacks bassist, Tom Brown, COVID-19 has all but stunted their creativity. “I have definitely been having a bit of a block. There is not much to write about because the world is static at the minute.”
What’s more, government restrictions on indoor meetings have made collaborative songwriting sessions practically impossible. “With my bands we all usually write together. We tried to write at one point where we all recorded each part – the bass, the drums, the vocals – separately but it just didn’t work out at all,” says Tom. “That style of writing we have all got to be in the room together, throwing stuff around.”
Considering the extent to which coronavirus restrictions have affected the way artists write and record music, it is not surprising that sonically many musicians have found themselves taking a new direction. “We have not had access to the ability to record live drums or anything so that has influenced our songwriting in a sense,” Joe explains. “We have heavily gone towards a more electronic kind of Glass Animals vibe of more tightly-produced stuff. That’s probably an effect of the lockdown.”
Songwriting is one thing, but what about the music scene itself? How have artists been coping without the mosh pits, encores, and post-gig pub chats?
“Meeting other musicians is one of the things I miss the most,” confesses Joe. “That’s one of the best ways to promote yourself when you are a small band, just linking up with other musicians and talk to them. You end up piggy backing on each other’s fanbases, however big or small they may be.”
But for Tom, it’s all about the gigs themselves. “Going out to any live event is the thing I miss the most. I miss the community. It’s nice when you go somewhere and there is 50-100 people who all like the same thing and are there for the same reason.”
Clearly live music events are a big miss for any artist, but there seem to be just as deep a yearning to be on-stage as there is to be behind the barrier. Though, unfortunately, the outlook for being able to pencil a booking into their calendar seems bleak for these musicians, as Joe explains:
“One of the ways the pandemic had affected small bands in a way that people don’t realise is that it’s really hard to get anything booked because promoters can’t afford to take a chance on you whereas with a big band you are a lot more likely to get a gig booked in the summer.”
When I mention the possibility of the return of socially-distanced events, Joe has his apprehensions. “Our last gig was in September in Newcastle and it was a socially-distanced gig. It was really fun but also weird and kind of dystopian. We are on stage and everything was just sat at different table looking at you. No one is dancing or anything so it’s really hard to get any kind of atmosphere going,” he says. “By the end of it everyone was just pissed anyway so the audience was like ‘fuck social-distancing’. I feel like gigs and social distancing don’t work very well together.”
In lieu of the close-contact madness of concert, the past year has seen a sudden rise in livestreaming. Although it can never quite capture the real thing, these internet gigs somewhat satisfy a craving for live performance and it’s the best promoters can do given the current situation. As an artist that has taken part in a livestream, Joe reminisces about how odd yet enjoyable the experience was for him.
“It’s kind of funny because we had a 100 people watching but you are just sat in your room just getting pissed and playing music so it’s kind of bizarre,” he explains. “Also, I was weirded out by how nervous I was beforehand; it was kind of scary. If you fuck it up it’s there online forever whereas when you play normal live shows you can mess up however you want.”
The nature of the pandemic has also thrown a spanner at the way artist can release their music. For Max, he has had to become more creative with publicising his songs on the internet.
“Obviously, I can’t do gigs to promote it and everything is online so I’m trying to find ways to engage people on social media. You don’t want to nag people so it’s about finding new content that people will enjoy which will help promote my music,” he says. “A big part of that is playlisting, trying to get on to playlist on Spotify and trying to give your music the best possible chance to be selected by the editors. You have got to build that hype but it’s hard doing that all online and staying motivated as well.”
But it is undeniable that a pandemic 15-20 years ago would look very different to the one we find ourselves in today, aided (or arguably hindered) by the age of social media. Max tells me that he feels fortunate to have access to such a vast online space as a musician.
“In a way we are so lucky that we have had a pandemic in a world where we can connect with social media. I’ve got an opportunity to capitalise on this in a way that’s never been able to be done before because everyone is glued to their phones.” However, this does come with a caveat, as he explains: “In a way that makes it more competitive to because everyone is at home creating music and something like 40000 songs are uploaded to Spotify every day which is increasing all the time.”
Overall, the artists I have spoken to really do represent a mixed bag. Some are plagued with creative blocks, equipment shortages and lack of practice space whereas others have flourished with so much time on their hands and have found a way to make the most of an era where everyone is glued to their phones. Though creatives of all forms are indisputably desperate to regain some sense of normality, for the most part, as Max summarises, this past year has been a chance to pause, take stock and focus on self-development.
“The biggest priority for every songwriter and musician this past year has been to just grow.”
Max’s EP ‘Obvious’ will be out in March and you can find him on Instagram @maxrobinsonmusic
You can find Tom’s band Lazy Snacks on Spotify or on Instagram @thelazysnacksofficial
Joe’s band, Marsupial Soup, can be found on Facebook and also Instagram at @marsupial__soup
Cover image: Marsupial Soup
All images provided courtesy of the artists