The pressure to be productive while self-quarantining is enormous. When one viral tweet last month proclaimed that if you don’t come out of quarantine with a new skill, you “never lacked the time, you lacked the discipline,” it sparked intense online debate over what we should expect of ourselves while in lockdown. The music industry grind is taxing under the best circumstances, but for those who find relief from their communities, isolation can be mentally excruciating. Can anyone really thrive under these conditions? How do we pursue our goals while preserving our mental health during a crisis? And how do we find the motivation to create when some days it’s hard to even get out of bed?
To answer those questions, we sought the help of seven industry friends with a range of careers and personalities, but one important thing in common: A proven capacity to make the best out of any circumstance. Here’s what they had to say about pushing forward when it feels like life is holding you back.
While some creatives thrive in solitude, the lockdown isn’t an ideal working situation for everyone. “I need to be out at all times, amongst the people, the office, the streets, the nightlife,” says Roc Nation senior vp Lenny Santiago. “That’s what drives and motivates me. Solitude stagnates me.” Multi-platinum artist and songwriter Trinidad James feels similarly: “My inspiration to create comes from the way I live my life, which is on the go.”
Despite leaning toward extroversion, both Santiago and James have stayed productive by knowing themselves and managing their expectations. If you know that solitude exhausts you, don’t expect to feel exactly how you would under normal circumstances. Instead, develop realistic expectations for yourself.
Create a Destination
Knowing yourself is important, but its even more vital to know where you’re going. Atlantic Records senior vp of A&R Dallas Martin advises those who are struggling to “build out a plan.” A common theme with many successful artists is their ability to create and execute meaningful short-term habits, which ultimately helps with their long term goals. James says he stays on track by focusing on a goal, and “Knowing the light at the end of the tunnel.”
Adds independent recording artist King Elle Noir: “If you are used to going to a studio and having an engineer record you, maybe it’s time to watch a couple YouTube videos and learn how to track your own vocals, start making your own beats, etcetera. Anything you choose to do will only add to your career and build you as an artist.”
Alamo Records vp digital Drew de Leon suggests that artists stay creative by creating a 30-day personal challenge that could be unrelated to music, whether that means reading one book per week or learning a new skill, like a language. “Especially in a time when there’s no direction and where we can easily feel lost, we need to create a destination for ourselves,” he says. “Giving artists deadlines and goals is super important, so they’re constantly focused.”
Connect With Your Community
De Leon, who co-founded music networking platform The Digilogue, says that “having someone to talk to during this time is key.” While in lockdown, The Digilogue has been supporting and connecting with the music community through a variety of programs, like posting music job opportunities every Monday, highlighting one freelancer from its online directory every week, hosting the weekly Instagram Live talent show Digilogue After Dark and more.
And who better to talk to than current and potential fans? “Any talent out there looking to maintain momentum, I would highly suggest utilizing this time to build and connect with your fan base using all social media platforms,” says former Record Plant Recording Studios vice president Whitney Taber. “This is a great time to engage with existing supporters and fans along while maybe gaining some new ones.”
Adds Santiago, “What I find interesting is that this quarantine is showing us different sides of talent that we have never seen before, from Kelly Rowland’s ‘Coffee W/ Kelly’, Kevin Hart’s ‘Confessions from the Hart’, Fat Joe’s nightly insightful stories, J Erving & Troy Carter’s weekly industry zoom panels and many more. We need to keep that going!”
If creating in the lockdown feels impossible, use this time to become better prepared for your post-lockdown moves. Tabor suggests, "Reaching out and planning in detail upcoming projects, photoshoots, tours, mixtapes, merchandise drops and collaborations," she says. "My dad always told me to always remember your seven Ps: Prior Proper Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance!"
For newer and emerging artists -- who might need in-person performances and meetings to fully promote themselves -- now is a good time to accomplish anything administrative that you’ve been putting off. Connect with your attorney, manager or label administrator, clear samples and finalize any paperwork necessary to release your work. Build your website, app and socials, and consider trademarking your name and logo along with creating a company LLC. Rapper O.T. Genasis advises, “Use your time to reflect on the things that went wrong mentally, financially, physically, emotionally and fix it” for the future. “It’s always good to tighten up loose screws.”
O.T., who put together a business plan and released new single "I Look Good" during the lockdown, says he’s using his time to "Keep writing and strategize for when this is over." And James is using his time at home to prepare for performing again. "I'm ready to attack after this happens," he says. "That's why I work out. That's why I eat smart. That's all I think [about] everyday: Getting back onstage to finish my current mission."
Remember: It’s Okay To Not Be Okay
When nothing else works, sometimes you just have to give yourself a break. We are in a period of collective trauma, and some people are using every ounce of their energy and resources just to get by. If that’s you, you’re already doing the best you can and that’s more than enough.
"Everybody is in the same shoes to a certain extent, so you’re not really behind," says James, who adds that he sometimes lets himself scream out loud at home, just to release the frustration of wanting to get back to normalcy.
"It's okay to not always be okay," adds Tabor. "Take some time and focus on yourself a little extra right now we are all growing, healing, learning and discovering ourselves -- 2 Chainz voice -- 'At The Same Damn Time!' Be gentle with yourself, your expectations and especially your thoughts as the world is already hard enough on us all. You got this."
Edith Bo and Stan Greene are the founders and co-CEOS of Arketek, the music management, publishing and A&R consulting company they launched in 2017 with clients including Money Jezu$, Saint Bodhi, King Elle Noir, and The Cold Seas. While Bo previously served in artist management and A&R at Roc Nation, where her clients included Big Sean, Mustard, Hit Boy and Santigold; Greene is a multi-platinum mix engineer and record producer who has worked on projects for Rihanna, Kehlani, Snoop Dogg and more. Both are based in Los Angeles.
Stephanie Rae contributed reporting.