We’re all wondering how life will adjust to the current global crisis surrounding the spread of the coronavirus. Seven cases were reported in my county over the last few days. Until then, people didn’t seem particularly concerned locally. The stores still had a bit of toilet paper on the shelves. Now, schools are closing, events are cancelled, and only time will tell what the next few weeks or months will look like. Those who were previously brushing off concern about the virus are now waking up to the fact that precautions are required, especially to protect our most vulnerable community members - older folks, people dealing with chronic illnesses or compromised immune systems, the homeless, and in the US, people without any health insurance or the funds to afford an extended hospital stay.
The effects of widespread disease may cripple the economies of many countries as the world deals with life in survival mode for a while. Unfortunately, musicians will be one of the careers impacted the most by the need to “social distance” and “self isolate,” not to mention the fact that the arts rely on people who have at least some disposable income. Many musicians are scrambling to figure out how they’ll be able to pay rent, buy food, and keep up with health insurance premiums, often a month-to-month reality in the best of times. Where will the money come from if all our concerts and gigs are cancelled for the next few weeks or months? If our students won’t be able to attend their lessons? If recording studio sessions and weddings we’re booked to play must be postponed?
As talk of concert cancellations started rolling into my inbox this week, I felt a bit panicky at first, then took a step back, a deep breath, and started brainstorming. Soon I started feeling increasingly hopeful about the foreseeable future, even though it might not include going on the tours or playing the events that I’d booked. By nature, musicians must be versatile, creative, and problem-solving individuals. We hone these qualities on stage, in rehearsal, in the practice room, with our students, and on tour. Unexpected circumstances arise in our work all the time. As they say, “the show must go on.” Though many or most of our actual shows might not be happening in the near future, this situation will force musicians to diversify our income streams, come together (in cyber-land at least), and help each other recognize new ways to share our music and stay afloat.
To start us off, I’m sharing my morning brainstorm, my list of what I plan to spend my time doing in the coming weeks or months, to further my career or to help ease the burden of loss wages due to cancelled performances. The list is in no particular order. Please share this page with your musical community and let me know if you have any ideas to add. I imagine I’ll be adding to my list in the coming days and weeks...
- Record a new CD: It’s been over a year since the last one, so this one’s been on my mind for a while. Since we’re able to record at home, all we really need is time, which the COVID-19 situation is certainly allowing for!
- Promote merchandise online: Let’s face it, streaming platforms are not helping musicians make a living in the best of times. Sure, someone might hear your song on Spotify and enjoy it enough to visit your website where they buy ticket to the show they see you’re playing in their area in a few months, or maybe a T-shirt, but that’s a huge maybe. It will take literally 2500 plays on Spotify to make as much money as one CD sale (figuring that the CD sells for $15 and Spotify pays .006 cents per play). It’s a great time to educate your fans about that reality and encourage them to help you keep going by supporting your online merch store. When people approach me at the CD table, asking if they can find me on a streaming platform I can often find a non-threatening way to let them know these facts, and almost all of them are surprised and disheartened. Assume that most of your fans think the $10 they pay for their music streaming service goes right to you and go from there. I think sites like Patreon have a lot of potential to keep artists afloat right now as well.
- Revive my podcast: The Violin Geek Podcast had a very successful run for several years. Though a labor of love, it was a great way to share my knowledge and market other things I do, particularly my violin and viola lessons on Skype and online courses. I did start getting contacted by advertisers towards the end, and I think it could have turned into a viable income stream on it’s own as well. Unfortunately, I started being plagued by tech issues with my RSS feed, then had some hackers take me down, and finally, with all that on top of touring and teaching keeping me quite busy, decided to shelve it for a while. It would be nice to finally get back to this. I enjoyed sharing my daily discoveries, tips, and tricks, and interviewing inspiring musicians. Let me know if you have a topic to suggest or want to recommend someone for me to interview.
- Finish writing my books: I have two books in the works, one autobiographical and one on violin and viola technique and practice. I really just need some time at home to finish them and then would be able to sell these online and at future shows. Not everyone is a writer, but I know that many of my musician friends are talented in areas other than performing and could brainstorm ideas for products they could sell online for now and their shows eventually, such as artwork and greeting cards, jewelry, handcrafts, etc. Let me know if you’d like to be notified about when my books might be published.
- Create new online violin/viola courses: I created a very popular online course “Complete Vibrato Mastery” back in 2015 and now with over 1600 online students, I continue to enjoy monthly income from new signups but with very little marketing effort from my part at this point. It’s really the only part of my career that largely runs itself. I have a growing list of new violin/viola and general music topics to create courses for and again, have just needed the time to create the course outlines and record the videos (which I’m set up to do at home). Let me know if you’d like to be notified about when these might be published, want to add a topic to my list, or if you have questions about how to go about creating your own music course. Plant a garden: We’ve had a garden box ready to go but never seem to stay home long enough to plant and tend to it. To be able to pick veggies right from the yard would help save money and minimize spreading contagions by not needing to go to the grocery store as often. Now to figure out what grows the fastest...
- Finish my sheet music book of original songs: Another half finished project, folks have asked for sheet music of some of my original compositions and because I compose manually, I’ve needed time to enter them into my notation program, which can be tedious. This is is a project that all the songwriters and composers out there could consider as well. Besides selling such things to fans and students, it could help promote our songs to other artists who might decide to record some of our songs themselves. Let me know if you’d like to be notified about when my sheet music book might be published.
- Redo my websites: I’m always updating little things, but a general spruce up is always nice. This one is not high on my list compared to most other things here, but since I create and manage all the websites I own it costs me nothing other than time to rework layouts, colors, fonts, etc. For musicians out there who hired someone to create and maintain their site, maybe it’s a good time to start learning about how to create a website on your own. There are many tools out there that are user friendly and don’t require any coding knowledge.
- Online lessons and workshops: I’m even more grateful right now that 95% of my violin, viola, and cello students already take their lessons online via Skype, FaceTime, or Zoom. My teaching constitutes a large percentage of my income already and if I was relying on gigs and touring alone I’d probably be completely freaked out right now. In this respect, I’m better positioned than many of my colleagues to weather this time. That said, this might give me the impetus to explore some new online teaching options. If this COVID-19 situation drags on for months, isolated or quarantined people will eventually burn out on watching Netflix and many might decide they want to take up an instrument. Unfortunately, some might not have the funds to afford one-on-one lessons. I’ve wanted to explore the potential of group online lessons for a long time, as well as one time online workshops focusing on specific topics. Let me know if you’re interested in taking an online group class or workshop with me, have a topic in mind for a workshop, and also if you’d like to explore one-on-one violin, viola, or fiddle lessons. I have musician colleagues also currently looking for Skype students on guitar, mandolin, bass, harmonica, dobro, banjo, songwriting, and other instruments, so please be in touch if you’re interested in taking lessons on one of these other instruments and I’ll put you in contact with the teachers I know. Feel free to be in touch as well if you want to be included in my list of Skype teacher referrals.
- Online concerts: I think it’s time to revive ConcertWindow (which sadly shut down in 2019) and the idea of online concerts. Facebook and Instagram live concerts have a lot of potential. People will probably be spending even more time on social media and with a PayPal, Venmo, Apple Pay, or Zelle link available, can tip musicians as they scroll by. Especially if musicians have little else to do right now, frequent scheduled as well as spontaneous online concerts could add up to income that actually amounts to something. These can be great ways to still perform and connect with fans, brighten someone’s day, share new material, plug future tours we hope can still happen, your online merch store, the online lessons you are offering, etc.
- Write new songs: I find boredom underrated. It’s great for songwriting. Almost required in my experience. Space. Time. Reflection. We’ll have plenty of that right now as long as we don’t let ourselves just get sucked into Netflix, social media, or reading too many scary news stories.
- Remote recording sessions: I occasionally get asked to record a violin or viola track remotely for someone outside my area, but I’d love for this to happen more frequently! I’m set up with good mics and software at home and happy to create parts from scratch, perform from sheet music already created, or forge a part from the songwriter or artist’s rough ideas. I also have colleagues available to remotely record guitar (acoustic, electric, slide), bass, drums and percussion, mandolin, cello, dobro, harmonica, banjo, and other instruments. Please be in touch if you want to talk about your recording project or if you’re a musician wanting to be included on my referral list of those set up to do remote recording sessions. Sync licensing/movie and TV placements: I’ve never explored this aspect of the music industry, but people often comment that they can imagine some of my songs in the movies or on a TV show. While it’s likely that the film industry will be hit by this pandemic (I hear that Tom Hanks and his wife have unfortunately just been diagnosed - get well guys!), now may be a great time to start laying the groundwork, researching projects, identifying songs that might have this potential, and making connections with music supervisors (via email or phone call of course).
- Set specific practice goals - focus on a technique or tackle more difficult repertoire: I do this already, keeping a daily practice log and balancing technical work with repertoire, but some weeks are busy and my practice focused on just maintaining my chops and current repertoire rather than making any particular strides. There are a few pieces I’ve never played that I’d love to tackle, like the Sibelius Violin Concerto. With more time to practice on the horizon I’ll be able to give such pieces the focus they require.
- Explore a musical genre more in depth: I’ve dabbled in a lot of genres outside of Classical music over the years, most notably the Celtic flavors, but would love to explore a few genres more in depth, like Bluegrass, Brazilian Choro, and Jazz. Maybe I’ll turn the tables and take a few Skype lessons myself?
- Learn to make sourdough and pickled veggies: These are the two things I enjoy fresh, but especially if they become difficult to get, it would be nice to learn how to make sourdough at home and preserve the veggies I grow or buy. If anyone out there is an expert, particularly in the sourdough department, let me know! Maybe we can trade Skype lessons?
- New language learning: I’ve been learning French through online apps, mostly Duolingo, for a few years, and spend some time brushing up on the German I learned in high school now and then. I’m reaching the point where I can read and understand relatively well in both languages, but have a hard time speaking confidently or understanding spoken French especially unless it’s really really slow. The resources I’ve used just don’t focus on these aspects as much as they do reading and writing. We have tours booked in Canada this Summer and Fall and a touring in Europe this Fall, including France and Germany (all of which may or may not happen of course). Regardless, I’m looking forward to having more time to practice listening and speaking these languages, or maybe diving into a few new ones (Spanish is also on my list). Besides being able to more easily navigate foreign countries while touring, I sometimes get Skype violin or viola students in these countries and would love to be able to converse with them in their own language someday. If anyone out there is a native or fluent speaker, have the patience to speak slowly, and maybe at least a bit of teaching experience, let me know! Maybe we can trade lessons via Skype?
Other elements I already include in my daily routine which might help musicians and other community members dealing with anxiety right now are:
- Daily exercise: Just because we’re told to “stay home” doesn’t mean we have to literally sit on the couch. I’m fortunate to live in a rural area near hiking trails and can walk for miles right from my front door. As long as you’re not sick, take advantage of the fresh air and the immune benefits of exercise. I rarely see anyone on my hikes and plan to continue them assuming I stay well. For those in cities and needing to spend most of their time indoors, consider fitness apps and online video classes. I personally enjoy the ones described here as well as a number of HIIT and 7-minute workout apps.
- Meditation: I’ve dabbled in meditation since I was a teenager (gotta love that California hippie upbringing), but I committed myself to a daily practice 2.5 years ago and the effects are obvious, especially in these times of crisis. Cultivating mindfulness and awareness of the present on a daily basis has allowed me to control my reactions more easily, talk myself down when worries start taking over, and I’ve noted how much easier it feels to take the news in stride. Any form of solo meditation or prayer is a great practice right now, and will only help you stay more calm, focused, and present when we can all get back out there and start performing again. I love the Insight Timer app. It’s free and hosts guided meditations from teachers all around the world. Lately I’ve been checking out some of the immune boosting meditations people have been uploading. Other meditation practices I enjoy are outlined towards the bottom here.
- Healthy food and immune boosting supplements: While we might gravitate towards junk food and sweets when we’re stressed, we need to do the opposite right now to keep our immune systems strong and healthy. Load up on veggies, fruits, whole grains, beans, healthy proteins and fats, and drink lots of water. I start my day with 44 ounces of water and it really sets me for the day, feeling more hydrated in my joints and clear in my head. I’m thinking about cutting up and freezing some veggies and fruits in case we have to quarantine at home at any point before this is all over. We also need to limit our intake of alcohol, processed foods, and sugar. It’s not a bad idea to take a multi-vitamin to ensure you’re getting all the nutrients you need, as well as extra vitamin C, zinc, and vitamin D if you’re not able to get as much sunshine. I also enjoy products and teas containing elderberry, oregano oil, grapefruit seed extract, and astragalus. While I’m allergic to typical grocery store mushrooms, I’m fascinated by the healing potential of medicinal mushrooms (not talking psychedelics here) and the work of Paul Stamets. About a month ago I decided to buy a bottle of Host Defense “Daily Immune Support” which contains the extract of seven medicinal mushrooms. I started with a couple of drops per day and didn’t have any adverse reactions. After a week of a couple drops I increased to five drops. Then a bit more. Now I’m up to the recommended daily dose and still have had no allergy issues. Hmmm... Finally, I always have Thieves Oil on hand, often putting a few drops inside my N99 mask and wearing it when I have to be near people who are coughing or sniffling, like on planes. The silver lining of this coronavirus situation might be that it helps us all wake up, wash our hands more frequently, and stay home in the future when we’re sick, even if it’s “just” a cold or the flu.
Thanks for reading! I hope I’ve given you some ideas for how to spend this time, keep your career afloat, and some thoughts to pass along. We’re all in this together and even in isolation we can get creative and find ways to support and protect each other.