Okay – quick raise of hands…
How many of you spent MORE time making music during the COVID-19 quarantine??
I see those hands! Me too!!
The statistics back it up – more people have been buying and spending time with musical instruments and gear than they have in YEARS.
Even though music stores, like the one to the right, were forced to close their doors because of the pandemic, most were still able to ride out the storm through phone sales or online ordering.
Why? People had a LOT of TIME on their hands,and they wanted to do something with it.
Something positive, that would help combat (or at least distract from!) all the ills of the world outside. The endless negatives. that can really wreak havoc on hope, and simple joy.
So, despite the onslaughts, the power of music has never been more obvious and life-giving.
Let’s take a look at the face of its latest rise to relevance!
Jus’ th’ Facts, Jack!
You hardly heard this in many press releases, but the past few months of dire circumstances had a silver lining – a ubiquitous interest in music. This summer has created, in innumerable ways, a “new normal”, and for music-makers, that’s no exception.
For those new to the muse who just started during quarantine, it’s a fun study full of learning favorite songs star-posturing in front of the mirror.
For those more “experienced” (as Jimi would say!) it’s using sheltering for wood-shedding!
How do we know this?? Stories and statistics.
First, the stories: online music instrument sales have blown through the roof! “Guitar World” magazine recently reported IN THIS ARTICLE that online sales through Guitar Center have more than doubled.
And our good musical friends and gearheads at Reverb?
According to Rolling Stone in THIS ARTICLE they’ve seen searches for audio gear surge upwards of 50% over last year.
But what of my old compadres at online retailer Sweetwater? They have done so well over the last few months, it’s insane! More than double the normal amount of traffic. And, of course, that led to sales… LOTS and LOTS of sales!!
My representative, Mr. Jeffrey Green, had this to say about their recent successes during the quarantine:
“Put it this way: in our meeting last month they told us we did 9 months of projected business in only 4 months… “
Wow!!! Now THAT’S what I call a powerful surge of interest!
“The reasons are that much of our brick and mortar competition was closed for months. People have lots of time at home to surf our website. Everyone and their mother now needs to live stream, podcast, etc. so those kinds of products are flying off the shelves.
Many folks who have always wanted to learn to play guitar, or keys, or to record, are pursuing that dream while at home.”
And music shops are there to help!
Sweetwater’s CEO Chuck Surack also echoes the stats, telling Rolling Stone recently that for seven days in April, when the pandemic was spreading the worst and the lockdown was most widespread, sales were bigger than the week after 2019 Thanksgiving!
Here on Seriousgas.com we’ve seen the same kind of burgeoning interest. Which is why we write articles that tell you how to buy wisely and save money like THIS POST.
It’s clear, then, that more articles on music were read. More links clicked. More searches typed in for just the right musical alley to go down.
I guess what it comes right down to is that the world decided what we musicians already know:
“If the world’s coming to an end… I’m goin’ out PLAYING MUSIC!!”
Ray Kurzweil, Futurist and abstract Inventor, says in THIS INTERVIEW with Neil deGrasse:
“Things like music and art and poetry exist at the TOP of the Neocortical hierarchy.”
In other words, the more abstract, but meaningful, brain functions of the Neocortex are what make us the higher-functioning hominids that we are. Without them, we’d be as forward-thinking and inventive as… oh, say… the groundhog in my backyard that I’ve been trying to chase away with my tambourine!! LoL
It’s been proven over and over again that musical training improves a host of human conditions:
- Language processing
- Clarity & attention
- Enhanced memory
- Neural speed and precision
- Cultural connection
- Emotional balance & control
- Team dynamics
- Stress and anxiety reduction
- Personal fulfillment
- Discipline & problem-solving
- Task management
- Interpersonal communications
- PTSD mitigation
- Food consumption & digestion
- Exercise recovery
- Physical healing
That last one is obviously important for us during this pandemic. Hospitals and Therapists across the globe are deploying specific types and recordings of music to help patients of this virus heal.
If nothing else, music has been proven to trigger the brain into releasing chemicals that distract a body from pain. So, yes, Mary, Enya IS as good as Ibuprofen! 😉
This list could be much longer even, but I thought I’d found enough studies online by various colleges, PhDs, think tanks and medical journals to prove the point adequately. In short, if we want to optimize what our minds and skills and what we accomplish in this life, music MUST be a significant part.
So the more we engage in the moment with our ‘sound expressions’, the more skill and understanding we take on.
Probably the most avant-garde and recent cutting-edge use of music in this way you can read about IN THIS ARTICLE. It tells of a medical expert turning the COVID-19 virus into MUSIC in order to manipulate it and study it more effectively.
No surprise that a musician dreamed up that idea!!
Why is music so fun?
Why can we spend literal hours, even days, playing it and still feel like we’ve got endless ‘gas in the tank’??
Well, for one thing, I think it’s a matter of predisposition and personal inclination. My son, for example, doesn’t think practicing for his Orchestra class at high school is “fun”. To him it’s more of a chore we have to keep reminding him of.
Yet, every day he picks up my travel guitar (that I keep handy in the living room) and spends sometimes hours playing it, or the piano, for no other reason than it’s… fun.
Science says that it’s because music stimulates the brain regions that register reward & pleasure. I think that’s been obvious since the first caveman clicked rocks together and sang about how studly he was killing that Mastodon! Dinner is served!!
I recently saw an intriguing article online that parted the curtains on this topic called “7 Scientific Reasons Music is Fun“. Go READ IT HERE.
I won’t give it all away, but I will mention two new things I learned that made me more proud and thankful to be a musician than ever:
- According to neuroscientist Daniel Levitin, author of the book “This is Your Brain On Music“, scientists can place electrodes on someone’s head and actually SEE what PITCH is being played – just by looking at the brain scan activity!
- Playing, and even just listening, to music tends to use more of the human brain than most other actions. According to brain scans, music demands more of both the right and left hemispheres of the brain at the same time, forcing them to act ‘in concert’ (pun INTENDED) in order to accomplish the wonders that we end up hearing from our composer or virtuoso heroes.
Wow! I mean, just… WOW!! That’s so cool. Now I wanna see the brain scan of someone with perfect pitch. It probably looks like Picasso doing Cubism. LoL
Regardless, one thing that quarantine has brought many of us musicians back to is the sheer enjoyment of just writing and playing.
Not for a concert (since we can’t do any!), not for a recording (even staying home all day, we can’t stay in front of mics forever!), and not even for anyone else. Just for ourselves. ‘Cuz COVID gave us time. Free time. To get back to that innocent place of simple self-expression.
The place that Joni Mitchell so unforgettably described in “For The Roses“:
“Remember the days when you used to sit and
make up your tunes for love?
And pour your simple sorrow to the
soundhole on your knee?”
Or, similarly, how she described the woodwind player playing without renown in “For Free“:
“But the one man band
By the quick lunch stand
He was playing real good for free
Nobody stopped to hear him
Though he played so sweet and high
They knew he had never
Been on their T.V.
So they passed his music by… “
I was talking tonight to a good friend in New York, with whom I also worked at Sweetwater Sound years ago. Johnny Capogreco is a fantastic musician, not to mention a composer of music that expresses skill, passion, emotion, spiritual maturity, and an advanced understanding of melody, harmony and counterpoint.
He and I are HUGE fans of Genesis, so we talked about them and Phil Collins for a bit (as we always do). But then we spoke about the bands we’ve been in, songs we’ve composed and recordings we’ve made, and how we’re putting them out for the world to hear.
Whenever a call with Johnny ends, we both walk away energized about music! About the possibilities! And about what a total (not-always-so-serious!) GAS it is to share the magic of composing, and performing, pieces that inspire us to the core.
What’s obvious is that we absolutely LOVE making music. It thrills us; inspires us; it fulfills all we are and reflects all we hope to be.
In other words…
IT’S SO MUCH FUN!!!
Know what I mean, jelly bean? 😉
It feels good to learn something, doesn’t it? Empowering yourself by expanding your own interior borders and growing your skills, potential and understanding… it makes us feel like we’re improving ourselves.
And we are!!
Learning music has yet another incredibly effect on humans – it makes you… HAPPY!
As I write this, the radio is playing “Happy” by Pharrell. I still remember learning that tune on sax to play for a prelude for a show.
It’s not often that you see a sax player SMILING while they play; the embouchure typically doesn’t allow it. But I WAS! Couldn’t help it… that song is so dang uplifting and infectious!!
That’s the kind of joy that comes to people first learning and instrument and finally being able to play something that, up to that point, was just a magical dream.
And for those of us that have played for years? Why do we still learn on our instruments? Why is music a universe that is ever-expanding inside of us??
I know you’ll “get it” when I say: “How COULD we ever put music down??!!!”
We continue to learn, to practice, to wood-shed, to push the boundaries of our musical understanding… not because some inner teacher is breathing down our neck – it’s because we CAN’T NOT do it! And we absolutely… LOVE IT!!!
Am I right? Or am I right? 😉
We may not know why, but we all know that music has a force, a power, a property, that somehow just uplifts, restores and renews…
But it’s not only for the spirit, or mood. It’s been known to actually promote real physical healing, the world over.
Did you know that it’s common for aged victims of Alzheimer’s Disease, who consistently can’t even recognize their own family members, to be able to nonetheless sing the lyrics and nail the melodies of favorite tunes from their younger days?!
Amazing, isn’t it?
All throughout history this power has been shown:
- In the Renaissance, anyone sick was encouraged to study art and to play music, because the ensuing improvement to their “humours” would be swift and impressive.
- The ancient Greeks also promoted music as therapeutic. To them, the importance of the positive state of mind music promotes was an effective cure, or at least a safe, hopeful treatment, to any physical disease.
- And when Henry VIII went into quarantine as the Plague approached England, who did he choose to be one of the FIVE people sheltering in place with him?? Why, his organ player, of course!
Real stories like this are why, even to this day, you can get a degree in “Music Therapy” from most universities across the globe, a scholarly discipline that was first established in the late 1800s.
Now our modern world faces assaults like never before from viruses and pandemics that are severe in their lethality. Whether natural or conjured unwisely from our own labs is beside the point – they kill!
But at the same time, we have more instruments than ever, and a more widespread vehicle for music dispersion and sharing than ever before in history – the Internet!
Thus, more than ever, music, and we as musicians, can be a balm, a lifter of spirits, an agent of healing…
A reason to fight… to live.
The power still works.
The power still heals.
The power still ROCKS!
Comfort in Community
Did you see the videos of all those musicians in Milan, Italy, singing, or playing, or both, on their balconies during the pandemic quarantine??
It was epically cool. It was both social and musical DEFIANCE at the same time – a way to turn creative LIGHT against the invading darkness of a virus that had so shut down their city and hundreds of others across the globe.
If you missed it, WATCH THIS!
There will always be musicians who want to shred for the glory it brings them. We can all smell it immediately – the “look at ME” syndrome.
But the COVID quarantine happily brought out something better from our midst: musicians of skill who put community before virtuosity.
These were our peers who prioritized how to GIVE to people through their music, instead of how they could GET something from it.
A great example from my local region of Detroit is renowned musician and prolific songwriter Duane Harlick, who took to Facebook time and again to share his songs as a means of lifting spirits during our shared ‘trying time’.
On a more national level, NPR took their popular “Tiny Desk Concerts” series and transformed it into a more quarantine-friendly “Tiny Desk HOME Concerts” series!
THIS PERFORMANCE by artist Kirby not only made us smile with her sunny soul singing… I think she shone some serious amounts of Vitamin D from the vivid vibrance of her JUMP SUIT and WALLPAPER!!! LoL
An finally, lest we forget our Classical brothers & sisters… do yourself a favor and WATCH THIS EPIC PERFORMANCE of the “Socially Distant Orchestra” performing music from the “Avengers” movie series.
To be able to get this many people to record so many parts in such a cohesive, dynamics-sensitive and timing-precise way?? It’s simply astounding.
Way to go, S.D.O.!!!!
Who knows how long it will take for us musicians to finally be able to actually perform in front of real, live humans again?! Might be months. Might be years. After the 2020 we’ve had so far, nothing would surprise me.
But in the meantime, it’s good to know that there’s plenty of ways left to still REACH our audiences, our super fans… those who love us and would jump at the chance to see and hear our music… live or online.
After all, it’s how our songs MOVE a community of listeners that really stands the test of time… or quarantine!
For all the beautiful ways that musicians are gifting the world with some unforgettably precious moments & stellar performances, the reality also exists that making a living at this thing we love has been made exponentially harder due to the pandemic.
The uncertainty about when we can finally be free of its invisible assault is made all the more aggravating because many earning streams have basically dried up and blown away… at least for the moment. Things like:
- Music sales
- Music streams
- Ads on music channels
- Artist concerts
- Music festivals
- Merchendise booths
- Music films
- New album releases
- Music licensing
The list is actually longer than this, but the point is clear: the old models of a thriving music career are out the window… like a bad bat out of a Wuhan cave.
Aaah, but we music-makers are an unflappable lot, aren’t we?! No doesn’t mean no. It just means… PIVOT. Switch to something different. Find another way.
And so we have. Though it’s still early in the plan, many of us are moving our music online in unprecedented ways.
YouTube, for example, is exploding with new music! Did you see all the “at home” concerts that were performed? And still are?!
That forum is a great way to showcase your creativity. I mean, it is the 2nd most visited search site besides Google. I think we need to all be part of that traffic. I mean… if the Rolling Stones thinks it’s important… so should we!!
The more this happens, the more sites will be monetized and songwriters and performers can have an income stream that continues whether they’re touring or not.
And the Internet, unlike us, keeps playing 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, until it goes away (which I don’t think is anytime soon)!
Also, government and some big business enterprises have heard our cries for help and has pivoted to address our financial plight: Relief Funds for musicians have been implemented and already have started to be distributed to full-time laborers in our field.
Granted, these funds won’t reach everyone wielding a guitar, but at least there’s a real recognition by leaders in our country that music matters, and needs a helping hand when illness shuts the door to our livelihood.
As we all change direction, and look for new potentials and ways to monetize our efforts, we shall see novel methods created that will take us onward to higher heights. Don’t stop believin’, as Steve sang, and don’t stop trying new ways to broaden your outreach and product lines.
Try Fiverr. Try BandCamp. Try KickStarter. Try social media streams.
And, hey, if we must… there’s always BUSKING! 😉
There’re many ways to pivot to profits, especially if you keep consulting music business articles to hear the latest trends that work.
But, hey, if you need a day job to hold you up for a while, that’s not the end of the world.
Just make sure it pays you enough to buy NEW GEAR!!! 😉
The power of music that we wield as its purveyors is stronger than ever. Few things can rival the staying power of a good song.
And many new students have joined our merry band to taste the potent potion of music’s uplifting elixir – the alchemy of sound, tone and rhythm!!
So let’s lead those myriad new quarantine students, by being the best musicians possible through this pandemic:
Practice while sheltering. You’ll be a better performer.
Compose your BEST works ever. Your audience will notice.
Pivot your profits. You’ll be better at business.
Educate yourself. You’ll have a broader understanding.
And give to your community. You’ll be a better person.
Mixing all these ingredients together in the cauldron of potential can’t help but produce a compelling, commanding influence upon all who get the chance to hear. Commit to keep releasing your material… regardless of the detours, curve balls or barriers.
We WILL get through this. We WILL be better for it. And the whole world will give a standing ovation… to the power!
Now, go… make… (FUN) sounds!!