For myself and many other independent artists, the pandemic and resulting lockdown hit hard. There was a definite parallel between the breakdown of the live industry and the breakdown of my own mental wellbeing. Having too much time to think and wandering from one room to the other led to making toxic comparisons with other artists; how come they’re having a great time making sourdough and releasing tunes that instantly have a million streams? It was hard to keep my head above the water with all that free time to scroll. Writing became my free therapy (I couldn’t afford the real deal with all that loss of funds) and I was spending my days focusing on what I would do next, waiting for the announcement that we could all be in a sweaty room together, sing and fall back in love with the industry.
I didn’t think that when it came to it, I wouldn’t be ready.
Photo Credit: Taryn Everdeen @taryneverdeenphotography
Going from gigging, collaborating, recording and networking to spending months without any of it was a lot to take. I spent a lot of my lockdown glued to Instagram, watching artists tackle the ‘new normal’; live streams, remote sessions, finding any way possible to keep their fanbase engaged. I was in the process of getting an EP mixed, mastered, pressed to vinyl and organising a PR strategy, all without any chance of having a launch show to bring everything together. I became hooked on finding ways to replace it. Joining the live stream hype, I quickly realised it didn’t come close to the feeling of playing a gig, the feeling of seeing people in a crowd and the high you get once you’re off stage. Instead, alone in my bedroom, I read comments from people I’ve never met, knowing that they too were (probably) alone in their bedrooms. I decided to leave the live streams to the people who seemed to love them and focused on writing new material to keep me sane during lockdown. This, and a lot of hour-long solo walks around the same park, kind of helped, but it was the beginning of the world waking up that snapped me back into reality.
Tentatively going back into the world, returning to my hospitality job was a godsend. No more hours of scrolling through Instagram and feeling sorry for myself! Well, not as much… I was lucky enough to have kept my job after the first lockdown and I was in no rush to start gigging with the fear of Covid still in the air. I noticed that other artists had been changing their craft and the way that they worked during lockdown and it seemed to have stuck after it too. There was a new-found need to make everything a financial gain; everyone was joining Patreon and becoming entrepreneurial masterminds. It was great to see creatives putting a price on their art and not just taking the pennies that Spotify had to offer. I noticed a change in attitude from the audience too - crowdfunders for venues, people buying merch, posts about the creative industry dying from being underfunded (cheers Boris). People were slowly waking up to the truths of working in this industry and how important it is to support it. So why did I feel less motivated than ever before?
The thought of doing a gig again made me feel physically sick, being asked to record with producers in a real life studio was a panic attack waiting to happen. I suddenly felt like the world was waking up and I was still fast asleep. Having over 12 months off, after working in this industry for 6 years, I was out of practice. Everything felt scary and nothing felt safe anymore - apart from writing. I’ve seen hundreds of artists talk about this similar feeling, that songwriting is a way to get a weight off your chest and it can’t be taken away from you by a pandemic. Throwing myself into writing new material, I created a backlog of songs I could rely on after my EP was out. Not only was I writing new tracks almost every day but there was a new sense of honesty within them too - all that time to think during lockdown was paying off. I saw it in other artists’ work too; a new authenticity was emerging in music from the shared experience of a long, scary and draining year. We were also being honest with each other about our mental health, something that should have come about a long time ago.
It was soon time to acknowledge that I had been booked for a gig and I seriously needed to prepare my mind, body and soul for this terrifying event. No amount of rehearsals could have settled my anxious stomach and tight chest every time I thought of being on a stage again. But, inevitably, the day arrived and I was thrown back into the world of soundchecks and tech specs. I decided early on that I wasn’t going to focus on tracks from my recently released EP. There was something not very nice attached to it, reminding me of working alone, relentlessly on a laptop trying to convince people to listen. It was a brand new set, filled with the fresh tunes that felt authentically ‘me’. I loved every second. All the pre-gig nerves fell away as soon as I was playing something that I truly cared about. The rest of the acts' sets felt different somehow too; it was like we had been waiting for this moment for so long and now we were ready to give something new, something better.
As much as lockdown and the pandemic impacted so much of our livelihoods, I am truly grateful that I could spend it in a home where I could continue to focus on my craft. Losing a few festival slots and studio time was admittedly rubbish but I’m now in a stronger position where I feel truly myself in my work, and it’s been a pleasure to watch other artists do the same. It’s fine to still feel underprepared for the live industry - I’m still not 100% there yet, the nerves and anxieties are much worse than they used to be pre-pandemic - but now I feel that the community in the music industry is stronger and more honest than ever. I know we’ll have each other’s backs if things get tough again.
Author: Maya Law
Maya Law is a musician and songwriter based in Norwich. For the past 6 years, she has been working on her craft in the creative industry, releasing a debut album in 2016 followed by an EP in early 2020. She works within the realms of Hip-Hop, Jazz and Acoustic Neo-Soul, weaving honest and authentic writing with candid snapshots into her own mental wellbeing. With support from national radio plays and a UK tour under her belt, Maya continues to carve her own way around the music industry.
@mayalxw on Twitter and Instagram
Commission Mission 2 was created by Young Guns Network to Commission 4 new freelance writers to create articles to inspire, inform and entertain young people in the music industry on the topic of The Return to Live Music After Covid 19.
The commission was funded by the Youth Music Innovation Fund.