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How I’m keeping active during the COVID-19 lockdown


Filming in the front garden

Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, everyone in the performing arts industry has been at home, not earning. Once it became clear that live shows would not return for a significant amount of time, I decided that I would use my time at home as best I could. Hopefully we will never have to face a time like this again, but personally, in a strange way, it has been nice (so far) to find myself in stretch of time where there is less pressure than normal. Usually I spend a lot of time managing tour itineraries, figuring out logistics, trudging through visa processes, administrative duties, and many other non-creative tasks that come with being a touring independent solo artist. After the initial shock that came from having my tour schedule wiped clean for the most part until 2021, I realised that I may never have such a long gap in which to follow creative pursuits again, without choosing to. I believe that limitations are the key to unlocking creativity, and so I’m applying that logic to the present time. I am lucky in that I can view this period as an opportunity to learn, to develop new skills, and to explore areas of interest, while still doing my best to make plans for the future. I hope that in this article I can share some ways of capitalising on this difficult period, and how to use it in preparing for the ‘new normal’.

In the last few weeks, I’ve been focused on developing better long-term habits because I feel I now have the headspace for it. Up until the outbreak, my three main concerns were getting my third album Rain Dance ready for release, updating my US work visa, and figuring out new merchandise options. Since the outbreak, I have released Rain Dance, but the other two concerns are less immediately pressing. I’ve started to spend time on writing articles, filming videos, and developing better lifestyle habits. I have wanted to work on these three things for a long time, but as I mentioned above finding the headspace for them among my usual routine was proving challenging.

An example of what I've been filming since the lockdown began

Most importantly though, I have been reminding myself that I can play the guitar just for fun, with no goal or ‘end-point’ to my playing. I wrote about this in a past article, but I find that it is easy to forget this when music is your profession. Constantly working on ‘the next live set’, ‘the next tune, oe ‘the next video’ might be good for productivity, but neglecting the creative side of your art, which for me is the part I am most passionate about, is also a sure-fire way to lose the joy in playing your instrument. Taking the time to rediscover this can feel like an epiphany. Take a read of my article "What To Do When You're Not Feeling It" for more thoughts about this.

Many musicians (and non-musicians) who I am connected with on social media seem to have a feeling of guilt about ‘not being productive enough’ with ‘all this free time’, but I don’t actually think this is free time at all. We’re not in normal circumstances at the minute – our workflow and schedules, our planned projects and our general life rhythms are anything but the usual. We can’t do what we usually do; we can only do what we can. The constant sense of anxiety and uncertainty about COVID-19 means that planning for the future is difficult, and almost feels pointless. I am keeping up to date with public health measures in all the countries I am due to visit over the next year, but no-one knows how or when they might change between jurisdictions. Then, there is the expected surge later in the year when we may face a second ‘lockdown’ period. Yesterday I heard the Irish Health Minister mention the possibility of forbidding outward travel from Ireland (even to Great Britain) until the end of the year, which would put my touring in Europe towards the end of the year in jeopardy. Mandatory two-week quarantines also seem to be the norm around the world now, which would affect the feasibility of my travel by a huge amount – how long will they last? So, with touring looking like it is now all but completely written off until early 2021 (at the earliest), what is there left to do?

In my case, I have focused my attention to my online presence. I have wanted for a long time to become more active online, but putting all of my energy into touring prevented me from fulfilling this goal. You may have noticed that I have been putting time into writing articles, filming videos, streaming live on Wednesdays, and advertising my online lessons. While this is all the visible work, the invisible work is arguably more important than creating content. Once the COVID-19 pandemic is under control, no matter what the ‘new normal’ we hear about looks like, what shape will the music industry be in? In other words, rather than ‘what can I do now?’, think instead about ‘what can I do to hit the ground running once this is over?

My specific question following that is “what can I do to keep audiences coming to my shows once touring becomes viable again?” My fans mean a lot to me, and I like staying in touch with as many as I can. I’ve been writing to my email list subscribers regularly, I have been interacting and taking requests on my livestreams, and I’ve been posting and engaging online more regularly. I am giving people a reason to come to the shows, and staying visible as much as I can. I have been putting a lot of work into figuring out how to properly work the ‘fancy camera’ I have had lying around since last year. I spent time learning the intricacies of my recording, video-editing, and streaming softwares, so that my output is as high-quality and as engaging as it can be. I made a video about this process which has so far proven really useful for many musicians doing similar work.

I have also been having fun filming videos within the government-mandated 2km zone around my house, which so far have included 'Montmartre', 'Bluebirds', and the theme from 'Animal Crossing'

In the grounds of St. Dympna's Hospital, Carlow, at about 6am, filming some footage for my 'Bluebirds' video

As mentioned above, I have been working on my lifestyle habits too. Touring can greatly reduce the dietary choices you have, and it can limit the time you have to exercise and stay fit. On top of this, most shows (with the exception of festivals) are later in the day, and combining this with early starts means you don’t often get the optimal amount of sleep. Cooking more at home, taking long walks daily, and reducing snacking hasn’t been easy (and we have caved in once or twice!), but I am already feeling the benefits physically. My hope is that these benefits will also feed into my creative output, and I am definitely feeling them in my work ethic already. It goes without saying that I am following all the precautions that the Irish government and the WHO are advising with regard to COVID-19, and this is a huge part of the well-being we all need to maintain at the moment.

If you are finding this period particularly difficult, remember above all else that we’re all in the same boat. I’m not going to pretend that it hasn’t been hard, nor that I don’t have worries about the next few years. I have been hit hard financially, and my love of touring and travelling made the news of so many global cancellations hard to take. In these tough times, I am doing my best to stay positive, and I am hoping that you will be able to do the same. Take this time to explore something that will help you to flourish, and don’t be too hard on yourself. If you are like me, and you like making ‘to-do’ lists, remember to write ‘take it easy’ on yours – it’s just as important as everything else on the list!

©2020 SHANE HENNESSY via EXCHEQUER MUSIC