Like the other artists, musicians were not immune to the pandemic's effect. As an art form heavily reliant on collaboration, physical proximity, access to technology, and creative inspiration, lockdowns and preventive safety measures kept music workers away from rehearsals, studios, and venues for over a year. Music education didn't go unaffected either: universities closed their doors and took to online classes, restricting many students' access to practice spaces and instruments.
Now, with restrictions being lifted and the entertainment industry slowly recovering from the challenging past two years, the music world is finally returning to its previous routine - albeit with new protocols and trends influenced by COVID that could last for longer than initially expected.
The pandemic's effect on the creative process
Each artist creates music in their own way. Some like to reunite with other musicians and improvise, bounce off each other's ideas and take advantage of the spontaneity that flourishes in such an environment. Others prefer to sit alone in their room with a guitar or a piano and let inspiration flow, creating, alone, songs that will soon be shared with the rest of the world. Naturally, one of these scenarios became harder to accomplish during the pandemic.
Many musicians and producers had to take to online meetings throughout the creative process, collaborating virtually from initial songwriting to final recording sessions. The constant back-and-forth of audio files and drafted lyrics also changed drastically a scenario that was once built on the unique dynamic that happened each time musicians got together in a studio.
For Pedro Truzzi, bassist for local Brazilian bands Trovalírica and Startroop, the creative process was rocky at first: "We lost a few original songs we had kind of ready and our integration as a band fell off for a while. We were only able to recover from that after six or seven months, when we realized we would have to make an effort to keep things going: recording videos separately and putting them together through editing and producing social media content consistently to keep our audience involved."
The primary role of social media
Engagement with the public is one of the most important factors that can maintain an artist's career. While established names in the industry can enjoy a certain stability that comes from a long-term successful career (i.e., Rihanna reaching the impressive mark of 46 million monthly listeners on Spotify, while not having released new music since the 2016 album Anti), local artists rely heavily on exposure to stay afloat. During the pandemic, social media became the main point of connection between artists and the public.
However, social media exposure takes effort and, often, financial investment. Aside from producing their own music, local artists had to learn how social media algorithms work and use them for promotion. For Pedro, "It all comes to how much focus you're giving to each project, and how many resources you have available to keep growing online. Also, the learning was huge, since we had to catch up on all the social media techniques to make our songs visible and put our work on display."
How music majors were affected
With universities and colleges suspending activities early in 2020, music students suddenly saw themselves with no access to their school's infrastructure, which often plays an essential role in developing students' skill and knowledge. Being unable to use their universities' practice rooms, instruments, and studios, many music students had to adapt to the resources available at home.
Daniel Belzer, percussionist and third-year music major at the Federal University of Uberlândia, says his routine was drastically altered during the pandemic. "The undergraduate program in music has a practical character that is essential in the formation of students, present both in courses and outside them, and changing all classes and related experiences to the remote format was something very difficult," he explains. "Courses that consisted of joint musical practice between several students were changed to remote music productions that, with the use of online recording programs, allowed the sharing of audio tracks recorded by each person, so that the musical interaction that would previously occur live was now done remotely through individual contributions to the recording of the track."
A study by the University of Music Freiburg concluded that while music majors practiced less during a lockdown semester, their self-regulated learning improved during the same time. This could be attributed to the fact that, being unable to practice in groups or enjoy the university's better infrastructure, students felt less inclined to practice at home. However, the limited contact with professors and other instructors led students to develop more autonomy and be more self-critical of their own abilities.
Making a living during the pandemic
For fans, the halt in the music world represented less new content from their favorite artists and fewer chances to see them live. But for music workers, the pandemic meant that their source of income was suddenly suspended until further notice. In the UK, one in three jobs in the music industry were sadly lost in 2020, and many people had to turn to fundraising campaigns and other jobs to make a living every month.
Many musicians and students also took to teaching during the pandemic to earn some extra income, but teaching music over the internet isn't always ideal. Daniel, who already taught drums long before the pandemic hit, says adapting to an online methodology wasn't easy -- or free. "I had difficulties in adapting my classes to the remote format," he says. "I needed to learn how to use recording programs and acquire equipment that would make it possible to carry out the classes with a minimum of quality so that the student could clearly hear my voice and the sound of the drums. The adaptation experience was interesting, but also extremely challenging as remote teaching is difficult and there is no close contact between student and teacher to help with technical questions that are more difficult to clarify from a distance."
Adapting to new circumstances has become a necessary skill for every artist, but things are finally looking up. Pedro believes that "making a living is still a bit harsh for those who depend on these regular gigs in pubs to survive, but most people are already returning to music lessons, and festivals are starting to come back, and that kind of job is what will keep the music scene going."
The pandemic hasn't just changed the big picture in the music industry. Yes, streaming services have solidified their role as the primary means of music consumption and concert venues are coming up with strategies to COVID-proof their spaces, but even the lives of local artists have been permanently affected.
While COVID had profoundly devastating effects on the lives of millions of people worldwide, comfort can be found in the fact that the music world has grown during this period. "This period forced many to explore other ways to maintain their musical performance," says Daniel. "So I speak both from my personal experience and that of other colleagues that the pandemic forced us to master new technologies such as the use of recording software and equipment for conducting livestreams and remote classes." For Pedro, "Musicians in general will keep working online and will learn how to better deal with recording devices. What once was a step of the process of releasing a song, now may become a regular skill for any professional, or even amateur, musician to have."