Adapting To Survive During Lockdown

At the beginning of March, like most freelance musicians, I was looking forward to a busy few months of teaching music one-to-one and running ensembles, followed by an increasingly full schedule of exciting and fulfilling performances – including a special night lined up at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club on April 29th.

However, as March progressed, it became ever clearer that the year ahead was going to be very different to the one we had planned.

Like many in the arts world, our work dried up almost overnight (as it did for those in many other industries too), with phone calls, texts, and emails all flooding in, each of them bringing new cancellations.

Not only that, but with the closure of schools and a full lockdown imposed towards the end of March, it was clear that face-to-face teaching was going to be out of the question for the next few months.

As creative people in a tough industry, we are used to adversity, but this certainly looked like it was going to be the most challenging period I had ever experienced in my career.

Fortunately, there has been one enormous blessing that has saved countless numbers of people during this period – technology!

During my school days, face-to-face online trumpet lessons, split-screen lockdown videos on YouTube, and live-streamed socially distanced workshops from a car park, would have been unthinkable. Yet in 2020, all this has saved many a worker over the last few months – including me.

Here is a selection of the ways freelance musicians like me have had to adapt swiftly and decisively since lockdown. I hope some of the adjustments I’ve made may be of use to you, whatever your industry!

1.   One-to-One Zoom Lessons

Using the videoconferencing software Zoom (although others such as FaceTime, Skype, WhatsApp, and Teams work just as well), I was able to quickly adapt my teaching program, and within a couple of weeks, I was up and running.

All you’ll need to benefit from this strategy is a laptop, tablet, or phone – although you must be sure to stay within the appropriate safeguarding regulations.

For music teachers, there are a number of negatives to this format (such as not being able to play together with your student, and not hearing their sound with perfect clarity), but there are some significant positives too, which include being able to share screens and sounds from your computer.

This means that individual tuition via Zoom will certainly be a viable alternative for me going forward, in circumstances where travel is prohibitive (such as being snowed in!)

2.   Zoom Workshops With Larger Groups

I’ve also managed to deliver workshops on Zoom with up to 20 people, who each participate individually. This is far more limited in some ways, as the group is unable to play together – they all have to mute themselves, and play along with the workshop leader.

It also requires more preparation time, with backing tracks needing to be prepared well in advance, and music distributed with plenty of notice.

However, the use of backing tracks, and being able to share sound and screen, has great benefits too, like allowing the workshop attendees to experience playing along with professional backings, or to easily incorporate listening as part of the session.

3.   Live-Streamed Workshops/Performances

I’ve also been part of a live-streamed performance using StreamYard. It went surprisingly well – there was no ‘live’ audience, but many joined in with us from their homes, and the feedback was good.

It is very strange performing with no audience, and this was one of the most difficult things to adapt to during the lockdown period. But again, this is something I would consider doing again, when travel or distance is a barrier.

4.   Lockdown Composing & Video Production

One positive of lockdown has been the lack of travelling (my car has barely moved since March). This has meant there’s been more time for writing and arranging music, which has been very welcome indeed!

Lockdown has also created a new genre of music – the Lockdown YouTube Video. I for one jumped on the bandwagon, and although it’s been hard work to do, with lots of new skills to learn (such as video and audio editing), it’s also been a great experience, and our resulting videos have turned out rather well.

Here’s a link to one I made with several very talented friends:

These are just a few of the ways in which our industry has adapted to the Covid-19 pandemic, and resulting lockdown.

It’s not been an easy ride, and we all miss playing together an awful lot, but I hope these strategies we’ve used to survive lockdown have been helpful to you, and have given you ideas on how you and your business can adapt and survive through difficult times.

Sam Massey Music

Composer | Arranger | Trumpet & Flugelhorn | Educator

Managing Time As A Freelancer

As a freelance musician, one of the biggest challenges I face is managing time.

As all self-employed people will recognise, and particularly in the creative industries, it is much harder to work set ‘9-5’ hours or shift patterns – the arts world doesn’t tend to work like that, unfortunately!

With some hectic periods and tight deadlines often followed by calmer periods, I can often find myself struggling to keep the work-life balance right, especially with so many exciting projects to work on!

I am still refining this balance, but over the years I have come up with a few things I remind myself of when trying to manage my schedule, and I hope this might be useful to others in the same boat.

Here are my three favourite freelancer diary management tips.

Try To Have At Least One Day Off A Week

This is one I particularly struggle with! I always find myself more productive when I have at least one day without structured work or appointments in a given week.

This allows you to recharge your batteries and reenergise. It also allows you to have time to do the things outside of work that often pass us by, such as hobbies, meeting with friends or family or just relaxing!

I always think about this when being asked to schedule in work – it’s ok to have the occasional hectic week or two without a day off, but try not to make it a habit every week!

Use Technology To Your Advantage

Time management is very important as a freelancer, particularly as a musician where you tend to be out of the office most of the day, but have occasional downtime between schools, lessons or after a soundcheck.

Make sure you use technology to your full advantage! I couldn’t live without a synchronised diary (such as Google Calendar), files (such as Google Drive), and emails that can be managed on your phone, which is very important to maintain regular communication channels with parents, promotors and customers, but without eating into your precious time off.

Value Your Time Highly

Time in the modern world is arguably one of your most valuable commodities – and it should be treated as such, by you and your clients.

Particularly as a creative, there are so many time-intensive activities to be done, such as personal practice, administration, finances, and travelling, which are not paid. As such, these must be factored in when taking on work. Ask yourself before you say yes – is this activity, with all the associated unpaid work generated around it, worthy of all the time needed, not just the time taken physically working?

You may go through this process and say, ‘Yes! It is worth it!’ – in which case, go ahead and do it. But I always find it useful to think about the bigger picture when taking on more work.

Also, make sure your regular clients value your time too.

I hope these tips help save you some time – I wish I’d had them five years ago!

Sam Massey

Composer | Arranger | Trumpet & Flugelhorn | Educator

Top Tips for Getting Your Music ‘Out There’

As a composer, musician and bandleader, I’ve spent the last few years trying to get my music and the bands I run ‘out there’ into the wider world.

The ultimate goal of course is to get gigs! But, particularly as a composer, we also want our music/performance/band to be heard as widely as possible, and fortunately we have an amazing resource on tap to help with this – the Internet!

Through my own experience, here are my top tips to getting your music heard; whether it’s online, on the radio, or even better, live!

1.   Be Persistent!

This would be my number one tip for any musician. Whether it’s practicing and honing your repertoire, diligently perfecting your latest masterpiece, or just being super-persistent in chasing that all-important gig – if at first you don’t succeed, try and try again!

It’s well known that a high proportion of people don’t open the first email they receive – so don’t be afraid to leave it a few days before sending a polite chase – and then another one a few days later. After all – what harm can it do?

2.   Create a Website

In 2019, a website is so important. All too often, you aren’t even asked for your details, as people will assume that they can ‘Google’ you, go to your site, and see your online CV within a few clicks!

Fortunately, there are not only many free or cheap tools to help you with this (e.g. WordPress, Wix or Weebly), but also lots of web designers (or even friends) who can help – don’t be afraid to ask!

3.   Don’t Be Afraid to Ask!

If I could go back and give a piece of advice to my 20-year-old self, this would be it. The number of times I was afraid to ask for help, or too afraid to ask a great musician to play with me or my music, is too numerous to list!

My advice would be – what do you have to lose by asking? The worst that can happen is that someone says ‘no’ (unlikely – normally people say ‘sorry no, BUT this person could help’ or ‘YES!’) – and if ‘no’ does happen, you are no worse off than you were if you didn’t ask!

Some of my best musical experiences have come from asking someone to join in with something I expected them to say ‘no’ too, only to be pleasantly surprised!

4.   Online Presence

Going on from a website, as a musician, you need a strong online presence.

If you are lucky enough to be featured at a gig, on the radio or TV: when people search for you, they need to be able to find you, find out all about you and hear your music straightaway! This means you need:

  1. Online Recordings (rough demos or live recordings are fine – I’d recommend Soundcloud to host these) – get these uploaded onto BBC Introducing – they are great at playing tracks from emerging artists, and you may end up being played to thousands across the world!
  • (Ideally) Videos of your work – high-resolution if possible, but if not, just a video from a gig you’ve done or an upload of a Sibelius mock-up is much better than nothing!
  • Photos – and with most smartphones having excellent cameras nowadays, a snap on your phone is good for now!
  • Social Media – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube – all very important to create your online presence. If you don’t have time or the inclination, there are really affordable social media marketing people who can help!
  • Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) – again, very important to make sure people can find you on your search engine of choice. There are online tutorials on this if you are tech-savvy, and if not, your local friendly online marketing & SEO guru will be able to help with this too.

These are just a few things I’ve picked up over the years – there are loads of articles, podcasts, blogs and vlogs on the internet by very successful musicians who are all out there to help you – remember, don’t be afraid to ask!

Sam Massey

Composer | Arranger | Trumpet & Flugelhorn | Educator