Thriving as a Musician in the Age of Social Distancing: Focus on What You Can Control
By Barrett Yeretsian • April 9, 2020
Sometime in the first century, the Stoic philosopher Epictetus wisely said:
"The more we value things outside our control, the less control we have."
And sometime in the early 1970s, Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant expressively crooned:
What do these two quotes have to do with us artists, two thousand years later (and 50 years later) in the middle of a global pandemic? Everything!
Let’s face it: we’re living in a crazy moment in history. Many of us are feeling unsettled, anxious and scared by the uncertainty of it all. As social creatures by nature, the social distancing (while absolutely necessary) can make it even harder to bear.
Epictetus’s timeless words can offer us much-needed clarity and a sense of relief that only clarity provides. Events themselves don’t make us feel the way we do - it’s our reaction to those events that determines how we feel. If we choose to focus on all of those things that we can’t control, we will feel anxious, unsettled and afraid. If we instead focus on all that we can control, we will regain our sense of agency and return to our emotional equilibrium.
The lyrics from “Stairway to Heaven” illuminate the fact that regardless of our current circumstances or which path we’re currently on, we get to choose which path we take going forward. No matter where we were yesterday, we get to decide what we will do today, which will determine who we will become tomorrow.
Therein lies the key that unlocks our immense personal power amidst all of the uncertainty and chaos: we get to choose how we interpret what’s happening, what we focus on and ultimately, what we do.
On an individual basis, as artists, we can view this pandemic as a disaster or we can reframe it as an unprecedented opportunity. We can perceive the fact that we have to stay home as a cage or as an opportunity to do many of the things that we’ve wanted to (and needed to) do all along.
The first approach leads to anxiety and fear, while the second leads to a renewed sense of energy and motivation.
You might not have control over how long this pandemic lasts or how it will affect the economy, but here’s a partial list of the many things that are directly within your control:
What you focus on.
Your commitment to your dream.
How much you create.
Your level of motivation.
How much you learn.
Your emotional well-being.
How resourceful you are.
Your level of energy.
How much you grow.
How connected you feel to others.
As you can see, there is so much that lies within your control. By re-framing your mindset and focusing on these, you can put yourself in a position to make huge strides forward as an artist, even during a global pandemic.
Here are five ways to come out of this pandemic better, stronger and ready to take on the world:
1) Create Prolifically
Let’s view this break from the hurried pace of everyday life as a unique gift, a perfect opportunity to get a jump-start on your creative pursuits. You can write melodies and lyrics to your heart’s content, you can collaborate with your favorite co-writers via FaceTime and start pre-production on your next EP. The “I just don’t have the time” excuse doesn’t quite work anymore. You have the time. Make beautiful art!
2) Skill Up
Identify the aspects of your creative and marketing skill sets that need improvement and come up with a growth plan. You can take virtual vocal lessons to improve your technique, watch YouTube videos on how to become a more engaging performer, take an online class on Ableton production or research and test out some of the latest digital marketing techniques. There are so many great resources to facilitate your growth online - do some research and jump in. The best investment you will ever make is an investment in yourself and this is the perfect time to build yourself by building your skills.
3) Build Your Social Media Presence
While social media is just one marketing channel, it’s the one channel that you can double your efforts on in the middle of all of this. Everyone’s home so people are spending more time on social media. You can engage your existing fans on a deeper level by performing your songs on Instagram Live, do Q&As or find other interesting ways to tell your story by creating compelling content. You can also expand your fan base by engaging with new followers or by doing virtual collaborations with your peers. The only limit is your imagination and how hard you’re willing to work.
4) Get Moving
Your body is your instrument - now if we only took care of our bodies as well as we take care of our other instruments! Being stuck inside doesn’t mean that we have to resign to sitting on the couch while bingeing on Netflix and potato chips. We can do yoga, body weight strength-training exercises or any number of other guided home-based exercises that we can find online. Your level of motivation is often directly linked to your level of movement. Use this as an opportunity to incorporate more movement into your daily routine and you’ll see your levels of motivation skyrocket.
5) Take Care of Yourself
Put simply: do things that make you feel good. Connect with loved ones often, especially those who are alone, vulnerable and isolated. Read books that inspire you. Start a meditation practice to help you feel more centered. Instead of watching the news, watch your favorite shows that entertain you. Make that interesting new recipe you’ve been wanting to try. You deserve to take care of yourself and this is a great time to start making self care a priority.
How we frame things, what we focus on and what we ultimately do are central to our personal power, whether we are in the middle of a global pandemic or not.
So let’s make Epictetus and Led Zeppelin proud by reclaiming our personal power as artists. Let’s focus on the plethora of things that we can control and ensure that we come out on the other side of this chaos as better, stronger and more prepared artists - artists who’re ready to take on the brand new world!
Barrett Yeretsian is an 8x platinum-selling songwriter-producer and record label owner. He co-wrote and produced Christina Perri’s “Jar of Hearts,” produced the #1 UK hit “Jealous of the Angels” and has worked with Andy Grammar, Rachel Platten, Pentatonix and Daniel Powter, among many others. Barrett spends most of his time these days discovering, nurturing and developing fiercely creative artists from around the globe through his record label IronHeart Records. He also hosts weekly progressive metal jam sessions with his crazy friends at his studio in Los Angeles and writes a weekly blog on artist empowerment.