The (mostly) Bad and (some, maybe) Good of Running a Band During a Pandemic
The great dumpster fire that is 2020 is almost over, and I’m over here feeling all reflective, so lemme reflect a minute.
I have a pretty stark memory of it being late March, sitting on my girlfriend’s couch and firing up the first official band Zoom call on a night when we normally would have been rehearsing. Sucks, guys, I said, but we just gotta weather this storm and in a few weeks, or a few months, maybe we’ll have a better idea of what’s going on.
Well, nope! It was a relatively normal summer in Vancouver, even if we played it pretty safe for the most part—infrequent practices, mask-clad, all that. Enough that we got in a sort of groove of writing and rehearsing, but even then, it’s been pretty much impossible to keep the thread going in any kind of sensible way. There were times this year in the room where the new material sounded amazing, and other times, maybe after an involuntary five-week break, where it sounded like we’d never played together before.
Now! Now? Who the hell knows, now. Vaccine’s coming but still feels like it’ll be a dog’s age before any kind of real show happens. So we’ll keep writing, keep sharing files over Slack, or whatever. And what have we learned? Are we not men?!
A change in approach can yield some interesting results
Shifting from writing together as a group in the room to layering parts in isolation one-by-one has been mostly unpleasant, but the type of songs we’ve written are undoubtedly different than the songs we would have written collaboratively, for better or worse.
For the most part, songs start as either a guitar idea from Rory, or a guitar-and-vocal idea from me, with Joe and Chad adding rhythm parts after the fact. Everyone’s responsible for their own part, as usual, although obviously there’s crosstalk here. Sometimes an idea lingers for weeks or even months in Slack as an mp3 before other members pick it up and play on it. I don’t think this helps or hurts, but it can be genuinely interesting to hear a bandmate’s contribution after enough time has passed that you’re not attached to the idea in the same way you are right after writing it.
I think, for the most part, this batch of songs will be as objectively decided upon as they possibly could be by four opinionated musicians.
Sitting around and waiting for things to get better is always a bad go
I think we spent too much time at the beginning of this thing thinking that life would resume in three, six, nine months. We didn’t do the legwork or the research in the spring/summer on getting livestreams going, learning Twitch/Discord, growing an audience that way. Big mistake, cause now we’re staring down another six, nine, twelve months of no shows and we have to play catch up on getting our stupid faces/voices out there.
Self-advocating as a band is always hard enough. It becomes a lot harder when you distance yourself from potential audiences for an entire cycle. Lesson learned.
Music and shows are what a lot of people miss most about ‘normal life’
Obviously self-selecting, but most of the conversations I have with people involve paeans to the joy of going out to a show with friends. Maybe this seems like a truism but I think it reveals something deeper about what we really value in our lives. It was already a Millennial axiom that people should spend on experiences and not things, but the pandemic has really driven this home in a new way.
If there’s one thing that prevents total despondence for me, it’s knowing that when this is finally over, people will be hungrier than ever to participate in something like a scene. There will be plenty of enthusiasm to go around, and I hope as a community bands and musicians can work together to foster the best possible environment, because resources will be scarce but willpower will not.
It could be worse?
Things are bad but they could be worse, and there’s still a lot we can do. We’ve lost some really great venues already, but a lot of great ones have weathered the storm and are still hanging in. Consider donating to a beloved venue that’s struggling. If they have an online live event, show up for it—it’s not how any of us want to be taking in music right now, but your support even in this small way goes a long way to keeping their spirits up enough to keep fighting.
And lots of bands are still obviously active, putting out new stuff. Buy the record/shirt/whatever, if you can afford it. I’m including a list of localish bands that have put stuff out this year just to illustrate how much is still happening.
And hey, the orange man could have won.✌️
A short list of local to buy this winter (INPO)
- Mi'ens: Future Child (vinyl)
- Blessed: iii (vinyl pre-order)
- Brutal Poodle: Night Creeps/Wash (vinyl 7")
- Dead Soft: Baby Blue (digital)
- OKGB: Peggy & the Discount Country Band (digital)
- Ah, Venice: Wow What A Year, Hey Guys? Well, See Ya! (Christmas Miracle 2020) (digital)