Isolation can be a huge asset for music-makers. Some of the most successful and captivating modern musicians have origin stories filled with major changes that inspire them to take impromptu songwriting retreats alone in remote locations. But isolation also has the potential to do damage to an artist’s creativity and productivity. We’re all stuck with some level of isolation right now whether we thrive through creative partnerships or do our best work alone. Whether we succeed or suffer through periods of isolation depends on the work we put into creating music and prioritizing connection with our audiences and ourselves.
How to get the most out of isolation
Isolation is a force that compels us to reckon with ourselves as musicians and as people. If you’re used to playing in a band or writing with partners, it can be easy to hide your true thoughts and feelings about the work you’re doing. But when it’s just you, a notepad, and your instrument, the only person you have to answer to is yourself. Creating passionately and productively during isolation demands running towards your humanity, not shying away from it. This means that looking inward too much could result with music that doesn’t relate to audiences. On the other end of the spectrum, if you’re a person who thrives through collaboration, being able to create anything alone might seem impossible.
To make periods of isolation productive, we have to know who we are, what we value about creating music, and to nail down what successfully connecting with listeners looks like for us. Embracing the humanity of music isn’t about trying to please everyone with your work (you’ll never be able to do that), but instead to try saying something meaningful and interesting with your music. It’s something that demands you to comb through your experiences as fuel for creating music that reaches audiences in a lasting way. It’s not easy if you’re used to bouncing ideas off of others or looking for external signs that what you’re creating is on the right track. But, like with any musically creative pursuit, the point is to explore and experiment, not to expect to create perfect work right off the bat.
Maintaining human connections during isolation
You’ll get the most out of creating while isolated if you can make the conscious decision to explore music creation in a free, unrushed way. Working alone takes some amount of bravery because it’s not always easy or natural to make something out of nothing by reaching inside of yourself. But remember, being isolated doesn’t mean you’re alone if you don’t want to be. If a connection with the outside world is critical for your music-making process, you should schedule times to talk with friends and other musicians, listen to other artist’s music, and take some time to experience human-centered stories through books, movies, TV, and podcasts. Being alone is an isolating feeling for many, but the truth is that it’s completely possible to be isolated and constantly surrounded by other people at the same time. Being on your own is a good chance to recalibrate your thoughts and focus on the parts of your musical creativity that are most rewarding for you.
For long stretches of time, being alone could result in you making the best work of your life. Or, it could be a dry period of your creativity. If we do everything we can to stay engaged, connected, and productive during isolation, then creating during these times really isn’t different than any other period in the fact that it’s our job to search for and use inspiration at every opportunity. For those who do the work, isolation can be an incredible opportunity to discover and use inspiration. If you find yourself forced into isolation, doing this won’t be easy, but inspiration is still yours for the taking if you look for it. Approached the right way, isolation can be a time for creating ideas that end up reaching lots of people and help them feel less alone. By focusing on reflecting humanity with your music, you won’t let isolation go to waste.
Patrick McGuire is a writer, musician, and human man. He lives nowhere in particular, creates music under the name Straight White Teeth, and has a great affinity for dogs and putting his hands in his pockets.