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During these COVID times we are craving connection, a sense of being understood and a feeling of community among like-minded peers.
Personally, I’ve always turned to music to find my vibe and seek that companionship when my own words fail me.
Yet, another cruel irony of the pandemic is that so many of my musical companions are some of the worst affected. Cash-flows evaporating. Inspiration stifled. Collaboration scuttled.
However, some of our local creatives have managed to find a spark amidst the gloom and are still making beats and releasing tracks.
I spoke to Kim Yang and Dan Kirkland (pictured above), two artists who share how they’ve kept producing during lockdown, as well as MusicACT and The Street Theatre about their free programs on offer.
Did you know we can all time travel? Yep, it’s true. And for artists, this is often in the form of the trusty voice memo.
“I have lots of notes in my phone of melodies or lyrics,” explains singer-songwriter Kim Yang. “I’ve been going back over them all and finding inspiration. It’s interesting too, because at the time I made a note or hummed a melody I was in a different place and now I have a different life experience which will influence the outcome.”
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For hip-hop artist and instrumentalist Dan Kirkland, who performs under the name Kirklandd, he’s taken the time to listen to feedback from his loyal fans.
“I released my first EP last year and I got all these DMs about a track called Feel Alive,” he says.
“Everyone was talking about this punk influence that I wasn’t really aware of, so I went back and has a listen and heard this nicely emotional punk sound in some of the vocal delivery.”
“So then I went back to what I listened to when I was younger—Rage Against the Machine, Linkin Park, Smashing Pumpkins and Slipknot and I realised that’s a huge part of my musical identity that I hadn’t really tapped into.”
Kirklandd has since dived back into his music catalogue (and time playing Tony Hawk Pro Skater) and writing new rap tracks based around that ‘pocket of punk’.
MusicACT Program Manager Billy Bianchini says a lot of artists are doing a similar thing with their time in lockdown.
“People are using lockdown really hone their creative abilities and even demoing out those old songs that get stuck down the back of the couch.”
However, that doesn’t mean it’s all been smooth sailing for these artists.
“COVID had me feeling stuck for awhile,” says Kirklandd. “I found the more that I was focusing on everything that I couldn’t do and the way the world is at the moment the more it started to affect my process and my creativity and inspiration.”
His response—meditation. And it’s something he’d become quite good at.
“It brings me back to a deep inner peace, where external pressures are inconsequential and connects me to what I love—which is music.
“My morning routine is around intention setting, I marinate on like my goals for the day and it sharpens my mind for the day. The evening is purely focused on gratitude where I reflect on people I’m close with or things I’ve done before going to sleep.”
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“Just try and slow down,” she says. “Be present. Be yourself. Realise inspiration can be found anywhere, a bit of imagination helps too and that no idea is dumb.”
Billy also noted that the absence of gigging around has its benefits for some artists.
“Now we can all focus inwards on making ourselves better what we do, without the opportunity cost of not being able to play a support show or not being ready for a gig.”
“We’ve actually got the time to really focus and develop our skills. And that’s the best thing that we can be doing right now.”
Whoever I talk to, reflection seems to be a key theme of lockdown. We know writers are told to write every day, even if it’s rubbish or total gibberish—so it makes sense the same is true for artists.
“I’ve recently discovered ‘fast-journaling’ where I give myself five-minutes to write something,” Kim said.
“It may just be something like ‘I got up at eight this morning and I’m now drinking a glass of milk’, but sometimes something pops into my brain and I’m able to use it as a starting point for a song.”
Lockdown has also sparked new ways of interacting with followers.
While many musicians have taken their ‘live’ performances online, Kim had a particularly interesting way of interacting with her audience—asking for short stories via Instagram to turn into songs.
“I’d get some really random ones, like ‘I just broke up with my boyfriend, but feel so much stronger without him’, or ‘I met my fiancé six years ago and now we’re getting married during lockdown’, or one person even asked me to sing about my life in Taiwan before moving to Australia and the cultural differences there.”
“It’s really nice because even though the sentences are really short, I can use my imagination to fill in the gaps and create a song.”
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Kirklandd has moved his collaboration online using a platform called Landr to keep his workflow moving.
“You’re able to host real-time sessions and get audio straight from producers using decent production software, so I’ve been working on a new punk project that I’m releasing next year.”
Kirklandd has also been running a series of online youth workshops through the ANU Open School of Music.
“I wanted to give back to the community, so I worked on courses about songwriting and performance. But when lockdown lifts, we’ll be back to in person teaching,” he explains.
Just down the road from ANU, The Street Theatre’s ReStorying project is all about how artists are responding to COVID-19 and finding ways to reconnect with their creatives selves using a series of workshops.
MusicACT has also been uploading a series of online resources which can be watched on demand.
“We’ve been making our entire professional development program online,” says Billy.
“These courses are so important for not only the artists, but also managers, producers and everyone associated with the music industry. We’re all about creating a space for people to network and continue building a musical community here in Canberra.”
Unsurprisingly, both Kirklandd and Kim already have big plans for life after lockdown.
Both will be releasing new tracks, with performances in December—Kim at The Street Theatre and Kirklandd at UC.
Follow Kirklandd at iamkirklandd.com
Follow Kim Yang at kimyangmusic.com
Find MusicACT’s online resources at musicact.com.au/resources
Find out more about The Street Theatre’s ReStorying project at thestreet.org.au/artists/re-storying
Feature image: Kirklandd by Connor Sprague. Photograph taken pre-ACT lockdown