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Meet the student charting the survival of musicians during Covid-19

Since COVID-19 forced pubs, venues and clubs to close their doors, gigs and live shows have stopped completely. So how has music carried on?


That's the question we posed to dBs alumni Natasha Berry, who's been researching how musicians have been surviving during Covid-19.

As part of her Innovation in Sound Masters Degree, Natasha donned her journalist's hat and created Music-Demic, a documentary exploring how artists have continued to create and share their gift with the world during the global coronavirus outbreak. We caught up with her to talk about the process of creating a documentary and the discoveries she made along the way.

What inspired you to take on such a poignant topic?

"Having played in bands for most of my life, and being a music (tech) student, I have a vested interest in the area. The majority of my close friends and social network are all in bands and have been directly affected by what's happened."

"It's widely thought that industries such as hospitality and retail have been the worst affected but a lot of people working in those sectors have been able to access support from things like the furlough scheme."

"What's happened has had an impact on everyone but I don't think there's a huge awareness about how grass route musicians, especially those who's sole income is from live music, have been affected. I wanted to shine a spotlight on the issue and also tell their story, presenting it as something future generations can look back on with compassion and interest."

Meet the student charting the survival of musicians during Covid-19

How did you approach the project?

"When the first lockdown happened I was studying for my Innovation in Sound Masters degree and working on a different project exploring musicians' views towards Brexit and whether opposing political persuasions would create a significant barrier to collaborating."

"The plan was to bring Brexiteers and Remainers together to play a concert, hopefully promoting the idea that music has the power to unite people of opposing political opinions. When the pandemic triggered the first lockdown, it was clear I wouldn't be able to realise the project so I had to go back to the drawing board. "

"As time began to pass the severity of the situation became more and more apparent and I could see how it was affecting the people around me in different ways. I wanted to explore how musicians were coping and shine a light on the situation in greater detail." 

How did dBs support you during the process?

"As my ideas were developing I knew I wanted to dig deeper into how musicians were coping and a documentary investigating the subject seemed like a logical approach. I wasn't sure if the project was 'innovating in sound' though. I discussed it with my tutor Stu Welsh and other members of the teaching team at dBs in Plymouth. They were really supportive, encouraging me to develop the project further. They also helped me work through the 'imposter syndrome' that a lot of creatives seem to struggle with. 

"With the topic being totally new and related to my industry and given the fact I had never put a film together before, my tutors felt that what I was doing was uniquely innovative for me and also the wider industry, who I would hopefully raise awareness about and support."

Meet the student charting the survival of musicians during Covid-19 - dBs Supporting

"If you're a musician, producer or music tech student with a great idea or subject you want to explore but the imposter syndrome is getting in the way, I would encourage you to reach out to an institution like dBs and talk to them. I was able to create something really important and meaningful with their support and encouragement." 

Tell us about Music-Demic

"Music-Demic is the final product of my Innovation in Sound Masters degree and is a documentary about how musicians have survived during the lockdown caused by the Covid19 outbreak. The documentary charts the survival of 15 artists from across the globe, all working in different genres. I shot the documentary using the 'dark tourism / Louis Theroux' style of film making. I wanted to jump right into the topic and learn on the fly, taking the audience along for the ride with me."

Meet the student charting the survival of musicians during Covid-19 - Music Demic

"After doing a lot of research studying different approaches to film making it felt like this would be the best strategy, especially given the parallels to the actual situation in real life. We were all genuinely plummeting head first into the unknown, so the style of film making actually turned into a metaphor for what was happing at the time."

What did you find out?

"Although there were a number of different challenges musicians faced during the pandemic - the obvious one being financial stress - there were other really interesting things that happened too."

"Motivation was a really intriguing topic. It's been one of humanities' biggest challenges throughout the lockdown and I was really interested to see how bands would cope. Like all of us, it affected many of them and some people found nearly all of their motivation slipping away. For other bands, lockdown seemed to have the opposite effect." 

"I asked them how they stayed so driven and many confirmed that it was the desire to continue entertaining people and stay connected with fans was what kept them going."

"With the musicians that lost their mo-jo, I found that after a period of being disheartened and demotivated they started to write music again. A lot of them found themselves entering into a very creative period. Some even stated the 'liberation' of not having to gig all the time gave them space to focus on their art, writing new songs and experimenting with sound. They had time to step back and explore things they have never done before."

So how did musicians survive?

"There's no doubt that the financial burden was the biggest challenge to musicians during this period and sadly some, who's sole income was based on live gigs, had to turn to charities for support. Many had to find different jobs working in call centres and other basic roles for example."

"Musicians adapted a lot during this time and also used different methods to carry on functioning as a band. Many turned to technology with varying degrees of success. Trying to practice together from different locations using Zoom and other pieces of technology proved challenging with latency issues meaning band members could never really sync up this way."

"Some decided to take their practice outdoors into members gardens and participate in socially distanced rehearsals. Live streaming on social media was one of the areas where bands found success. They even experimented with the format in a bid to stay connected to people. I saw artists doing live Q&As with their fans and even doing live reviews of their own tracks and discussions with their fans in real time. Other's turned to teaching online, an area that also blew up throughout the lockdown period. Although it was a turbulent time, lots of great things also happened."

How can we support musicians while venues are still closed?

"Any financial help will be important. Download or stream their albums, buy their merch, share their music and social media pages with your network, support their live streams and importantly stay connected with them and be a part of their community. Money is one thing but equally important is human connection and moral support. Musicians have dedicated their lives to entertaining people with their art so be a part of their journey and find time to stay connected."

For anyone watching the documentary now or in the future what would you hope they take away from seeing it?

"I would want people to look back and have a better understanding of what happened during this time, how musicians were treated and how they dealt with the situation. It's going to be an important historical event and I wanted to tell it from a musicians perspective, alongside all of the other stories from this period."  

Where can we watch Music-Demic? 

"The documentary is finished and is waiting for some of the participants to sign it off before it gets posted. It will be shared on social media and you can follow the project on YouTube, Facebook and Instagram."

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