How to survive during this pandemic

How to survive during this pandemic

Strictly for artists and people living for art

The holiday season is officially over, all Christmas lights are packed back into the boxes and the last glimpses of Christmas cheerfulness seem to have faded away. The lockdown is still ongoing in most countries, and our creative days seem to rather be a distant memory. If you are an artist working as an employed teacher or at a national theater/orchestra or any other public service and you still receive your regular salary as per the employment contract, then you do not really flirt with the idea of booking a session with a psychologist – at least not yet. However, if you are a freelancer, as I am, and you work as a musician, composer, singer, actor/actress, director, painter, how can I put this? You are in trouble my friend…

When I chose the music path, I knew where I was getting myself into. Setting up as a musician would definitely not be an easy task. I was aware of this even when enrolling at the Music Academy. However, I felt prepared and ready to overcome every difficulty, keep up with the hard competition, embrace every rejection and unfair wage; I learned how to move on despite being backstabbed, undervalued by my own country, and involved in rumors. I was not even surprised by the lobbying practices and the opportunists I used to see from time to time. I always knew this was not going to be an easy fight.

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However, I must admit I never saw a pandemic coming in March 2020, not even in my wildest dreams. And I consider myself to be one of the lucky ones living in a contemporary and safe state as Austria, which is able to support the artists and prevent them of going insane begging for financial aid. Two months later, in May 2020, I saw a trend rising on social media about “discovering ourselves, showing greater kindness and solidarity to our fellow men and women, appreciating the little things in life” along with a promptitude to revolt and fight for a better tomorrow – as in the famous Netflix’s series “Casa de Papel”. That spring was different from all the previous ones – terrace concerts, messages of support and encouragement to the artists as well as the whole art sector across all social media channels. We all thought that this summer we would adapt ourselves, regain our strength, move on hoping that everything would soon be over.

Sadly, once again we were proven wrong! First, second, third wave of COVID-19 and counting. This is not a virus, but an ocean! All measures taken have proven contradictory. How is it possible that COVID-19 is not transmitted to people attending an event organized at an amphitheater by a production company but COVID-19 is transmitted to people attending an event organized by the artists themselves. Sooner or later, we all realized that the encouragement and great speeches in the beginning of the pandemic were just words.

Now back to action, here is what we should all focus on from now on:

  1. Stop whining! No matter how tricky or hard the things might get, we should not ask the people around us. There is no answer. We should just deal with it and move on. Take your time and make an effort – I am sure we will make it at the end!
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  1. True friends! Now is the time to see who really cares about you, being a friend or a colleague. Your time is precious and you should spend it alongside people who are always there for you!
  1. Inspiration! It might sound tricky but inspiration is like appetite, it comes with eating. If you are just waiting to get a glimpse of inspiration while watching TV, I assure you this won’t happen. Grab your brush, sit in front of your piano and take action. I know that most of the times nothing comes out of it; however, the important thing is for you to keep trying and not give up…
  1. Just because you spend most of your time at home, it does not mean that you need to stay all day long in your pajamas. Put some clothes on, do your hair and lift up your mood! Bear in mind that being an artist is not just a job, is who you are. Take good care of yourself, stay disciplined and stay physically and mentally fit.
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  1. You are important! Do not expect other people to tell you what you are worth and capable of. You should be the one to tell what is worth investing time and effort on and what not. NEVER FORGET THAT! Every time you receive an offer for a play or an artistic event, take your time and sleep on it. Do not get excited immediately. Even if you receive continuous phone calls and emails that might seem appealing at first, it is better for you take your time and not reply for 2-3 days. Once you are sure of your decision, go back to your friend or colleague and share your terms. Do not rely on their decency. I know it might sound cruel, but trust me when I tell you this – in a difficult moment, your friend or colleague will only think of themselves and not you.
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  1. Rejection! Unfortunately, this is part of the package but always remember that it is just a personal view, nothing more! One can find countless examples of the greatest artists getting rejected because they were thinking outside the box, hence not easily accepted by the rest of society. However, if you get rejected, i.e. betrayed, by a close colleague of yours, you should examine carefully the situation. You should not fear that you will come in total conflict with the particular person; however, clarify how they handled the situation wrong by setting your limits. If you realize that your colleague reacts in a bad and angry manner, do not forget to keep your deeper thoughts to yourself. Everything is strategy!
  1. Choose your team wisely! That includes the group of friends and colleagues that you trust and will always be there for you during your career. Such a team normally consists of two to four persons maximum. They will be your most trusted friends, the ones aware of all your skills and weaknesses, the performing mistakes you might make, the things yet to be conquered in terms of impeccable technique and a vast repertoire; they will know what you can afford in terms of potential future endeavors. Thus, it is clear that you should choose the people of this team very carefully based on their professionalism, confidentiality, efficiency and knowledge; they should share the same passion for art that you do and they should admire and love you.
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  1. Study hard and stay engaged on a daily basis! You should be able to devote some time to your art, even amid a pandemic. It does not matter how long that might be – ten minutes, or five hours. Every form of art, be it literature, music or painting, is a form of positive and bright energy, and the reason of your very existence. You do not choose your art, but art chooses you. Measure up to it! Even in the darkest times, stay always engaged and proactive.
  1. Set your own salary! Set your limits and rates. The latter should be based on the time spent on a project, on the sacrifices and the acquaintances made during your career, the money invested in your work. Know yourself and your worth so that other people can recognize your worth in return. This also includes setting your own rates and salary. Being an artist is indeed much more than just a job; however, when your landlord asks for their rent, you always pay it on time, don’t you? There should be a reward to everything you offer/do. Unfortunately, people tend to forget and be easily forgotten and it won’t be an exception when you feel being used if you have not clarified straight from the beginning your financial obligations to your colleagues.
  1. Stick to a contract! This is one of the most important tips to keep in mind. I know that lawyer fees might be high, but we all have a friend or relative that is a lawyer. Having a professional advice is of major importance! ALWAYS BEAR IN MIND that you should never accept to record a song or take on a particular task before both parties have a legally binding contract or request in place where all terms and conditions are described in detail and confirmed by the other party. In case of a recording or filming, make sure that you get the copyright of your input, e.g. your status, voice or picture. Otherwise, you could easily be cheated and a pandemic is definitely not the time to go through such situations.
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  1. Include humor and people who force you to level up! Our beloved opera singer, Margarita Lilowa, often told us: “Besser alleine als schlecht begleitet” (better to be alone than with a bad company), and she was absolutely right. Our allies, people that love and admire us, are our source of power and light. They are the ones who will keep defending us as well as our work, they are the people who will stand by our side, admit when making a mistake and won’t hesitate to apologize; the people who will always support our efforts and need to evolve, stand up for us in case of untrue statements on social media; last but not least, the people who will move past your weaknesses (we can all admit that artists have plenty of those) and bring humor to our lives in moments of need. True allies shall be few and carefully selected. Do not waste your time on getting to know everyone – your time is precious. Even when staying in quarantine makes you believe that the time goes by so slowly, you will be surprised when you realize at the end how fast the whole pandemic went by. And when this moment comes, you will need good and trustful people around you.

Chryso Makariou ©

Vienna

February 2021

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