Becoming a Musician: University Lockdown Edition

If we’re honest, being at university during a pandemic sounds like a tough gig.

With no freshers, no post-assignment celebrations at the pub and not even the panicked 1am library revision sessions, it’s hardly a normal year for students- and people are quick to forget just how important those years are.

Ethan Owen, a Popular Music student at Leeds Conservatoire and lead singer of whomp, writes for ShinGig about his experiences this year and what he’s most looking forward to when ‘things are back to normal’ (whenever that maybe…)

Life before lockdown was good, I was at university so it was pretty busy to be honest. I had a lot of assignments and a lot of personal artist work that I was building and developing.

Fast forward to the second semester when COVID emerged and things were still good initially. I was working with a team of musicians to build a band for gigging and recording.

It felt like it was pretty promising at this point because I was two years into my studies and had been building contacts and collaborating with more people both on my course and in the Leeds area.

It was getting to a position where most of us would be working toward the prospect of getting our names out there and performing in front of crowds.

Miserable March

In all honesty when the news first came about COVID, I wasn’t too worried. I think I’d formed the idea that it wouldn’t be a big deal and it wouldn’t affect us.

But of course I was complete and utterly wrong...

When the announcements were made, it was a complete shock and everything just stopped; the uni closed; assignments were cancelled and venues were shut.

It all just came so quickly, it was almost like we had no time to react and since then it’s been pretty interesting.

Thankfully, we’ve been able to go into the building for some sessions (mostly practical like band work or 1-to-1 sessions with the tutors) which is much more gratifying than the alternatives.

Considering what my course entails, having the majority of it online would have made it difficult to genuinely interact/connect with.

Mind you, one major difficulty was that you always had to be aware even with face-to-face practical sessions, you’ll have people there one week and then the next they had to isolate.

Anyone involved with a band or collaborative studies will appreciate how disruptive this is but you have to do what you can and really try to make the most out of the situation you’re in.

It hit me harder than I thought it would at the time. The fact that everything we had been working on had stopped suddenly took its toll and we had so much planned for the summer but all those projects seemed to fade or hit a block.

Then I ended up testing positive and had to isolate for 14 days which, physically it didn’t affect me much but mentally, was a lot to deal with as again it just disrupted everything.

Even though online sessions continued, trying to focus and do any work was a challenge but like everyone has had to learn this year, you get through it and try your best to carry on.

I’ve been building my motivation back up and focusing on the coming year to get my artist brand and more music out there.

Overall, the university has been brilliant to control the spread and continue with face to face sessions. These sessions have given us a bit more normality and peace of mind plus we know exactly where to go if we feel uncomfortable or need help / support with anything.

Life after COVID

As we come out of 2020 and into the new year, I’m stupidly excited to get everything started again.

I’m not to say things are going to go back to normal anytime soon, but I feel like there will be loads more opportunities and for me, it’s good to have a clearer mindset of what I want to achieve this year.

As an artist who’s still building a brand and developing their style, it’s tough to find where I want to be and whilst COVID hasn’t made it much easier, it has given me time to establish such goals.

I believe gigging is going to come back with a vengeance and play a very important part in many artists' lives, smaller venues in particular.

For those such as myself who are still at university or those only just starting to perform outside of that, we need to be able to have those spaces to experiment, to network and to get recognised.

I don’t think people realise just how important those types of venues are until they’re gone, especially during COVID where we’ve seen this happen.

Coming out of the first lockdown, a lot of people gravitated to as many gigs as they could before they couldn’t happen again.

Though there were only a few, it was smaller venues which created that opportunity for them and in turn created that attention and support for artists who were ready to go and perform.

I think the intimacy of a smaller venue adds so much to music and personally I feel like you really want to be able to grasp what their music is and I prefer venues which literally put you ‘closer’ to them.


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