A Musician’s Life During a Pandemic

For many people, the COVID-19 Pandemic has meant simply working from home instead of going into the office. But those of us who make our living in the performing arts, entertainment, events, restaurants, and nightlife industries have been some of the most dramatically affected by the economic fallout of the pandemic. When you make your living by creating in person, shared experiences for people, a moratorium on in person gatherings renders your work nearly non-existent.

I could tell you maudlin sob-stories about how hard it is for musicians to scratch together the money to pay the bills right now or how both political parties at the federal, state, and local level have pretty much hung our industry out to dry (they did pass a bill to give money to talent agents, but so far nothing for performers). I could whine about how everyone’s chops feel terrible from not playing with other humans enough. I could kvetch about how many musicians have had to leave town.

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But, I wouldn’t be telling you anything you don’t already know and complaining is boring. Instead, I’d rather share with you some good things that have come out of the last year. So, without minimizing the toll of this pandemic for anyone, here are my top five “Pandemic Wins” – positive things that probably would not have happened without the world being shut down by COVID-19. Remember, somewhere the sun is shining, and so the right thing to do is make it shine for you.

A Musician’s Life During a Pandemic
Glenn Crytzer and friends busking in 2020.

When the pandemic started, my stress level went through the roof. I was constantly checking social media and the news and arguing with people online. This made me pretty much miserable, so I ate my feelings. After two months of stress-eating, I gained about 20 lbs. I was feeling short of breath and having chest pain all the time. I was numbing the world with several cocktails a night. I thought something was physically wrong with me, but the doctor told me it was just anxiety.

Suddenly, toward the end of May, something snapped, and I just let go. I took Facebook off my phone, I stopped looking at the news all the time, and I emotionally disinvested myself in politics. That’s not to say that I stopped caring about friends or the world at large, but rather that I needed to care about those things in a way that didn’t harm my own well-being.

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I started meditating, dieting, working out, and taking long walks in the park. I refocused. I dropped the weight back off, I felt better, I was more productive, and I was a nicer person to be around.

So Pandemic Win #1 for me has been that I’ve started consuming media on my terms rather than becoming consumed by media. I now have infinitely more time to spend creating music and practicing. And the decreased stress-levels that go along with that will probably increase my life by five or ten music-filled years.

The first two months were not a total wash, however. To distract myself from the anxiety I was feeling, I read 30+ books as part of the process of researching the history of nightclubs. My notes from this time are now the foundation for a book that I intend to write myself (check out my Patreon page at www.patreon.com/glenn to watch a series of videos I created sharing some of my research). Without a completely open schedule, I may have never found time to do this research. That’s my Pandemic Win #2.

Glenn Crytzer secluded sevenI also managed to release an album with people I don’t usually get to work with because they live all around the country. It was one of the first “remote” albums that anyone released during the pandemic and features Bria Skonberg (NYC), Chloe Feoranzo (SoCal/NOLA), Evan Christopher (NOLA), Jason Jurzak (NOLA) Ben Paterson (NYC), and Josh Collazo (SoCal).

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So Pandemic Win #3 was getting to work with musicians I respect to record remotely that otherwise would be hard to bring together for a session. Is recording remotely as good as recording in person? NO! It’s very limiting, but listen for yourself and think you’ll agree we made the best of those limitations! You can find it at glenncrytzer.bandcamp.com.

A Musician’s Life During a Pandemic
Glenn’s home live streaming studio. (Photo: Facebook)

My Pandemic Win #4 is that I’ve learned how to “pivot”—the business-jargon neologism for the word “adapt.” When 2020 summer came around, I figured out how to pivot to busking and livestreaming to keep the lights on. When the weather got too cold to play outdoors, I had to pivot again to an all live-streaming model. I built a live-streaming/recording studio in my apartment and enrolled dozens of subscribers for our weekly livestream recording session. As a result, we’re doing something that I don’t think has ever been done before: releasing 25 full albums in 25 weeks. (Visit glenncrytzer.com/livestream for more info or to subscribe.)

When this series ends in the late Spring, I’ll have to pivot again, but the win from all this pivoting is that it’s teaching me how to think outside the box, how to plan, and make things work in less-than-ideal conditions. These challenges have made me more flexible and resilient overall.

Finally, we have Pandemic Win #5, which is maybe the biggest win of all. During the pandemic I’ve realized just how important what we musicians do really is. After almost every performance in a park this summer someone would inevitably come up and tell me that I didn’t know how much hearing live music meant to them, how much they needed what we just did, how we were bringing joy into their life when they most needed it.

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Government officials in charge of doling out relief may not know just how important artists are, but you and I know it. The arts are the heartbeat of our communities—and especially of my hometown, NYC. If it wasn’t for great music, theater, dance, galleries, chefs, cocktails, and nightspots, why on earth would anyone live here?

Do you think we all like living in apartments the size of walk-in closets, everything being 15% more expensive, and fighting rats the size of Tony Soprano for a spot on the subway platform? No. But we do it because there’s no place on earth with more interesting things to see and do than NYC. The energy here is electric.

Live entertainment will return bigger and better than ever after the pandemic. In NYC, New Yorkers will demand it. The city that never sleeps is just resting its eyes for a few minutes.

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Glenn Crytzer is a New York City based bandleader, arranger, composer, guitarist, and vocalist who is in love with the music of the Jazz Age and Swing Era. Visit him at www.glenncrytzer.com

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