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Posts by James Newcomb

Good Things That Will Come in the “New Normal” (Post COVID-19)

The end is in sight. The coronavirus pandemic cannot and will not last forever. While there has been plenty of media attention, both true and false, on the negative impact of the virus on our society, I’ve personally seen some good come of it. I believe that with a bit of conscientious decision-making and lifestyle tweaks, we can use this experience to make positive lasting changes in our lives and those around us.

Specifically to musicians, there are some good things I want to address:

The power of the Internet has been fully realized

Many musicians were hesitant to use the Internet to promote and/or share their music before COVID became what it has become. But all of a sudden, live performances were essentially banned. Deemed “non-essential” I believe is the term used. Well, that’s a lot of power the politicians have: to determine which services are essential and non-essential. While the debate over when is the appropriate time to resume live performances ensues, let’s not lose sight of the opportunities we have.

My trumpeter friend Floris Onstwedder is one of the first that I know of to get on the performing horse in wake of the pandemic. He hosted a live concert via livestream in May 2020, back when many musicians were bemoaning the plight that had befallen them due to local government regulations.

Then just this past weekend, my wife Sana and I watched my friend Joshua Messick perform a live-streamed concert on the hammered dulcimer. The resolution was high quality, and we both enjoyed his music while we ate breakfast (it was morning in Vietnam, while it was evening in North Carolina where he did his show.)

Now, were these experiences the same as a live performance? Of course not. There’s a certain energy that you get when human beings gather in one place. I would even call it a synergy when a performer and an audience share music together. So I don’t want to minimize the importance of it, and the need to resume it as soon as it’s appropriate to do so.  But Joshua was in North Carolina, Floris was in The Netherlands — we were in Vietnam watching them perform live. It’s very powerful and I expect more and more musicians will utilize live-streaming when this “new normal” takes shape.

Renewed consciousness of our environment

I’m not going to go on record on the response (or reaction) to the COVID-19 issue. Suffice it to say that it’s unprecedented in human history. We really don’t know what “new normal” will emerge a year or two from now.

What I see as an encouraging development is a very conscientious “awakening” regarding health, cleanliness, germs, etc. Businesses are really taking cleanliness seriously now, much more so than before the coronavirus became “a thing.” Whether or not the same attention to detail is sustainable for the long term remains to be seen. I predict something in the middle of pre-COVID-19 and the current cleanliness craze will become the norm.

I’m not in agreement with the idea that humans are supposed to be completely sterile; in fact, a completely sterile environment isn’t healthy at all. What is healthy is exposure to germs, bacteria, viruses, all of which strengthens the immune system when it is exposed to them.

That being said, I think many people will agree that our concern for the environment has been pretty apathetic as a whole for the last several decades. Huge agricultural corporations have sprayed glyphosate (Roundup) – a completely unnatural toxin – onto crops, and we thought nothing of it. By the way, did you know that the coronavirus had the most cases where glyphosate was sprayed the heaviest? The current coronavirus is an adaptation of the human genome to a foreign toxin (glyphosate). There are billions of viruses in the air around us every day, and not one of them has the ability to kill anything. When the immune system is unable to kill off the effects of a mutated virus such as COVID-19, that’s when it becomes problematic.

In time, the hysteria about COVID-19 will wane. What choice is there? We’re not wired to maintain this level of stress for months and years. People are literally accusing other people of murder for simply breathing. It’s absolute insanity, and it’s unsustainable for the long haul.

What I predict will be left when the hysteria wears off is a renewed consciousness of, and appreciation for, the incredible planet and environment we’ve inherited, as well as a renewed sense of responsibility to care for it. A cleaner environment naturally means a healthier immune system due to decreased toxins in the air. A better immune system means an increased ability to fight off viruses like COVID-19.

Bottom line: Focus on the environment. Not “the environment”, meaning the whole of Planet Earth a la Al Gore, but your own personal environment, i.e. your home, your office, your studio, etc. Those are the things you can directly control. Let’s just say that time spent protesting Monsanto has limited efficacy at best. Your time is likely better spent doing more productive things such as building an email list, creating new content, learning a new skill, or vacuuming your home.

Renewed consciousness of our fellow human beings

I lived in Vietnam while the coronavirus hit the world stage. It was rather distressing, and at the same time, fascinating to watch the United States as a whole react (or not react) to it. As a culture with communist roots, Vietnam is very different. They’re raised to never question the government. When the authorities say you are required to wear a mask outdoors, or in public places, you do it.

Americans, on the other hand, are more or less raised to have a healthy distrust of authority. The entire premise of American government is that power corrupts, therefore the power granted to government by “the people” should be limited. While I’m not trying to write a treatise on proper governmental authority, it’s interesting to see the difference between the two countries.

In Vietnam, people became much more friendly, both to each other and to dirty Americans like myself (their fathers did fight – and win – the American War, after all.) While insistent on following the government’s directives, the overall demeanor was that of kindness and civility towards others. Meanwhile in America, all hell broke loose. When I returned to the US in August, it was like returning to a different planet. I mean, you haven’t seen martial law until you see the Waffle House forced to close at 4 pm.

Different cultural norms = different reactions to the pandemic.

But no one can stay angry and irrational forever. The fear will wane eventually. When the dust settles, I think people will be more appreciative of human contact than before the pandemic hit. More aware, more conscious of other people’s health and personal wishes on how to remain healthy.

Renewed sense of self-reliance

Many people – musicians included – were told by the government, “You’re not essential. Therefore, you’re not allowed to do what you do to provide for your family.”

It’s pretty harsh, but that’s what happened. I guess a lot of people thought of it as a well-deserved vacation, and lived off the government via unemployment. Meanwhile, there were, and are, children who are starving to death because their parents aren’t allowed to work due to the lockdown. There’s no unemployment benefits in places like Malawi.

I guess there’s only two options when you’re declared “unessential” by your government. You can either live with it, and wait for permission to do what has been deemed “nonessential” in the first place; or you can do something else. The Internet provides unprecedented opportunities to make a decent and honest living, and you don’t need to wait for the government’s permission to do so. I predict that while more than a few folks will fall into the Slough of Despond and will never get out of it, the more optimistic among us will rise to the challenge and embrace the opportunity to pursue that business they would not have pursued during the “old normal.”

A renewed perspective of what is “essential”

The local bar may not be “essential” for humans to survive. Or is it? The local symphony hall doesn’t provide immediate needs for human survival. The local church can not have in-person meetings and it can still be a congregation. (Although I have to wonder how the world would respond to the pandemic if there was no Internet…Would we be so slow to resume normal activities if Zoom meetings were not an option?)

It’s basic science that humans require face to face contact with other people in order to be healthy. An infant that doesn’t have contact with its mother suffers lifelong trauma from which it can never recover. We’re no different when we become adults. Life without interaction with other people is no life that’s worth living. I’m grateful for opportunities to see live music online, but there’s no comparison between online and in person.

I think people may be a bit too dependent on the Internet, to the point that they’ve neglected the basic need for human contact.

And living in perpetual fear of one’s own shadow because of the constant reminders of how dire the situation is via news channels doesn’t help either.

Patrick Henry is famous for saying, “Give me liberty, or give me death!” I think more and more people will realize how essential human contact is, and will be willing to take the risk of contracting COVID-19 in order to live a life that’s worth living, i.e. sharing the gifts with which they’ve been blessed with others – in person.

Money as a KPI for the Musician

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James and wife Sana talk about the introduction for the podcast, as well as foundational ethics and philosophy related to making music a business.

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