Creative Quarantine: Musician Jerry King

Jerry King

1. How are you holding up? 

Relatively well.  I’m re-examining a lot of things I’ve been working towards lately, and now I’m gaining a lost perspective.

Prior to the current state of affairs, I never realized the degree to which my social practices and obligations overwhelmed me.  I was always on the move, driving to a gig, driving to teach a lesson, to a rehearsal, etc.  I realized that I spent most of my time in my car, in traffic, which is hardly a healthy way to live/spend one’s life.  There’s this economic theory called the Law of Diminishing Marginal Returns, and I reached it.  I was at the point where I was losing my energy to pursue the things I loved, even though that’s what I thought I was actively doing all along; I had mistaken activity for productivity.  COVID-19 threw a wrench in the works and forced me to really examine what I’ve been doing all this time.

I had mistaken activity for productivity

The occurrence of COVID-19 has been traumatic to say the least.  Like so many other people, my life came to a screeching halt. Now I have to change … not temporarily, but permanently.  Change is not an option, its mandatory. 

In the time since COVID-19 started, I lost a family member, as well as having some friends pass away.  Not being able to comfort them or their loved ones has been really hard.  It’s shone a light on a lot of things, like the way we behave and the need to change it. So, that’s what I’m doing; I’m changing.

2. Has COVID-19 had an effect on your work? If so, in what way?

Absolutely!  I’m a working musician or at least, I was prior to the beginning of March.  I was booked solid through June with an amazing Summer and Fall on the horizon.  Then in the passage of one week in March, all of my work disappeared!  Gigs, lessons, … everything.  I was left with zero income and nothing on the horizon.  

Then, 36 hours after the state issued the shelter in place order, the School of Rock was able to launch an online platform, which was amazing news and completely unexpected.  They moved fast!  So, I then had to figure out the best way to leverage the technology I had to teach drums and percussion online.  This is not easy if you’ve never done it before, and it’s especially difficult given the loud nature of my instrument.  Unlike a guitar, a vocal, or a keyboard, all of which can be performed at a reasonable level, the drums cannot.  The required physicality to perform on an acoustic drum and the overall sound produced quickly poses problems because it overwhelms the microphones on any mobile device, resulting in the complete loss of sound.

If left unaddressed, issues like that can be disastrous, especially when you’re trying to launch a new business platform.  There’s no time to pass the buck and wait for someone else to figure things out for you.  You’ve got to do it … because a bad online experience can result in the loss of a teacher, or a student, or both!  Then, your business is gone.  So, I started wearing a new hat.  All of a sudden, I became a tech guru for my students and colleagues.

3. Is there anything you’ve added to your practice that you’d like to keep after this is over?

Most definitely, my skills at recording and mixing audio! 

About a year and a half ago, I managed to purchase a serious digital/audio interface that allows me to have a small home studio.  I had always been interested in stuff like different types of microphones, preamps, etc, but never really knew enough about them to do anything.  Nevertheless, I continued to collect software and audio gear for a couple of years prior to March. I never really had the energy or the wherewithal to bring everything together … until now.

Now, I find myself upon a path that I have no intension of leaving.  On a daily basis, I am studying music, studying recording and mixing, and applying it to real recording projects.  I’ve been working on new albums for three groups since the middle of March.  I’m gaining valuable skills that help me survive.  Not just because I want to, but because I have to.  I have to do the work and figure it out.  Thankfully, I am a nerd and love diving head-first into this stuff.

In addition to learning more about recording and mixing audio, I’m also doing the same for video, which is proving to be especially helpful since it is now tied to my job at the School of Rock, and it also comes in handy for editing down a lot of the footage I have from my own band’s past performances.

4. Of the artists you follow, who’s handling this particularly well?

The only people I know that are handling things well are those that are helping others and being proactive about adopting new approaches and behaviors to their art.  

I have a friend who’s an A-list player in L.A.  He does all the big soundtracks and records.  We had a call recently, and for the first time in his 30-year career he’s had to file for unemployment.  To anyone reading this that works a “traditional” job, they’re probably thinking, “Yeah, so what?” But, what a lot of people fail to realize is that the unemployment system is a thing that musicians and artists aren’t really structured to participate in.  I think the same could be said for sculptors, painters, and people who work freelance, or from project to project in the film industry.   People from the Unemployment offices look at us like we’re from Mars when we try to explain to them where our income comes from and how we make our money. 

My friend is anticipating a complete change in the music industry, especially in how the way things work and where people live.  He expects a lot of great players will leave L.A. because they just can’t afford it now.  He sees larger production companies eating up smaller ones, a lot of consolidation, and the music industry’s resources and whole workflow completely changing.

It might seem like a bleak future awaits us.  There’s no doubt that dealing with the obstacles that COVID-19 has laid before us will be tougher than anything we’ve had to deal with to date.  However, I believe things are not impossible, especially if we work together.

Jerry King is a professional trained drummer and musician, living in the Chicagoland area.  For over twenty years, he has worked in a variety of musical settings, playing everything from Musical theater, to Rock, Metal, Latin pop, and Jazz.  In addition to teaching drums and percussion, Jerry has even done a small bit of acting.