On creating when it feels impossible

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Gotta get those face proportions right on that larger-than-life human head… the digital marketing collaboration – unsplash

An exploration of pandemic induced creative burn-out and how to replenish creativity.

Creating art can feel like an absolving of our sins; to harness the ability to create instead of destroy. There is something beautiful in being able to create, and it’s something that all people are capable of. When the pandemic first hit, it felt like an opportunity to cultivate artistic talents: to learn a new instrument, pick up a new medium of drawing, or write a book. As time went on and we spent hours and hours in our homes, the fire to create and make something new started to burn out. Many artists, whether new to the craft or experienced, began to see their art change from March 2020 to today.

Composer and sound designer from British Columbia, J.B. McCarthy said, “since the onset of the pandemic, my music freelancing career has been very up and down. At the beginning, what with everything being shut down, my work became very infrequent, and I struggled. There was a point where it was a few months where I hadn’t written a single note.”

When talking about his music now, compared with before the pandemic, McCarthy said, “My work before the pandemic was good in my opinion, but it began to stagnate in terms of creativity. I would also load up the same string libraries and piano libraries only to end up writing the same type of music over and over again. I knew this was bad, but it got the job done and I got paid so why would I change? I’ll tell you why, because I was bored. And if I was bored with what I was doing, why would I expect anybody else not to be.”

From there, McCarthy goes on to describe something that revolutionized his creative practices: he took on a 30-day new music challenge. “I wrote something new every day,” McCarthy says, “stretching my mind until it was fresh and wonderful. Now I have this new arsenal of sounds, harmonies, styles, and ideas that lead me to make better and more tailored music decisions.” He was able to change and expand upon the things he already knew to make something new and exciting that will help him when making more music in the future.

Despite art being something that once brought joy to many artists, our collective creative drive during the pandemic dropped. Creating can begin to feel like a chore. It can feel like you’re battling yourself and your creativity for the sake of productivity. Of this, McCarthy said, “When I finish a piece of music […] my immediate thought is: okay, what’s next. I of course relish in the fact that I did a good job, and the client likes what I did, but I usually have something next up on the docket that needs my attention.”

Every piece of art means something. Whether it’s simply a character illustration, a landscape, a song, a poem, or anything, it means something. All the art they’ve created amalgamates into what their craft means to them. “What my music means to me, is story, McCarthy says. “Every single piece of music I have written, and really that has ever been written, has a story. When I write for a film, my music caters to what’s happening on screen, whether it’s to fully establish how a character feels in the moment, or to give the action that momentous drive it craves, it’s all meant to tell a story. I love it when people listen to my music and they tell me it sounds like it could be in a movie, or that my titles make perfect sense. That’s because it’s all part of the plan. I name things and I write things to provoke specific emotions from my audience and as long as I can nail that, I’m a happy camper.”

For those who used to love creating and still facing burnout, know that it’s okay. It doesn’t make you any less of an artist or a creator. And when you’re ready to create again – not when the world tells you that you should be ready, but when you feel ready – go forth and make something beautiful.

J.B. McCarthy can be found at rangersound.ca. His new album, In the Midst of Disorder, is available at jbmccarthy.bandcamp.com/album/in-the-midst-of-disorder.

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