How Are You Coping During The Crisis?

During this period of adjustment and homestay, I thought I'd survey the music landscape and peer into the lives of fellow musicians and industry stalwarts. The responses of these Toronto male  artists and biz players are compelling. Pictured: Orin Isaacs

How Are You Coping During The Crisis?

By Bill King

It’s week two, or three, - not sure, and I’m burning out on television. Everything’s a blur. Ozark is mutating into Narcos and Sneaky Pete. Tiger King haunts me in my sleep. I have recurring nightmares I’ve been kidnapped by a caravan of bus stop deadbeats -ripped limb by limb and fed to jackals and lions. I seriously long for The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and faded on Mozart in the Jungle. Sunday, I stayed up late night and savoured the Big Lebowski cast get together – John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, and Jeff Bridges shoulder to shoulder in a diner reminiscing about the first read of the script and John Turturro’s strange hooping of a bowling ball. Stephen Colbert is in desperate need of an audience as Jimmy Kimmel succeeds on all levels, whether “repeats” interrogating Howard Stern or those laundry room chats from the home basement. Kimmel makes me smile, and that’s the most we as a planet can come by at this moment.


David Suzuki views the pandemic as corrective measures – the planet taking control and fighting back. Conspiracists swear there are right and left-wing demons running amuck with bioweapons locked and loaded. Somewhere in the middle is the realization there will never be a return to “normal” – to old ways and bad habits. This moment, it’s the healthcare workers and those in positions to protect us that carry the spiritual weight for future generations. In the now, it’s the arts, the players, the actors, the painters, the wordsmiths offering solace and hope.

Last week I asked the women how they are coping. This week – the men!

Mike Boon – Toronto Mike’d Podcast

What extra hours? I'm experiencing the exact opposite because my wife is working from home and busier than ever because she works for a healthcare software company, and I'm trying to move TMDS forward with a four and five-year-old at home all day.


I'm still putting out new episodes of Toronto Mike'd, producing several other podcasts, including Humble and Fred and Hebsy on Sports, and recording remote episodes of corporate podcasts for TMDS clients.

One rose that's grown from the cracks in the COVID-19 concrete is a new series where Toronto Mike'd listeners record themselves talking about a song they love for 30-60 seconds and email me the file. I release compilations I call FOTM KOTJ. You should do this!

Most of my music listening is checking on the jams listeners love. It's introducing me to a wealth of great stuff!

Randy Lennox – President of Bell Media

First off, wishing everyone health and safety. The priority here is keeping CTV News and our television and radio stations going across the country. The team is doing great pretty much everyone is working from home. Working with the Red Cross on the Elton John #iHeart living room concert and working with Canadian music friends to try to do something similar here, and there seems to be excellent traction. Please stay safe.


Lou Pomanti – Composer, Producer, Musician

When we first went into isolation around March 10, I went into a flurry of activity. I was in the middle of a project with Robyn Black, a fantastic singer that sings BGs on Oakland Stroke videos, and I dove into it with everything I had. I was also working on a new record from Marc Jordan and Amy Sky, making some orchestra arrangements. The first week went by in a flurry of work. After that, the boredom started to set in. Gigs were getting cancelled by the bucketful and even the possibility of having people coming over to record evaporated.


I began to feel like “what's the use” and days would go by without me even going into my home studio, which for me, is unprecedented. I usually work seven days a week. In a way, musicians may be better equipped mentally for this isolation than most because working alone is a big part of modern music-making. But an interesting thing happened. Both of our kids decided to wait out the pandemic with us at home. We started eating together again. Playing cards at night. Talking more. I started to wonder what positive things we could take away from this nightmare.

I've started to work again in the past few days, but at an effortless pace. Trying to take it easy on me. I guess that a lot of musicians will abandon a career in music over this. I think a lot of people, in general, may re-examine their lives and career choices. For those of us who are ambitious types, we may learn that your life doesn't end if you aren't working ALL the time. We are doing our best to keep ourselves and those around us safe and healthy. AND, I've discovered Anderson.Paak!!

Eric Alper – Canadian Music Correspondent, Publicist, Radio Host, Blogger

Things are pretty much normal here (except for the, you know, not going out part). Steadily, all of the artists I’m working with are ramping up their release schedule with new songs, additional content for videos, and living-room concerts to promote, watching artists like Fred Penner, Chris Birkett, Randy Bachman, Steve Hill, Ezra Jordan, Jane Bunnett, Ashley MacIsaac and more go online to play music, moving forward. It’s not an overstatement to say that music and the arts are saving a lot of people right now. Like the real-life heroes working at the supermarkets and other stores and the God-like status we should be giving medical staffers, we’re all just swimming along together.


I’ve started a new YouTube Channel where every night, I give 1-minute tips for bands and artists stuck on what to post on social media. It’s over 100,000 views in the first week alone across all the socials, and getting messages always about how it’s sparking some creativity, so that’s been pretty satisfying to know during this bizarre and sorrowful time, these ideas are making a few out there happy:

Other than that, I’ve listened to Bob Dylan’s new song a few times (there are about 10 hours right there), Pearl Jam’s Gigaton, Waxahatchee’s Saint Cloud (a classic), Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia, Childish Gambino’s 3.15.20.

Neil Chapman – Guitarist/Producer

Hi Shugabear, other than washing my hands a lot and trying not to touch my face, I’m doing what I always do except not in front of people. Writing songs at home with drummer friends of mine who sent me grooves they recorded in their home studios, then writing and recording a song around them in my studio. Great drummers like Mike Sloski and Kevan MacKenzie. People also send me their tunes, and I add Guitar or Bass and send them back. The process works well. Perhaps too well, as I may never need to go out to work again, even when I can.


And of course as always, if I close my eyes I’m playing in Madison Square Garden.

Danny Marks – Blues Musician and host of BLUZ.FM JAZZ.FM91

Being a musician, living for the special moment on stage, is our prime function. The connection to the crowd, the ambiance, and the feel of the band are central to our lives for decades. It's a prime function, like eating, sleeping, breathing. With all performance and live shows cut, it's impossible to fill that gap with anything else. Besides seclusion at home, I'm getting a walk in the Don Valley Lands away from others. Staying healthy in mind and body is critical. Taking care. Taking more time with food prep and housework, purging, and organizing in seclusion. Music in all forms, as always, is paramount. Listening and playing the guitar and mandolin at home, pulling various instruments out, preening, tweaking, and fine-tuning them.

The 1950 Gibson ES 5 is ready for action again. The Rickenbacker Twelve String has two truss rods in the neck. Watching how to luthier videos and taking the time to give the old guitars patiently, some love is therapeutic. Looking after the fleet is both calming and satisfying. Writing you this short note helps visualize healing where it can be under our control. Thanks for the opportunity, Bill.

The one time where life feels most ordinary is the production day for radio. It's comforting to be in the studio, after making sure all surfaces are prepped, connecting personal mics and headphones, and doing that thing we do. Now more than ever, our station is helping people connect with the world and music as we send out healing waves of sound and messaging. You and I and our colleagues have a unique place and task at hand to provide the continuity that the listener, before and after, in the moment we share. I invite emails and respond with the sign-off, "stay well, stay safe, and please stay tuned." 

Ernesto Cervini – Bandleader, Composer, Drummer – Orange Grove Publicity

I've been coping pretty well with the situation at home.  My wife and I have two young children, ages seven and three, so our days are fully scheduled out, mainly for their benefit, but also ours.  Since we became housebound, I could practice daily, and work on composition and arranging, while also filling my roles as a publicist (Orange Grove Publicity) and faculty member at Humber College (where we continue to give private lessons online) and U of T (where I've been doing year-end meetings with my private students.) 

Orin Isaacs – Television Music Producer, Bass Guitarist, Bandleader

These are CRAZY TIMES!! But I’m fortunate that as a TV composer, my daily routine of solitude and isolation hasn’t changed much, but the number of shows I work on has. Weirdly I get solace in knowing that everybody that isn’t essential is in the same boat, I mean not just the people in the Arts but everybody!! 

So I’ve spent a lot of time listening to Netflix. I’ve been watching a lot of music docs. Miles, Coltrane the artists of the ’60s, 70’s, not that I’m into Jazz or early Rock & Roll, but I am into the process of creating. I’ll watch whatever is trending, but I’ll do more listening. Self Made, Tiger King is hot, and I just listen to the scores. I’m continually studying other composers so that when this damn pandemic is over, I can come out swinging!!

Mark Kelso – Drummer, Singer, Composer, Educator, Producer

With having to teach online classes at Humber now, I’ve successfully been able to use Skype for one on one meetings with my students as well as the Zoom app for larger classes. The screen share function on Zoom has been super handy for looking at music charts and listening to audio files. The laptop mic is workable sound-wise for quieter things like playing on a practice pad or with brushes, but not so good with the full kit. I’ve had moderate success using multiple camera angles on Zoom by simply adding the iPad/iPhone cameras to the meeting. There’s a bit of a time lag, but students can at least see my hands working from different views.

I’m not having as much luck with sound, though. I’ve been trying to up the sound quality by using an audio interface and a few mics along with the Loopback app, but I’m still figuring it out. I’ve certainly had to up my tech game because of this crisis. I even moved my entire studio around to get better camera angles. I’ve just gotta figure out the bloody sound still. I wish Zoom would come up with some kind of add-on for better sound quality. Other than that, I’m listening to music, getting out for walks or bike rides, and hanging with the family a lot more.

Ron Littlejohn – Singer and host of Gumbo Kitchen – JAZZFM.91

It looks like I'm losing a handful of gigs, but I can't complain. It's not my bread and butter. I feel horrible for so many of my friends in Toronto and New Orleans who make their living playing live music. They've had the rug pulled out from under them. I spotlight a different artist every week on my show to draw some traffic to the artist's websites. It's not much, but it's all I can do.

I've been watching lots of music docs, Quincy Jones, Miles. Digging out a lot of old books that were packed away, and I'm eating WAY too much!

I hope to see you and Jesse soon, my friend.

Céline Dion in 'I Am : Céline Dion'
Prime Video

Céline Dion in 'I Am : Céline Dion'

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