Staying Inspired During Isolation

How being curious can keep you creative in isolation.

by Danielle ‘Danz’ Johnson

A bit about myself: I make music under the moniker of Computer Magic. I’ve been making music for roughly ten years now. I had no idea I could even write a song until I sat down and tried. I taught myself how to write music by ear and produce it by watching YouTube videos. Eventually, I got signed to a label in Japan. In the states I started a record label to release my music called Channel 9 Records. For Channel 9, I design my artwork and merchandise, order stock from pressing plants and find physical and digital distributors for the records. I was able to funnel money into the record label by licensing my songs which, luckily enough, I own all the rights to, being the sole songwriter, arranger, engineer and producer.

It would be an easy introduction if that was all I do… But wait! There’s more. I run Synth History, an instagram account where I write small tidbits about vintage synthesizers and musicians who use them, which I’m turning into a podcast soon. I write jingles for commercials in Japan and other miscellaneous jingle houses. I’m slowly becoming addicted to Magic: The Gathering. I stream video games on Twitch; right now I’m playing Animal Crossing and Doom. When I’ve had enough of building my house on a virtual desert island, I liberate humanity from the thrall of demon hordes. My brain, essentially… never… shuts… off.

I don’t know how much money I’m going to make from one month to the next. For six months I can live off of a licensing deal, then bam! Nothing, and I have to figure out what I’m going to do next to pay my rent. It's stressful. But I’d rather be broke as hell doing things I love than whatever the alternative is. This lifestyle isn’t normal, though. Most folks would never willingly subject themselves to isolation without the financial security of a concrete paycheck. So I thought I’d write down some of the things that have helped me embrace the isolated life, which have kept me from going crazy, and helped me stay inspired.

1. Curiosity is your Friend

Figure out what it is you’re interested in. Scandinavian folklore? Great. Do you know what a Kraken is? Well I’ll tell you, because just the other day I came across a Magic card called ‘Nadir Kraken’ and it got me thinking ‘what is the entire history behind this word?’ I then went on to read about it for an hour. The Kraken, legendary cephalopod-like sea monster of gigantic size, would scare sailors off the coasts of Norway and Greenland. Krakens may have been just a legend but, wow, wouldn’t you know it, giant squids do exist and females are up to 43 feet in size!

Curiosity will save you in times of boredom. I have a weird affinity for random bits of information (hence, Synth History) but learning something new each day in isolation will keep the gears turning.

Inspiration can be found everywhere, including Kraken artwork. (Art: Dan Scott.)

2. Use your Curiosity as a Tool for Inspiration

Now that I’ve learned about this mythical Kraken creature, how do I apply it to my art? In countless ways. I could write a song about life at sea, about the fear of dark creatures in the depths below, using feelings derived from the concept as lyrical inspiration. I could incorporate tentacles into my artwork, make a music video submerged in water. You get the gist.

When a subject piques my interest, I dive headfirst into everything related to it. I was once obsessed with the idea of mountains. Namely, Mount Everest and K2. I read Into Thin Air, watched countless documentaries on the Himalayas, even went to Nepal after drunkenly buying a plane ticket.

The profoundness of mountains wouldn’t leave my mind. Sherpas and mountain climbers willingly risked their lives to climb their peaks. Many of them would die, subjecting themselves to below freezing temperatures or running out of oxygen or getting hit by an avalanche. What a challenge. Through this phase of wonderment, I was often up at night wondering if there was anyone on Everest or K2 right now sleeping in a portaledge (a deployable hanging tent system) thinking about being at home in a comfy bed like I was.

I wrote a song called Everest that came out as a b-side for one of my singles, and in it I sampled wind noises and a pickaxe of a mountain climber. I also wrote a song called K2. Both of them inspired by the mountains.

Danz’s curiosity took her to Nepal, after becoming obsessed with the idea of mountains.

3. Follow through

This one is difficult. It’s especially hard to follow through with ideas if you’re not used to having a lot of time to yourself. It might seem like there are too many possibilities of things you can or should do, and you might want to give up trying all together.

In response I suggest making a rough schedule. I’m a big proponent of playing things by ear. On my headstone it’ll probably say “let’s play it by ear” (either that or, “whaddyagonnado”). It’s pretty much what I live by. If I feel like working on a song or playing a video game, I’ll usually do exactly that — because I know I’ll put the most effort into what I want to do, and not what I have to do. But there are times when I have to enforce a strict schedule on myself to get things accomplished. If I know myself truly, one thing I’m especially good at is procrastination.

When I started teaching myself how to make music, it could’ve easily turned into a hobby if I didn’t follow through. If ‘Running’ stayed on my hard drive, it never would have been used on that Lexus commercial. Who knew I could make money from doing something I liked.

“Curiosity is your friend, use it as a tool.”

So play Mario Paint and get inspired by Koji Kondo, watch Stanley Kubrick’s filmography, read about creatures in Norse mythology, get into Westerns, get into Italian horror films. Find out what things inspire you. Curiosity is your friend, use it as a tool and don’t forget to follow through with whatever it is you decide to create.

Now I just need to get to work on the Kraken song.

Check out Danz’ record label Channel 9, listen to her music on Spotify, and follow her Instagram channel, Synth History.