From open mics to home recordings: How the pandemic changed Ray Flanagan’s approach to music

The COVID-19 pandemic has limited the ability of many artists to make music. But Cleveland singer-songwriter Ray Flanagan says the isolation unleashed his creativity and challenged him to develop new skills.

Flanagan used this time to write an impressive amount of new songs and learned to record them on his own from home.

He decided in November 2020 that he was not going to play concerts until a COVID-19 vaccine was available.

“But I didn’t know how long it was going to take,” Flanagan said. “When I decided I wasn’t going to do concerts, I was like, ‘Well, what am I going to do? And I was like, ‘Well, there’s Bandcamp.’ ”

He started releasing two songs each month in January 2021 in order to become more disciplined and use the lens as a way to inspire creativity.

Pivot during the pandemic
Flanagan has worked as a full-time musician for the past five years after quitting his warehouse job in 2016.

Ray Flanagan learned the home recording while working with fellow Northeastern Ohio Brent Kirby at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The two collaborated remotely on songs together in 2020.

“You find you make things work if you don’t give yourself options,” Flanagan said. “You know, I quit my job and said, ‘I’m going to do this,’ and I just made a commitment to do it.”

The global shutdown at the start of the pandemic forced the musician to think of other ways not only to get his music out, but also to continue making a living as an artist.

The guitarist and songwriter has collaborated with a seemingly endless number of musicians in Northeast Ohio.

The shutdown allowed her to hone her skills in a new way, perfecting her songwriting with new tracks every month.

“I had this song called ‘The Arsenal’ that I released. I added vocal harmonies and added guitars. I kind of finished it on my own and pulled it out, ”Flanagan said. “I released it on January 1, 2021, and I was like, ‘I’m going to do this every month. “”

Bandcamp Fridays started in 2020 as a way for the music platform to support artists by waiving fees.

All payments acquired on material from the musicians went directly to the artists, which inspired Flanagan to make new music and release it according to the newly created schedule.

“You’d be surprised how quickly a month goes by if you only have two songs that you have to create and finish top to bottom. “

Ray flanagan

Flanagan learned to record from home throughout the process. He decides to release two songs at the same time, drawing inspiration from 45 records.

These vinyl records have both an A side and a B side, with a total of two tracks that either work together musically or are polar opposites.

Writing, recording, and releasing songs each month has required him to be disciplined and more consistent in making his songs available outside of live performances.

Learn to collaborate and record from home
While most of his singles have been recorded solo, Flanagan has released a two song EP titled “Break time” with Brent Kirby in May 2020.

The two musicians have known each other for over a decade thanks to the local open mic scene, where Flanagan first cut his teeth as a budding musician.

Flanagan said the COVID-19 pandemic has ended the 10 X 3 Songwriters Showcase hosted by Kirby at the Brothers Lounge in Cleveland.

This is where Flanagan first appeared when he started acting in around 2011.

He said open mics were important to him in fostering community within the local music scene.

Kirby and Flanagan were approached to participate in a Ideastream Applause Performance in April 2020.

In preparation for the virtual event, Flanagan purchased home recording equipment and was on Zoom several times a week with Kirby working on the music.

The result of this collaboration during the lockdown was Flanagan’s song “Lay Down” and Kirby’s original song, “With This Time”.

“So we brought them together, like home, like from a distance, and I’ve never done anything like this,” Flanagan said. “And their rawness, I think that’s what makes them special.”

He also released the EP, “Our year in purgatory“, which he calls his” COVID songs “.

“It was something drastic for me at the time because I played all the instruments on it, which I had never really done before, and I just recorded it and did it in my bedroom,” said Flanagan said.

Before the pandemic, he said he was against home recording of his own original music.

He said he didn’t want to have to wear all the hats. He wanted to be the singer-songwriter and have professional engineers take care of the rest.

“But now that I’m doing it, I’m like ‘Wow, well, when I produce my own stuff, it ends up getting close to what I want.’ Even though the recording is not quite as pretty, ”he said.

He has said in the past that he’s not sure how to clearly communicate how he wants his songs to sound when recording.

If it hadn’t been for the pandemic, he said, he would never have recorded so much of his material.

“I would probably still be doing my shows and then being unhappy with the recording,” Flanagan said.

He said posting the songs on his own allowed any feelings of awkwardness he would normally experience in a studio to slip away.

Before the lockdown, he also viewed making a living as a musician to be more like making money by entertaining bar patrons than his actual art.

The experience of writing songs, recording and digitally broadcasting his music was liberating, and that’s how he coped with the pandemic month after month.

“You’d be surprised how quickly a month goes by if you only have two songs that you have to create and finish top to bottom,” Flanagan said.

Mark a moment in time with music
Flanagan’s process of writing songs so frequently and consistently begins with recording fragments of an idea through voice memos and note apps on his phone.

Later, he fills in the blanks.

Flanagan said he lets the rest of the song come naturally. Some ideas don’t necessarily come to fruition, but it’s about the process and experiencing different moments of inspiration.

His songs come from his subconscious and his perspective on how he thinks, feels, approaches or sees various subjects.

“I’m just whatever goes through my mind, and I don’t think about it because I know I have to. So having a deadline, actually, I think, makes me creative, ”Flanagan said.

The city of Cleveland emerges as a theme throughout his work, which is expressed through the roots rock sound of his songs.

“It was a crazy year. I just put it all into art because I believe in it.”

Ray flanagan

Releasing new tracks every month kept listeners always amazed. Some have a bouncy American feel. Others delve into gritty blues, and a few are more straightforward folk.

Flanagan made a Spotify Playlist which includes all of his songs from 2021 in chronological order.

“I think it’s pretty interesting to listen to in terms of everything… You can hear me learning how to improve myself at recording stuff. You can hear me, you know, like, especially once I start drumming you can hear the progression of how it has changed a lot, ”he said.

One song, in particular, stands out because it is heavily inspired by current events.

For Ahmaud Arbery”Was released in June 2021.

It chronicles the events that occurred when a black man was murdered by three white men in February 2020, serving as a catalyst for the nationwide Black Lives Matter protests amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“I followed this story, and it upset me so much that I decided to write a song about it. I kind of wrote it like I was writing, like, like a newspaper article. , inspired by Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan, ”he said.

It’s like a chronicle of what was going on in society at the time, Flanagan said.

“For me personally, it refocused me on what I really love about making art and music and writing songs. It’s been a crazy year,” Flanagan said. “I put it all in art. because I believe in it. “

He said the recordings he released can be enjoyed for years to come as a mark of what is happening in 2020 and 2021.

In December 2021, Flanagan is releasing the EP, “The serious hit 09-12-2021”, A five-song session that was recorded directly to a vinyl record and then transferred to a computer.

Flanagan is playing again, but that doesn’t mean his production of recorded material will stop anytime soon.

He plans to keep the songwriting momentum going this year by releasing a song on the first Friday of each month, starting in February.

Flanagan will be playing a happy hour set at Forest City Brewery from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on January 21.

Ray Flanagan & The Mean Machines will perform at The happy dog May 13.

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