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Calamity Jade At Home – Creative Isolation

It’s been an honor to have some of my favorite people from across the globe and varying types of industry who have all taken time out of their daily schedules to sit down with me in conversation about how their lives have changed since the Covid pandemic. Today we have our first industry guest who is responsible for working label releases from all across Europe and making sure that they get into the right hands of media and press, radio and DJ’s via her Willwork4funk promo agency. In addition to having great taste in music, she has an equally fine appreciation for great wine and pasta, but why wouldn’t she? After all, she is Italian and they say “Italians do everything better”. Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce you to,  Calamity Jade.

Skeme – You own the Willwork4funk promo agency and have worked with some of the best artists and labels across Europe and have built a solid resume and client list over the years. Your business requires you to not only receive new music from labels but also to facilitate it into getting into the right hands of media outlets including magazines and radio. Now that things have come to a standstill world wide, have you seen a decline in your business operations and if so, in what way.

Jade – Wow, that’s what I call an introduction! Thanks for having me Skeme, it’s always a pleasure and honor to be on The Nostalgia King. In absolute terms, we have not seen a decline in business. The albums we are promoting that were scheduled for release in April/May have all been confirmed and we’ve also had some new additions for June, so our calendar is as packed as ever. The main issue we have been facing so far with willwork4funk is getting physical promos out. We are based in Milan, Italy and my region is where the first big covid19 outbreak outside of China took place, currently we are second only to the US in terms of number of deaths. So not only did we go into lockdown before the rest of the world, making it difficult for my assistant and I to hit the post office 2-3 times a week like we were used to, but I have a suspicion many countries were blocking packages coming from Italy out of fear they might be infected, because I started noticing our promo CDs were not reaching destination. We have had to double our efforts with digital promos and emails, and in some cases we have had to ask the labels we work with in the UK, Germany and Switzerland to send CDs themselves to the addresses we provided. This is the main effect we’ve experienced in the short-term, but we have yet to fully grasp the challenges in the long-term.

Skeme – Owning a business at the moment that generates revenue is not the easiest thing to do. How do you think this will affect the industry in the long term as far as recording and pressing product and touring for artists as well as record shops?

Jade – In the context of a worldwide recession, how many print magazines and radio stations will fold? How many record shops? How many labels? Apart from sporadic exceptions it seems culture, and especially music, are low on the priority list of which industries our governments help, so self-employed musicians, independent labels, promotion agencies etc etc are more or less being left to their own devices. This could easily translate into many businesses in this field failing before lockdown is even lifted, which will no doubt lead to a domino effect. For example, if many magazines and radios are shut down, then how do you promote music? If there are no media on which to promote music, why would you even hire a promotion agency such as mine? With no promotion, how will you get the music heard? And if you don’t get the music heard, who will buy it and how do you earn enough to re-invest in the next project? All it takes is one part of the equation to stop working for everything else to come crashing down.

In addition, clubs and venues are gonna be among the last to be able to re-open, because how do you social distance while on a packed dancefloor or at a sold-out concert? There will inevitably be a contraction in the number of players in this game. Those who have saved up for a rainy day, who can diversify their business or who are quick to come up with alternative solutions to brand new problems, will survive. This could potentially lead to the collapse of the whole underground music ecosystem that is less equipped to face a prolonged dry spell than the mainstream. Obviously I hope not, but it is a very real and tangible risk.

Skeme – In addition to running a promo agency, you’re also a DJ who has multiple gigs in the city and abroad as well as your radio shows. Club dates of course are canceled but are your radio shows still in motion and how are you getting them to the stations if they’re broadcasting live?

Jade – If I didn’t know any better I would say I have some sort of sixth sense or foresight because various steps I took way before this emergency even started put me in the best possible position to cope with it. About a year ago I called off all my DJ residencies to focus on willwork4funk, this was supposed to be temporary while I trained my newly hired assistant, but then the agency unexpectedly took off and even with a fully trained promotion manager at my side I still didn’t have enough time to be spinning records 2-3 times a week. So by the time covid19 came along I had cut down so much on DJing that I was not at all financially dependent on it, it was an extra, meaning I have not experienced a drastic reduction in income. As for my radio show Funk Shui, in September I was given a new slot at midnight on Wednesdays, and I decided there was no way I would record it live at such an hour, in fact I came to the conclusion it didn’t make sense for me to do much talking at all. So my live radio show turned into a 60 minute mix and instead of going to the station every week to be on air I just pre-recorded a number of skits and have been preparing every episode at home on my computer for the past 7 months, which I then send via wetransfer. Right now I’m not even allowed to enter the station, only the core staff who run it on the daily have access, so it’s only because of the decision I took in September that nothing has changed for my listeners.

Skeme – Has your creative workflow changed during this time in isolation and how are you adapting or shifting your process of thought to function in the present but also knowing that it will be something that has to work when this pandemic is over?

Jade – The only real change to my workflow is that my assistant Adriana is working from home so we exchange about 20,000 emails per day. Because her safety on the job is my responsibility, I told her to stop coming to the office as soon as I realized what was happening, which was way before lockdown even happened. So we’re a fairly well-oiled machine now in terms of managing the work remotely, so much so I doubt she’ll want to return to the office 5 days a week even when this is over!

This is going to sound unrelated, but the biggest impact to my routine has not concerned work at all. I used to go to the gym about 4 times a week where I would do kickboxing, high intensity interval training, circuit training and strength training. I am a strong advocate for staying active, especially if your lifestyle involves irregular sleep, drinking and/or taking drugs, and generally very little financial and psychological stability, aka your typical DJ (like me) or musician. Without all the equipment and space I need for my usual activities, I have discovered that power yoga is actually really good at getting my heart rate up and working up a good sweat. Even just half an hour a day when I get up is enough to get the blood flowing, so once this pandemic has died down I won’t go completely back to my previous workout schedule, I’ll definitely incorporate more vinyasa yoga.

Skeme – What are you doing to stay mentally and physically healthy?

Jade – We are all experiencing quite a bit of emotional and psychological stress, and staying active is so fundamental to mental wellbeing and balance. When lockdown started and my gym closed, I spent the first month not doing anything and I was very lethargic and anxious. Since I’ve started doing power yoga almost every morning, I’ve noticed a distinct improvement in my mood, my focus and my energy levels for the rest of the day. I’m all about a sound mind in a sound body, and yeah, pun intended since I work with music!

Skeme – Now that the world has seemed to have come to a standstill, how has your local surroundings changed in terms of local businesses in operation, people interaction and the overall vibe of the city?

Jade – I live on the city outskirts, a residential neighborhood that used to be its own town before it was annexed to Milan, so nobody passes through, it’s just us locals here. At first glance the general atmosphere has not changed too much; it’s small stores, limited amounts of people, lots of green. But the closer you get to the city center, usually bustling with activity due to the many offices and tourists, the more you see a difference. It really hit me about 8 weeks ago, and it was not a good experience. At the time Italy was not in lockdown yet and Milan had not hit the peak of infections. Up to that point I had been very chill, though obviously I was taking all the precautions that were recommended. I needed to do a big grocery run for my 80 year old dad, and I decided since it would mean spending a considerable amount of time in the supermarket, the safest option would be to go to the 24 hour store at 1am. Technically it was a smart decision, there were very few people, I didn’t have to queue or be too careful about keeping my distance. But psychologically it was heavy: I had never seen such empty streets in my city, not even during the summer when everybody leaves to go to the seaside or lake or wherever. It was an apocalyptic scenario, a ghost town, and all of a sudden I felt so very alone in the dark night. The only signs of life were the ambulances I kept encountering; 2 on the way over and 2 on the way back on what is a 10-minute drive each way. One of the ambulances came to a grinding halt with sirens blaring in my very street, that’s when I realized it had really spread, because it had reached my isolated neighborhood. That was around the time people were singing from their balconies every evening at 6pm, and they were doing it in my neighborhood too. I would pour myself a glass of wine and wave at neighbors I had never spoken to; there was a strange sense of belonging to a community, of solidarity between strangers, of the Italian spirit not being broken by this emergency. Since then the government has taken increasingly stringent measures: you have to fill out a form detailing where you’re going and why every time you leave the house, face masks are compulsory, they measure your temperature before allowing you into supermarkets, police checkpoints are everywhere, nobody is singing from balconies anymore.

I don’t venture out much, but all of a sudden friends you haven’t heard from in ages are calling and texting: “Are you and your family ok?” has taken the place of “How are you?” and “Stay safe” is the new “Goodbye”. In a way it has strengthened bonds and has made people rally around those in need: many non-profit organizations offer to go grocery shopping for the elderly, small stores everywhere are now offering home delivery, some give food for free to those in need, there have been some amazingly heart-warming stories. But we’ve been in lockdown for so long that morale is very low, even as we’ve left the peak behind us: deaths are down, infection rates are down, ICUs are emptying. We are coming out of the health emergency, but the economic one still hasn’t started and there’s a growing sense of restlessness.

Skeme – Do you have a specific place at home where you work or spend most of your day?

Jade – The willwork4funk office is actually in my house, so I have an official workspace for my assistant and I with desks, office chairs, a printer and all that jazz. But the truth is, now that my assistant is working from her own home and nobody can see me, I prefer to work from the sofa. I’m not sure what my issue with desks is, but even as a kid I would do all my homework on the floor, so I guess the sofa is progress.

Skeme – Now that you’re not leaving the house as much, do you find yourself caring less with getting dressed or do you still have a routine that keeps you balanced?

Jade – This is where working out in the morning really helps. After a good sweat and shower you’re feeling so fresh and so clean clean, that you do not want to go back into the sweatpants or PJs you’ve already worn, you want to get into some clean clothes. So I’ve been dressing more often in lockdown than I sometimes did before I had an assistant to share the office space with everyday!

Skeme – What does that average day for you look like right now?

Jade – Uneventful is the main adjective I would use. I am not a morning person so I wake up around 9am with a cat purring on my chest. I then make coffee and do my morning yoga or anything else I can find online that I like (I’ve subscribed to this great youtube channel called popsugar fitness that I highly recommend if you’re looking for decent free workouts and variety). Then I start working on my laptop and all bets are off: I often skip lunch, often forget to go to the bathroom until I’m about to wet my pants, and I don’t really takes breaks unless I have to get groceries, which I only do during lunchtime to avoid queues. So on average it’s pretty much non-stop work until around 8pm.

The biggest disruption to my routine was when some random dude I don’t know hit up my DJ page on facebook after a recent episode of my radio show to offer his undying devotion and his services as my slave. I was very tempted to get him to clean my apartment, lawd knows it needs a good scrubbing since my cleaning lady hasn’t been coming for close to 2 months!

Skeme – What’s inspiring you at the moment to stay creative and productive so that when this period of isolation is over, you can set right back in and keep it moving?

Jade – I feel extremely lucky to be currently working at full speed, this means I won’t need to get back into the swing of things because things are already swinging! In fact knowing how precarious the situation is I am even more motivated than usual to show labels how essential our services are so that we’re not considered redundant or a luxury they can’t afford. I also feel a responsibility towards the artists: all of them have had their tours cancelled, the least I can do is put all my energy into getting their music heard, played on the radio, reviewed on sites, blogs and magazines. I also feel a responsibility toward my assistant Adriana, who is counting on me to make sure she still has a job when this is over. So even though Italy was the first country to be hit so badly, and my region and city are the worst affected, I was and am determined to do all that is in my power to make sure willwork4funk gets through it, and this has spurred me to push even harder.