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Take Note: Philly Singer/Songwriter Joy Ike On Making Music During The Pandemic

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The pandemic has been challenging for many artists. On this episode of Take Note we talked with Joy Ike, a full time singer-songwriter from Philadelphia, about how she's made music during quarantine.

For just over a decade, Joy has been traveling the country doing house concerts and performing in festivals. But during shutdowns, Joy had to adapt to creating music in a new way. That included producing a whole song and music video from her apartment.

And now, she is helping other artists grow.  

Check out her music here.

Here is the interview:

Shelby Lincoln:

Joy, thanks for joining us today. 

Joy Ike:

Hi. So glad to chat with you. 

Shelby Lincoln:

Yes, absolutely. Joy, one thing I remember talking with you about before is that you were not a musician right away, correct?

Joy Ike:

Yeah, I worked as a publicist for several years out of college. It was kind of another passion of mine.

Shelby Lincoln:

And what led you to leave that business and decide to become a full-time musician?

Joy Ike:

Well, I was in this pattern of going to work, you know, doing nine to five, nine to five work cycle. And then in the evenings, I would come home. And I would joke that my my five to nine was songwriting and playing shows. So I kind of have these two different lives that were playing out simultaneously. Yet, the more I performed, and the more I played, I felt like there was something there that I needed to really go all in on. And, to really decide if it was something that I cared enough about to commit the rest of my time to. And so, it was really an experiment. You know, honestly, I didn't know if making music was something that I really wanted to take seriously. But, in many ways I had to try and just see.

Shelby Lincoln:

And how has that journey been for you? It's been over a decade that you've been doing music, right?

Joy Ike:

Yeah, I mean, I've been making music for about 16 years and full-time for 13. And, it's been quite a roller coaster. I think any independent artists, singer-songwriter will tell you that sometimes it's everything you want it to be. And other times, it's the exact opposite. And so I have kind of come to a place in my own career where I'm really learning to and trying to appreciate the present. And so, even if I'm at a show, and it's not the turnout that I'm expecting, or if things just aren't, you know, perfect, because nothing really is. I really have to step back and be like, well, who is here? What is my job in this moment? And how can I serve this audience well, and serve this moment well, so that I actually come away cherishing, cherishing it and not seeing it as a complete failure, or a complete waste of time? And so I often have to take inventory on what I'm doing in my life at any given, you know, any given month, any given year. And just be like, well, what are the things that I can pull out of this that are good and that are rich. And truthfully, what are the things that I don't want to do and repeat over? So, I'm constantly having to do that every year as I enter into the new year, and also again, in this kind of weird season of uncertainty where everything is in flux? 

Shelby Lincoln:

It's definitely a weird season. And, take me back to the start of what lockdown was like for you. And, you're hearing everything is shutting down and we have to quarantine?

Joy Ike:

Well, I actually freaked out at first! Like I have this one day where I was just like, wow, this is this is going to change everything. Everything of mine got cancelled within a two-day period. And so, there was just kind of a reality shock of it. But, I had already started to slow down in 2019, significantly. I was on the road, way less and really just trying to be home more because I got to this point where I was just dealing with constant burnout. And so aside from the the freakout, it was almost like the having to stop was such a gift for me. That as the months played out throughout 2020, I started to realize it more and more, I was able to get rest in a way that I hadn't in years. And also, having that permission to stop and then you know, to slow down and to not have to be anywhere and not have to be traveling anywhere, but just having the privilege really focusing on creating. It was such, such a huge gift. And, the year ended up being, I would say, one of the better years for me creatively.

Shelby Lincoln:

Yeah, I remember it was back in April, when you came out with this song 'All the Time in the World', especially where we had so much unexpected time on our hands. And I want to play a little bit of this for our listeners.  

Shelby Lincoln:

So Joy, you said it was a very restful time for you to create and blossom in your music. So, what was the process for writing that song?

Joy Ike:

Yeah, that song came out with super quick. And for me, if anyone who's been following me knows that it takes me forever to finish a song. It'll take months up to a year, to really be happy with the song and flesh it out. And 'All the Time in the World' came out within the matter of in the matter of a day. And I was just sitting on my keyboard and realizing, wow, I do, I have way too much time. Now, for better and for worse, to reconnect with friends. And to just see what's happening with people that I haven't talked to in ages, which is really the heart of the song, it's just about connecting with people and savoring those moments. And, which is something that we did get to do in one way with during the pandemic, especially with Zoom calls that we might not have had seeing faces that we might not see often. But at the same time, we were also very disconnected, you know, in the physical. So it was it was just kind of a play on both of those dynamics. And so, the song came out super quick. And after a few weeks of it kind of being being alive and being out in the world, I decided that I wanted to make a music video on it. And, that I was going to have fun creating something from my apartment, because I'd never really done that before. And also because I had the flexibility of time to learn a new video software, video editing software and things like that. So I was just like, Well, let me let me use all this time in the world to try and do something different. So it was it was a fun project!

Shelby Lincoln:

And, did you film it all by yourself?

Joy Ike:

I did! Yeah. I did. Yeah, I kind of like came up with this list of like, what am I doing in this video? Like, what do you do when you're at home, you're stuck at home all day? And, you're trying to figure out how to fill it up. You're watching TV, you're reading books, you're on the phone, you're on a video call, you're on your laptop doing things. So, I just kind of put together this list of scenarios. And then, the day before I set up my apartment, set up different shots in different rooms and, you know, charged the the DSLR camera and, you know, just got all the things ready. And figured out like what would be good lighting, what positions and what angles and all of that. And then, the following day, it was just like bam, bam, bam, one after another go to each section in the apartment and just film myself doing doing the things.

Shelby Lincoln:

Yeah, and another part of the song that I really enjoyed was when you included the phone conversations with your friends, as well. So how did they feel about that like hearing themselves on the video and in the music and everything?

Joy Ike:

Yeah, I really think my friends really loved it. They, they were kind of geeked to be part of the song in that way. So I asked a bunch of friends to you know, hold their phone close to their mouth and hit record on their audio recorder and just record themselves having a conversation, as if they were talking to an old friend. So you'll hear a bunch of sound bites that I ultimately ended up editing into the song to make it sound like a whole bunch of conversations overlapping and having people talk about things that you would talk about in a pandemic. Like, wow, I can't believe this is happening, like that kind of thing. 

Shelby Lincoln:

And in the music video, it shows you alone in your apartment. So, were you quarantined alone at the time?

Joy Ike:

I live alone in my-Yeah, I have I don't have a roommate right now. Yeah, it was really just the reality of, you know, living alone and finding ways to spend time and then documenting that documenting what I was actually doing.

Shelby Lincoln:

And from doing that video and doing the song What would you say you learned about yourself? Especially in the midst of quarantine?

Joy Ike:

I think I tend to be very light hearted about difficult things. Like, you know, trying to find the silver lining, which really, was even like the heart of the song. The heart of the song was like, oh man, this whole thing this whole reality sucks. Yet at the same time, look at all the cool things that are coming out of it. And, that was the spirit of the music video. And that was also really what last year was for me finding ways to make the most of a not so great situation.

Shelby Lincoln:

Absolutely, absolutely. If you're just joining us, you're listening to Take Note on WPSU. I'm Shelby Lincoln. We're talking with singer-songwriter Joy Ike about how she cultivated art throughout this pandemic year. And Joy, during the pandemic, we had a tense election season last November and a summer of protests. And, you released a song called 'Wearing Love' in response to that. I want to play a little bit of it for our listeners today.

Shelby Lincoln:

So Joy, what does it mean to be 'Wearing Love?'

Joy Ike:

Yeah, that song was a total gift. And, there's a friend of mine who always says, you know, kind of your intuition kind of goes before you. Like, you'll be working on an art piece or a song. And then, it's almost like that song paves the way for the next season you're in. And I feel like that's happened multiple times for me. And so, I started 'Wearing Love' in 2019, at the end of the year. And finished it at the very beginning of 2020. And, it's almost like it paved the way for the year for me. I wrote it coming out of a really rough, difficult family vacation where, you know, just some things that I think we all had tried to avoid for so long, they all kind of came out into the open because we were in the same shared space, for the longest we'd been in like well over a decade. And so, we were just having to deal with all of our junk with each other. And I came home and I was just like, man, I wish like I could be better at loving the people that I'm in close proximity with. Because it's easy to say you love someone when you don't really know them, because you don't really know their baggage and you don't really know their junk. But when you know someone, that's where love really comes into play, and you really have to action it. And so, that was the heart of the song. And I also, I really love superhero movies. It's like, I love and adore them. And so I, I kind of have this visual every time I'm singing the song of having this like gold cape. That is my shield and also my weapon. Like that's my superpower. And the cape has this effect where it protects me from offense. And, it also keeps me from offending people. Not to say that offense won't happen, because that's just a part of life. But, it keeps me from taking those things so seriously, and so personally. And so this idea of 'Wearing Love' was really kind of birthed around that those visuals of like, what would it look like to have this protective thing around you that allowed you to treat people better. And also, really just informed really informed your relationship. So, the song is just about offense, forgiveness, loving, and treating people respectfully. And, love is really the bottom line of the song.

Shelby Lincoln:

And would you say that it's also a central point of life, to love others?

Joy Ike:

Yeah, yeah, it really is. You know, it's like, again the song started because of a family situation. But you know, as life played out in 2020, the message of the song applied to everything. How we talked about the pandemic, how we talked about George Floyd, and racism in America, how we dealt with the election. As almost like, last year was boiling this pressure point where everything, everything got poked, that every button was pushed. And that was really proof that life comes with difficulties. So, the only thing that determines how we're going to deal with the things that that come at us is how we love each other. And how we, how we care for each other, and how we talk about each other. So, you know, we can talk about all the things that are happening in the world and in the country. The truth is, there's never ever going to be a shortage of drama, because that's just the reality of the world and the life that we live. And so, love is the bottom line. Because when drama comes at you, when you love well, you know how to you know how to handle it well.

Shelby Lincoln:

How do you think people can continue to respond in love? Amidst protests that are going on in our country and in our state, conversations about race and politics still ongoing, how do you think people can respond in love?

Joy Ike:

Yeah, I mean, I always have to come back to the golden rule. You know, you treat other people how you want to be treated. You know, we, we tend to think that we can demand the harshest treatment for people. But then whenever we do wrong, we want mercy. And it's like, if you yourself, want to receive mercy, you need to be willing to give it. And so, this equation of act justly, love mercy, walk humbly; every piece of it connects together. Because you can act justly and walk humbly and love mercy, and all those things can can inform ultimately, how you treat people. But if any one of those is missing at any time, if you don't want to offer mercy, why should you receive mercy? If you don't think justice, if you think justice is important for other people, when it's your turn, you should be willing to have to own up to the things that you've done. We've kind of lost the art of treating other people how I want to be treated. But if we went back to that, I think everything would be different.

Shelby Lincoln:

Yeah, wow. And Joy, I know that you have a love for helping people. And you do that through your consulting business, consulting with other artists. So, tell me more about what you do. Tell me about 'Cultivators.'

Joy Ike:

Yeah, I am really excited about 'Cultivators,' I started it, it's so crazy, it started it really at the beginning of the pandemic. I had begun to kind of formulate what it would look like, at the end of 2019. And really, just how last year played out made it just made perfect space for me to be able to do that more consistently. And you know, over the last 16 years and because of my background as a publicist, I've had countless coffee dates, conversations, meetups, with artists about growing your art and  putting it out into the world. Not just as a gift, because art is a gift, but also finding ways to live off art. I think that those two things are both worthy causes, seeing art as a gift and also seeing our as a sustainable living and career. And so, 'Cultivators' is all about what it looks like to cultivate a career that is strong, that lasts long. And that never loses that essence of creating art as a gift. You know, because we see so much media and so much advertising every day that treats humans and treats the audience as a commodity. And I really wholeheartedly believe in creating art that is still able to help the maker and the creator live well, but never loses the essence of being nurturing or adding to the social conversation, in a way that's holistic and helpful. And so, that's really what 'Cultivators' is about. It's really about helping artists understand how to get vision for their artwork, and how to connect it with their audience.

Shelby Lincoln:

And, do you just help artists that are just musicians? Or do you have a varied amount of creatives that are a part of it?

Joy Ike:

Yeah, most of the artists I'm working with are younger artists, singer-songwriters as well, and musicians. I've consulted with a few people who are visual artists. But at the end of the day, I think because I spent so much time in the music world that's that happens, 'Cultivators' happen to attract singer-songwriters and music makers. At the same time, so many principles go across disciplines. You know, what the bottom line question most times is like, what is the art of creating something well, and helping something grow well, and helping your audience find, you know, what it is that you're offering to the world? So, those kinds of questions apply across all art disciplines.

Shelby Lincoln:

How many artists have taken part in this so far?

Joy Ike:

So,  there's two parts of 'Cultivators,' I hold a monthly audio, a monthly video call, which is limited to 8 people; the first 8 people who sign up. And that's just an opportunity for artists to workshop new ideas or have questions that they've been thinking about answered. And so, we basically just talk about anything under the sun, whatever's on their mind, whatever they bring to the table during that session. It's usually like a 90-minute call. And then I hold one-on-one official consulting sessions with anyone who wants to go deeper. And they don't necessarily have to be people who join the monthly call. But people will reach out to me directly and just be like, well, I'm about to launch an album right now. One of my favorite, favorite clients is singer-songwriter on the West Coast, who's about to launch her first independent album, and is really needing support throughout the whole process to make sure that she launches it well. And so, I love doing things like that because ultimately, it's a huge goal. But if you break it down into small bite sized goals, and kind of create some kind of trajectory, it makes the final goal so much easier to achieve.

Shelby Lincoln:

And we've been talking about how much you've impacted others. So, how has this experience with 'Cultivators' impacted you as an artist, as a person?

Joy Ike:

Oh, that's such a great question! I get so geeked to help people think creatively about what they're doing, you know, I think sometimes we, we leave the creativity at the door of the project. So we're like, well, I'm gonna put all my creative energy into making this album, or making this art piece. And then once that's done, it's all gonna be numbers, you know, and statistics and how many people like the posts and how many people buy the product/ And, there's often times creativity almost kind of gets, it stops at the making of the thing, you know. But what I love about this is that it allows me to think creatively about how do you promote something that you've made? So how do you create something creative? And then, how do you promote it creatively too. So that's been a fun exercise for me. Not having to do that just for my own art, but thinking outside of the box for other artists, too. 

Shelby Lincoln:

That is absolutely beautiful, Joy. And as pandemic restrictions are loosening more and more, how does it feel for you and for your sister, Peace, to be back on the road doing concerts and everything?

Joy Ike:

It is such an interesting dynamic, you know. I think, heading into this year, I was like, oh, this is gonna be so wonderful to be getting out there and playing and touring. And, I am enjoying it. But it's actually made me miss the moments of 2020, where I really got to spend quality time creating. So I'm actually you know, we're talking about taking inventory early; I'm really taking inventory right now of what moving forward looks like and how to balance my time better. And how to lean into creating more, coaching more. And then, being even pickier and choosier on the shows I'm playing to make sure that I maintain love for performing out.

Shelby Lincoln:

That's a really interesting take on this pandemic and just moving forward. And you also mentioned just taking inventory and wanting to create more. Can you share what's next for you? Is there another album coming out or anything?

Joy Ike:

There's no album in the foreseeable future. But, I can say I'm really excited about poetry right now and spoken word. And, I started to write more in that capacity. So I'm really not sure what that looks like, in the long run and for the future, but I do see more possibilities in that area.

Shelby Lincoln:

Nice. And how about your art, I know that sometimes you paint and everything. And, you document that on social media.

Joy Ike:

Yeah, I'm always painting I'm literally always painting. And I, I have so many visual artist friends. In fact, I get way more excited about visual art than I do about music! And so I feel like I've got quite a long way to go until I really kind of figure out, like who I am as a visual artist. And so in some ways, I feel like I can't claim that as easily as I can claim, you know, working with words. So I will say I am an artist, but I'm a growing artist.

Shelby Lincoln:

Of course, of course. And Joy, what is a last piece of advice that you would give to any artists that might be listening today?

Joy Ike:

Yeah, believe in what you do. Just believe in it. You know, if you don't believe in it, it means that you'll throw in the towel much quicker than you're supposed to. I think we all struggle with wanting affirmation from people in the audience, from people who are closest to us. But, there are times when we're just not gonna get that. And then you have two choices. You either if you don't get the praise of the public, you throw in the towel, and move on to the next thing. Or, you just keep pushing through. And I think a lot of a lot of people give up too soon, because they're not seeing the quote unquote, success that they hoped as quickly as they hoped. So I think it's really important to love what you do one, but also believe in what you do number two, so that you are consistent, and you're growing in it. And I'll say this, too. We live in a in a culture where we want things to happen overnight. You know, we live in American Idol, America's Got Talent, American whatever, you know, American whatever. It's all kind of fast, fast food as far as getting getting results quickly. And so, it's really easy to want to give up when you don't see things growing overnight. But think of your music as organic and non-GMO and you'll be fine.

Shelby Lincoln:

I love that. I love that. Thank you, Joy, for taking some time out to do this. 

Joy Ike:

Yeah, thanks for having me. 

Shelby Lincoln:

I've been talking with singer-songwriter, Joy Ike about how she has cultivated art throughout this pandemic year. You can hear more Take Note interviews on our website at wpsu.org/TakeNote. I'm WPSU intern Shelby Lincoln.

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