The Great Switch-Off: Peter Takis on quitting social media to spark creativity

Does social media help or hinder modern musicians? In a specially written guest feature, Peter Takis outlines the benefits (and dangers) that a social media detox can bring.

If you Google ‘social media addiction’, you’ll be presented with over 300 million results. No, seriously. Try it for yourself after reading this article. Most of the reports that analyse the mental health implications of our favourite platforms harshly condemn our daily social media consumption. But those who urge social media users to “unplug” tend to oversimplify the issue. There is a great deal of negative press about the dopamine-hit-led design of social media platforms, with the tone of many of these articles akin to the inflammatory news around recreational drug use.

Those of us who can see through the hyperbole might, therefore, assume that our relationship with social media isn’t quite as all-consuming as that, and to disconnect our lives is a simple choice.

Speaking from personal experience here: it really wasn’t. Not in the slightest. But, as a musician, ‘going dark’ and locking my phone away allowed me to produce the most focused and profound creative work of my entire life. And I don’t regret it at all.

Social Media Stock Photo
The nagging need to check our social media platforms can get in the way of our musical productivity. Image: Iain Masterton / Alamy Stock Photo

Rhythm & flow

As a professional musician, deleting my social media accounts was the single best career decision I’ve ever made. I felt like a completely different person. The lack of social media helped me dive ten times deeper into my music with no distractions. Armed with nothing more than a small cup of green tea in hand, I created my best music with some of the greatest artists that I’ve ever been lucky enough to collaborate with. Limiting distractions allowed me to become the artist I’ve always wanted to be. Locking myself away from social media, I didn’t feel the urge to share what I ate for lunch. I didn’t have to read angry Twitter trolls bashing my work. Better yet, I didn’t have to respond to them.

The most apparent creative benefit was the immense amount of time I used to waste on my phone that I could have used to “zone in” on my work in the studio. Of course, I’ve wasted several hours scrolling these apps, but there’s something even more important that I didn’t initially take into account. Sure, I may have been on Instagram for two hours a day in total, but when in the studio, we all know how valuable getting into a ‘flow state’ can be. I may have never opened the app at all but even just seeing a notification pop up would automatically kick me out of the zone. For producers, that zone is so elusive and valuable that the risk of losing that flow state over a Twitter notification seriously scared me! Call me overdramatic, but when I get into the zone, I make my best work. Who knows if I missed out on a ‘hit’ melody idea because of my phone buzzing at the end of the table? For me, no Snapchat notification is worth being kicked out of a profound state of flow.

In fact, according to a study from the University of California Irvine, on average it takes 23 minutes and 15 seconds to return to a flow state after an interruption.

I also started to become aware of how seeing what other artists were doing 24/7 affected my studio sessions and decision making. Clarity went out the window, and being overly influenced became a curse. After seeing what other artists were posting, I would find myself making unconscious creative decisions emulating what they were doing. I’d say “Oh wow, artist X song is doing well on Spotify.” Then two hours later the song I’d be working on would emulate theirs. Completely disconnecting from what was going “viral” allowed me to write authentic music that was in my heart and soul, not just some cheap version of what was being shared all over Instagram on that day.

After these two years of distance, I’ve learned the importance of balance. That includes having intent whenever I pick up my phone, not giving in to the urge to pick up my phone to scroll endlessly. Now, I know how to remain offline when it’s time for work. And I know to restrain myself whenever I need to go online – whether it’s to promote or share my art, or to connect with my fans. Of course, when I feel moved to say or share something, you better believe that I’ll shout it from the rooftops.

With that said, I accept that being ‘distant’ offline can limit the potential reach of the art that I’m so proud to share. But keeping that balance for the good of your mental health, whilst also accepting the important place social media has in our modern age is something that I now have a clearer perspective on. It’s all a part of the business, and the business pays my bills.

What you need to hear

So what caused me to take the leap and delete my social media profiles? It was thanks to finally acknowledging and accepting these six dark realities.

1. Arguing with trolls and strangers is a complete waste of time and energy

Don’t get me wrong, open and constructive dialogue is the foundation of progress and understanding. But when someone tweets something unconstructive and needlessly hurtful, such as “ur music sux go die!” and if my first instinct is to type in ALL CAPS to engage with that troll, I instantly feel ridiculous. The truth is that these trolls don’t know what I have had to go through to get myself to this point; they don’t know the struggles I fought through.

More importantly, what on Earth can anyone gain from shouting back at random strangers’ hateful tweets about someone else’s creative works? My own bizarre urges to instantly reply to everyone who mentions me started to feel even crazier than the troll’s desire to tell a stranger to jump off a bridge because of a song.

2. There is often an automatic draw to drama and conflict

I feel like I used drama as a distraction from my own life. Watching someone be criticised by the ‘Twitter mob’, despite how awful and needless it can be, can create a disturbing sense of entertainment. I’m not exactly sure where this innate curiosity comes from, but when people argue on Twitter, I can’t look away. I’d waste hours and expend energy, watching someone else’s life drama unfold in real-time. And that’s potential music-making time you’re spending enveloped in a cloud of criticism and negativity – even though it isn’t directed at you.

3. Social media increased my anxiety, while my clarity of thought and peace of mind suffered

Albert Einstein said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Yes, it’s a cliché, but the quote is fitting. After using social media for an unimaginable number of hours over a decade, and being aware of these tensions within. A self-study revealed that I was far more anxious with the constant, living presence of social media in my pocket than I was without it. I just couldn’t hide from the facts any longer. I needed to take a breath and step away.

4. Our minds can’t process the world’s chaos and tragedies 24/7/365

Real-time news updates on social media became too much for me to process. Every morning there’ll be a new trending topic. Sometimes a tragedy would be broadcast in high definition. I was losing my mind. You can (and maybe even should) argue that it’s my responsibility to be aware of the world’s problems. You can’t do anything to impact those situations if you’re oblivious to them, after all. But I found that my rational thinking became impaired and my anxieties spiked through the roof. I felt emotionally paralysed. I felt useless from my inability to help make those situations better or to offer valuable ideas. I learned that for me to be focused on my music-making, I needed to feel calm and in-the-zone. Being in the frantic and confused state that the 24/7 news conversation provoked wasn’t helping

5. I wanted to turn my creative goals into long term journeys

There are four words written above my calendar: “Stay in the game”. It’s my life’s mantra. My philosophy in my music career is that I want to be an explorer on a multi-decade journey. Stepping away from social media made me realise just how much I love making music. Surprisingly, I’ve also come to love the music industry, and I find it exciting – flaws and all.

I started thinking about the long-term and began to accept the various ups and downs, successes, and failures that are bound to come my way during this journey. And to stay focused, I have to resist the cheap thrills of attention spikes within the realms of social media. Those easy attention spikes only serve to divert me from my path. As much as I seem to naturally crave instant validation, just like any of you reading this, I’d rather fight and resist the urge so that I can look ahead.

6. I want to be known for my ‘on-court’ performance

In the Michael Jordan documentary The Last Dance, Jordan often talks about how off-court drama would affect him emotionally. Still, he resisted the urge to respond to the media and the drama. Instead, he only responds to questions about his on-court performance. Jordan always took the more challenging route to make a lasting statement, and I find that inspiring. As a musician, I want my fans to think of me as a hard-working musician. That is my value to the world.

On the flip side

However, I feel like I should present a balanced picture here. A social media detox, especially one as long as mine, for some, can be a bad idea, especially when you’re a modern-day creative. It’s also a bad idea if you’re a young person just trying to enter the workforce. I’m bringing it up because not enough people are talking about it. Here’s why it might not be a good idea for you:

If you’re an up and coming creative, being socially ‘distant’ online can limit the reach of your work, whether you’re a musician or a photographer. From personal experience, nobody would have found my songs at all if it wasn’t for the effective use of social media promotion. Music discovery through social media is a double-edged sword. After leaving the social media hermit life and leading up to the release of my latest single Wait for Me featuring Goody Grace, I still considered living my life off social media altogether. I consulted some close friends on what the risks could be for my music if I stay entirely offline. My roommate sent in a short text reply: “If a tree falls in a forest and nobody is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”. No Twitter? Sorry, creatives – no views, streams, or new fans.

Peter Takis
Quitting social media doesn’t have to be a permanent thing, but time away can help put things in perspective

So our mental health aside, speaking broadly here, there are downsides to ‘quitting’ social media as a musician. If you still want to do it, you’ll need to be aware and accept these downsides. I get that I’ll lose fans who crave non-stop updates from their favourite artists, and that’s OK.

I realise that social media algorithms will penalise me harshly for my choice to update sporadically versus those who are relentless and consistent with theirs. Still, I sure hope that I’ll become far happier and healthier, having taken that much-needed step back from social media.

Don’t get me wrong; I’ll promote the f*ck out of the music that I’m so proud of. But, for the most part, I feel much better staying on the social media sidelines and minding my own business here in my tiny little studio.

A middle ground?

For artists just starting out, the reality is you need to network and build valuable relationships. My advice would be to start with small and simple changes, like deciding to enter the studio with your phone on ‘do not disturb.’ Consider your studio space sacred for authentic creativity and a conducive place to enter your very own flow state on command. I’m sure that small commitment will lead to some of the best creative sessions of your life.

If you’d like to check out my latest single Wait for Me it’s available on your favourite streaming service. I’ll say it again and again; I’m incredibly proud of this song and the rest of my upcoming debut album. I’m excited for what’s to come, and I hope you’ll join me on this journey, one that I could not have achieved without taking that step out of the digital playground.

Website: www.takismusic.com/
Instagram: www.instagram.com/petertakis/
Twitter: twitter.com/petertakis
Facebook: www.facebook.com/Takis-Music-100960188342019

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