While most of the country begins opening back up for business, it’s impossible to ignore the overall impact COVID-19 has on the music industry. As their fans stay home, many musicians are increasing their social media presence with online performances.
Most musicians have been out of work since their last in-person performance. For McAllen’s Mariachi Mariposas, that was nearly three months ago. Although the eleven-piece band hasn’t been able to rehearse in person, Band Director Mayra García coordinates Zoom group meetings to discuss music matters like performing in public together again.
“As far as the situation in the Rio Grande Valley, I feel [the virus] isn’t getting any better,” says García. “We all have different views. Some say they’re not going to play until this is over, so I have to respect that decision.”
A lack of performances means a fall in revenue for these musicians and their bands. According to datausa.io the average musician’s salary is $33,265. Often this income is put back into band expenses: travel, instrument maintenance, attire, etc. Mariachi Mariposas recently purchased new suits for future shows. Some members were able to afford their outfit, while others plan to make their payment from the money earned playing the now rescheduled shows.
SXSW was the first music festival cancellation of 2020. Since March, other festivals have been canceled or postponed. These changes mean a loss in potential new fans, sales and a paid performance. Stephanie Bergara, the lead vocalist of the Selena tribute band Bidi Bidi Banda, calls the period between SXSW 2020 and June 1 ‘Selena Season.’ She says she’s lost around $45,000 due to show cancellations.
Austin-based Bidi Bidi Banda is a small business covering the expenses of seven musicians, an audio engineer, manager, website, social media promotions and travel. The banda relies on the savings from “Selena Season” to pay everyone when playing free or benefit shows.
“As soon as [the cancellations] happened I planned to pay all the guys, even if it meant paying out of my own pocket,” says Bergara. “Luckily, we’re at a stopping point right now. But if that means me signing off on someone’s unemployment, I will. These guys are my family and taking care of them is a priority.”
Without a performance, there is no need for sound engineers, lighting technicians, stage crew, bouncers, or ticket handlers. Luz Elena Mendoza of Y La Bamba wrapped her tour before the shelter-in-place orders went into effect in Portland. However, Y La Bamba had scheduled shows for last month and the fall. Mendoza says it’s eerie to think about how the cancellations not only affect her but everyone working with Y La Bamba.
“It’s kind of like when you can feel the room [your family is in],” Mendoza says. “You know that one person in that room isn’t feeling ok and you’re empathetic so you can feel it. It’s more than just you; it’s a lot to balance that feeling.”
New York mariachi band Flor de Toloache ended their tour early in New Zealand on March 15 and split back to the States. The band’s non-stop performances came to a halt. Founding Member Shae Fiol says it’s been a difficult transition for the band. “I deeply miss singing with my musical sisters on stage, sharing that energy with the audience and the people that love our music.”
Flor de Tolache moved their in-person performances to social media with pre-recorded videos to performing live on Instagram. This type of online presence allows the band to stay in touch with their listeners.
“I started to recognize some of the usernames [in the Toloache Request Live performances],” Fiol says. “They’re super grateful and doing gritos like ‘Salud tequila, this is my Friday night and I’m cooking.’”
When going live on social media, Mendoza experiences anxiety as she wonders what her audience is doing and how they’re feeling. “It’s the first time I’m letting fans talk to me during this time. The support system is a community. So it’s like: ‘how are we all doing?’ ‘Is this triggering for you?’ ‘Is it healing for you?’”
Mendoza prepares for live performances by taking time for herself. The live streaming performances are a reminder of the current state of the world, causing a feeling of dissociation.
“I think there are so many feelings attached to the nervous system and I’m nervous about our state as people on this planet. So, it’s hard for me to reconcile with what it means to be present, share art and see the elephant in the room.”
Some bands are joining live stream performances with others to raise funds for those in need, like Flor de Toloache playing to raise funds for the World Health Organization. Others utilize live streaming to raise funds for their band. Mary Regalado of Washington, D.C. punk band Clear Channel questions selling her work during this pandemic.
“It’s been a bizarre experience putting out an album in this time, Regalado said. “It feels kind of silly to promote your own art or music when people are dying.”
Though album sales may help Regalado, she and other musicians rely on the financial aid from various music relief programs and unemployment. Others are also leaning on forgiveness programs, their significant other’s income, or moving back home.
“[Music] and the way we do things will never be the same again,” Bergara says.
As musicians stay at home, they are using this time to work on new music, take a break, pick up a different instrument, explore other creative endeavors and/or be with their loved ones.
“It’s kind of bitter-sweet because we’ve been touring for so long,” Mireya Ramos of Flor de Toloache says, “We were really tired and it’s been good to focus on our bodies, rest, drink water and all those good things.”