A Pandemic Survival Guide for Musicians

The Sound at Cypress Waters in Coppell has guidelines that musicians should remember if they're gigging during the pandemic.
The Sound at Cypress Waters in Coppell has guidelines that musicians should remember if they're gigging during the pandemic. Stephen Goodson
As the Texas heat reaches its peak, the effects of the pandemic continue to levy a heavy toll on local musicians. Traditional gigging opportunities are returning at a slow drip, but they remain far below sustainable levels for most. Despite that, DFW musicians are proving their resilience. Here are things musicians can do to help sustain their craft until the world opens up again:

1. Gigs are happening: Where and how
While bar gigs are a no-go because of pandemic restrictions, many restaurants that have previously hosted live music have found ways to provide entertainment while maximizing health and safety. The Sound at Cypress Waters in Coppell is one of many venues with large placards near the entrances to inform patrons of any new procedures and requirements. The Sound provides the following guidelines, and they're a good example of general venue expectations:

KEEP IT CLEAN: Please sanitize or wash your hands when you enter any of our restaurants or community spaces. This includes opening doors, after transactions, and before you eat.

PHYSICAL DISTANCE: We ask that you continue to practice social distancing here at The Sound. Please limit groups to 6 people or less and stay at least 6 feet away from other groups or individuals.

EVENT ETIQUETTE: During our events, remain at least 15 feet back from the stage or performer and maintain physical distance from other groups. We have a lot of space on our lawns and patios, so please be sure to use it and spread out from others.

MASKS & FACIAL COVERINGS: We would love to see your smile, but right now at The Sound we are recommending everyone follows CDC guidelines and wear a facial covering when possible.

*If you are feeling ill do not enter The Sound. We will be eagerly awaiting to serve and entertain you once you feel better.”

Other options in Dallas include drive-in concerts (Live Nation will be hosting Metallica on Aug. 29, but local drive-in concerts are becoming a regular occurrence), livestreaming shows and open mics and curbside and other outdoor concerts. Although nothing can ever replace a live audience vibing together, the sheer number of safe, socially distanced musical performances occurring daily is a testament to the Dallas music community’s staying power.

2. Diversify your skillset

If you play guitar, consider doubling on bass, ukulele, mandolin, lap-steel, etc. Dallas bassist Patrick Smith suggests that you “learn and write as much as possible. Pick up more instruments. Build a home studio and learn about recording and filming.” Depending on your experience and circumstances, pooling your resources with musicians in the area can help defray the cost of the audio equipment. Bartering gear and services is a great play, too. If you have access to a laptop or desktop, audio interface, microphone and headphones in addition to a few quality cables, you’re in business. In this new environment, there is virtually no downside to learning how to record and share your music from home. Also, use this time to enhance your craft through practice, active listening and study. Acquire basic keyboarding skills. Take a course on music theory. Online learning platforms like Udemy, Skillshare, Brilliant and Coursera have treasure chests full of music-related topics you can dive into at low cost.

3. Sell unused gear
Inventory your gear and consider selling anything you have not used in a year or more. Instruments, amplifiers, pedals, PA equipment, vinyl records and other sound gear are fair game here. Dust off those old pickers and give them a fresh set of strings. This will help make the final decision on what you will want to keep or sell. You may not make as much as you paid for it, but if you haven’t played it in over a year, it’s time to clean house and collect the dough. The best online resources for selling and bartering are Facebook Marketplace, Reverb, eBay and Craigslist.

4.Update your resume and contacts
If your employment prospects are bleak, update your resume to remain competitive. Although documenting your career as a musician in resume form is rarely necessary, keeping your social media and personal website updated is a great way for people to sample your skills and a positive reminder of your own achievements. Scrolling through your contacts you may find that over half of them are dormant acquaintances. Unless you consider them a vital connection, purge. Beware of slipping into complacency. Be proactive in your search for gigs and ask former bandleaders about current and future prospects. If you’re on the fence about applying for that new job, making a phone call to renew a contact or reaching out to a booking agent, just do it. Taking responsibility for your own success applies during pandemics as well.

5. Join industry groups on social media

DFW Shed Sessions, Performers Anonymous and Home Studio Recording are great examples of Facebook groups that connect people to work-for-hire gigging situations and provide valuable up-to-the-minute information about the scene. These and many other pages have made it easier capitalize on unforeseen gig opportunities. Plus, if you need a last-minute sub for your gig, these pages are an invaluable resource.

6.Teach lessons
If you’ve been playing your instrument for a few years — well enough to land you regular gigs — you already have a marketable skill set. While it’s true that big-box chains and independent studios will take a cut of your fees, teaching 10 students independently, once a week for $50/hour will net you $2,000 a month, and you don't have to spend any of it on gas if you're teaching via FaceTime. If you’ve never seriously considered teaching or have been discouraged by social distancing, Zoom and other online platforms are a great resource to tap into if in-person lessons are a no-go with your clientele.

7. Research and apply for grants/emergency funding
If your income has dropped below manageable levels (first, take a deep breath), take a few minutes to research various grants and emergency funds. Yes, it can be a slog, but this small effort could make or break an entire month for you. Keep in mind that these graciously endowed funds have limited resources, change almost daily and are typically first come, first served. The COVID-19 Emergency Funding and Artist Resources is a list of useful resources.

8. Sanitation and prevention
Try to be strategic about your gigs. Getting COVID will be, at the very least, expensive in terms of medical costs, not to mention a gig can be a permanent bad investment if you get any long-term side effects or die. But if you do take a gig, take some precautions. In a recent Facebook post, jazz singer Ashleigh Smith wrote out some practical advice for gigging musicians:

"1.Bring your own SANITIZED microphone OR disinfect the house mic before you touch it and after every use. Do not share the mic. As a singer, you should really be doing this on a regular basis. Your voice is your instrument and a gift. Protect it.
2. When you aren’t on stage, please practice social distancing and wear a mask.
3. Please, I know we all love to interact with the audience, do not go directly into the crowd for the time being. It isn’t worth the risk to YOU or them.
Share your gift, but do so responsibly."
9. Remember it gets better
Finding hope is difficult, but as musicians, we are a resilient breed that has put up with years of "Can you play something by Deadmau5/Miley Cyrus/some other band that has nothing to do with what we're playing."

“Things are hard for everyone, so give everyone grace," says drummer and producer Michael Ferguson. "If they’re scared, give them grace. If they are mad and lashing out because they’re broke as hell, give them grace. I just wanna see us all listening to live music again."
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