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El Paso’s music community reels from losses amid COVID-19

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By René Kladzyk/Special to El Paso Matters 

The effects of COVID-19 related restrictions have been acutely felt by members of El Paso’s music community. With music venue closures and tours and concerts canceled, local musicians and music industry workers are reeling from the financial shock and struggling to rapidly adapt.

René Kladzyk is a musician and writer based in El Paso. ( Photo by Lauren Renner)

As a touring musician myself, I have recently cancelled shows and reconfigured plans in response to COVID-19. And like so many other musicians, I work in the service industry as a way to supplement my sometimes paltry music-related income. Because of widespread layoffs in restaurants and bars, many musicians are now experiencing a double whammy of precarious financial footing during this time of crisis, losing both their day and night jobs.

“I want to be optimistic, but this is getting pretty bad. It’s gonna change a lot of things when this is over,” said Roberto Dozal, member of the band Part Time and bartender at bar/venue Monarch. “Since I’m a bartender and I also play music, this has completely destroyed both of those industries for the time being.” 

Dozal says the weeks surrounding SXSW in Austin are typically the busiest time of year for El Paso venues. “It goes beyond just helping the city of Austin out, (SXSW) helps every surrounding city on the way to Austin. I was doing both, I was going to bartend some shows (here in El Paso), and then I was gonna play SXSW. All of that got cancelled.”

Roberto Dozal is an El Paso musician and bartender at Monarch. (Photo by Kelia Hernandez)

Touring and live performance is typically the primary way that musicians make music-related income, although financial realities for many independent musicians were already uncertain before COVID-19 caused widespread cancellations.

 I recently conducted a research study in partnership with The Creative Independent, for which we surveyed nearly 300 music industry workers about the state of the industry. We found that only 17 percent of musicians were able to pay their bills every month, and that a top challenge among industry workers was insufficient earnings. This dire industry landscape has been exacerbated by financially devastating pandemic containment efforts.

For musicians who had new releases planned this spring, the force of COVID-19 has been especially hard-hitting, upending months or even years of preparation. Villian’s Kiss frontman David Delgado had been working toward releasing a new album this May, with plans for the creation of a short film to serve as a visual album, and several upcoming local shows to raise funds toward the cost of pressing vinyl. 

David Delgado is frontman for the El Paso band Villain’s Kiss. (Photo by Viridiana Villa)

Delgado boosts his music-related income by waiting tables, and has seen both sources of income disappear overnight. “The little money that I had saved up for creative plans is now my rent for next month, and everything else has been postponed,” he said.

Villian’s Kiss released a new single last week, and Delgado says he, like many other musicians, is considering how to promote new releases during this pandemic. 

“We have to adapt: we can’t perform, and a lot of us don’t have jobs anymore. It’s a time that everyone is online because of the isolation. I don’t typically use my phone much, but these last few weeks I’ve been non-stop checking social media.” 

Music-industry workers have turned to livestream concerts and online fundraisers as a way to mitigate lost income from live performances. For instance, El Paso venue Neon Rose recently launched a Gofundme to help staff with lost income. But online gatherings are no substitute for in-person live music experiences, and members of the El Paso music community have well-founded concerns about the future. As Delgado said, “There’s so much amazing talent here that does not get the recognition that it needs. Now more than ever they’re in need of support.”

Nationally, efforts to help independent musicians and music venues have gained momentum, with Bandcamp waiving it’s revenue share on March 20 and garnering a record $4.3 million in sales in one day, all going toward artists and labels. Spotify has announced that it will be adding a feature for users to donate directly to artists, though how soon it will be implemented is still unknown. 

Whether or not music fans in El Paso will similarly rally in support of local artists and venues is yet to be seen, but is urgently needed.

Cover Photo: El Paso band Villain’s Kiss. Photo by Susana López

René Kladzyk is a musician and writer based in El Paso. She performs original music as Ziemba, and has written for publications including Teen Vogue, i-D, and The Creative Independent. She has a new album coming out on Sister Polygon Records in fall 2020, and is hopeful that we’ll be able to enjoy live music together IRL again soon enough.

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