Recently, I found myself reaching out once again to the COVID-19-weary community of Rochester musicians, a hardy bunch with as much resolve and survival instinct as anyone, anywhere.
That the average working musician has to supplement their income to make ends meet is nothing new. Ask them and they’ll tell you: There are literally hundreds of dollars to be made in the music business. From time to time, musicians have to become bartenders, baristas, Uber drivers, and servers, or risk sleeping on mom and dad’s couch.
But those jobs aren’t an option right now. So, when I posed the question “What is your side hustle?” on social media, it didn't take long for the weisenheimers to surface with their supplemental answers.
Several different spellings of gigolo came up, as did pornstar. Starting a church was another one. Casino dealer. Reaper of a steady windfall from scratch-off lottery tickets. There was even an M.D. in there. “I tried to be a doctor but I didn't have the patients,” one said.
Initially, I thought nobody understood the question. But it slowly dawned on me how important it is to have a sense of humor throughout all of this pandemic pandemonium.
Many bands and solo artists are trying to squeeze a little bread out of live streams with virtual tip jars. For others, like Don Mancuso of D-Drive and Lou Gramm fame, the situation is equally dire.
“Work has all but dried up for me,” Mancuso says. “I had two to four shows per week with one of the eight projects I play with, as well as my solo acoustic stuff. Twelve students, now down to three online lessons. Session stuff, guitar tracks for hire...nothing.”
But Mancuso isn’t letting moss grow on him. He’s still selling his wares and working on improving his craft. He’s adding tour videos to his YouTube channel and expanding his viewership. He’s writing and recording new material — including an unplugged version of “Pray for Tomorrow,” due next week. The free time at home has also allowed him to hone his skills as a vocalist for acoustic shows performed at nursing homes with Michael Sidoti, and given him the opportunity to repair and set up guitars for fellow musicians.
Anonymous Willpower’s lead singer Suzi Willpower is the queen of the side hustle. Her side hustles have side hustles. She drives for Lyft and Uber, she cleans houses and washes windows, and she just started delivering for Instacart.
Willpower’s heart goes out to the legions of musicians here and abroad, hurting right now — including the ones in her band.
“Since teaching music isn't considered an essential job, they are hurting for dough,” she says. “However, on a good note, this had given us time to finish our latest CD, ‘No One Will Ever Know,’ due on April 24 on Bandcamp.”
The Byways’ frontman Alex Goettel says that prior to the pandemic, it was bartending for him. “Then three weeks ago, I picked up a job stocking at Aldi’s,” he says. “So, whatever pays the bills.”
I’m not saying it’s not bad out there; it’s scary, both financially and psychologically. But musicians here are making their way through the emotional tundra just as they did before, B.C. — Before Coronavirus.
They find ways to keep paying the rent and, most importantly, keep playing music.
Frank De Blase is CITY’s music writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.