Bronx musicians are using Instagram Live as their concert hall during the New York quarantine, as they try to maintain contact with their fans. But many are finding that communication is a small part of their challenges — Instagram doesn’t pay the bills and it lacks the exhilarating live feedback from an audience.
Hunts Point resident Emely Martinez, known by her stage name “Emelia Vero,” says that as gigs were being canceled, musicians began to feel the financial hurt immediately. Instead, people have resorted to asking for donations from fans to keep afloat.
“Artists can’t pay their bills off that,” said Martinez, a musician who plays multiple gigs and frequently performs on the subway. “People work hard for their gigs and when they’re canceled, there isn’t a net to fall back on.”
It’s been a rough transition for Martinez, who would normally travel from borough to borough on any given day. Now she’s staying home, venturing out on small walks in her neighborhood to get fresh air.
Martinez, like many in her situation, has turned to using her home as a makeshift studio in order to stay creative while inside, even creating a “quarantine album” in the meantime.
It’s in limbo,” she said. “But I’m able to get a rough sketch of what I need.”
Her fellow artists, despite facing similar struggles, are also using this time to look inward and reflect. Mel Mendez, who performs under the name Wumxnn, says that self-isolation has forced them to find a balance in their life and re-evaluate their craft.
A self-proclaimed “busybody”, Wumxnn has used the time to enjoy small pleasures such as cooking meals and writing letters to friends.
“I’m taking time out to connect with myself,” said Wumxnn, a Bronx native currently based in Brooklyn. “It makes me feel more human.”
They’re also using the time to build connections with others as well, but performing on Instagram Live doesn’t provide the same experience as being in front of an actual crowd, said Wumxnn.
“Connecting with people in person is timeless,” they said. “But we’re trying to create more moments with our audience in times like these.”
Some artists are also choosing to collaborate with one another — at a distance.
Joel “Martyre” Martinez used to do small live streams before his shows. But since Covid-19 has forced people indoors, he now uses them to create open mic nights online with other artists. The streams have resulted in a small, but much-needed, upside to the situation.
“It’s a beautiful thing, said Martyre, a Riverdale resident who performs in South Bronx locations like Bronx Native and The Bronx Brewery. “Our fan bases are able to interact with one another.”
He has used the time to create an instrumental album through the website Bandcamp. Under the tentative title “Love, Peace & Mercy, the album is an ongoing project aimed at fostering mental health at a time where many can fall into depression.
This is the time, says Martyre, for artists to step up and bring joy to people who don’t have that gift. “We have to keep busy in order to stay sane,” he said.
Still, while Martyre is doing live streams to make the best of a bad situation, he longs to play in front of a live crowd again.
“I really learned how much I enjoy being with other people,” said Martyre. “There’s something validating about the reaction from an audience that becomes sterile on a live stream.”