By Abbie Demuth
For The Signal
Bryan Meyers settled into his worn drum stool as he prepared to record his solo music in his apartment bedroom. Mimicking a recording studio, his drum kit is decorated with recently purchased recording material, an investment he made during quarantine.
A countdown that will beep until it’s time to start recording chimes in the background, as Meyers prepares to play for a virtual audience he’ll never see. The music will be heard via an online platform, one of the few ways full-time musicians could share their music during the recent quarantine for COVID-19.
“As a musician, we essentially became jobless,” said Meyers, the drummer for Guilty Pleasure Makers.
By the second week of March 2020, live music was cancelled due public health protools from the Centers for Disease Control, aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19. Musicians were no longer able to perform for live audiences, causing significant financial strain on the music community. While some attempted to host virtual concerts, others released original music online in attempts to make ends meet.
Here are some of the stories of how local musicians survived COVID-19:
With an abundance of free time during the pandemic, Meyers released his original music on Bandcamp, an online music service that allows artists to sell and promote their music.
“As a musician, you are working hard to keep work in front of you and doing gigs. It becomes easy to put your own stuff on the back burner,” Meyers said. “It’s always a juggling act.”
Netflix binges. Recipe mastering. Home improvement projects. Backgammon games against his wife. These were the other activities that occupied Meyers during quarantine.
“Even though I was limited to what I could do during the shutdown, I wrote away. There’s no way I’m going to get up every morning and stare at my navel for half the day,” Meyers said. “If we are not going anywhere soon, what can I do?”
Eager to play live music during the shutdown, he organized neighborhood concerts for his apartment complex in Hollywood. For the first, which he called the Don’t Stand So Close to Me COVID Cookout, neighbors sat on patios and the courtyard grass to appreciate the live music, a rarity during the pandemic.
The Guilty Pleasure Makers consist of two other full-time musicians: bassist Murv Douglas and singer Wes Styles. Formed two years ago, the band performs classic rock, old school R&B, ’80s pop and ’90s music covers. The members met through the undeniable band chemistry after being hired together for different gigs.
As COVID-19 restrictions continue to loosen, Guilty Pleasure Makers have begun playing live shows, including once a month at Smokehouse on Main in Newhall.
“We can tell people are appreciating seeing live music. When you don’t get to have something very often, you appreciate it,” Meyers said. “It’s been pretty cool to see people who engage with you more or make a point of going out to see you.”
The Band Lexington
Chris Baurer moved to California in 1989 to pursue music. After seeing the instability of the music business, he decided to pursue a career in the pharmaceutical business.
“It’s always been a distraction and a passion and the thing I would’ve most wanted to do with my life, but it didn’t make any sense to me from a business perspective,” Baurer said. “It was a high-risk, low-probability way of making a living.”
Baurer’s full-time job has allowed him to continue to play music with bands on evenings and weekends. The 45-year-old musician is the vocalist and guitarist for The Band Lexington, a rock and country cover band.
During the last year, due to COVID-19, Baurer has seen first-hand how the instability severely impacted his fellow musicians who rely on their ability to perform.
“COVID might be an inconvenience because I don’t get to go out and play — and I just enjoy that as a musician,” Baurer said. “But we have seen some of our friends being negatively affected since they can’t make ends meet because that extra money is like having a second job.”
At the beginning of the pandemic, The Band Lexington had temporarily stopped practicing in-person due to the severity of COVID-19. The band members include singer and guitarist Rachel Botello, bassist Matt Manning and drummer Jim Sipotz.
Over the last 18 months, more individuals have learned to play instruments and formed bands, making live music extremely competitive, according to Baurer. With restrictions being lifted on restaurants, local bands are fighting to play at limited live venues in Santa Clarita. Baurer said they wanted the band to be as prepared as possible. In addition to music venues, Lexington has played venues like Wolf Creek Brewery in Saugus, and at community nonprofit events like the 2018 Walk for Life, which benefited the SCV Pregnancy Center.
Resuming band practices last summer, rehearsals would consist of physical distancing, constant disinfecting, and occasionally the singer would sing in a different room.
“Music is a distraction, if nothing else,” Baurer said. “It’s really important to not be glued to the news and do things that make us happy and keep us sane.”
Long-time musician Jeff Barber was eager to perform for a live audience again after trying his hand at virtual playing. Despite having virtual tip jars and advanced audio technology, Barber claimed that the connections formed during in-person playing cannot be replicated.
“It’s been so wonderful being able to play in front of people close to us and watch the joy in their faces while we are playing and dancing and singing along,” Barber said.
When he is not playing the drums, Barber is the Arts & Events Supervisor for the city and supervisor of The MAIN, the city’s multi-use performing arts center. Santa Clarita followed state and LA County health orders and temporarily closed The MAIN last March. It was able to resume indoor performances and events starting June 15, 2021 according to Tori Rittenhouse, the city’s communication specialist.
Playing the drums for 46 years, Barber is currently a member of two bands: The Hell Toupees, an original punk project and Sick D, a Social Distortion tribute band.
“It was a weird scenario where we weren’t paying in front of people and now you have this opportunity to start doing it again. It’s new and fresh and musicians are excited to start playing in front of people again.”
During the day, Mike Fitzgerald is a counselor at College of the Canyons. At night, depending on the evening, he plays in one of several local bands.
“I’m lucky to have a day job,” Fitzgerald said. “A lot of musicians only depend on music and have been out of work for a year. Some of us with a day job were able to weather the storm a little easier.”
A member of the band formerly known as The Snareheads, a popular, local cover band, Fitzgerald has continued to play music with other projects after The Snareheads weren’t able to weather the stress of the pandemic.
“It has been very hard to find even the motivation to practice,” Fitzgerald said. “The whole magical part of playing music is playing for other people and connecting with the people listening and the other people you are playing with.”
Fitzgerald is currently the drummer for The Off Knights, an R&B and soul band. He also plays in a reggae band, Splash Mob, and an acoustic duo, Billy and Mike.
“For those of us who absolutely love music, we can’t just sit around and do nothing. So, we will put together some new band and give it a silly name and try to get a gig,” Fitzgerald said. “Some of us get bit by the bug, and there’s no other fix than getting out and playing.”