When the music stopped

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A survey shows that the majority of DJs lost 75% of their income during the pandemic.

Dedrick Sykes, also known as DJ ShyGuy, plays music at a small wedding during the pandemic.

PHOTO BY JUSTIN MUNFORD

BY STEPHANIE CLAYTOR
SPECIAL TO THE FLORIDA COURIER

The hospitality and leisure industry in Florida has been hit the hardest by unemployment during the pandemic, according to Florida’s December Employment figures released by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity. The report revealed that the industry lost 197,000 jobs over the year, accounting for a 15.5 percent decrease.

For gig workers like disc jockeys, the pandemic has affected their revenue streams in every direction. Travel restrictions, recommendations to avoid large gatherings, and cuts to sporting events has all prevented DJs from earning a living.

For Shaina Windsor, a DJ from Tampa known as DJ Lady Shay, it is almost too much to bear. She lost 75 percent of her income in 2020, compared to 2019, when she was deejaying full time.

“I lost a lot. It can drive you crazy to think about the amount of money we lost,” said Windsor.

She is not alone. According to the Music Workers Alliance’s “How Are We Surviving” survey of nearly 300 musicians and DJs conducted at the end of 2020, nearly three quarters of musicians and DJs surveyed have lost more than 75 percent of their income during the pandemic.

March 2020 decline

In 2019, Windsor was playing music in nightclubs weekly. She was the official DJ for the Tampa Bay Vipers, one of the football teams in the XFL League. She deejayed at restaurants around town, as well as for weddings and events for children.

The pandemic led to more than 20 of her wedding clients rescheduling. She said bookings started to decline in the spring of 2020, right after St. Patrick’s Day.

“I have clients backing up now to 2023,” said Windsor. “They rescheduled that far out because they really just don’t know what’s going to happen right now.”

The pandemic led to the entire XFL football league shutting down. The owner then filed for bankruptcy.

“It hit me to [my] core because I was so excited. It was something new, something refreshing,” recalled Windsor. The league now has new ownership, and she hopes the Vipers will play again in Tampa.

Plenty of refunds

It is a similar story for Dedrick Sykes of Lakeland, known as DJ ShyGuy.

“I’ll say 50 to 60 events I probably missed out on during the pandemic,” Sykes said.

He has a full-time job and much of his business comes from weddings.

“I refunded a lot of money to my clients that had to cancel their events,” he related.

“I felt like the pandemic, it was an act of God and it wasn’t nothing the bride and groom could have prevented. Some DJs have different clauses, but me, I wanted to be fair.”

Increased travel restrictions led to his booked weddings in the Dominican Republic and Mexico being canceled.

Making ends meet

The lack of gigs had Windsor worried about paying her mortgage. She and her husband purchased their home in 2019.

He was laid off and started working for Uber Eats, while she depended more on her part -time job at the Home Shopping Network. The couple even sold face masks to make ends meet.

She received a grant from Hillsborough County to help with mortgage payments and got help from her bank.

“It’s important to save. Don’t spend all of your DJ money. Put some away for a rainy day. Because this was a storm and we needed that,” Windsor explained.

Neither she nor Sykes applied for federal assistance, due to them both having other jobs.

Some gig workers qualify for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, which has been extended until March 13. It provides assistance to a variety of workers, including those who are self-employed and/or contract employees, who have lost jobs or had their work interrupted as a direct result of COVID-19.

Shaina Windsor, also known as DJ Lady Shay, deejays at an XFL Tampa Bay Vipers game before the pandemic. She lost the gig when the league shut down due to the pandemic. 
COURTESY OF SHAINA WINDSOR

Super Bowl gigs

Both DJs said the Super Bowl boosted their bank accounts.

“Super Bowl weekend generated a lot of money for DJs. Most DJs’ rates doubled [on] Super Bowl weekend,” Sykes said.

Sykes spent Super Bowl weekend at 7th +Grove, a restaurant and lounge in Tampa’s Ybor neighborhood. He said the Black-owned business has been his main gig throughout the pandemic, besides a few small weddings here and there.

Windsor spent Super Bowl weekend playing music at Under Armour’s outlet store, at a kids activity day sponsored by former NFL player Troy Vincent and at a Tampa Bay Black Business Popup festival. She is hopeful those events will lead to more bookings.

On catching COVID-19

The two differ on their beliefs regarding the pandemic.

While Sykes said he was never scared or nervous about catching COVID-19 while deejaying during the pandemic, Windsor said she feared catching it and being asymptomatic and spreading it to people in her family who are at high risk for having severe complications from the virus.

It is the reason she has been very selective about the gigs she takes on, opting for places where she can have her own space away from crowds.

“Still, I don’t feel safe to go back deejaying in nightclubs. I don’t feel I’m ready to be around that many people right now, “Windsor said.

Twitch, Zoom parties

Windsor has focused her time on playing music for crowds on Twitch, a live streaming app, and booking private Zoom parties. Twitch allows her to get tips for shoutout requests and income when her fans become subscribers.

Copyright law has prohibited her from deejaying live on Facebook and Instagram.

Sykes hopes bookings will pick up by the summer.

“I’m hoping we can recover. I’m hoping we can bounce back,” Sykes said.

But Windsor said she does not believe nightlife and partying will ever be the same.

“I feel like it will get better as we’re finally getting people vaccinated and trying to get that herd immunity that we’re trying to shoot for, but it won’t be the same. How we partied before is not going to be the same way how we party now. We’re going to be much more cautious,” she added.

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