Isaac Blake, a DJ at The Barrel House

COVID pandemic impacts local DJ industry

Isaac Blake and Luis Montero are two local DJs who were very active before COVID-19.

“I was DJing at three different locations every week,” said Blake. “I was at Third Perk Coffee House every Friday. Saturdays I was DJing at DK Effect. And the most famous place was the world-famous Barrel House every Wednesday for Wu-Tang Wednesday.” The fame of Wu-Tang Wednesday even caught the attention of Wu-Tang clan member, RZA. In July 2018, RZA gave a shout-out to Wu-Tang Wednesday on Facebook, saying “Wu-Tang is for the children”, according to Dayton.com.

“I was holding different DJing gigs throughout Dayton and still actively looking for other places as well,” said Montero. “I filled in at Therapy Cafe for Danny D. Salsa Nights. I [also] DJed at Karmin’s Deli.” Montero was also looking forward to DJing at Dayton’s Hispanic Heritage Festival, which he DJed in 2019 and planned to again in 2020. Also, Montero hosted a live weekly radio show on WWSU 106.9 FM.

But then, the pandemic hit

Ohio Governor Mike DeWine ordered the closure of all bars and restaurants except for carry-out starting on March 12, 2020, at 9 p.m., according to The Hill. Furthermore, DeWine issued a stay-at-home order, taking effect on March 23, 2020, according to cincinnati.com

“My city is turning into a desert,” exclaimed Blake. Both Blake and Montero could no longer DJ in person due to the restrictions and lack of people going out. Also, the Dayton Hispanic Heritage Festival that Montero hoped to DJ at was canceled and moved to a virtual event, according to Dayton.com. Finally, WWSU 106.9 FM decided to restrict all in-studio broadcasts until further notice, requiring Montero to move his show remotely to his home studio.

COVID-19 impacted nearly every industry around the world. Alera Group released a paper on COVID-19 Industry Impacts in May 2020, detailing the 10 industries most impacted. Restaurants and small businesses were two of the 10 hardest-hit industries, according to the paper. 

But the DJ industry has also been impacted largely due to the impacts on restaurants and small businesses. Nightclubs, bars, concert venues, and other places where people gather utilize DJs, or “Disc Jockeys”, to provide live music and entertainment for their crowd. But the demand for DJs plummeted when COVID-19 posed the need for some locations to shut down or limit their services. This, among other impacts, could result in a loss of almost $9 billion in the music industry, according to Business Insider.

“Not everyone thinks of DJing as a small business,” explained Montero. There are DJ businesses that cater specifically to weddings. And that’s 100% of their client. And if they’re not able to have these weddings, that’s a whole income out.

Montero also explained DJs help bring in customers to restaurants and businesses. “Businesses need DJs to be out there because that’s what brings business. If you have the right DJ and they’re bringing a crowd, the crowd is happy because they have a place to go. The owner is happy because their business is thriving. And the employees are happy because they’re getting their money.”

Panic sets in

When COVID-19 first spread to the United States, both Blake and Montero expressed fear. They recalled a specific event that highlighted the initial impact of the virus.

“It was scary,” spoke Montero. “I remember watching the news and seeing the numbers go up. Being in the military, my first thought was I need to prepare for this.” 

Montero explained an incident he had while shopping at Kroger the night the NBA suspended their season. He described Kroger as having more shoppers than usual, and that the shoppers were in a frantic state. 

“And then I get a message on my phone,” a bulletin that the NBA suspended the 2019-2020 season. “As soon as I saw that, who is such a large company, that’s when panic started setting in.” The NBA announced the suspension on March 11, 2020, after a player tested positive for coronavirus, according to The New York Times.

About two weeks later, the staff at WWSU 106.9 FM informed Montero that Wright State University, and therefore WWSU, was closing down offices and buildings until further notice due to COVID-19. This meant he, along with other DJs, could no longer perform their show live in the radio studio. 

“My radio program was doing well,” explained Montero. “So it was an out of body experience. Where do we go from here?” Despite the closure, WWSU allowed prerecorded and remote shows to continue. Montero continues to broadcast his show, “Latin Nights Radio”, remotely.

Blake also had an incident of fear on a chilly night in early March 2020. “I started getting the shakes,” Blake began. “I didn’t know what was going on.” As he was driving back home, he fell asleep at the wheel and swerved onto a sidewalk, barely avoiding a crash. “If there was someone on the sidewalk, they would have been dead.”

Blake drove to Miami Valley Hospital and admitted himself to the ER. 

“I noticed there were 12 or 13 people [in the lobby] watching this one television. [The nurses] wheeled me back to hook me up on the IVs. I turned the TV on, and I noticed they started talking about COVID-19.” The television described the symptoms of COVID-19, which were similar to the ones Blake was experiencing. He requested a COVID-19 test. Fortunately for him, the test came back negative. Instead, it was a staph infection. He recovered and was released from the hospital two and a half weeks later.

Optimism for the future

COVID-19 did not impact Blake nor Montero as much as it had impacted other DJs.

“A lot of my fellow DJ friends and musicians throughout the world were all affected by it,” said Montero. “I have friends where that is strictly their job. Monetary-wise, it did not affect me as much. It was more of a hobby and a side gig. But for others, [DJing] was their sole source of income.”

“I thank God for the position I’m in right now,” began Blake, “which isn’t the best in the world. But I’m doing better than a lot of other people.” Blake is no longer DJing at Third Perk, DK Effect, nor The Barrel House at the moment. However, he is optimistic that he can return to all three venues once COVID-19 passes. 

Blake is especially optimistic about The Barrel House and Wu-Tang Wednesday, praising Sara and Guss Stathes, the owners of The Barrel House. 

“Sara and Guss are some of the most caring people I’ve ever met in my life,” Blake stated with endearment. “The Barrel House is like family to me. I can’t wait to get back there to do Wu-Tang Wednesday.”

Staying strong and having a plan

Both Blake and Montero ask everyone, including DJs impacted by the virus, to stay strong and have alternative plans for income.

“Don’t give up”, Blake said. “Don’t lose your sense of your drive and push. If it makes you feel good, why would you stop?”

“I think it’s important to have a plan B or a contingency plan,” explained Montero. “Be prepared. Save money. And be ready to reinvent yourself. You can get down and feel sorry for yourself. You have until midnight of that day to feel sad and sorry for yourself. After midnight, it’s a new day. You gotta get up, brush the dirt off, and figure out a way to get back out there.

“Understand and support the DJs, the bars, and the local business. That can only happen if they follow the rules and the guidelines. It’s simple rules. We’re all in the same fight worldwide. If we follow the rules, that’s all we have to do to get out there faster.”

The pandemic resulted in the inability of Blake and Montero to DJ in public. Although they were not impacted as much as other DJs have, they had to make changes to their DJ routines. Both are hopeful that once the pandemic is passed, DJs can return to restaurants and bars. And cities such as Dayton will be filled with nightlife and activities as they were before the pandemic.

Photo: Isaac Blake is the DJ for The Barrel House’s “Wu-Tang Wednesdays”. The photo was taken inside The Barrel House in February 2020 before COVID-19 became a pandemic.

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