What It’s Like for a Hawai‘i Musician During the Pandemic
After he lost all of his gigs, Izik began taking online classes for music production and started going live on Instagram.
Editor’s Note: For our July issue of HONOLULU, we searched for stories from people all around O‘ahu about the moment COVID-19 became real to them. We spoke with a critical care nurse, care home operators, a mail carrier, a hotel worker who lost her job, a police captain and more back in April and May about the ways their lives at work and at home suddenly changed. Check back on honolulumagazine.com every week for a new story. Pick up the issue on newsstands in late June, subscribe or visit our online store.
Here’s the full version of Izik’s story in his own words, as told to Jayna Omaye. The 34-year-old musician from Kapolei lost all of his gig opportunities when the pandemic arrived in Hawai‘i.
Photos: Pati Tyrell
This is the first time since high school that I’ve been unemployed.
COVID-19 affected my life 100%. Normally, I would be gigging every single day of the week. I have regular gigs at Monkeypod Kitchen at Ko Olina and at the Laylow in Waikīkī. I also sing at Whole Foods. I do weddings and special events. Those take up most of my days.
Everything was kind of up in the air with COVID-19. I didn’t really know what was going on. I had just got back from a trip when we started to see all of the other gigs in Waikīkī just cut their music. The music was the first thing to go even before they shut down the hotels.
At Monkeypod, we came in one day and it was raining. They just came up and told us they didn’t know what the future’s going to look like. They said they were closing and opening for takeout only. At Laylow, the general manager came up to me personally and asked how I was doing. He told me that we’re going to make sure that you’re taken care of as long as we can. The music won’t be cut until the very, very last minute. But they closed the same day the governor put out that order to shelter in place. I realized driving home from Monkeypod that day that I was going to be unemployed. That was the moment when it became real.
I’ve been working as a full-time musician for about five years. I had a paper route and then had two jobs in high school at Subway and for ProService as a file clerk. I’d work at Subway for a few hours and then I’d go to ProService. I wanted to make my own money. Then I got into retail, and I absolutely hated it. After that, I got into food and beverage. I worked on the Star of Honolulu. I worked at The Kāhala Hotel & Resort. I was part of the opening team at Aulani. At Aulani, we’d always go out to karaoke after work, and people would be like, “You should be singing for a living. You shouldn’t be waiting tables.”
My first paid gig was at Hula’s Bar in Waikīkī in 2013. I quit my job as a waiter at Aulani in 2015. Once I linked up with my manager, Jenn Wright, that’s when it really started to grow, and I saw that this could be something I could really make a living off of. I’m really lucky that I live with my family. That’s the only way I could survive as a musician.
At the beginning of the stay-at-home order, I started going live on Instagram almost every day. People were really generous by sending me tips through Venmo and Cash App. I’m basically living off of tips and what people will donate. They expanded the unemployment to cover people like me. I also was able to get my stimulus check. It’s all about looking for grants and funds for artists. But it’s not the greatest because obviously my bread and butter was gigging.
I’ve been able to use this time to refocus my trajectory. I’m a singer-songwriter, and I play the guitar enough to know how to write songs. But I don’t know much about production. I’ve always wanted to learn that but never really had the time. When all of this happened, I was like, “Well, now I have the time.” I had the support of my family, and they helped me pay for tuition (for online classes).
I started online school at Berklee College of Music. It’s been inspiring to see all of the different ways that other creators are finding ways to work from home. I was kind of worried to do all of this stuff, but now that I’ve really reworked it and seen a different way to make money, I’m kind of thinking of refocusing my energy to not being out so much doing so many gigs. I realize how taxing it can be, not just on my physical health, but also with my goals and ambitions. The way that I’ve been livestreaming and seeing the response to it, I can actually redirect my trajectory to make it work.
It does feel weird to be unemployed. Yes, it is a scary time. And you have to acknowledge that, for sure. I’ve dealt with so many obstacles in my life, like everyone else, that I just kind of hit the ground running. When I have the opportunity or time to think too much, that’s when I get into low points. I don’t think that fear will ever go away. But don’t let it take over.