Emerging Mexican-American femmetón singer-songwriter La Doña’s new album, Algo Nuevo, dropped March 12 via Human Re Sources just as the coronavirus pandemic intensified in the U.S. Concerts, festivals and other large gatherings across the country were canceled, including her planned South by Southwest debut, interrupting her early career momentum.
As part of Billboard’s efforts to best cover the coronavirus pandemic and its impacts on the music industry, we will be speaking with La Doña — whose real name is Cecilia Cassandra Peña-Govea — each week to chronicle her experience throughout the crisis. (See the full series here.)
We’re a month into quarantine, how are you doing financially? Do you still have a part-time job at Pandora as a music analyst?
I’m still only making about probably less than half of what I should ordinarily be making. This month has not been that bad because my landlords are incredibly generous and I didn’t have to pay rent for the month of April, but next month I will have to pay rent so not sure what it’ll be like for me, but definitely it’ll be a readjustment. My mom was a teacher and my dad works for the city and we never were hungry growing up, but we had to learn how to be frugal if you wanted to raise a family. My mom taught me a lot about cooking and just living in general in terms of natural remedies and how to shop for your food and basically get the most for your buck. She was training me in a way.
And yes, thankfully still have the job at Pandora. That was like the one job that I’m happy I didn’t quit because online radio will hopefully still exist.
Have you or will you apply for any federal help like unemployment assistance ?
I’ve applied to several grants through the San Francisco Arts Commission and another theater company, but I haven’t received any of those grants. I also applied for unemployment through my job with SF Jazz where I have an artist residency and I’m getting a third of what I was making there so that’s good for me. But I haven’t applied for any specific federal grants; I haven’t really looked into it.
You have some merchandise out for sale, have you been making any profit off of it?
No. We’re thousands of dollars in debt over the merch because we weren’t able to have the shows and so we weren’t able to sell there. We were looking to have sponsors of the merch and that was going to be paid for, but unfortunately all the sponsors backed out. I mean money is coming in but I’m not profiting from it. I’m not going to see any money from the merch.
I know that merch is a huge part and I know that’s how a lot of emerging artists make most of their money but I wasn’t necessarily focused on that as much as I was getting ready for my live performances coming up. But, it’s definitely really heartbreaking. I don’t like selling things if I don’t have anything to give as well. I wanted to sell merch at my parties and play for people and because that didn’t happen, it felt less encouraging and I didn’t feel good about selling my merch especially knowing that people that I know lost their jobs as well. So, it was very complicated for me to even want to put my stuff online.
For that reason, I feel very strongly about doing some type of arrangement with the vinyl. I want to be able to make our money back but also put funds where they’re mostly needed.
Last time we spoke, you were finding a way to help your community…
Yeah, I’ve been sewing masks and at first it felt like really sad and pathetic and I thought, ‘Damn that’s the only thing I can do — sit and make masks?’ But it’s proven to be pretty helpful for people. Now that there is an order for everyone to wear a mask, it’s going to be necessary and important. So, I’ve just been making mask for friends and families. I’m also working with the organizations Mission Meals and CALMA and I actually want to work with them when I get my vinyl album out and have a percentage of the proceeds go to them. Or thinking of making a live stream concert to raise money for them.
How are you feeling overall and are you making any music?
Right now, I’m doing OK. I’ve been trying to figure out with my team and myself how I can start writing music again. The other day I was able to pick up an accordion from my dad and so I’ve been practicing and I feel way better when I’m playing music and learning stuff and that has been a huge difference for me.
Having the accordion makes me feel more inspired and any instrument you play you have different ways of writing material so I think having an instrument is going to give me new wings and give me more inspiration. I also want to block out three to four days a week to focus on writing.