Singer-songwriter John Arthur Martinez in his 'home made of stone' in Cottonwood Shores, which has become a stage for Facebook Live concerts during COVID-19 stay-at-home orders. Photo by Ronnie Madrid/Divine Radiance Photography
Singer-songwriter John Arthur Martinez is supposed be in Spain right now on another of his almost annual European tours. Instead, fans from around world, including Switzerland, Austria, the Netherlands, Germany, France, and Belgium, have been coming to his living room in Cottonwood Shores to listen to his unique brand of country music. He actually has a hashtag for the whole situation.
“For musicians, we have a new normal,” said Martinez, referring to life under stay-at-home orders in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 that has reached pandemic levels. “#mynewnormal is that I have been doing house concerts from my home, and I have been sharing them with my fans from around the world.”
Martinez has been on 13 European tours, building a large fanbase that is happy to hear him even if only via Facebook Live. One bonus is the ability for everyone to interact with him and each other via the chat function. Martinez keeps up with the chats, taking requests and sharing stories throughout a performance.
This feature acted as emotional support in the first two concerts he performed from home. His father died the morning of the first performance, March 29. Martinez’s sisters insisted that his dad, Adam Correa Martinez, a musician whose band backed up Freddy Fender, would want the show to go on.
The day before the next concert, just two weeks later, his youngest of four grown children was rushed to the hospital. He and wife Yvonne spent the entire night in the hospital parking lot since they could not go in. COVID-19 restrictions prevented family and friends from visiting or keeping vigil in hospitals, even in waiting rooms.
Daughter Mariah Rhoades is now home and well, and the show played on, despite a few internet malfunctions and a phone call or two. Mariah called her mom from the hospital several times that afternoon. Yvonne’s phone was the one being used to broadcast the concert because it had better service. Again, fans were understanding, sending messages of love and support.
Fans are also sending donations to a virtual tip jar via Venmo and PayPal. The concerts are free, but tips are welcome.
“I make sure folks understand they don’t have to leave a tip, but if they can, it’s appreciated,” Martinez said. “Because of those tips, we’ve been able to make our basic financial obligations.”
The online shows also have proven valuable in marketing two new songs that are starting to generate the buzz every songwriter craves. “Upon a Pawn Shop Ring” and “Three White Spanish Horses” are based on real-life experiences. Martinez is adding the songs to his 14-album USB flash drive as a bonus.
While Martinez calls it thinking outside the box, it’s more like thinking outside the CD. Albums, a term that now means a collection of songs rather than a physical vinyl disc, are sold via thumb drives, Dropbox downloads, or streaming platforms such as Spotify, Apple Music, Deezer, and others.
“You’re never going to sell enough CDs to cover your mortgage,” Martinez said.
He markets his entire library of songs on social media, his website, and even his merchandise. Now available: a T-shirt with a list of all 14 of his albums.
Also to make ends meet, Martinez is giving guitar lessons over social media, a natural fit for him as a former English teacher and tennis coach. The musician was on the founding board of the Harmony School of Creative Arts in Marble Falls, taught in the Marble Falls Independent School District innovation program, and coached tennis at Faith Academy of Marble Falls. He has a bachelor’s degree in English and was on his college tennis team.
He focuses his charity efforts to raise money for youth music education because, he said, it’s typically underfunded.
“Even if you don’t make a living from music, studies verify that young people involved in music do better,” Martinez explained. “They do better in school, better in math, almost all aspects of life. It’s a valuable lesson to learn early in life.”
Martinez has learned several lessons during the COVID-19 pandemic, which shut down gig economies around the world, including ride sharing and entertainment. Not only has it stretched his marketing imagination, it has given him a chance to work on his songwriting.
“There is one beautiful thing about being home 24/7,” he said. “I’m usually so busy gigging, I have no time for the creative process. Now, I’ve been writing a lot.”