How Singaporean artists are coping with COVID-19

How Singaporean artists are coping with COVID-19

Now that physical concerts and festivals—which are essentially musicians' bread and butter—are being put on the backburner, musicians are searching for alternative ways to alleviate the impact, be it through livestreaming or otherwise. 

How Singapore's music events industry is coping with COVID-19

Even as Singapore nears the final leg of circuit breaker measures, with restrictions due to ease from 1 June onwards, the fact that the entertainment industry will be the last to reopen as part of the three-pronged action plan is not lost on the music world. It'll take a while before things return to normal, with experts even predicting that concerts won't be returning till late 2021

We got in touch with eight Singaporean musicians to find out how they have been affected by the coronavirus situation, as well as the resources and alternative channels they have been making use of in to continue doing music in lieu of physical gigs. 


Elsa Mickayla 

Are you doing music full-time at the moment? 

Yes.

Since the COVID-19 outbreak, musicians’ revenue from live gigs has been affected due to the lack of physical gigs. Could you share with us how the situation has impacted you personally? 

I wasn’t able to find a job in the field relating to music as most places are currently not hiring, including teaching. Surviving it based on whatever I’ve earned from the last couple of month. However, it did give me the time and opportunity to work on my music.

Have you been exploring new ways to make money through music in lieu of live performances? If so, what are they?

No.

There have been both public and private initiatives to help creatives in times of COVID-19. Features on digital platforms, online classes, free software, waived fees from service providers, grants from governments or associations. Have you tapped on any of these resources? Have they been of help to you, and why?

I have. I’ve collected some sound plug-ins to build my sound library. Which is good for my film scoring projects now and in the future. 

Specifically for you, what kind of aid would be most appreciated right now, whether from official organisations or down to an individual level from the public? 

At the moment, I would appreciate the help of securing a full-time job in the field with my specialisations and expertise. 


Jeremy Monteiro 

Are you doing music full-time at the moment?

I am busy practicing and writing so in that regard I am still spending a lot of time with my music. Maybe even more than before covid-19. But of course I have no live gigs. I intended to work on my vocal album in April and May but now also going into June to do it as well. 

I miss going out to play with people and seeing audience members. 

Since the COVID-19 outbreak, musicians’ revenue from live gigs has been affected due to the lack of physical gigs. Could you share with us how the situation has impacted you personally? 

Sure, there is a huge loss of personal income, about 55%. But luckily there is some online work and also I am the Executive Director and Music Director of the Jazz Association (Singapore) so the work continues there with bringing our programmes online.

Have you been exploring new ways to make money through music in lieu of live performances? If so, what are they?

My two weekly online shows are part of my work with the Jazz Association (Singapore) or JASS. Also, some professional work is coming through and June looks a good month, with income almost the same as before. But then March, April and after June looks quiet. 

There have been both public and private initiatives to help creatives in times of COVID-19. Features on digital platforms, online classes, free software, waived fees from service providers, grants from governments or associations. Have you tapped on any of these resources? Have they been of help to you, and why?

I have not tapped upon it because I am able to cope. 

Specifically for you, what kind of aid would be most appreciated right now, whether from official organisations or down to an individual level from the public? 

I think that it’s not really helpful how if you earned more than 10k a month before COVID-19, you are not eligible for any help because if you fly high, you also fall from high.

As an employer of freelance musicians, you have certain costs in order to do business and do the work. Now, not only are we not able to provide employment, people in my position, and I am talking here about my work on the professional musician and music entrepreneur side, not on the Jazz Association side, I have to cover costs like administrative and statutory admin costs even where there is hardly any income. 

Not just for me, but I think that perhaps some help for people in a similar position should be looked at. 


Jon Chua JX

Are you doing music full-time at the moment?

Yes. 

Since the COVID-19 outbreak, musicians’ revenue from live gigs has been affected due to the lack of physical gigs. Could you share with us how the situation has impacted you personally? 

It's definitely affected me financially. All live shows have been cancelled or postponed and the demand for production work for commercials have dropped too. It's averaging about 70 to 85% decrease in work. 

Have you been exploring new ways to make money through music in lieu of live performances? If so, what are they?

I’ve been focusing more on education and training during this period. More zoom sessions to promote songwriting as well as production classes. 

There have been both public and private initiatives to help creatives in times of COVID-19. Features on digital platforms, online classes, free software, waived fees from service providers, grants from governments or associations. Have you tapped on any of these resources? Have they been of help to you, and why? 

Yes I have. I tapped into the Temporary Relief Fund for my staff’s salaries. The resources have been helpful, but it's up to the industry to slowly bring it back to a more stable situation.   

Specifically for you, what kind of aid would be most appreciated right now, whether from official organisations or down to an individual level from the public? 

The current aid situation is amazing and I think it needs to be carried on for an extended period of time, including after covid-19. The aid should also be able to give rise to more opportunities for creators from all different levels of their careers. 


Gareth Fernandez 

Are you doing music full-time at the moment?

Not exactly. I also work at a company selling In-Ear Monitors but am currently on no-pay leave due to Covid-19.

Since the COVID-19 outbreak, musicians’ revenue from live gigs has been affected due to the lack of physical gigs. Could you share with us how the situation has impacted you personally? 

I have lost about 95% of my income due to the double whammy of my music gig income and my day job income being lost. I’ve lost about SGD10,000 worth of gig revenue and SGD6,000 from my day job.

Have you been exploring new ways to make money through music in lieu of live performances? If so, what are they?

I’ve been fortunate enough to get some income from livestreaming gigs and so on, but it’s more of a temporary stopgap measure.

There have been both public and private initiatives to help creatives in times of COVID-19. Features on digital platforms, online classes, free software, waived fees from service providers, grants from governments or associations. Have you tapped on any of these resources? Have they been of help to you, and why?

I’ve been trying to apply for SIRS but have yet to hear back. Sadly, I fall between the cracks due to the various criteria. I’m taking the time to invest in my own skills such as production and songwriting with/for other artists. 

Specifically for you, what kind of aid would be most appreciated right now, whether from official organisations or down to an individual level from the public? 

Once it’s safe to do so, I would suggest a series of commissioned performances and/or original music commissions to help jumpstart the Arts community here.


Leo from Fingerfunk 

Photography by Photo Republic (Gavin) 

Are you doing music full-time at the moment?

 Yes. 

Since the COVID-19 outbreak, musicians’ revenue from live gigs has been affected due to the lack of physical gigs. Could you share with us how the situation has impacted you personally?

As a musician, the gigs have all been cancelled, including the online streaming initiatives. This means that effectively, all gig revenue has been halted along with any future prospect of such income indefinitely. 

As a producer, while I'm still able to work from home, being unable to access the studio while still paying rent is seriously hurting my finances. I’m also unable to bring in artists to record and some of them do not have any recording gear at home, delaying release timelines and ultimately income. 

Have you been exploring new ways to make money through music in lieu of live performances? If so, what are they?

I’ve conducted a couple of online classes so far. Unfortunately, I do believe other musicians are just as badly hit and thus may not be able to afford even normal market rates. It’s a vicious cycle. 

There have been both public and private initiatives to help creatives in times of COVID-19. Features on digital platforms, online classes, free software, waived fees from service providers, grants from governments or associations. Have you tapped on any of these resources? Have they been of help to you, and why?

I have used the extra free time during the circuit breaker to upgrade my skills with some of the free lessons and applied for some of the grants. While they have slightly supplemented, overall, it is still draining and unsustainable. 

Specifically for you, what kind of aid would be most appreciated right now, whether from official organisations or down to an individual level from the public? 

 I feel a lot has been pumped into restoring key economic pillars, be it SIA, food etc. However, the arts is something that everyone turns to in such times, yet the financial assistance to studio owners or musicians are definitely overlooked. WE are not considered essential in any way and there’s no proper funding that covers us. Grants that support “Local creations” for the pandemic are often handed straight to the larger names, even though in name, they were meant for the public. 


Andy Chong from Fingerfunk 

Photography by IGNITE! Music Festival

Are you doing music full-time at the moment? 

Yes.

Since the COVID-19 outbreak, musicians’ revenue from live gigs has been affected due to the lack of physical gigs. Could you share with us how the situation has impacted you personally?

Basically zero gigs. Can’t show you figures because there is none. 

Have you been exploring new ways to make money through music in lieu of live performances? If so, what are they?

Frankly speaking, I’ve been exploring new avenues even before this pandemic. Pursuing music is always a gamble, and till date my attempts to make a living in music since I was a teen has been unsuccessful. COVID-19 simply made the situation more dire. I’ve accrued quite a lot of debt to keep this dream going, and this fear that I won’t make it and go bust has driven me to research on every possible way that I can contribute to the music scene. I’m currently taking my post-graduate studies in Arts and Cultural Leadership/Management. It’s a weird decision, I know. But my rationale is that if everyone around me thrives, so do I.

There have been both public and private initiatives to help creatives in times of COVID-19. Features on digital platforms, online classes, free software, waived fees from service providers, grants from governments or associations. Have you tapped on any of these resources? Have they been of help to you, and why?

Other than government hand-outs, no. 

Here’s why: a. Online platforms are aplenty, but it was never our business model. Fingerfunk, like many alternative local music groups, sell a culture that looks and feels very different from mainstream media. The very idea of being different connects artists and fans, creating the scene. But alternative lifestyles thrive in an ecosystem where choice is aplenty, and when everyone is stuck at home and have not much choice other than flicking through Instagram, there is no alternative lifestyle. Which is fine honestly, I don’t mind taking a break from being a hipster and singing ‘Home’ with my family at 8pm too! 

b. Professionals need work, not free training on skills and software they already possess. It’s great if someone’s looking to change career though, I’ve been voraciously studying finance and computer science. Not from Skillsfuture mind you, have you seen the thrash there? 

There isn’t really a support grant catered for music scene here. Beyond that, most of the music grants and support schemes out there are geographically locked. Even Spotify’s tipping system is restricted to overseas charities and wallet systems unavailable in Singapore. If anything, these initiatives further the narrative that we as a community need to continue working hard to be self-reliant.

Specifically for you, what kind of aid would be most appreciated right now, whether from official organisations or down to an individual level from the public? 

Right now what we need is an extensive review of the budget and plans of all public, private, grassroots and anybody with a stake in music as a whole. If we can collectively come together to lay out our self-interests, we can then develop a series of long- and short-term plans that synergizes with one another. This way, everyone gains clarity and foresight as to where our music ecosystem will be moving towards, and we can craft policies, projects and businesses that fills in visible gaps. It’s a network effect that gives everyone around us propulsion. This may sound engineered, but it is exactly what music cities around the world have that makes them thriving music cities. 


Jack from Jack & Rai

Are you doing music full-time at the moment?

Yes. Music is still a full time commitment for both of us.

Since the COVID-19 outbreak, musicians’ revenue from live gigs has been affected due to the lack of physical gigs. Could you share with us how the situation has impacted you personally? 

For a lot of us musicians, Covid-19 has devastated the live music scene, as playing music and performing live is no longer an option, at least until the stay home notice is over. Definitely impacted us a lot.

In terms of gigs, we used to play three times a week, at a warehouse in CQ, Madame Wu, and at Wala Wala. Since March all the live gigs have gone to zero, and our one-off gig income has also gone down to zero. The magnitude of impact is significant.

Have you been exploring new ways to make money through music in lieu of live performances? If so, what are they?

Back in March, we knew that we still had a mission to spread music in one way or another. Thus, in the weeks leading up to the Circuit-Breaker, we decided to go to G77 studio and livestream music.

When the circuit-breaker started, we continued to stream regularly. We never really thought about the monetizing aspect of the situation at first, but we’ve received gifts in the form of beer and alcohol. We’ve also started teaming up with F&B establishments to advertise their products. Not a lot of people watch the shows, around 80-90 people.

Recently, we’ve started a “tip-box” service at buymeacoffee.com and we’ve been plugging that in our livestreams. Donors can remain anonymous or send a message.

Another thing we’ve noticed is that a lot of event companies and media productions are trying to find ways to reach out to people, so Mediacorp has invited us to livestream our songs, to even judging a singing competition all from livestreaming, which has given us some pocket money. But we definitely do not wish for this to become the norm as we do still enjoy live performance and entertainment.

There have been both public and private initiatives to help creatives in times of COVID-19. Features on digital platforms, online classes, free software, waived fees from service providers, grants from governments or associations. Have you tapped on any of these resources? Have they been of help to you, and why?

I’d like to jump to the freelance part of things. The government has offered assistance for freelancers like dancers, singers, etc. if they were to take courses. We understand the government’s position, but we spend years honing our skills and talents, so asking us to suddenly change skills is not something we’d like to do.

If the government would provide courses that are more targeted and suited to what we do as freelancers, that would be more appreciated.

A lot of us are benefiting from the self-employed allowance that we have been given, however. We are aware that this is just a temporary measure to get by until the quarantine blows over. Hopefully restaurants will continue to be packed, but if they are going to earn less due to the social distancing rules, it will be passed down to the musicians too.

As a result, we are quite worried for the medium-term in the arts scene.

Specifically for you, what kind of aid would be most appreciated right now, whether from official organisations or down to an individual level from the public?

Aid is definitely necessary, and I think a cohesive effort to support the music industry by the general public would be greatly appreciated, especially since it seems highly likely that the problems associated with Covid-19 will continue to persist.

It starts from the higher-ups before it trickles down to the musicians and so we’ll need to re-think how we can continue to move on from this issue. For example, if all venues can now accommodate a third of the usual due to the safe distancing measures, live shows supplemented by livestreams on a digital platform may help, with a distribution for “online tickets” to maintain revenue.

If the government is mindful of the arts scene in Singapore, we hope they’d be proactive in listening to the voices of the music industry. We are cautiously hopeful to see what the future has in store for the music industry.


53A

Are you doing music full-time at the moment?

Yes, everyone in the band is a full time musician. 

Since the COVID-19 outbreak, musicians’ revenue from live gigs has been affected due to the lack of physical gigs. Could you share with us how the situation has impacted you personally?

Well, the most obvious would be that all our gigs (regular shows as well as events) have been cancelled, that is just the monetary side of things.  The other factor(which is feel is a lot more pertinent)  that most people don’t see, is the fact that we don’t get to go meet and socialize with our band mates.  53A comprises of 6(including our engineer) of us, who are particularly good friends.  We really enjoy our time at work and hanging out; without this in our lives, it has affected us spiritually and mentally in a huge way.  

Sure, the financial side of things is important, but for us here at 53A, I feel the lack of music and camaraderie has impacted us way more.

Have you been exploring new ways to make money through music in lieu of live performances? If so, what are they?

We have put out several live streams.  Fortunately for us, they have been paying performances.  Timbre has been hugely supportive in supporting their musicians through this difficult period through their live stream initiative. It’s called #keepmusicalive and the shows are streamed via Timbre’s Facebook live.  

We have also worked with government bodies, doing IGLIVE streams and will be playing for a concert later this month too.

Here is the schedule for our upcoming shows: 

1. Timbre #KeepmusicAlive – 23rd May 8pm

2. Music For a Cause Concert – 29th May, 4pm onwards (53A goes from 5.30pm to 6.15pm)

  This is the schedule for MFAC - across 2 days, 28 & 29 May . Each day 2 sessions: 4 to 6.15pm and 7pm to 9.15pm

There have been both public and private initiatives to help creatives in times of COVID-19. Features on digital platforms, online classes, free software, waived fees from service providers, grants from governments or associations. Have you tapped on any of these resources? Have they been of help to you, and why?

As we are all freelancers, most if not all of us have benefited from the Self Employed Persons grant initiative by our very reliable government. Of course we’ve used zoom and skype to meet with our clients and also workout and “hangout” with our friends, families and colleagues.

Also, not just for creatives, but I believe the whole country has benefited from the various reliefs that have been made available.

Specifically for you, what kind of aid would be most appreciated right now, whether from official organisations or down to an individual level from the public? 

We do not have any kind of aid that we’re after per se.  We just want everyone to practise hygiene, respect the rules put in place by the government, so that our believed country can go back to its fully glory in time!  When that happens, we can all be our own aid.


This article first appeared on Hear65.