Covid-19 pandemic fallout: Artistes, show organisers find ways to adapt and survive

Singaporean Mandopop superstar JJ Lin. PHOTO: JFJ PRODUCTIONS

SINGAPORE - With the pandemic putting a halt to major live performances in the past 11/2 years, those in the Singapore music industry have only one mantra: Adapt and survive.

From downsizing concerts to moving to streaming to online collaborations, concert promoters and artistes here are finding new ways to navigate the new normal.

Even with live shows curtailed, Singapore artistes are pressing on with their music.

Take, for example, singer Jasmine Sokko. The electronic music artiste, producer and songwriter had a productive past year, releasing singles and music videos for songs such as Tetris and Medusa.

"The pandemic has brought about many constraints," says the 25-year-old. "But I learnt that a lot of things can still happen within a small space, so long as there is a will."

Instead of travelling, she now works with other songwriters and producers, including those overseas, through Zoom. She also shot music videos at home.

"If I can just keep going and weather the storm, I am building the path towards my best work somewhere in the future."

She has never considered taking on non-music jobs and adds: "This episode made me rethink my spending, saving and budgeting habits. They were okay before, but now they're even better."

Like many in Singapore, rapper Yung Raja had to adjust to working from home.

"Making music has always been an interactive and hands-on experience, and to figure out ways to work from home was one of the biggest challenges. Having to work fully from home during the circuit breaker helped me to figure out the home set-up I needed and how to navigate how much I can do remotely."

Besides releasing new songs and music videos, the rapper was also involved in other music-related projects such as the Government's recent Together, Towards A New Normal music video urging Singaporeans to "test, trace and vaccinate".

Raja, 25, says that having a strong support network - at home and from colleagues in the music industry - has helped him stay creative.

"I have a lot to be grateful for and I count my blessings daily - one of the things being that we're still able to get work done and sustain through these difficult times."

Meanwhile, concert organisers are trying to keep their heads above water and keep up with changing regulations.

With the return to phase two (heightened alert) from July 22, the audience cap for live shows is reduced to 100 from 250 with pre-event testing, and remains at 50 without.

Show promoter Biz Trends Media's director Keith Sim says: "It's really tiring to always have to postpone shows due to the uncertainty of the Covid-19 situation."

Originally slated for Aug 15, its 2021 The Famous Trio - featuring veteran male Singapore singers Huang Qingyuan, Marcus Chin and Ling Xiao - has been postponed.

Biz Trends Media's core business of organising Mandopop concerts in Singapore dropped to zero last year (2020).

In the pipeline is a xinyao concert at Esplanade Concert Hall on Sept 26 and children's musical Peppa Pig Live - Perfect Rainy Day at Esplanade Theatre from Sept 7 to 12.

Mr Sim says the company is "walking a fine line".

Biz Trends has survived by focusing on its shows in Macau, Taiwan and Hong Kong. In Hong Kong, for example, the 50 per cent cap on venue capacity has been in place "for quite a while", says Mr Sim.

The company has seven full-time staff and has not laid off any or reduced salaries.

For Unusual Entertainment, one of the biggest show promoters in Singapore, the company went from staging massive pop concerts here and in the region to organising online gigs, as well as family entertainment and e-sports events.

Electronic music artiste, producer and songwriter Jasmine Sokko (left) and Singaporean hip hop artist Yung Raja. PHOTOS: NUYOU, UNIVERSAL MUSIC

Earlier this month (July), it put on an online concert by Singaporean Mandopop superstar JJ Lin. Pre-pandemic, it had staged Lin's two-night performance at the National Stadium in 2019.

It is also co-organising Olivier Award-winning cabaret show La Clique, taking place at Marina Bay Sands from Sept 18 to Nov 7.

The company also provided technical support for the recently launched EXP, a massive e-sports experience centre at Kallang Wave Mall.

Unusual has more plans for online concerts and family-style entertainment.

"As for concerts with a live audience, a lot would depend on how the pandemic unfolds locally and globally, and government rules and regulations, which are beyond what we can control," says a spokesman.

Although performances with live audiences on a smaller scale have been allowed since late last year (2020), the constant changes in response to the fluctuating number of Covid-19 cases can make it hard to put on shows.

Venues such as the Esplanade have hosted performances with limited live audiences since late last year. It has implemented several measures such as safe distancing and pre-event testing for its live audiences.

Its director of venues and planning Rachelle Tan says: "For Esplanade's upcoming festivals and programme series, we are prepared and have planned ahead for various scenarios and increased seating capacities with the necessary safe distancing measures at all our performance venues. We will also continue to monitor the situation and be guided by the National Arts Council's safe management measures for live performances at the Esplanade."

Since January, live entertainment company IMC Live Global has been organising the Al!ve series of multilingual, multi-genre concerts with a limited-number safe-distanced live audience at Capitol Theatre.

The performers at the concerts ranged from home-grown musicians such as jazz stalwart Jeremy Monteiro to Taiwanese singer Yuming Lai.

Mr Romell Song, chief operating officer of IMC Group Asia, says: "There is a Chinese saying, 'Sit and wait to be executed'. We can't allow that to happen. So without compromising the safety of our fans, artistes and employees, we will continue to bring new live experiences to our fans."

IMC Live saw its business drop in the range of "90 per cent" since the pandemic started. Says Mr Song: "With the restrictions on audience capacity at live performances, revenue levels were significantly reduced and large-scale events were almost impossible. Costs couldn't come down much because everyone was struggling. It was a tough situation."

But he adds: "Employees are our key assets and we try to retain them as far as possible during times like this."

Some of its concerts slated for this year (2021) have been postponed or cancelled, including the One Love Asia Festival planned for October.

Still, Mr Song remains optimistic. "Things look better today than a year ago and we don't think these restrictions will be permanent. With the Government's strong push for vaccination and faster testing and detection, we are confident that the industry will progressively open. We see some light at the end of the tunnel, so we need to keep walking forward."

It is a sentiment shared by Mr Ngiam Kwang Hwa, managing director of one of the larger concert organisers here, Live Nation Singapore. Artistes are eager to perform and there is pent-up demand from music fans for concerts, he says.

Despite having to postpone the gig by Taiwanese band Mayday a few times, Mr Ngiam notes that 90 per cent of those who bought tickets have decided to hold on to them for the rescheduled show in December next year (2022), instead of asking for refunds.

"We are confident about the future of live music and 2022 is looking huge," he says, adding that the company will work with the authorities to ensure that the health of fans, artistes and employees will always take precedence.

"We are already seeing confirmed major tour dates for 2022 going up by double digits from the same time pre-pandemic. We look forward to bringing several artistes to our region for the first time."

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