SINGAPORE - Reza Global Productions' rehearsal spaces used to throb with the sound of music but the company was forced to close its 15-year-old jamming studios for good in May.
Founder and owner Mohamed Roslan, estimates that his business, that includes equipment rental, had dropped by 90 per cent compared to the pre-pandemic days.
"I've lost about $40,000 in business since the start of the year. We couldn't carry on so we decided to sell off some of the equipment and close the studios," says the 48-year-old who first opened his studios under a different name, O'lando, back in 2005. He now relies on the rental business for income.
Like many other businesses in Singapore, jamming studios - an essential part of the music scene here - have been hard hit by the Covid-19 pandemic. It is estimated that there are over 40 jamming studios dotted around Singapore, with hourly rates that range from $10 to more than $70 per hour. Many of them are small-scale establishments, offering a range of one to five studios each and are owned by people who love music or are musicians themselves.
While some have permanently shuttered, others have had to innovate and offer new services such as live streaming.
Jamming studios were among the businesses closed when the circuit breaker started in April. They were allowed to open again in June but with new restrictions. For example, the equipment has to be regularly disinfected and musicians must adhere to social distancing rules.
With live entertainment still curtailed to prevent the spread of Covid-19, fewer bands need to rent space for rehearsals and music lessons.
Mohamed Noor, one of the local scene's most sought-after percussionists, says that musicians are finding it hard to hire studios because they are earning less during the pandemic. "My income from music is only 20 per cent of what I used to earn before the pandemic," says the 53-year-old.
Jamming studios are essential to the music ecosystem here.
Singer and songwriter Rai Kannu, 42, one-half of singing duo Jack & Rai, says they have played an important role in his development as a musician. "The rite of passage for any band's live debut is to jam together. The jam studio has always been an entity that exists to grow that interest in music and cohesion as a band. As a kid, I used to go regularly to Wee Lee Music Centre, which exists till today."
Studio owner and musician Bani Rahman, 49, adds: "In Singapore, we can't play our instruments loud at home because we might disturb the neighbours, which is why jamming studios are so important to us.
"It's also more than just a room for us to play, it's a community space for musicians to gather and socialise."
The bassist runs Epic Studio at Peninsula Shopping Centre. While he is relieved that he received three months of rental rebates for the two units that he rented from two different landlords, income is still tight as he had to pay maintenance fees for one of the landlords while the studio was closed during circuit breaker.
For Tonehouse Studios in Parklane Shopping Mall, the circuit breaker period was a chance for them to explore new ventures.
Director Mah Chen Zhong started a podcast while the studio was closed. And when it reopened, it started offering live-streaming services for musicians.
The studio also started its own online gig series, Tonehouse Live Sessions, as well as Tonehouse Live Streaming Sessions, a project in which bands cover made-in-Singapore songs and talk about why they liked them.
The 31-year-old says: "The initial investments into live-streaming equipment was steep, but it is paying off.
"More importantly, the big picture is about providing a quality venue for musicians to continue to perform and keep the market going. We feel grateful that we're able to play a small role in keeping things going for the arts and music scene."
The Basement Studio in Golden Mile Tower is another studio that has revamped its business in the wake of the pandemic.
It began offering live-streaming services to musicians. Owner Mohamed Yazzit Mohamed Ismail has also started organising online gigs at the studio. Viewers are encouraged to pay the performers via Buy Me A Coffee, an online platform that lets fans provide monetary support to creators.
The 40-year-old's plan is for The Basement Studio to evolve from a jamming studio to a record label over the next one year. "We want to do more live-stream shows as well as discover and promote new talent."
Still, for many jamming studios in Singapore, business is only about half of what it was before the pandemic.
"It's been very hard for me," says Mr Sam Ng, who operates Wee Lee Music Centre, a jamming studio in Aljunied that has been opened since 1983. "Musicians are out of a job so they don't come here to practise."
He has had to let go of his three staff during the circuit breaker period when the studio was closed. The 53-year-old now operates the studio alone.
"I give myself until the end of December, and if business does not improve, I might have to wind up."
Another business owner who was affected, Mr Hafiz John Dzulkifli, had to downsize his music business in March.
His company, What's Your Jam?, used to have a unit that comprised jamming studios, a music school and retail shop in Kampong Bahru Road.
He closed down the two-year-old jamming studios and relocated to a smaller space in the same area that is only used for music lessons.
"My partners and I did our calculations and since there were less people coming to jam, we decided to close down the jamming studios to prevent further losses."
For gig-starved musicians like Martin Reyes, leader of Latin music group Martin Reyes Band, the local studios' new services helping them take their music online are much welcomed.
On Sept 19, his six-member band, which used to play at private events as well as venues like The Fullerton Hotel Singapore, will be doing a ticketed online performance that will be live-streamed from The Basement Studio. It will be their first performance since February.
"The whole entertainment scene has been affected by the pandemic so we have to find creative ways to generate income," says the 43-year-old. "Being able to do live-stream shows at the studio helps us to keep in contact with our crowd, the people who miss our live performances."
MUSIC SERIES FILMED IN MUSIC STUDIOS
Live physical gigs are still a no-go because of the Covid-19 pandemic, but fans can still catch home-grown musicians performing online.
Here are three free music series filmed in music studios in Singapore.
1. TONEHOUSE LIVE SESSIONS/TONEHOUSE LIVE STREAMING SESSIONS
Tonehouse Studios in Parklane Shopping Mall is more than just a jamming studio. In the past year, it has also hosted many intimate gigs by bands in genres ranging from indie and jazz to metal to punk.
Their gigs have now moved online and the studio has organised two performance series.
Tonehouse Live Sessions is a series of gigs by 10 bands that include indie outfit Stopgap and neo-soul singer-songwriter Tim De Cotta playing their original tunes.
Tonehouse Live Streaming Sessions feature 14 bands covering six made-in-Singapore songs each. It kicked off in July with Retro Groove, who took on tracks by fellow home-grown acts ranging from The Esquires to Art Fazil. Other artists performing in the series include Hubbabubbas and Vivienne Wong.
2. SUSPENDED IN THIS DISASTER
The live-stream gig series by The Basement Studio, located in Golden Mile Tower, features new and rising names in the independent and underground Singapore music scene.
Suspended In This Disaster: Volume 1, the first show, debuted in August with metalcore and hardcore bands Terrestrea, Seavision and Allegiance.
The third episode will be live-streamed this Saturday (Sept 12) at 8.30pm and feature post-rock bands Hardihood and Tranquil.
Watch it at: bit.ly/3jXX8RO
3. MAJULAH WEEKENDER
Filmed at the studios at Zendyll, the music company run by singer-songwriter and member of The Sam Willows Jonathan Chua, online series Majulah Weekender features new music inspired by the circuit breaker period.
Each of its five episodes focuses on a pair of home-grown producer and artist as they collaborate on a new track.
The series kicked off in July with rapper BGourd and producer J.Son and airs new episodes every other Thursday. The latest and fourth episode is released on Thursday (Sept 10) and features indie producer Fauxe and electronic singer-songwriter Shye.
Watch it at: bit.ly/35gvdIH