Lifestyle

Coronavirus: Nathan Hartono says live-streamed shows could be new normal for musicians

SINGAPORE – Singer and band leader Jerry Fernandez has been a full-time musician for almost 50 years and he has never seen the Singapore live music industry hit as hard as it has been today.

Like other music professionals in Singapore, his source of income has dried up after all his gigs were either cancelled or postponed.

The 71-year-old frontman of veteran rock and roll band The Neu Faces says grimly: "This is the darkest moment for me in the entertainment industry. I've never faced this before. Never."

Last week, the Government stepped up Covid-19 containment measures by announcing that cinemas, bars and entertainment outlets will be shut till the end of April.

Stricter social distancing measures also meant that many recent and upcoming concerts have been either cancelled or postponed to a later part of the year.

Fernandez and his band members have had to cancel and postpone his upcoming residency at Singapore Swimming Club, concerts at local venues such as the Esplanade, as well as an overseas gig in Kuala Lumpur.

"In the 1970s, many local musicians were affected when a lot of the clubs they performed in were shut down due to restrictions to the nightlife scene," he recalls. "Back then, my band had the option of going overseas and we made a living performing in places like Bangkok and Karachi. Now, there are no other places to go to."

Singer Raffy Aspier, best known as frontman of veteran club band Jive Talkin', is staying home now that his weekly residencies at Hard Rock Cafe Singapore and Singapore Cricket Club, as well other corporate shows, have been suspended.

"I'm living off my savings right now," says the 64-year-old, who says he would have otherwise earned $3,000 to $4,000 off gigs monthly.

Singer Shili Yap, one-half of singing duo ShiLi & Adi, says she has lost $30,000 in income so far as a freelance performer. She expects her losses to go up to "a six figure sum".

Besides being a singer, the 33-year-old also runs a company, Merry Bees, which manages gigs for other singers and musicians.

"With the uncertainties of this situation, a lot of our clients have chosen to cancel their events and postpone their celebrations." The affected gigs range from corporate and private shows and would have taken place from February to September.

She adds: "Postponements are as good as cancellations as opportunity costs have already been incurred."

She lauds the government's recently announced Self-Employed Person Income Relief Scheme (Sirs), in which self-employed persons, including freelancers in the music industry, will each receive three quarterly cash payouts of $3,000 in May, July and October this year to help them during the pandemic.

"Unfortunately, not all freelancers in the gigging economy qualify," she adds. "Hopefully there are more measures that can help us all.

"In addition, we also hope that the Government would give guidelines for event postponements and cancellations that benefit both customers as well as vendors and service providers."

The situation might be dire but rather wallow in despair, many artists here are keeping their music alive by taking their performances online.

Some, like jazz musician Jeremy Monteiro, have used their live-streamed performances to raise funds. His live broadcasts in the past week raised $2,680 in public donations for Jazz Association (Singapore), a registered charity.

Smoobar, a chain of bars that offers live entertainment, has temporarily closed three of its outlets but is still keeping its performers employed. They now perform at a local music studio, Jimmusic, and the gigs are live-streamed from Monday to Thursday nights, 8pm, through Smoobar's Facebook page.

The musicians – which include names such as Jerry Poh, duo Two Of Us and Juliana Lee – are paid $100 each for every 1½-hour set.

To encourage viewers to tune in, there are also lucky draws with prizes from online jewellery store Gold Online.

One of Smoobar's partners, Mr Hubert Ng, a musician himself, says that he understands the predicaments that his peers are in.

"I hope that we can inspire other F&B establishments to find a way to support local musicians."

Some shows, such as the annual Earth Hour concert, which took place at Marina Bay Sands' Event Plaza in 2019, moved online this year, with musicians such as singer Nathan Hartono singing from their homes.

Hartono, 28, says live-streamed shows could become the new normal. "We might have stumbled upon a new way to do shows and interactive content in the future."

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