IN March 2020, when the Covid-19 pandemic took us by storm and lockdown protocols were implemented in respective countries, life changed, whether we liked it or not, as it does, usually.
As an independent artiste in Kuala Lumpur, my work seemed to become irrelevant almost immediately and along with many others in the entertainment industry, things seemed bleak at most.
With everything that unfolded over the course of most of 2020, how it affected many other aspects all over the world, ruined businesses, crushing dreams of promising start-ups, destroyed families, and so on and so forth, it is no wonder that the focus on how it has affected the artistically-driven industries is scant. As an artiste who depends on live performances for a living, it seemed a change in career had arrived instantaneously.
“This pandemic has brought difficulties to everyone. To that, as a musician I cannot be sure how long it will take for businesses to recover,” says Kristopher Chong, a well-established bass sessionist, and staple member of local reggae outfit, Salammusik.
“The only certainty I know is that I have full control of my craft, hence I will keep on practising, learning and improving myself. It is going to be a struggle, but music business has always been challenging and that is what makes it interesting and worth fighting for,” he adds.
With everything else that is going on in our country, politically and otherwise, the arts seem to be a field that is least worried about by our government. Of course help is available through bodies like the Tourism, Arts and Culture Ministry and Cendana, but due to saturation in the industry, help only reaches a certain extent and, sometimes, can seem influentially biased.
Local studios heavily involved in the independent scene, too, have had to go through drastic changes in these trying times.
“This pandemic has definitely caused a downturn in revenue for Nadir Studios due to the uncertainty around the film and music industry. Within the recording industry, the uncertainty that looms is cause for some major concern with bands and artistes holding back on recording their albums and singles due to not having the live performance component of their marketing and promotions,” says Ashwin Gobinath, founder and drummer for local outfit Nadir and partner at Nadir Studios.
He goes on, “Due to the current S.O.P, organising a gig or show at this stage would not only be unsafe, but it would not be worth it for most organisers due to the inability to justify ticket sales and meeting the artist/band’s fees. It is quite a difficult situation for both parties as it stands and that flows down the line of the other players in the industry,”
Nadir Studios is just one of the many local businesses that survive off a thriving local arts scene that has been tremendously affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.
To add to it, the government’s ruling of not allowing live entertainment except for indoor busking has left many local live performers confused and unhappy.
“The pandemic has basically robbed us of our means to generate income from live performances. I am quite confused with the government ruling of no live music except for indoor busking. It makes no sense to me. Makes me wonder if it is really because of the pandemic or if they are just trying to garner support from certain parties for the impending elections,” says Gerard Singh, a renowned musician in Malaysia’s live-music circuit.
Local artistes have had to turn to other avenues for income, and with the pandemic going global, it is not just artistes that have had to change careers, but many others too. In such trying times, with the need to provide for respective families, service respective loans and so on, having to make ends meet has never seemed so vital.
“Thank God some of us have savings, but eventually, that will run out too as there has been very little financial gain, and more loss since mid-March. I have been teaching music and keeping myself busy in my home studio, where I am learning to get better production for my music on my own. I believe it would be great help if the government allowed live performances again whilst maintaining strict S.O.Ps at venues,” says Gerard.
When asked, “Moving forward, I hope the government starts to realise that the live music scene is a vital part of our country’s tourism and social economy, and start to take steps to enhance other viable routes and options for musicians to get back to doing what we do best while still maintaining S.O.Ps and helping cure not only the virus, but also the industry,” Ashwin remarked.
It all seems minute and unimportant to most that are not involved in the industry, but the arts play a huge role in our daily lives. Be it a live performance, a motion picture, the latest chart-topping album, or even just your radio, these are all forms of entertainment, that we are blessed to indulge in on a daily basis.
Many of us in the arts, myself included, rely on the functionality of the industry for our very own survival. Yes, this pandemic has affected us all in so many unimaginable ways, and all we can and should do, with our best intentions at heart, is to just help each other, help each other. And no, that was not just me repeating myself.
Brendan de Cruz is a Malaysian singer-songwriter and guitarist.