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Singapore, Covid-19 and the Music Industry

Updated: Aug 10, 2020

By Beverly Grafton

Photo by Max Felner on Unsplash

In the last week of March 2020, many musicians and DJs lost their only source of income as Singapore rolled out a ban on all live music performances in relevant venues and cancellation of concerts as part of continuing efforts to contain the spread of Covid-19. Shortly after, in the second week April, Singapore entered the Circuit Breaker. For approximately two and a half months, only essential services continued to operate while the rest of Singapore was cut off from socializing and ordered to minimize movement to shopping for essentials.

Soon after, we entered Phase 1 and more people were allowed to go back to work although we still couldn't eat out or visit friends and family. However, it didn't take long to get into Phase 2 and that's where we are now, well into it, in fact. Pretty much everyone is back to work, going out to eat, restaurants are fully booked, socializing is back but guess what? The musicians and DJs who were the first ones to stop working are still not back at their gigs. The entire Entertainment industry is at a standstill as we watch everyone else carry on with their lives.

Which begs to ask, why does everyone else get to move on and we don't?

My friend and guitar legend, Rick Smith, so poignantly put some questions forth in his Facebook post recently.

" I was walking outside on a public sidewalk and was passed by a series of runners without masks, each one leaving a 10 meter plume of aerosolised saliva and sweat. Very disturbing. How is this ok, but people playing wind instruments (which involve little or no actual transmitted air) is not ok? Why is exercise in public pathways viewed as essential but music in restaurants with social distancing and attendance quotas not? Asking for a friend. A lot of friends actually."

- Rick Smith

Indeed, these are questions that beg answers that no one seems to have, as yet. Or rather, no answers have been found that would satisfy the imbalanced comparison. Sure, music lessons have now been allowed to resume, including vocal lessons (Yay!) but not all musicians teach. Like I said earlier, for many, gigging was their ONLY source of income.

What does that mean?

Well, think about it. The average person, like you and me, has expenses. Some expenses are recurring like rent or other housing payments, bills (phone/wifi/utilities/credit card), groceries and other miscellaneous expenditures. Then you have families and/or single parents, where they have additional expenses because of their children.

When you have money going out and none coming in, given the cost of living in Singapore, surviving a month or two may still be somewhat doable but to survive more than that? You can kiss any savings you have goodbye. As a member of the gig community, I can tell you that a lot of us were living hand-to-mouth BEFORE the pandemic. We were making good money though, enough to be comfortable and save a bit but not enough to ensure a nest egg tidy enough to survive 4 months and counting of NO WORK.

At this very moment, you're probably thinking "But they have SIRS to fall back on, right?"

No, my darlings, not really.

From an application form that is painfully flawed to the lack of detailed explanations and approved examples of necessary documents from the start to a waiting time of 30 days to process, many self-employed persons (SEPs) have found themselves on a wild goose chase to a losing end. Myself included.

Many of us have lost or are about to lose our homes because we cannot afford to continue paying our rent. Many more are starting to or are already suffering from anxiety or worse, depression. Most cannot find jobs to tide them over because the market is saturated with unemployed workers who are better qualified due to their work experience. What I'm saying is, right now, we just can't win.

One by one, I see my talented brothers and sisters in music falling apart. Some of them were practically newborns to their career in music when the pandemic hit early this year. Out of my 20 years in music, I have never seen a point so low in our industry as it is now.

So, where do we go from here?

For now, the only thing I can recommend my music fam to do to get their SIRS application (if they haven't already) is to ensure that all your documents are in order and if necessary, book an appointment to file your application in person. Failing which, the last resort would be to speak to your constituency's MP.

For the rest of you darlings who are not a part of this industry or the gig comunity, educate yourselves. When we're finally allowed to go back to our stages, treat us with basic human decency. A job is a job, work is work and work done deserves payment. And no, a pat on the back isn't payment. Services were rendered and therefore must be remunerated. Pay us on time, pay us in full and for the billionth time, no, we can't keep doing shows for exposure. We have bills to pay and children to feed. Children have voracious appetites these days, you know? But this is just the beginning. I'll share more in time to come when, hopefully, we are back on stage in full swing.

With that, I hate to love you and leave you but we've now come to that point where I apologize for taking up more than enough of your time and I hope you'll tune in next week to read my new post/s. I promise you that it won't be another reality check/reflection like this one. Unless you guys leave comments saying you want more of this. I know there are a few mental masochists out there somewhere.

For now, this is plenty of info to digest.

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