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Keeping the music going during the pandemic

24/06/2021 04:52 PM

By Kevin Davasagayam

KUALA LUMPUR, June 24  -- Live musicians, like many others, have struggled to make ends meet during the pandemic, especially with the Movement Control Order (MCO) forcing most businesses to shift their operations online.

But earning via performing online can be quite challenging, particularly for the more senior musicians, says Musicians for Musicians (MFM) vice-president Edwin Nathaniel.

"While setting up and performing on Facebook Live comes almost naturally for youngsters, having to get veteran musicians to do the same is not as simple.

"However, it is important for us to learn these tools as musicians so that we can stay afloat financially during this disruptive period," he told Bernama in a recent interview.        

MFM is an association with the mission to help musicians who have lost their source of income since the implementation of the first MCO in March 2020.

The musicians in question are not those who perform music as a side gig or a hobby. These were musicians whose sole source of income depended on shows. 

The situation has become so dire that some MFM members have had nothing to feed their children but eggs during the MCO because live performances were prohibited, said Edwin. Others were forced to sell whatever was left of their musical equipment.

Formed in 2019 and with over 1,000 members – mostly senior musicians –  MFM has for the past year been teaching and providing local live musicians means of earning an income online.

Since March 2020, it has reached out to members and taught them how to livestream their performance via Facebook, where audiences would tune in and tip them.

Edwin said the move to go online was one they had worked on even before the pandemic as the Malaysian live performance industry back then was already suffering due to lack of patronage, with wages that were “just enough to survive”.

"When the pandemic came and live music was classified ‘non-essential' under the MCO, we knew we couldn't just sit still," he said.

MFM, initially named Persatuan Pemuzik Tempatan Selangor (PPTS), kicked off their initiative in 2020 by organising Facebook Live sessions called Isolation Music.

Isolation Music would feature three different musicians every weekday from 7pm to 9pm.

"We'd call up members and confirm their performance and would them later guide them on how to access PPTS'  Facebook page and set up their handphones and cameras.

"When they perform later on in the evening, they’d also place their bank account numbers on the screen for audiences to donate," Edwin said, adding that to date, over 100 musicians have benefited from the shows. 

As a result, Isolation Music sessions have also attracted over 5,000 followers and recorded over 500,000 views in 25 countries within two months of going live online. 

Edwin said that these musicians would be able to make anywhere between RM10 - RM500 per show, helping them get by during the pandemic.

He acknowledged that it was not much but said it was “definitely better than nothing”.

Another of the association’s initiative called the Musicians For Musicians Centrestage allows musicians throughout the nation to livestream and earn from its Facebook page. 

Francis Danker, president of MFM.

MFM’s president Francis Danker decided to go a step further to help fellow musicians by setting up a studio complete with musical equipment. The whole setup , which costs nearly RM300,000, was to allow musicians to perform for another MFM initiative – the Musicians for Musicians Live Show.

"During the Recovery MCO, we had set this up and bands would walk in and perform during festive seasons such as Hari Raya, Deepavali and Christmas. We would also present them with a token of our appreciation as well as money from sponsors. 

"But for now, the live show has to be put on halt due to MCO 3.0. We will look forward to get this on the road again once the situation has eased up but we will still work on keeping things going," Francis said. 

He shared that PPM has sent a proposal to the Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation, Khairy Jamaluddin to have musicians perform at vaccination centres throughout the country.

"We will see how it goes and hopefully we will be given the green light – it will certainly help lot of musicians," Francis said, adding that PPM will also continue to look out for sponsors to help with the cause.

Edwin Nathaniel, vice president of MFM.

In addition to the positive news, on June 21, the Cultural Economy Development Agency (CENDANA) announced that they would be teaming up with MFM for a partnership at the launch of the agency's Bandar Aktiviti Seni Kuala Lumpur (BASKL) website.

Under the said partnership, CENDANA will be working with MFM to support its Centerstage platform, where members can perform only daily. This is done by providing additional funds for the next six months starting July.

The founding CEO of CENDANA, Izan Satrina Mohd Sallehuddin said that since its inception in September 2017, the independent music sector has risen sharply to become the second-highest sector for them.            “Given the increased demand, CENDANA hopes to strengthen its role in supporting the development of the independent music scene across Malaysia. The broad-ranging efforts come in many forms whether it is professional development, funding programmes, networking opportunities, and more.

"These efforts, like Centerstage, are important especially during the pandemic. We hope this partnership will contribute to the preservation of jobs in the music sector. More partnerships will be announced in due time,” she said.


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