At the end of July 2020, I was so distressed to hear from my friend Neil; that a musician who has five children; was being evicted because of his inability to work. I wondered how many musicians in Hong Kong are facing similar circumstances? 5? Maybe 10? I wondered how many full-time working musicians are there in Hong Kong? 50? Maybe 60?
Most people have a day job, don’t they?
Instead of guessing and assuming, I decided to launch a survey that would be totally directed at musicians. I decided one week was the optimum time as we wanted to get the results fast (assuming those unable-to-work musicians would have time to complete a survey) and that I would keep the survey anonymous. I didn’t ask for names or anything to identify them apart from an email address.
During that week of surveying, some musicians asked why I was asking such personal questions such as eviction and homelessness. I replied that I wanted to know how many people are dealing with these terrible situations! In my mind, NOBODY was going to give a damn, if I said “XYZ% of musicians are now looking for a non-music job or thinking of leaving the music business!!!”
During that week, besides contacting every musician and live music venue I know and anyone on facebook, that LOOKED like a musician, I also reached out to many of the various unions and associations that are setup to support musicians in Hong Kong, asking them to share with their musician members to complete the survey. I even went on Phil Whelan’s Morning Brew on RTHK Radio 3 to reach out to as many musicians as I could.
I was SHOCKED when at the end of the week, we had 646 replies. Survey link here.
Amazingly almost ALL of the respondents are Hong Kong permanent residents (meaning they were either born here or have lived here longer than seven years). Out of that 646 people, 62% do music full-time and of those who work full-time; 82% have been working as a musician for more than five years!
I was really shocked about the results. I had initially thought I would probably get (if I’m lucky) around 120 people replying. And I admit, I thought less than 50% would be doing music full-time. I decide the media should hear about this and contacted many local media which resulted in the following two articles.
Anders Nelsson suggested that I could also email Mr Bernard Charnwut Chan the results of the survey as he’s on the Executive Council and is well-known for being a supported of culture & arts in Hong Kong. Mr Chan did respond,
“Fully understand your situation and I will pass on the concerns to the administration. I believe they are working on some ideas to relax some restrictions with the help from the respective industries.”
Mr Chan’s email brought us some comfort and these articles brought some awareness but I wasn’t sure overall that many Government officials even knew about the suffering of the local musicians, so then we decided I would write an email to each and every one of the 65 Legislative Councillors in Legco. I asked around to see if any of the working musicians I know would be happy to co-sign with me (thinking more power in a group rather than me, as an individual). I found 11 musicians (within the space of a day) willing to add their names alongside mine. (Thank you Howie, Stephen, Kylie, Mike, Justin, Cyrill, Vincent, Mat, Reggie, CM, Aldous and Akira )
One by one I emailed the Councillors on Thursday 27th August. I just didn’t know who would care/respond/react… By Friday evening, we had 4 email replies and 2 phone calls and 2 meetings offered to us on Monday 31st August.
So yesterday I had my first ever meeting with a politician and then my second-ever meeting with a politician!
The first meeting on Monday morning was with Mr SHIU Ka Fai, a member of the Liberal Party in Hong Kong. Stephen and Kylie accompanied me, so we could present our views from Classical music to wedding cover bands. The biggest out-take from this meeting is that the Government is aware of the freelancers in Hong Kong; they just don’t know how to pay out to them; without one union/society representing them all.
If one group/society/association successfully negotiates a funding plan with the Government but then another group/society/association with similar members comes to the Government offering a DIFFERENT plan, then the Government will stop and wait for the groups to agree on one method/plan!
In the afternoon, we met with Mr. Leung Yiu-Chung, whose political affiliation is the Neighbourhood and Worker’s Service Centre. The biggest out-take we got from this meeting is that (again the Government knows about the freelancers) and that the Government just want a funding procedure; that is very clear with the criteria on who will receive the funding, that it is simple to implement and unlikely (less likely?) to be abused. Again, the suggestion of one union/society to represent all freelance musicians was given, saying more power if the musicians are united. Mr Leung also advised that the proposal should be offered as soon as possible as the Epidemic Fund 3.0 would be announced either mid-September or end-September at the latest.
Phew! So for the next couple of days I will be talking to the union representatives and other musicians and see what we can pull together. We all love live music and love Hong Kong and these musicians are so so important to Hong Kong. If you have any procedures/ideas/suggestions that you want to input, feel free to contact me.