Continuing to find ways to help the HK live music community

Earlier in September, I went on RTHK’s Backchat to talk about the working musicians’ difficult predicament (as I’m saying yes to everything and anything that will bring awareness to their plight!) This was definitely worth it, as Graham; who works at West Kowloon, heard me talking about the out-of-work musicians and how some are being evicted (I talked about the survey) and he was moved by their plight so he searched and found me and to cut a long story short, since 27th September; we’ve been working with West Kowloon to give musicians performance opportunities. (in fact, if you’re reading this, and are an out-of-work Hong Kong musician, OR know one, please do contact me asap.)

Meanwhile we’ve continued to talk to politicians, as well as representatives of HK Arts Development Council and the Deputy Director (Culture) of LCSD (Leisure and Cultural Services Department). It was good to be able to explain that we have over five music organisations/societies/unions/alliances that would not be willing to unite. I think people understand it more when we say it’s like asking the Golf Society members to join up with the Rugby Union and the Junior Table Tennis Association!!

In a meeting with the Secretary for Home Affairs, Mr Casper Tsui, he did say that this time round, the Hong Kong Government would NOT wait for weeks of zero virus cases before permitting live music. The Government DOES understand that freelancers (not only musicians!) just want to get back to work!
BIG SHOUT OUT TO: Neil, Kylie and Stephen who have been attending many of these Government meetings and working on proposals for the Government, we have lost count of how many meetings but it feels like it’s making a difference!

Overall I’m beginning to think musicians don’t need yet another union or association, what Hong Kong musicians need is a charity; for and on behalf of working musicians. Just like MusiCares (USA) or Music Helps (New Zealand). There’s plenty of music-related charities in Hong Kong but not a single one is dedicated to musicians themselves. I’m just throwing this out there, to see if anything happens!

I keep thinking and thinking how to continue to help working musicians, because, even after live music is permitted everywhere in Hong Kong, many musicians will still owe months of rent, as well as other bills as well as having to repay loans…

IDEAS TO HELP WORKING MUSICIANS:

  • If you have a venue/event coming up (and since live music is permissible soon), it would be fantastic if you hired an entertainer or band to perform, even acoustic acts can add ambiance to your venue/event/party.
  • OR if you have a super duper big apartment, how about having a house party this weekend, with a small acoustic duo or trio, playing for tips? 
  • Are you launching a new business/product/idea? How about hiring some musicians to compose and record a new jingle or song for it or for your social media ad?
  • Are you planning a birthday party for someone special? How about hiring a musician to write and record a song for your loved one?
  • Some musicians do/can teach, how about booking ZOOM lessons (or physical lessons) for that instrument that’s been on your bucket list?

If any of these ideas appeal to you, and you don’t personally know any musicians, feel free to get in touch and I’ll pass you contacts.

Lastly, I know almost all of you reading this blog have huge empathy for the musicians, here in Hong Kong and around the world, so keep doing what you’re doing. Just reaching out to the musicians you know, checking in on them, letting them know you are thinking of them. This gives people hope and lets them know they matter. Because everyone matters.

Updates on helping musicians & how to apply for Social Security in Hong Kong.

​Please read last week’s blog post, so this week’s post makes more sense 🙂

Just to clarify, I am talking to many different people about helping full-time musicians NOT those lucky enough to have a day job and play music for fun.

Since 31st August, we have been invited to meet one Executive Councillor and five Legislative Councillors: Mr SHIU Ka Fai, Mr Leung Yiu-Chung, Mrs Regina Ip, Mr Cheng Chung-Tai and Mr Ma Fung-Kwok.

Last Friday, Neil and I met with Ms. Regina Ip and also Mr Cheng Chung-Tai. This is all part of our ongoing mission to bring AWARENESS and an URGENT plea to the Government that there are musicians in Hong Kong that need help as they are no longer permitted to work. Over and over again, there is surprise that there are hundreds of local musicians as well as Western musicians who work as musicians full-time AND are permanent residents of Hong Kong. At each meeting we brainstorm on ways to financially support the musicians that is fast to execute and easy to apply for and also on how to get them back to work quickly.

We met with Mr Ma Fung-Kwok who informed us that he will be proposing a scheme for all self-employed people (not just musicians) to get something similar to ESS scheme for salaried employees ( a small payout per month over a period of six months). If THAT is approved by the Government, that would be fantastic.

Mr Ma also asked us to submit a proposal, so we did! We suggested a system for working self-employed musicians operating in a similar manner with which the Hong Kong Government has been using for massage parlour applications(! )
We also proposed for live music venues and bars to REOPEN with quota restrictions, social distancing rules, masks etc. and immediately allow bands to perform INSTRUMENTALLY without waiting for several more weeks, as that would start to put a number of working musicians back at work. (Previously the Government had allowed venues to reopen but it was another six weeks before live performances were permitted)

For those who think I’m being political, I’m not. I’m meeting any and all politicians I can. I have no idea who will be able to help bring awareness about the musicians’ plight and who will be able to help. I’m driven with the pain of knowing that some musicians are now homeless and others are being evicted and that their lives are upside down with no way to earn income.

Now let’s hope & pray that something is prepared for the self-employed musicians in the 3.0 Pandemic Fund, which will be announced in the near future.
 
I have also been researching the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance Scheme (SSA) here in Hong Kong. This will be of interest to those of you who have spent all your savings and have very little assets.
If you live by yourself and your total assets (including all cash, bank savings, stocks and shares) is less than HK$33,000 (and you don’t own any property!) You are eligible for the scheme. There is a small monthly allowance as well as a rental allowance and possibly some other allowances whilst you cannot work. You do need to be a HK resident for at least seven years and have been continuously in HK for at least one year immediately before date of application (they count up to 56 days absence, as OK btw)

It takes about a month to get the first payment and meanwhile you can have access to the food bank instantly for up to 6 weeks. The food bank will supply you with supermarket, Fairwood and bakery vouchers and you can also get rice and tinned food. Once you start receiving the money, you no longer get access to the food bank.
All the information is on this page

There are different allowances and asset allowances for families and couples, it’s all on the website. The best suggestion would be to call the hotline
https://www.swd.gov.hk/en/index/site_pubsvc/page_socsecu/sub_addressesa/
and explain your situation, the person should direct you to the nearest social security office and food bank. It’s all walk-in so there is no need to make an appointment.

IF this is all too overwhelming, I’m happy to talk to you and help you with applying. For some, just being able to eat will solve some of your problems.
There are ALREADY some musicians on this assistance scheme, so don’t be afraid to apply if you and/or your family needs help.
My number/whatsapp is +852-94864648 and my email is contact@undergroundhk.com

Looking for more ways to help Hong Kong Musicians (currently unable to work)

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.

I just launched a survey!

Here in Hong Kong, we’re experiencing our third wave of Covid-19 and to be honest, it’s way worse than the previous ‘waves.’ The HK Government have shut bars, pubs and places of entertainment for the past two weeks. Starting tomorrow, restaurants can only offer take-out service. There is no ‘musician cluster’ this time, however live music (and dancing) is somehow seen as high risk of infecting people.
For working musicians, this is their worse nightmare happening again. In an expensive city like Hong Kong, without an income, what are they doing to make ends meet?
If you are a working musician or a part-time musician or you know someone who is,
please send them this survey link:
https://forms.gle/VEDrwRmyRbguFRku9
We shall release the results next week.
(Please fill in before 4th August 2020)

Starting from tomorrow, it will be illegal to be a maskhole in public in Hong Kong, so lets hope that cuts down the virus cases in Hong Kong. Stay safe and healthy!

ADDED NOTE ON 29th JULY:
I was on RTHK’s Morning Brew to talk about the survey, which can explain more.

Live Streaming Tips for Hong Kong Musicians

As more and more bands and musicians dip their toes into live streaming, I decided to compile five handy performance tips. On the technical side, my only tip would be – it’s best to test your live stream works well and SOUNDS great and that YOU and/or YOUR band looks great BEFORE you stream. Test on phones, computers, browsers etc. that everything is working BEFORE each event. Don’t don’t DON’T start your event with “I don’t know if you can see or hear me….”

  1. Act like you would for a real gig.
    This means having a poster promoting the event ahead of time and promoting the same way you would for a physical gig (facebook event, press release, promotional images, videos etc.). This also includes thinking about the background when you perform, what lighting to use, what camera angle makes you look your best and of course, what are you wearing for the gig.
  2. Be ON time and start performing (not talking) at the start time.
    It makes people turn up on time for your future live streams.
    (You can start the live stream a few minutes before your intended start – this helps the audience to know they are in the right place)
  3. Keep the focus on the songs and your performance.
    Of course, it’s great to interact with your audience too. Play a few songs, and then pause to have a casual chat with the audience for a few minutes as you read through the comments to shout people out and answer questions. People love to feel heard and connected. Another option is, if you have a band helper, they can help to gather comments and requests for your band during the gig.
  4. If possible, give your live stream a hook.
    Are you going to play a new song? Will you have a special guest? Do you have anything to giveaway to the audience? Can you make up a song on the spot, by asking the audience to give you a subject/theme?
    Think out of the box to make it extra fun for your audience.
  5. At the end of your live stream, ask the audience to “Like our facebook page” or “Come back on June 13th for another live show”. This gives them something to do after enjoying your performance. If you would like to earn some money, you can even suggest they buy something from your store or bandcamp.

It’s definitely worthwhile honing your live streaming skills as this is another avenue for your fans to watch your performance in the future, even when live music events resume back to normal (or whatever becomes normal.)



REMEMBER: This may be someone’s first time to see you perform and hear your songs, so make it great!

How to support Hong Kong musicians & songwriters?

All through March 2020, I was writing and rewriting this blog post daily. Then after each day, I would revise what I wrote and update or even change my point of view. Like almost everyone I know, I was overwhelmed with Coronavirus this, Covid-19 that. I also spent almost every day, second guessing if we could go ahead with events or not and then debating postponing them and then actually postponing them. It will not surprise me, if I have to postpone more postponed events soon…

I got told by a friend, that The Hong Kong Arts Development Council received some funding, from HK Government’s Anti-epidemic Fund, to share with the arts & creative sector. Sector D is for Individual arts practitioners who can apply for HK$7500 for work cancelled due to the epidemic. HKADC require you to have been using a “legitimate art venue” which does include the Fringe Club so this maybe helpful to some musicians. Each individual may receive a maximum of HK$7,500.
The only fund which The Underground might be able to apply for is Sector C which is entitled ” Arts projects not funded by HKADC ” which gives you HK$15,000 per event. It seems to have some unfair requirements though; you have to have been hired or collaborated on a Government related event at a Government (or HKADC-approved) venue in the past two years…

I then went looking for other possible avenues of support within Hong Kong.

First thought was C.A.S.H. (stands for Composers, Authors Society of Hong Kong – a perfect acronym for Hong Kong) where I’m a registered member. C.A.S.H. collect royalties on behalf of their members – registered songwriter and composers – from radio, TV, events and venues all over Hong Kong. They are affiliated with overseas societies such as PRS in the UK and ASCAP in the US. Sadly, C.A.S.H. don’t seem to be doing anything for songwriters or composers in Hong Kong despite having a large membership and er wads of cash. They ARE nobly cancelling their Annual Dinner (which takes place in November each year!) but no word on what they will do with the funds, that they normally use for the Annual Dinner. In comparison, PRS have a specific Covid-19 fund to financially assist UK songwriters and ASCAP have a bunch of resources and help guides for funds, for musicians and songwriters in the States. Although I just heard that ASCAP are delaying paying royalties too due to the virus…

The Hong Kong Musicians Union Group sent out a facebook post asking musicians who are facing challenges in their employment to contact them. This group seems mostly useful for Hong Kong musicians who are Filipino.

Music producer Adrian Chow has a survey for practitioners in music & entertainment in HK as he is working on collecting information to try and collect some funding for all those practitioners who cannot claim from HKADC. His survey expires on 9th April, so hurry over and complete the form now.

There is a Hong Kong Musician alliance organisation but they honestly seem to be an alliance of mostly older musicians and their focus is on hosting charity events, collecting money for charities; with no evidence of the alliance actually doing anything in support of financially-challenged musicians.

Jerry Sun has setup a HK Musicians INCOME Support Group which aims at using youtube to generate some additional income. Worth checking out as many local musicians are posting their youtube channels and you are encouraged to share their channels too.

In Singapore, six strangers across various industries heeded a call to action, volunteering their own diverse skill sets and time to launch ilostmygig.sg, a website dedicated to tracking the impact of the COVID-19 in the creative and cultural industry. So far 2400 people have shared their stories (with over 27 million Singapore dollars in lost income!) I especially like the “I want to help” page.

As The Underground, I have been asking Hong Kong musicians & bands to send me their upcoming live-stream performances, so that we can help to promote them. I am really really excited to see, how creative musicians can get, from inside their homes! I’ve heard some live music venues will be testing out live streaming (without an audience) so that is more to look forward to.

For me, I have to stop wondering, if I will ever be able to go to gigs and mosh again. I’m sure I will be! And I hope that day comes sooner rather than later. In the meantime, I will keep on creating and promoting live music events, as well as working on Mellow Yellow Music Festival, my outdoor festival, which I hope will be able to proceed on 12th September 2020.

Top 10 things NOT to do at a gig

Today I published an article on The Underground website called (Top 10 things NOT to do when you are playing a showcase/gig). 

As a promoter, I’ve curated 119 Shazza Music showcases, 250 Underground shows, hosted various Battles and Competitions and I’ve also MC at other people’s live music events since year 2000; which means I’ve seen and introduced bands over 2000 times in my life! 

Sometimes it’s difficult to feel excited about a band, if they do one or more of these things on my list. 

Of course, my top 10 list is totally based on my opinion and is HongKong-centric, however it might be useful to bands/musicians in other countries.  It was fun compiling the list and I hope to do more lists in the future!  

Yellow

Early last year, someone in the Hong Kong music scene contacted me to work on a new festival concept with them – their concept is a cool idea and has huge potential to be successful. Unfortunately, I then had to postpone working with them as Mellow Yellow Music Festival was taking up all my time and I didn’t think it was fair to commit to helping and then doing nothing!

Today, I decided to get back in touch, by sharing the summary footage from the Mellow Yellow festival and suggested we could start to work on their festival and use the same location. I immediately got a reply saying “No, I’m not watching. I’m not interested in any colour related to Hong Kong” and then further comments of how it is all ‘sensitive‘ and ‘not the right timing‘.

This of course annoyed me a lot. First it showed they didn’t read a word I wrote, just saw the word “Yellow” and reacted. I wasn’t asking them to be involved in my festival in any way 🙂 🙂 Secondly I don’t personally politicise the colours blue or yellow. What a conundrum it would be for me, if I did! The Underground official colours are yellow and black and I’m well-known for having blue hair!!

I am intrigued to see if the Mellow Yellow sponsors and partners from 2019 will have the same reaction to the word yellow, as I’m very much hoping to host the second edition this year. Watch this space.

Starting 2020 with a blog!

At the start of 2019, I made a resolution to not buy any plastic bottles of drink. I failed 5 times. I was thirsty a lot more than 5 times 🙂 Now it’s a habit of mine, to carry a reusable water bottle in my bag. Mission accomplished.

For 2020, I’m starting a blog.
I’ve always wanted to write about things that interest me or annoy me. Sometimes I want to share information that isn’t just a random twitter or facebook post. Let’s see how I do with this year’s resolution. Happy New Year!