MANILA -- Singers who perform regularly in music lounges, bars and other entertainment venues are feeling the impact of the Luzon-wide lockdown, as they are left with no gigs on their schedule and are now practically jobless.
While their weekly calendars normally teemed with regular, nightly performances, special singing engagements in corporate shows or weddings, even out-of-town fiestas before the COVID 19 pandemic, musicians find themselves without any income-generating activities in this lockdown.
In reality, “entertainment is considered non-essential,” lamented Freestyle vocalist and lone female member Ava Santos. “That’s why all our bookings for March, all the way till June, were cancelled. The events industry is greatly impacted, too.”
The month-long lockdown has greatly affected the jobs of entertainers. Freestyle regularly performs at 19 East Bar and Grill in Paranaque City and also at 12 Monkeys in El Pueblo, Ortigas Center. Both venues are presently closed and non-operational.
“We have instantly become jobless,” said Santos. “Performing is our main source of livelihood and most of our clients have cancelled, if not postponed their bookings. It’s lucky if we could ask for cancellation fees, but that’s not the case for everyone.”
Aside from Santos, Freestyle members include Joshua Desiderio and Mike Luis (vocalists), Gerd Banzon (drummer), Joel Guarin (bassist), Bobby Velasco (musical director and keyboardist) and Gino Aguas (lead guitarist).
The band’s manager, Celeste Pacana, attested the bands are really hard hit. “No work, no pay,” Pacana said. “Worst, they have no benefits. No insurance. That is the problem with the artists. They live by the day. That’s a sad reality. Few prepare for their future or a catastrophe as this [COVID 19].”
Music veterans Side A also regularly performs in 19 East and 12 Monkeys. “As performers or professional musicians, we rely on regular bar gigs and special shows or concerts as our main source of livelihood,” said Side A bassist, Ned Esguerra. “The COVID-19 pandemic has had a terrible impact on us financially, since we are currently unable to perform regularly. The health concerns are, of course, the main focus, but the income lost affects a great number of us in the entertainment industry.”
Aside from Esguerra, Side A is composed of Naldy Gonzales (band leader, musical director and keyboardist), Ernie Severino (drummer), Yubs Esperat, Jr. (vocalist and acoustic guitarist), Lee Von Cailao (lead guitarist).
MUSIC ROYALTIES, DONATIONS
Stages talent and indie artist Bullet Dumas echoed the sentiments of the band members. “If we have no gigs, we don’t earn anything,” he said. “Maybe you can get royalties from the songs you wrote if you have publishers. Other artists can earn from that. I started Band Camp, where people can download my songs, though no one is downloading now. I just set it up even before for use in my future records.”
Dumas mentioned certain applications online like Kumu, Patreon and Twitch, where people can just donate money while the artists are streaming themselves. “What gamers are using through Facebook, where people can send ‘stars’ that can be converted through money,” Dumas explained. “These are the little projects you can share with your patrons, who can get exclusive content. I believe the shift to online was inevitable. It just got pushed forward earlier because of what happened.”
Hans Dimayuga, a contestant on the first season of “The Voice of the Philippines,” acknowledged that he earns from performing regularly in entertainment venues. “Since all performance venues are closed, we don’t have any income now. I think this also extends to all freelancers,” Dimayuga noted.
Before the lockdown was enforced, Dimayuga was a regular at the Grand Bar and El Calle Music Hall at Resorts World Manila. He was also performing weekly at Z Hostel and Casa Bambu, entertainment venues in Poblacion, Makati.
Seven shows from Dimayuga’s schedule were cancelled or postponed. Sadly, not all the producers have assured the artists that the shows will still be restaged in the near future. The producers simply cannot commit to any specific date yet.
“Only the weddings have rescheduled an exact date,” Dimayuga offered. “The corporate events and bar gigs are all TBA (to be announced).”
Dimayuga is thankful he recently received financial assistance from FILSCAP (Filipino Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers), deposited to his bank account. Apparently, FILSCAP readily did its part to safeguard the well-being of its members amid the pandemic.
Maria Clauja, a singer based in San Pablo City in Laguna, similarly suffered the same fate when she was left jobless by the lockdown. “It became hard for me when all the regular gigs and the events where I was supposed to perform in were cancelled,” Clauja lamented. “My gigs were what brought my budget weekly and even monthly.”
Prior to the enhanced community quarantine, Clauja had four regular bar gigs weekly, where she got paid P800 nightly. She performed regularly at Jaberacks in Candelaria (Quezon), Suki in San Pablo (Laguna) and Gastro Publiko in Lipa (Batangas). She also did “harana” gigs in Laguna every week, by schedule. She had eight weddings, where she was scheduled to sing.
Revenues for all those performances were practicality lost. And only about 20 percent of the producers have committed to restaging the scheduled engagements.
SAVINGS FOR A RAINY DAY
Freestyle's Santos said the owners of the establishments they performed in were “in communication” with the band earlier. “They were perhaps hopeful that the situation will eventually improve and all will go back to normal. We all are,” she said.
Esguerra, meanwhile, is uncertain about the exact number of shows and events that got cancelled or postponed in Side A’s calendar. “But the more we extend this quarantine period, then more gigs are in danger of being aborted,” he said.
“I do believe that a lot of producers out there are very decent about these matters. Both sides are willing to find a reasonable solution to all the scheduled events that got messed up.”
Thankfully, some artists have safely stashed up for times like this. “If the quarantine period gets lifted soon, then some of what I saved in the past may just be enough to pull us through until we can get back out there and work,” Esguerra said. “Saving for a rainy day really came in handy, because it’s pouring down hard right now.”
Esguerra now realized how important it is to have emergency funds. “Some of my musician friends raised money for our other musician friends who are seriously hit by this, including those who are sick and those who have small children.”
With no income, Dumas is aware his savings is an important financial anchor at this time. “Some of us are indie artists. If you have savings, that will work for you. If you don’t, alanganin ka. We check up on our other band mates regularly, if they can still support themselves.”
Their “roadies” (road managers) or those who help the artists in their gigs and performances, are likewise affected by the lockdown.
“They also don’t have money,” Dumas granted. “That’s tough. We are also raising funds for those guys. As Johnoy (Danao) termed them, they are not ‘alalay,’ but they are those who assist the musicians.”
Even before the lockdown, Dumas recalled events were getting cancelled already. “Gigs were few. There were very few audience in the venues,” he noted.
Dumas’ shows were cancelled and rescheduled. “I was supposed to have a gig in Siargao for the Holy Week,” he said. “That got cancelled, too. We couldn’t travel because of the lockdown.
“It’s a good practice to ask for a 50 percent down payment, for cancelled shows. When Taal volcano erupted, I also had a show that got cancelled and moved. But that one already gave a down payment. So that will still push through in the future.”
Before his schedule came to a halt, Dumas was seen regularly at Conspiracy Garden Café along Visayas Avenue in Quezon City. That was where he had been performing since 2011. He also performed at 70s Bistro along Anonas Avenue, Route 196 along Katipunan Avenue, 12 Monkeys in Ortigas and Saguijo Bar in Makati.
The artists have realized that they have to adapt to cost-cutting measures to cushion the impact of this COVID-19 pandemic. Dimayuga is fortunate he now lives with his parents, which is a big relief for him.
Admittedly, Santos has been looking for things she can do online, since she has no other streams of revenue in this lockdown. At present, she has done cost-cutting measures at home. “Since the world is put to a halt, all the luxuries are eliminated,” Santos said. “We just enjoy however we can at home, eat whatever we have available. We haven’t really sat down and sorted out our finances. When the bills arrive, then we will adjust.”
Esguerra has no other means of “steady” income aside from performing. “Although I do have revenue coming in from other musically related endeavors, but none of them may be considered steady, because the income is never constant and more of a seasonal occurrence.”
He considers himself still “fortunate” that just before Manila went under quarantine, he was able "to secure just enough to get by for the duration that was initially set down by the government.” Still, he imposes cost-cutting personally to cushion the impact of the lockdown. “There really isn’t much of an option given that pretty much everything has closed down,” Esguerra said.
Clauja is thankful to the help extended by the government not only to her and her family, but to the families of other struggling musicians who also need assistance. She particularly mentioned the five kilograms of rice and canned goods given to the families weekly that they received.
“That’s a big help to the families who had a hard time getting by daily,” Clauja maintained. “I help my parents in our small family business. We earn by delivering yema cake, moist chocolate cake, langka pies and tarts.”
Clauja is also doing live Facebook gigs, where the payments are pinned to her bank accounts. “So that they can also give tips,” she said.
The amount from her other streams of revenues accounts for 20 percent of what she earns. With money allotted to pay for the rent, Clauja said the budget she now have is simply enough for her daily expenses.
“Nag-cost-cutting po talaga kami in our family,” she said. “Kung ang gastos po namin sa food for a day is P500 before the lockdown, ginagawa po namin na P100 daily lang ang mailabas na pera, hanggang maaari. More on veggies ang niluluto po naming, kasi mas mura at healthy. Budgeted po lahat, para tumagal ang P500 sa isa isang linggo.”
Cost-cutting is something that everyone needs to do, Dumas acknowledged, now that everything is indefinite. “We don’t know how long this lockdown will be. Even if it gets lifted soon, people will still have trauma to go out. But after COVID-19 is gone, people will be excited to go out, meet their friends and family. The music industry will benefit from this. Some people are not earning, so when the lockdown gets lifted, they want to earn again. Babawi sila.”
Dumas insisted he is personally “still okay” amid the lockdown. “Although no one is downloading [my songs], I can probably write a song, upload it somewhere and earn from it. Right now, I’m still okay. I know everyone is having a hard time. These are tough times.
“We are doing shows, streaming those shows on Facebook to raise funds for the less fortunate. Even I have been trying to help others. We’re pushing for that. My other artist-friends, we help each other. Good thing, I am under Stages, that’s why I’m not too worried. They are helping me. Anytime I need them, I’ll just let them know. I’m not flat worried. I’m worried for other people.”
For the entire year, Dumas has safely paid for rent in his place in advance. That was a big financial load off his back. “The monthly bills, nakaka-stress,” he said. “I saved up for something. I’m still okay. I have a roof. For food and other necessities, I can still manage.”
Asked about other possible means of revenues, Dimayuga couldn’t give any other reply. “My earnings only come from shows and from a couple of F&B establishments I co-own. Music production houses and ad agencies are also closed so we can’t really do any home-based recordings where we can also earn from.
“We’re taking a back seat on all purchases and trying to focus on efficient shopping for basic necessities,” he explained. “The best thing right now is to stay home, stay healthy, take care of our folks and work on our craft.”
Dimayuga remains certain that his colleagues in the entertainment industry can get through this pandemic season financially. At present, they have their savings, whatever little the amount may be. “These are the moments we save up for. We have to be wise with our expenses,” he said.
Without necessarily shelling out financial aid, Esguerra considers himself a huge fan of positive reinforcement and encouragement. “I try to set an example to my friends by keeping calm at all times, despite everything that goes on. Hopefully, that somehow helps them settle down in the face of immense pressure and trials. I also believe in the power of prayer and the importance of praying for others.”
While “human interaction” proved to be tiring for artists who performed nightly before, Dumas misses doing it now that they are not performing onstage. “Before, it got tiring. After a gig, you would rather stay at home or go to your family and do whatever you want. Now, I miss my friends. I also miss performing. I miss the exchange of energy between the audience and the performer in live gigs.”
Dumas continued: “Now, you don’t feel it while performing in front of your computer or your phone. You see the applause, the likes, the comments. I guess even silence is important. When you know that people are actually listening to what you’re singing, that’s awesome. Pero iba pa rin ang actual response ng tao. Iba if you get really nervous onstage with a live audience in front of you.”
Clauja, meanwhile, thinks the families of her singer-friends are admirably coping well with this pandemic, even if they are hit hard. “Sa tingin ko po, wala naman po masyado nahihirapan,” she said. “Lahat kami ay nakakaraos at okay.”
Dimayuga is aware that some of the other artists are also doing Facebook Live shows, with tips or donation information. “The least we can do is share it,” he said. “Share their music, let them be heard. If we can persuade the bigger artists in our industry to follow suit, that would be monumental.”
For her part, Clauja said: “When someone offers to help me, I always think about my other musician-friends and my fellow singers. We have received help from others and in turn, we also help them in our own, little way. That is the only way we can also do our share to help. Not really financially."
Granted that this pandemic is unprecedented, but what are the hard lessons learned during this time? “We are realizing that at this time, we can only depend on an artist union/organization and our own artist community for support,” Dimayuga said.
Being healthy and staying healthy are important, Eguerra emphasized. “Work even harder. Save. And always keep a good head on your shoulders to help get you through hard times.
Santos insisted saving up is important, too. “It’s important to save a portion of our income for times like this. This is the ‘you never know what’s going to happen’ part of life.”
Still, everyone keeps the faith the performers will emerge stronger from this crisis. “Having a personal emergency savings fund is the most important thing,” Dimayuga said. “Second is being a member of an artist organization. I’m positive that artist organizations will now take extra steps to prepare for this, like setting up disaster relief funds for its members.”
Dumas maintained online shows can undoubtedly create a platform for the artists. “There are shows where artists perform in benefit gigs through their social media accounts. Artists can still earn from that. Maybe in the future, if the platform really works, artists will get paid already.
“Those who want to help, they can waive their talent fees and just perform. We can ease the tension. It’s nice to see that fellow artists and people appreciate you in this tough time. Thank you for performing for us, Johnoy [Danao] and Ebe [Dancel], we did an online show. All three of us performed. Iba pa rin ang silbi ng music now.”
Dumas admits the online platform is indeed a good avenue for artists and easily accessible, too. “If the platform looks promising, even after the lockdown, it should stay,” he said. “But the downside, people will no longer go to bars and gig venues. People will no longer flock to those venues if they can easily watch the shows on their phones. Iba pa rin ang live shows. Filipinos love music and there’s no such thing as live performances. I am confident that people will still watch live shows.”
Santos remains realistic that it might take a while before people go out to watch shows again. “Now is the time to practice and hone our crafts at home,” she said. “Improve whatever we can given the amount of time given to us. There is funding from the government, but I’m not sure if it has reached the groups yet. There are so many of us in the arts community. Hopefully, soon, there will be a clearer directive.”
“I hope the bars where we perform will offer help in whatever way they can,” Clauja added. “At this time, there were very few who reached out to help us. We are not employed by those establishments. We have no proof even if we perform in those venues every night.
“But we need their support. We need their help, especially if this lockdown gets extended. They cannot bring back the lost revenues from those jobs that never materialized. We are on-call artists and musicians. Sadly, we are not regular employees.”