The pandemic in Shanghai has baffled independent musicians, especially those dependent on live performances and music industry workers.
Shanghai Daily sat down with a few musicians and industry people to find out how they’ve been coping since the lockdown ended.
“I had many performances scheduled but they were cancelled.”
Bai Yu has released four albums of songs that are largely folkloric with lyrics that are observant and aloof but also reflect his philosophical and humanitarian thoughts, according to his biography posted on QQ Music.
The freelance singer-songwriter studied jazz guitar at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music. He moved to Beijing in 2000 to join a grunge band, living in a small basement room with only a bed and a table for furniture.
He kept busy reading books, mostly on philosophy, training with the band, and working on his second album. A friend, worried about his sanity, tried to talk him out of it.
“I felt like a leaf falling, clueless. It’s a line from one of the songs. In retrospect, doing independent music was a destiny,” he recalls.
He toured nationally after completing 12 songs for his second album. Hailing from Shanghai, Bai found it difficult to blend into the culture of Beijing. He mostly performed live in cafes, art galleries and museums. He also taught guitar at Xiaoyinca, or Little Musician, in Shanghai, but the company ran into financial difficulties and did not pay salaries for months.
Before the COVID-19 epidemic hit Shanghai, he planned a series of concerts. Things were looking up… “I was making experimental music, but we had to drop everything,” he said.
Bai tried online streaming during the citywide lockdown. He was aware that the music he played could not compete with other streamers’ short video platforms. He barely earned 4,000 yuan ($577) in 3 months. Bai, who performed at the 2022 Minhang Music Festival, expressed hope that the pandemic will end soon.
Indonesian drummer optimistic about entertainment career in Shanghai
Joye Yeung, a Hong Kong-born Indonesian drummer, graduated with a master’s degree in percussion from the Shanghai Conservatory of Music in 2020.
He started playing bongos at the age of 6 and has loved them ever since. Joye, now 28, believes Shanghai offers greater reach for live music and entertainment business prospects than Hong Kong and Indonesia.
At the beginning of 2022, Joye quit his teaching job at a private institute in Qingpu District, where he taught children to play the drums. He now performs full time for various bands and live performances. He and some American musicians formed Tequila Boombox, a jazz and Latin fusion group. They are currently working on an album.
Tequila Boombox is like a ball of energy that sways, vibrates and sways. He incorporates different styles into his music. When you arrive at the show, your feet start moving and your body follows. Anton Vittal, the band’s guitarist, characterized their music as “before you know it, you’re on the dance floor going crazy”.
Tequila Boombox played the House of Blues & Jazz near the Bund before the COVID-19 outbreak.
Because they play jazz and Latin, they have always had a bigger foreign audience than the Chinese, Yeung said. He believes he has greatly improved playing in front of an audience.
To appeal to Chinese tastes, he discovered that fusing jazz with other musical genres such as Rock&Roll and Latin is always a good idea. Ever since Yeung and Bai became good friends, Yeung has played drums for her ballad songs.
Unlike his usual jazz and Latin styles, ballad songs require focusing on simple drum beats that can portray the feelings of ballads rather than complex rhythms. It is similar to cooking; all you need to produce good fried rice is a precise amount of salt and nothing else.
Looking ahead, Yeung hopes there will be no more lockdowns and the government will allow more venues to open so they can perform live again.
“Life isn’t always predictable, and there will be ups and downs. You’ll be fine as long as you believe in yourself, keep going, and don’t give up on your dream,” he said. .
Guitar teacher moved to Hangzhou after lockdown
Chen Jie, 31, has been teaching guitar for almost a decade. Unlike other music majors, Chen Jie is passionate about the guitar and has been learning the instrument on his own since the age of 18.
Chen moved to Shanghai in 2015 from Xi’an, the capital of northwest China’s Shaanxi Province, hoping there would be more teaching opportunities in Shanghai.
Before the pandemic hit, it had over 40 students. His lessons at a local guitar shop were canceled and, with no students or money, he returned to his hometown in Hubei province.
He too tried his hand at live streaming, but soon discovered that playing guitar on platforms like Douyin isn’t easy.
In July, he then came up with the idea of selling guitars on Taobao and Tmall, popular e-commerce platforms in China. He became a salesman who played guitar for online buyers of the instrument.
Chen is happy in Hangzhou, where life is slower and rents cheaper than in Shanghai. He wants to save more money so he can buy a motorbike next year.
A sound engineer does his part in the fight against the pandemic
Qi Chen works as a sound mixer at Moyin Studio. He is also a product of the Shanghai Conservatory of Music.
Because the studio had a larger clientele, the pandemic had little effect on it. Nevertheless, they had to suspend all recordings and move on to mixing the task.
During the lockdown, the studio helped fight the virus. In April, they helped record and mix a song called “Tomorrow Will Be Better,” which featured singers and celebrities and was meant to lift people’s spirits.
Qi’s knowledge in the sound mixing business has not been affected by the outbreak in the same way as many other musicians, as they can still get their work done while staying at home with only their gear and computers.
Professional singers’ recordings may have suffered because they were unable to visit the studio during the lockdown. Also, as more and more musicians become self-sufficient, they can record the songs at home.
The studio offers sound mixing courses.
Qi hopes the pandemic will end soon so she can work with talented musicians again.
“When the pandemic is over, I want to see all these wonderful musicians from around the world again,” he remarked.