Covid-19: How are Malaysian concert organisers coping with cancellations?


  • Music
  • Friday, 28 Feb 2020

Ronan Keating carried on with his performance in Malaysia last Valentine’s Day, which saw some 4,000 fans in attendance.

The Covid-19 outbreak has affected the way Malaysians enjoy entertainment in public spaces. In this three-part series, StarLifestyle finds out the sentiments of business owners and patrons who frequent large-scale music concerts, multiplex cinemas and intimate theatre productions as the outbreak continues.

AT least 10 concerts originally scheduled to take place this month and in March have been postponed or cancelled due to the Covid-19 outbreak.

The reactions from concert-goers, as seen on social media, run the gamut. Some are disappointed that they will have to wait longer to see their favourite artistes in the flesh. Others are relieved by the news, feeling they won’t be able to enjoy a performance with the threat of Covid-19 still at large.

Alife president R Para predicts concert organisers will suffer six months worth of losses because of Covid-19.Alife president R Para predicts concert organisers will suffer six months worth of losses because of Covid-19.R. Para, the managing director of PR Worldwide, which brought over international acts like Ed Sheeran and Selena Gomez to Malaysia in the past, described what goes into the decision of postponing or cancelling a concert:

“With most of the postponement or cancellation, the lead is usually taken by the artiste’s management. As there is a very clear direction by the World Health Organisation to avoid crowded places, the artiste’s management teams have been taking the responsible step.”

Touring from country to country with a large production crew increases the risk of spreading the outbreak, Para elaborated.

Besides safety concerns, the inevitable financial loss resulting from the outbreak also plays a part.

“China has a lot of tour stops. They may make up a big portion of an artiste’s tour schedule. When that goes apart, the artiste’s management team may feel their business plan has been halved.

“So they choose to postpone the rest of the tour in Asia altogether and come back later when they are able to complete a full tour circuit.”

A postponement or cancellation cost local concert promoters quite a bit.

“The money spent on marketing and advertising the concert can’t be recouped. And if the concert is just a week away, chances are, the organisers would’ve paid for flight tickets, accommodation and so forth for the artiste and the production crew.

“Even in the case of a postponement, there will be some losses in ticket sales as people may not be able to make it on the new date and require a refund.”

Very few concerts have gone on despite the threat of Covid-19.

So far, only Irish singer Ronan Keating carried on with his performance in Malaysia on Valentine’s Day, which saw some 4,000 fans in attendance, according to local media reports.

One such fan was content management executive Sharmilee Padmanathan.

“From where I was seated, it looked quite packed, ” she comments on the turnout.

The 25-year-old Kuala Lumpur-native recalled concert-goers were mindful about wearing protective masks.

“Compared to other concerts I’ve attended in the past, the major difference is perhaps there weren’t as many people singing along to the songs because they had their masks on, even when he was performing his famous tunes. I think the masks make it a little harder to sing, ” she added.

The organiser also ensured hand sanitisers were placed everywhere for easy access, besides conducting compulsory temperature screenings.

“Before entering the venue, there were people with thermometers taking our temperature. Everyone had to go through them, ” Sharmilee remembered.

Jay Chou postponed his Feb 29 KL concert to Aug 22. Photo: APJay Chou postponed his Feb 29 KL concert to Aug 22. Photo: AP

Para says there are companies specialising in providing medical care at events which concert organisers regularly hire.

“Even with no virus outbreak, all concerts will have a medical team of at least eight to 10 people, depending on the size of the concert, and ambulances on standby.

“With the outbreak, there will be additional people hired especially to conduct temperature screenings.”

With the February and March events calendar (and potentially more months ahead) looking a little empty, concert promoters have to tighten their belts in the coming months.

“With no concerts at all, we’re looking at six months worth of losses in income easily. Yet we still have to pay our overheads, staff and so on.”

Para, who is also the president of Arts, Live, International Festivals and Events Association (Alife) – a non-profit organisation representing companies managing, presenting and promoting live events in Malaysia – predicts things will start looking up at the second half of the year, assuming that the outbreak gradually subsides.

Para’s concern is concert promoters are operating at a loss from now until then. They need help to get them back on their feet when the economy rebounds.

Kenny Ong, the chairman of Recording Industry Association of Malaysia, says promotional opportunities for artistes have shrunk since the outbreak. Kenny Ong, the chairman of Recording Industry Association of Malaysia, says promotional opportunities for artistes have shrunk since the outbreak.As such, Alife is seeking the government’s assistance in the form of tax waivers for a period of a year or so.

Para suggested four measures the government can take: “Waiver of 6% service tax for venues, sound and lights suppliers, hotels and so forth; waiver of government stamp duty on performers’ contract and sponsorship contract on events; waiver of government levy on artiste and crew’s visa fees; reduction on DBKL deposit for international events which is currently at RM30,000.”

Not only has Covid-19 affected concert promoters but record labels too.

Besides organising concerts occasionally, record labels bring over international artistes to Malaysia to engage in smaller-scale promotional activities such as giving press interviews or meeting fans.

With Covid-19, such efforts have been dialled down.

“It doesn’t affect established artistes, say, Justin Bieber, but a lot of international up-and-coming acts come to Malaysia so that local fans can get to know who they are,” said Kenny Ong, the chairman of Recording Industry Association of Malaysia, a trade association representing recording companies.

Promotional opportunities have shrunk not only when it comes to international acts visiting Malaysia, but local artistes looking to promote their music overseas too.

“Some record labels have made plans to bring their homegrown artistes overseas but promoters from those countries have said it’s better not to take the risk,” added Ong.

However, he said Malaysian artistes are holding small events locally to promote their music, but with extra precaution taken – having hand sanitisers around and turning away guests who are sick.

While music consumption at live events may have taken a dip because of the outbreak, Ong theorised music consumption online may see a rise in the coming months.

“If people are not going out or travelling much, they have to do something to entertain themselves.

“So we’ll be seeing a lot of people staying home and listening to music more.”

Currently, Ong said there is some increase in online music consumption but will require a few months to gather more conclusive data before a correlation between music consumption and Covid-19 can be made.

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