With the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and movement control order still affecting the pub music scene, many Malaysian musicians have turned to live-streaming to get back in the game.
Platforms such as YouTube and Facebook Live allow them to stream from their home studio set-up, equipped with a camera or webcam and lighting, to generate a modest income through fan contributions transferred via e-wallets or online payment links.
Newcomer US-based live-stream platform Sessions, which emerged last year, has Malaysian musicians excited about expanding their reach on a global scale and earning in US dollars regardless of location.
Musicians live-stream from their chosen location and nothing is recorded or archived, but fans can join a live chat with them and give their favourite singers a chance to earn some money.
Donations are made in the form of hearts, or “love”, where subscribers purchase hearts priced at US$4.99 (RM21.57), US$19.99 (RM86.73) or more, up to US$99.99 (RM407.36).
Different gifts can be sent to the musicians — from “coins” and “unicorns” to “lightning” — and each item costs a different number of hearts.
The musicians’ fan base grows when people join their “crew” and the bigger their fan base, the better their position to earn more money.
Veteran singer-songwriter Raghbir “Raggy” Singh, 61, who is known for his wide range of musical styles — from folk and country to rock — was eager to try out Sessions when another local musician recommended it about four months ago.
“Musicians who are already performing on Sessions get monetary rewards for bringing in new musicians.
“The audition is not a complicated process either.
“As I am used to live-streaming via Facebook and YouTube, I am equipped with all the streaming software, lights and camera required, ” said Raggy, who is based in Kulim, Kedah.
The sign-up process for musicians is also simple, as they just need to fill up a questionnaire and include their social media links and performance sample.
A Sessions curator will then email the successful applicant to complete a live audition via Google Meet.
Raggy said the platform allowed artistes to gain new fans as well.
“If you are a good musician, your earning potential may increase on days when big name artistes perform on Sessions too, ” he said.
The “hearts” earned here are micropayments, as the more established artistes offer digital tickets for fans to purchase to watch their shows.
The downside to Sessions, he noted, was that viewers could not rewatch or download the streams, unlike YouTube, which he opined had better video and audio resolution.
“Yes, the novelty of hearts and tokens on Sessions is fun.
“But my audience is generally older folk, so fewer gimmicks work better for them, ” he said.
As the options for live-streaming were plenty, Raggy stressed that different platforms served different purposes as well as audiences.
“And that is why artistes need to make use of different platforms and not put all the eggs in one basket, ” he said, adding that live-streaming was a feasible way to revive the local music industry amid the pandemic.
“If more pubs use our streams, it will help everyone, but the streams have to be good quality so the audience will appreciate it, ” said Raggy.
Meanwhile, Malaysian singer Sherman Tan, 48, was performing at summer music festivals in Vilnius, Lithuania, when the pandemic hit.
“Summer is beautiful here, but then everything went downhill because of Covid-19.
“While waiting for the situation to improve, I stream online too, ” he told StarMetro.
Based in the European capital city since 2019, he related his experience as a live-streaming artiste.
Tan streams live on Sessions three times a week from a rented studio near his home.
“The walls are thin here so I cannot stream from our apartment, as the neighbours may get angry, ” said Tan, who lives with his Lithuanian wife, Diana.
He enjoys live-streaming on the Sessions platform as it provides good exposure and gives musicians a chance to build a following.
“I don’t fully understand how the platform works, so my wife reads up about how the hearts and donations from fans work.
“I don’t think too much about the mechanism because I don’t want to spoil the music experience when I play for my audience.
“I’m not sure how far performing on Sessions can go, but it does earn us some income as we go up the levels, ” said Tan, who was a finalist in an European TV singing competition in Lithuania in 2019.
Back in Klang, singer-songwriter Gerard Singh, 53, enjoys live-streaming on Sessions weekly and has garnered more attention on social media as a result.
“It is a good platform to garner a new following, albeit at a snail’s pace, but it’s better than nothing.
“I learnt about Sessions last year, but never knew I could make money from it.
“I was shocked that some of our musicians, who were already using the platform, never shared this fact.
“This sort of information should be shared. And with musicians having plenty of time on their hands and no income, every Malaysian musician should try this, ” he said.
The best thing about it, Gerard said, was the fact that he could perform again for an audience.
“My audience is happy to see me perform again, too.
“The days when I don’t stream, I will browse other people’s shows to get some ideas.
“Some are very good and that is nice to see, ” said Gerard, who lauded sage advice on experimenting with sound and equipment from his comrades such as Raggy, Tan and Albert Sirimal.
“This has gotten me back in shape, musically, and made me realise that I can put on a proper show on other platforms and sell e-concert tickets in future.”
Gerard thinks he will maintain his online live-stream shows even if the pubs open in the foreseeable future.
“Even if I do get back to performing live in a venue, I want to embrace platforms like Sessions as it allows us to perform no matter the external situation.
“This can snowball into other things and it drives people to still buy my original songs, ” he said.