As the Covid-induced restrictions slowly lift and international borders gradually reopen, the tough times of the past 18 months seem like they’re coming to an end. But what does the landscape look like for live music and touring in Southeast Asia and Taiwan going forward after such an extended break?
To discuss these issues (and more), Taiwan Asean Music Action (TAMA) held an online symposium on October 29 titled “Post-Pandemic Touring in Taiwan and South East Asia”.
For the unfamiliar, Taiwan Asean Music Action (TAMA) is an initiative by the Taiwanese Ministry of Culture and Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Malaysia. TAMA aims to bolster the Taiwanese government’s New Southbound Policy and foster musical cooperation between Taiwan and Southeast Asia.
The one-hour panel was moderated by Azzief Khaliq (Malaysia) and featured the expertise and experience of musicians, venue owners, and organisers from across ASEAN and Taiwan. These were: Baybeats lead programmer Akilesh (Singapore), musician Azmyl Yunor (Malaysia), Speakerbox founder Eddie Mellor (Thailand), promoter and Swan Zoo founder Joff Cruz (Vietnam), and head of Tron Music Agency Orbis Fu (Taiwan).
After the requisite round of introductions, the panel kicked off by discussing the hybrid shows and whether live streams will remain relevant in a rapidly reopening world.
“It’s not going to exponentially grow to the point where we can have 100% capacity live shows again,” Akilesh points out. “Even in the mid- to long-term, hybrid presentations may still work, partially because geographical boundaries are broken.”
However, while live streams may extend a concert or festival’s reach, there is the issue of saturation and an audience that might be sick of online concerts.Vietnam-based Joff Cruz had an interesting take on the role of live streams. Vietnam got through the first 12 months of the pandemic relatively unscathed, with lockdowns only beginning in June 2021. That said, Cruz expressed hope that more musicians would continue to stream. “We don’t get a lot of international acts in Vietnam, so I hope a lot of these artists continue to stream to supplement their tours.”
The discussion eventually transitions to the potential difficulties of touring ASEAN and Taiwan in a “post-pandemic” age. “It’s definitely going to be tougher,” Azmyl reflects. Extra costs such as Covid tests and quarantine will undoubtedly increase the costs of touring internationally, and Eddie Mellor opines that it’s going to take a “collaborative effort between promoters, artists, and labels” to help indie artists get back into the touring cycle.
Touring internationally was never cheap, but Covid-19 regulations have arguably made establishing a strong financial base (via methods such as fundraising shows or local tours, crowdfunding, and merchandise sales) arguably even more important.
Taiwan’s high vaccination rate and relatively low Covid-19 numbers make it an appealing tour destination. But despite that, Orbis doesn’t think it’s a destination artists should focus on just yet. “We’ve received a lot of requests about coming to Taiwan, but I always tell the artists that we can’t be too optimistic.”
Despite the low case numbers, the country’s inhabitants are are “still scared” of the virus. “It’s an ‘unknown’ for the Taiwanese, which makes the government afraid of opening the borders.”
And his doubts about Taiwan’s borders reopening extend to the prospect of indie bands being able to tour regionally anytime soon. Drawing on the difficulties faced by Taiwanese acts touring China, he believes that “there will be a lot of visa requirements and quarantine restrictions, which will be complicated. It will make touring more and more difficult.”
“It’s probably a good time to develop your local fanbase,” Orbis adds with a laugh, reminding everyone that travel restrictions apply to fans as well as musicians. As fans can’t travel to overseas festivals, they’re a captive audience that bands can possibly win over.
Orbis’ point ties into a theme that slowly develops over the second half of the panel: the need to be flexible, no matter your role within the ecosystem. It’s not just bands that have to be alert to the constantly moving targets of Covid-19 regulations and domestic fanbases. Organisers also need to tackle new challenges that might arise, including the spectre of new Covid-19 outbreaks and surges as travel and events become more widespread.
Organisers have dealt with constantly shifting health risks and government regulations over the past 18 months, which has undoubtedly been difficult. Akilesh, however, does at least see a silver lining: “the one thing the pandemic has taught us is thinking about five or six other contingency plans.”
The idea that post-pandemic touring will be a magical return to the pre-Covid days is misguided at best. Instead, everyone from musicians to organisers to venue owners will have to adapt to what will undoubtedly be a rocky—but hopefully steady—road back to regular full-capacity live shows and international touring.
If you’re involved in the ecosystem, trying to figure out how to navigate the next six to 12 months (or more), take some time out of your day and watch the full recording of the panel. It won’t provide easy answers, but it should hopefully spark some ideas and remind you that many people are in the same boat.