A drummer since he was 16, Ivan Wing is a local professional musician and drumming teacher, having contributed to the percussion for hardcore bands such as King Ly Chee and Dagger in numerous concerts and tours of Asia and North America.
The musician spoke to Business Daily about the struggles to become a full professional musician in Macau, a city lacking in musical appreciation and with little help from the government.
“Just playing music in Macau, it’s somehow impossible. It’s possible, but you’ll have a low salary with the inflation and prices in the city. You’ll starve a bit,” he tells Business Daily.
Having started drumming in 2006, Wing started teaching almost two years ago, saying that: “basically 70 per cent of my income is teaching and 30 per cent live gigs”.
“I like to do both, with live concerts you have the pleasure of seeing the crowd’s reactions and with teaching you have the pleasure of seeing your student improve.” Although Wing says finding studios to record in or rehearsal areas is easy in Macau, opportunities to play outside in real venues or shows are scarce.
The lack of proper venues to play legally, besides hotels, also restricts music professionals in the options they have to improve their skills, while removing entertainment options for residents and tourists, Wing believes.
“If the government wants to develop Macau as a World Centre of Tourism and Leisure, they should have more venues to keep people entertained when they come here, or [in which] local musicians can work more,” he says.
The lack of shows, coupled with the lack of flexibility in terms of work permits for artists and musicians coming for concerts also hinders the creation of a welcoming environment for non-resident musical talent, the musician believes.
“Even the Live Music Association (LMA) [a local live music venue] I don’t think it’s legal; people need to have permission from the government. They just arrive at night, play and leave,” he says.
He notes that the neighbouring city suffers from similar problems, with Hong Kong having arrested British band TTNG and U.S. musician Mylets in March of this year during a concert at a warehouse venue for working without the required permit.
Keeping the beat
For the musician, the local government has helped the music industry with measures such as the Continuing Education Development Plan, which assists local citizens aged 15 or above to participate in local or overseas educational programmes by disbursing MOP6,000 per person.
“It helped a lot of music business centres and local musicians, allowing them to give lessons. However, people think the money is free and maybe 60 per cent of the people are not really appreciating the opportunity to learn music. Paying students will practice a lot and appreciate the lessons. They just have extra money and want to use it,” he says.
Certain measures, such as the implementation of the current sound control law in 2016 did not help, allowing local residents to call authorities for noise over the permissible limit and with bands risking fines in the event of infraction.
“If you are 10 decibels over the established limit, people can call the police and report it. I saw an advertisement of the sound control law (…) It’s so stupid, the advertisement relates loudness to bands. We’re making music not noise,” he says.
Born and raised in Macau, the drummer plays a lot of concerts in Hong Kong, a city he believes has a larger appreciation of music and the arts in general.
“I think people [in Macau] only see art as a hobby […] The culture is different between Hong Kong and Macau. In Hong Kong, there’re a lot of competitions which allow musicians to improve and get known,” he tells Business Daily.
For Wing, no musician is able to fully make a living in Macau, with the drummer not seeing a true music culture in the city, as free festivals like Hush even struggle to attract people, while paid festivals in Hong Kong and the Mainland never lose their fan following.
However, getting rights for the music his bands create is not a problem for Wing, since in the new music world musicians take their business into their own hands.
“We don’t have a record label: we just do it ourselves, record it ourselves, and release it ourselves. We put our music into Apple Music and Spotify so if people play it, the money comes straight to our pockets,” he says.
His bands even produces cassettes through a label in Singapore, with Wing saying “vinyl and cassettes” are the new trend, with CD’s coming out through the back door.
“Vinyls are collectible, you can see the artwork and the sound is better that CD. The vinyl scene is just starting in Macau, there are some places in the city selling them but it hasn’t arrived yet. It has to arrive in Hong Kong first,” he concludes.