Meet Diana and Peter from MICappella! Heard them perform before during NDP? 

Meeting Diana and Peter!

Di: I’m Diana, manager of MICappella, a vocal band. 😊 I have been with the band for the last 13 years. I started out helping the band during their early years during overseas trips, and helped liaise and do some admin work. Soon the band got really busy and I realised that the time it was taking me warrantied a full-time commitment in order to stay on top of things. I went full-time in 2010, soon after Peter and I got married. I love my job, having been in the events, service, PR and marketing industries. It was great to finally have a brand/product that I truly believed in. 

P: My name is Peter Huang. I’m a fulltime freelance musician, and founder/vocal percussionist in MICappella. Additionally, I also play in gigs as a guitarist/keyboardist/vocalist. I also occasionally produce/arrange/recording engineer for other musicians. I’ve been a full time musician for more than 20 years.  

Understand that you have 3 children under 3! Must be a fun albeit hectic schedule, how do both of you juggle work and family life?  

Di: It took a while for me to come to terms with having kids as I was always busy making sure MICappella was functional and always looking out for things that the band could do. However I soon realised I had to learn to let go, and we decided to hire someone to take over some of my duties. Still learning to prioritise my time.  

Being self-employed with 3 kids after 10 years of couple-hood meant that we really had to plan our finances ahead. There is still no full-time pay check, no CPF, no medical coverage to fall back on for my family, we had to rely a lot on our savings, and spoke to financial advisors about how to plan ahead to save up for the kids. Thankfully Peter has a better grasp on that. I still have to be reminded to pay my bills on time. Haha!  

 P: It’s a longtime desire to be a parent. 3 under 3 is definitely a totally different level of being tired! Freelancing allows us to adjust workload as necessary. Stresses are primarily physical stamina and of course, finances.  

On balancing work and life meaningfully?  

P: I try my best. Simply make consistent effort. It’s not easy. Hectic schedule, unstable income and lack of agency support. But it is what it is. There are flexibilities that come along with freelancing so that is good. But all in all, freelancers do not enjoy maternity/paternity/childcare leave and other employee benefits. More representation will help in this area.  

What are some of your proudest works and most interesting experiences?   

Di: For me, having the band be able to sing their own rendition of the National Anthem at the Formula 1 Singapore Grand Prix in 2019 was definitely one of my proudest moments.  

 As a manager, watching MICappella shine on each and every stage they perform at, flying the Singapore flag internationally at every festival and the support we get back home at our own concerts, those are all really bright spots. Every trip and every concert is so unique and interesting that I can’t really pinpoint a single experience.  

 I still get goosebumps when I get to watch MICappella perform even after 13 years of watching them day in day out, during rehearsals, so I think that in itself is what keeps me going.     

P: Being able to earn a good enough living to pay my bills, raise my kids, set aside emergency funds etc as a freelancing musician in Singapore is something I am very proud of. Partly because the skewed social perception of many is that it’s “impossible”. By far and large, I can attest that most of us in the scene are able to find sufficient work if we remain diligent and work on our craft, and network more. The potential to earn is there!   

My proudest moments? Too many! Especially when it’s associated with Singapore 😊  NDP in 2018 or 2022, Singapore Day in 2017 (Melbourne) and 2019 (Shanghai), these remind me that we are key to building a Singaporean musical identity and culture.    

Hanging out backstage with cool performers at various shows is interesting. One of the most fun people we have hung out with is Gurmit Singh! I remember how he dressed up in full Phua Chu Kang outfit backstage at Singapore Day 2017 and was totally in character! He made fun of everyone, including a Minister! 😛 

How had the pandemic affected you in the past 2 years? 

Di: The pandemic was brutal on a professional level and there were many moments it seemed like all the SMMs were stacked against us. Now, we’re a vocal band and singing is not allowed; even when things improved, the maximum pax allowed on stage was 5 pax but we’re a sextet; our concert had to be postponed 3 times at one point.   

It was frustrating but I’m so proud of MICappella’s members for not letting it get to them too much. Everyone learned how to self-record so we could function during lockdown. The pandemic did force us (and I’m sure many businesses) to rethink our workflow so we doubled down and digitised our shows so we could still do school assembly shows and offer alternatives. We rehearsed such that we were able to do shows as a group of 5 in the event of tightened measures. MICappella was still able to “perform internationally” and put out content through creative video production!  

It wasn’t easy but I think it did bond us and helped MICappella get stronger!  

P: For sure one of the toughest experiences in life. Financially, with the exception of 9 months of the SEP grant, there was basically no income. It completely changed our planning for house purchase, savings etc.  

The lack of support for performing arts was painful, especially when we kept seeing more support for all kinds of other industries. Were performing arts SEPs forgotten or deprioritised? We were certainly the first to stop work and last to resume and got the least amount of help. What can we do to get the authorities to notice us? Larger numbers and collective representation?     

The performing arts is a rapidly changing industry. How does the team stay relevant over the years?    

Di: Recognising that things are changing is key to staying relevant! It helps that the team is huge so there is always someone introducing something new to MICappella, whether it is a new song, new style, new social media trend and even new people we can collaborate with.  

We have to stay humble and always be learning, especially from younger folks as they are the new generation and have so much to teach us.  

It also helps for us to think about building the community so we can also help support each other through the rapidly changing landscape.  

P: To me, it’s stubbornness to refuse to stay still. We have to keep observing trends, keep innovating, keep maintaining and improving technical skills. Acquiring new ideas and sounds and concepts. In a nutshell, never say die.

What are the challenges freelancers in the performing arts sector face?  

Di: I think we have been left to our own devices for quite some time… Many have come up with different coping strategies. We were able to get some incentives during Covid because we had always filed our taxes diligently. That was also because we have had the experience of having to wait 3 years before we could get a loan for our HDB many years ago!   

Well, 2 of us being self-employed is different from some families with 1 self-employed person. For Peter and myself, it was through many frustrating encounters with government agencies that did not seem to recognise us or perpetuate the notion that we need full-time employment of some sort to qualify for something, that we learned what we needed to do in order to be ‘seen’.  

One challenge I feel, is we are so used to being on the fringes that many have given up on even trying to make it work so information takes longer to reach everyone.  

P: Mostly lack of structure in Government to support/regulate/govern. And also perhaps a lack of prioritisation. It all starts there. If we are not firstly identified to exist, then there’s no way to identify our needs. Then there’s no way to properly support when crises like Covid happen.  

Need the right network and resources? Here’s where freelancers and SEPs can go to

How did you come to know about U FSE? 

Di: Peter told me about it, he is quite on the ball on such matters because… survival haha!  

 I think it will take a lot, the faith in being able to get something to work is waning but at least there is some kind of action, so I have some hope in that. However, as mentioned during the event, there are just so many different groups of people with such diverse needs, the planning needs to be meticulous so that no one group falls through the cracks. I really do appreciate what the U FSE is doing, it’s really not easy!  

P: I got to know about the event through Mr George Leong. He invited me and Diana to come down. I think the meeting is a start! The hope I have is that this momentum is maintained till a decent fruition of a satisfactory improvement in recognition and working conditions/protection/support is achieved. 

What kind of support are you hoping for to help you through your challenges, especially in times of crises when gigs for MICappella dry up?   

P: It has to probably start with a proper creation of a database to appropriately represent the community. Actually, starting ANYWHERE is fine. This is long overdue.  

The lack of recognition is the root issue. In terms of support, it starts with recognition and elevation of the role we play in Singaporean culture/economy. Thereafter just support us in similar ways that other recognised freelancers are supported.  

You see, taxi/PHV drivers have clear association with large companies, so they were in some ways more visible. However for musicians, we were left to fend for ourselves. Many musicians have decided not to return to the industry post Covid!  

I sincerely hope to bring back the sense of security so that more of these talented veterans can return.  

Would you encourage your children to enter the performing arts industry? 

P: For music, sure. If they have the capability and right attitudes! The industry is large enough. When it comes to other performing arts like theatre/dance, I’m not qualified to comment, but probably doable!  

I’m more concerned about my children being able to make an impact and decent enough living whatever industry that might be. 

What are your career aspirations of the future? 

P: Stability of growth, improved recognition by society and authorities in charge. I also hope there will be meaningful and sustained communications and structures to improve the landscape of the industry, working conditions for freelancers and self-employed persons like myself. Last but not least, societal acceptance/respect. 😊