Here’s how a group of students in S’pore worked for months to usher buskers back into the spotlight

PSBuskers Festival was held just days after the government announced that outdoor live performances could restart.

| Andrew Koay | Sponsored | August 05, 2022, 10:19 AM

Walk down Orchard Road this weekend and chances are, you’ll see and hear buskers entertaining passersby with quirky street shows or earnest renditions of your favourite songs.

Yet for most of the last two years, these street acts were hit hard by a combination of Singaporeans staying home and Covid-19 restrictions limiting live performances.

Raising funds for Singapore’s colourful cast of buskers as they bounce back from the pandemic and providing them with a platform to showcase their talent and relaunch their careers — that was the mission set for a group of student volunteers from leading private education institution PSB Academy.

Image from PSB Academy.

The result of months of hard work was the PSBuskers Festival, held on Apr. 2, 2022, just days after the government announced that outdoor live performances could restart.

Getting out of her comfort zone

“I was like ‘oh my gosh, what did I get myself into,’” Cheyenne Ung remembered thinking after the group of four PSB Academy students and one alumnus first met up to discuss how they would go about organising the event.

At the same time, the 20-year-old University of Newcastle, Australia, business student’s other lasting impression was of being awestruck by the passion buskers had for their craft.

That first meeting also involved a presentation by the Buskers Association Singapore and hearing them talk about the dedication that performers put in for a good show, which gave Ung a sense of how important it would be to make the festival a success.

Student volunteers in discussion with Jonathan Goh (right), Co-Chair of Buskers Association Singapore. Image from PSB Academy.

“There are a lot of things that really touch us emotionally and spiritually that we can’t live without, and I think for buskers, the craft is one of them. It’s something that really touches them deeply and something that they really want to express to the world,” she said.

And while the task at hand was bigger than anything she’d accomplished before, Ung said she had been approached about the project at exactly the right time.

She had recently been inspired by an interview with Japanese manga artist Takehiko Inoue — whose work includes “Vagabond” and “Slam Dunk” — to make a conscious effort to step out of her comfort zone.

“I feel that only experience can really shape your skill set, and how you view things and how you do things in the future. That’s why when I was presented with the opportunity — it felt like everything fell into place… it was like the exact right point in my life, where I really wanted to take on new roles and try new things.”

To Ung and her fellow student organisers — who came from a range of different disciplines such as media and communications, business management, and marketing — putting together PSBuskers Festival was an opportunity to do something meaningful while gaining real-life experience that would be applicable in the workplace.

While managing sponsors for the event and presenting to various stakeholders, the 20-year-old was able to hone her corporate communication skills in real-life circumstances with pressures that simply couldn’t be recreated in the classroom.

Cheyenne Ung presenting the sponsorship deck to a potential corporate sponsor to help raise funds for the Buskers. Image from PSB Academy.

Learning on the go

The team were given autonomy by PSB Academy to figure out the festival’s programme and bring it to life, while the school and industry partners provided guidance along the way.

To pull it off successfully would require a combination of the knowledge the students had gained from their respective courses, meticulous planning, and the ability to deal with the unexpected.

Sarah Ng, a 19-year-old media and communications student was put in charge of — well — the festival’s media and communications.

This meant that she created the publicity materials for the festival, preparing visuals to be posted on social media, and writing scripts for the event’s emcees.

With the group hoping to feature a range of different types of acts at the festival, part of Ng’s role also involved liaising with the buskers to figure out their individual needs.

“It was a struggle initially for us to consolidate everything and ensure that everyone was satisfied with what we were going to provide them with,” said Ng.

“There were a lot of times that the whole team just felt — to be frank — under a lot of pressure because even though this was a student-led project and we were still considered new in the eyes of the buskers, they really treated us like adults.”

Yet, Ng relished the responsibility, which came with the challenge of learning things on the go.

Organising the festival threw up opportunities that she might otherwise not have had the chance to experience, like for example, her work helping to manage the live production side of the event.

“We were able to get this opportunity to really be so hands-on… and to even go beyond what we learn in classrooms,” she said.

That the group managed the project while juggling their school work was all the more impressive.

Ng recalled hours spent in meetings working with Debbie Mok, a fellow 22-year-old student, who was also co-leading the festival’s media and communications.

“We were doing so much that in the month leading up to (the festival) I saw Debbie three to four times a week, and each meeting would last three or four hours long,” said Ng giggling.

Student volunteers preparing promotional video under the guidance of PSB Academy’s Diploma in Media & Communications industry partner. Image from PSB Academy.

Last-minute stress

Looking back on it months after the fact, Ng, Mok, and Ung were able to laugh and appreciate the humour in the situations they found themselves in.

However, one gets the sense that the days before PSBuskers Festival went live must have been filled with tension and stress.

None more so than the day before the festival which the team had set aside for a dress rehearsal.

The tight schedule the team was trying to stick to was upended first by some buskers who had mixed up what time they were supposed to arrive.

In addition, the schedule wasn’t helped by the problems with the live production software which kept crashing.

But the biggest speed bump came when the group realised that they wouldn’t be able to live stream the event on the social media platform they had originally planned to use — buskers who performed covers of popular songs had inadvertently triggered the platform’s finely tuned copyright infringement feelers, causing the stream to be taken down.

It meant that one day before, the team had to make a last-minute shift to live streaming on Zoom instead.

Levelling up their problem-solving skills

For Mok, who also studied media and communications, the whole experience was a lesson in the importance of rolling with the punches; in reality, even the best-laid plans rarely come off without a hitch.

“Our problem-solving skills kinda improved over time through the journey,” Mok said.

The group's ability to stay nimble was aided by a healthy working relationship.

“We had very good chemistry. It actually came very naturally, and even now that the event ended, we still meet up from time to time,” Mok said, explaining that before coming together for the PSBuskers Festival, none of the students knew each other.

It meant that the students looked out for each other throughout the planning — Mok described how others would step in and help someone if that particular student was facing deadlines associated with their regular coursework.

“Instead of crying or having a meltdown, none of us did that,” recalled Ng.

“We actually banded together,” said Mok.

The strength of the relationships also helped the students resolve internal conflicts when they inevitably arose.

“I think we learned empathy along the way as well,” said Mok, recalling a disagreement she’d had with Ung.

“We had a heated discussion. It was quite high strung. But I really felt that — even in that moment — she really heard me out, and it helped us resolve it.”

Student volunteers Debbie (left) and Sarah preparing for the actual live streaming broadcast. Image from PSB Academy.

“They should not be forgotten”

Image from PSB Academy.

Online livestream that was held on Zoom. Image from PSB Academy.

On Apr. 2, 2022 — almost two years to the day that outdoor live performances had been halted — some 500 attendees showed up to the PSBuskers Festival, held at PSB Academy’s Marina Square campus, with another 500 viewers tuning in via Zoom.

The event also managed to raise over S$25,000 worth of cash, equipment, and prizes from sponsors for the buskers.

As you might imagine, the day was not without stress for the student organisers, the bulk of which was experienced by Lauren Tan, a media and communications student who helmed the live production for all 10 performances held across the matinee and evening shows.

“She was in the hot seat, she was managing everything,” said Mok.

When it comes to directing a live performance, the goal is often to make sure that attention remains on the performer rather than any production hiccups.

In that regard at the very least, Tan played her role perfectly; Ng remembered being enthralled by the acts that she managed to catch.

“When you see them in real life, you can really see how passionate they are. It pulls different strings and emotions in you,” she said.

“This is when you really feel like there is this community and they should not be forgotten.”

Image from PSB Academy.

Writing this PSB Academy-sponsored article made the writer nostalgic for his days organising student-led events.

Top image from PSB Academy