Interview with Oliver Ma at MGS Magazine

Who is Oliver Ma?

Oliver’s humility is evident in his gentle demeanor and soft tone of voice.You would never know that he was subject to police harassment or that he regularly sings before thousands of people in the streets of Hong Kong.

It only comes as a slight surprise to learn that his favorite cocktail of choice is, in fact, a mocktail, contrary to the superstar persona expected from a renowned singer.

There is nothing arbitrary about the musicien extraordinaire. Starting his songbird debut in school plays as a teenager, the musical devotee was already destined for musical stardom. Not unlike many stars, Oliver Ma’s struggled with criticism from his peers that could have easily deconstructed any other person’s confidence. 

But perseverance and personal faith won out, in Oliver’s case. Once he reached a crossroads post-graduation, it didn’t take him long to decide between university and a career in music. Choosing the latter set in motion a series of events that no one could have foreseen – a series that has rocketed Oliver into a simultaneously dazzling and daring future.

“At the end of the day, I was always more excited and proud of myself for winning 1st place in a talent competition than if I were to rank at the top of any academic class. So, in the end, it had to be music. When it comes to the thing that you want to do for the rest of your life, you have to ask yourself: what is it that I genuinely love to do?”

Words have never been more ardently spoken. Especially coming from a performer who was and is a subject of constant scrutiny. 

Living off what you love

Ma’s story may sound like one fraught with loss: losing his father at a young age; losing his friends who didn’t believe in his talents; losing money to MLM scams that claimed to believe in his art; losing his right to street perform due to political disruptions in his native Hong Kong…

Yet, through halestorms,the Chinese-Filipino artist is far from discouraged. In fact, he counters any and all tribulations in the most productive way possible: by spreading life advice to his fans.

“All in all, I think the best way for us to deal with things is to turn all of your misfortunes into your lessons. When my closest friends once told me that I wouldn’t have had the guts to perform out in the streets, I went ahead and managed to make quite the career out of it for the next 2-3 years. 

“When certain parts of the local community would belittle me for not speaking or singing in Cantonese, I chose to focus on my strength as an English speaker…Little did I know that I would end up making quite the name for myself for singing the English version of ‘Glory to Hong Kong’. 

“And now, with the newly passed National Security Law here in our city, local and pro-CCP authorities have every power to arbitrarily arrest you in the streets. So I am now even more determined to find new ways to still be able to live off of what I like to do.”

A finer example couldn’t have come to the fore to show how things never turn out the way we anticipate. 

And the public couldn’t relate more; what with the onset of COVID that has been rampaging wildly through our lives since December 2019, we are still learning how to deal with the halts, sharp turns and tolls that the pandemic has had on many aspects of our lives. 

Yet Oliver serves as a prime example of what to do when backed into a corner: start digging up and outward. Get creative in finding solutions. And when you reach the top, keep going.

Going digital with marketing

“I have to come to realize that I have no other choice but to switch focus and move the marketing of my music from the streets to the Internet.

“In 2017, I started my own professional profiles on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter while still bolstering my busking career. I attempted to launch my own YouTube channel in 2018, but decided to relaunch it in 2019 with the release of my 1st cover collection ‘…Ready for it?’. This premiered across music streaming platforms such as iTunes, Amazon, Spotify, etc. And now in 2020, I’ve just made and announced my new Patreon.”

The 21 year-old entrepreneur is subtly impressive. It takes a great amount of passion and courage to continue pursuing one’s dream in the face of hostility. Despite having done street performances for up to 3 years without complaint, it is daunting for the young artiste to suddenly have his record besmirched and his livelihood cut off. 

Oliver Ma must now cope with his once-purpose becoming his paradox, his busk becoming his bust: where he once relied on busking to support his family and passion projects, he now must abandon it to save his future and career.

Branding tips from Oliver

It’s not a foreign concept to many of us to have our livelihoods move to online endeavours. Oliver Ma is managing to make the transition with a grace that inspires us en masse. Though I may paint Ma as a patron saint to musicians and political victims everywhere, I cannot ignore his admirably shrewd business minded methods, either.

“Your brand should be consistent. This is something I had personally struggled with because while I was still in the middle of promoting romantic/LGBTQ+ music video cover songs on my own YouTube channel last year, I was instead #1 trending elsewhere for singing political songs. I was in the dark up until recently when I knew I couldn’t run away anymore, so I finally had to pick my image.”

And pick, he did. As we read this now, Ma is making moves to mesh his bold pop-cover image with his viral run-in with pandemic and politics. The result? We’ll have to wait for his Patreon and website to unfold and reveal the newest version of himself that Oliver Ma has in store for us!

Perhaps we could all take a page out of Ma’s circuitous storybook tale, especially those of us who are at a loss of how to navigate our own businesses or career paths. If busking in the flesh is no longer an option…can busking online be a viable alternative? 

As we all move forward into an era of uncertainty, Oliver Ma reassures us by forging the digital path ahead. (If you believe in his freedom for his art, keep an eye out for Oliver Ma’s Patreon to support it.) He was dealt a funny set of cards and is still winning the game as he continues creating and revamping his image. 

Because, for Ma, (re)inventive personal branding will be essential if he is to continue giving us stellar renditions of Taylor Swift and Lady Gaga pop covers. Thankfully, he is willing to share with us his trade secrets to keeping a career alive:

He already mentioned how important it is to be consistent with your brand

On top of that, “be convertible.” Circumstances change and we must adapt with them.

“You also have to be communicative with your audience.” Whether through reposting his fans’ IG stories of his performances, holding legendary Easter Egg competitions online (check out #21EasterEggHunt if you missed it), or through interviews like these, Ma is constantly seeking out ways to speak directly to his audience while having a little fun with us, too.

“I think if you focus solely on your passion, you will eventually find a profit that might even exceed your initial expectations. I wouldn’t consider myself successful just yet – though I can say for sure that I am headed somewhere in the right direction. There is definitely nothing better than to know what you really want to do for the rest of your life. For me, that just so happens to be music and performing.”

Our eyes – and ears! – are open, Oliver! We can’t wait to see where your tenacious rebranding takes you!

Published by WritesofPassage

Welcome to my blog about travel and humanity, where the two join hands to send a message: that we all want to say the same thing. The purpose of this blog is twofold: to give a crazy mind a canvas, and to touch somebody's truth.

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