The musicians are speaking (III): “If they don’t want to help, let us work, let us do our concerts”

In this part of our article series, the opinion that it is possible to return to live performance concerts comes to the fore. Both Tonmaister Hünkar Çalışkan and musician Ufuk Şafak say that concerts can be held under healthier conditions than the conditions of political party congresses, and they want the necessary conditions to be met. One of the two names who have been rendered incapable of performing their profession for a long time is trying to make a living by working as a marketer and as a motorcycle courier


There are millions who wake up in the morning and go to work; getting on the metro, the metrobus… Markets have increased their normal traffic many times over. The garbagemen still sweep the streets. The factories are still operating. The streets are almost more crowded than before. When we consider the closure and ban decisions taken within the scope of the covid-19 measures for our health from this aspect, the question “what exactly is/are banned” comes to mind! When the ones are facing with the longest bans of the pandemic are the theater players, musicians and venue owners, our belief that “measures” prioritize our health naturally becomes blurred.

In this context, the guests of the third part of our article series are tonmeister Hünkar Çalışkan and musician Ufuk Şafak. Even their individual stories turn this blur into a very clear photograph. Because these two musicians, one of whom started as stallholder and the other as a motorcycle courier because they could not do their job in the music sector, emphasize that concerts can be held in healthier conditions than in environments where congresses can be held or shopping malls can be opened.

For these reasons, while Hünkar Çalışkan, who has been the tonmeister of very valuable musicians from Emre Aydın to Mirkelam, from Burcu Güneş to Özge Fışkın, calls out, “If they don’t want to help, let us do our job”; young musician Ufuk Şafak, who works with his band on their first album, says, “If full to the brim congresses can be held, we can also do our concerts in a controlled manner.”

Today they have their voices on the microphone…

Hünkar Çalışkan

You are, so to speak, the “invisible heroes” of the music industry. Nowadays, your profession is more mentioned than ever, but what does a tonmeister do, Hünkar? 

It actually has a very simple explanation. When you go to a live music concert, the tonmeister is the person who ensures that the sounds reaching your ears are heard correctly. For example, musical groups have certain instruments, you know. We do the toning and mixing of them according to their general audition in the concert area. Indoor and outdoor concert venues have their own sounds, and tonmeisters try to provide a good audition. In Turkish; they make that sound acceptable and listenable for everyone.

Which artists and venues were you working with until the pandemic appeared in Turkey and concerts and live performances were stopped? 

I worked at Beyoğlu Hayal Kahvesi for a long time. I did all the technical work of the sound, light, image. I was like a fixture there, I worked for 12 years and even seven days a week for the last seven years. Naturally I guess there is no musician I haven’t seen or met. Because it was a legendary place. Its audition was magical. After leaving Hayal Kahvesi, I worked as a freelance technician for a while. For example, I worked with Emre Aydın for a long time, and his production was a big deal. We continue with Özge Fışkın, with whom I started working at Hayal Kahvesi. I work with Mirkelam under normal conditions. I started working with him at Hayal Kahvesi, as well. I used to work with Pentagram from time to time and with Burcu Güneş from time to time. Our work with Emircan İğrek continues, I hope it will continue. It would be our third year with him too, if we had concerts…  I worked as monitor for MillionFest etc. as well. There are also other festivals but it would take a long time to tell now. Of course, you know that now we do not have concerts due to the pandemic.


While the artists you have been working with for months cannot perform, do you have any ongoing work or do you have an ongoing income? 

No, of course not. How could I have. Some music bands—that is, those who are in good spirits, those who are not in bad condition—have tried to financially help the sound technicians, the roadies, and the people they work with around them. This happened to us too. We got support from many of our musician friends. Every now and then they supported us as if we were working. Since the pandemic started, we haven’t been able to give a proper concert with any band/artist and continue our work together. But everyone, small and small, grabbed the bull by the horns as much as they could. Everyone helped each other. Some people tried to help us too. Last summer, when everywhere was opened in July, we had 16-18 concerts planned, but we could only do nine of them. We went to most of the these concerts, but the concert was canceled at the venue. For example, there was a concert in Mersin, it was open air, but they cancelled it. On the other hand, we went to a closed place and held a concert with 300-400 people without maintaining social distance, nothing happened. There was a turmoil in this regard in the summer. No matter how you look at it, nine concerts in two years, nothing! We are unemployed for a year now, we have no income anymore. We have nothing.

Let me also share this; I applied to CIMER in around February – March last year, asked for support, and explained my situation. There was no response, I applied again two months later. I didn’t remember my first application, I saw it while I was making the second one, it’s there. Here, I wrote and explained, “I am a sound technician, an entertainment industry employee, as I have not worked for 12 months I am unemployed, married, and have two children ”. There was no response to my second application either. Okey, I’m earning a living, I’m doing something, I’m selling my stuff, I’m trying to move on. I also reduced all my critical expenses to the minimum. But the real problem is: I am not recognized in my own country. There is no institution that can offer me help. Not a soul asked me, “How are you doing?”


You said “I ‘m earning my living somehow” but how do you really live? 

My spouse’s family has been stallholders in the market for many years. Being stallholder is like their family business, they have market stalls in a few districts of Istanbul. I started helping them when I was unemployed last year. Then I saw that I became a stallholder. Pretty much, for example, I came out of the market last night, we will go to the market again tomorrow morning. I’m getting a little bit of income. As I buy kitchen supplies, fruits, vegetables, cucumbers, whatever I can buy from the market, and that also helps in a way. It’s not that I’m doing my own job. For example, I have worked for a few television channels and so, but these are not jobs that have continuity and that I can continue my life. It doesn’t even come close to what we get from a regular concert. As you can see, we can neither get tired by one’s own efforts properly nor can we get paid back now. Since I have a technical infrastructure, I can install and disassemble a sound system anywhere, I can do it from zero. I’m looking to see if I can do such things. Because it doesn’t matter to me whether it’s a concert hall; this may be a hospital or a patisserie, I can do it all.


Hünkar Çalışkan

Not being able to do your job must be a psychological shock? 

Of course, it is! I’m stallholder, yes, I do not find it odd, I do not despise it, I do it with great pride. I would do every job, I like working. It’s my being. But not everyone can switch to another sector. We naturally want to be able to do our job.


My friend, who enters the shoppingmall with the HES code, can enter the concert with it as well. That risk at the shoppingmall is the same at the concert. In huge shopping malls, all the cafes are open, people are eating, visiting the shops, there are maybe 400-500 shops inside, maybe even more; think about your employees. If so many people work in a shopping mall and 10-15 thousand people can visit, eat and shop there, then we can give concert with 300 people and 500 people somewhere. If it is about HES code, I can organize a concert where people are admitted by showing the HES code very easily. But they do not open our sector, why they do not open I cannot understand. It is totally for personal reasons according to my opiniom, that’s all I understand. Our job is between the lips of one or more people. If they don’t want to help, they should let us work…

Another issue, Hünkar, is that sector workers come together in this period. For example, musicians have professional organizations, even if they are considered insufficient, something is tried to be done and changed there. Can you be a part of those professional organizations?

I would love to. That’s my biggest regret anyway. Why? Because I just came to my senses. Ok, we work with a daily wage, the money we receive is not huge money. We also do very costly work. There are times when it is necessary to go to the airport, come, miss a plane, and buy the tickets again from your pocket. We have many extra expenses as we cannot always go comfortably and reach HAVAŞ, we have to take a taxi. And everyone has their own responsibilities. We do not include ourselves in the tax bracket because we do not earn very important money. I already thought of this lack, when the pandemic started, I said, “I’m sure there will be no support for us, how will we do this, how will we get support?”. Indeed, that’s what happened. Wherever I apply, I am asked, “Have you ever paid taxes to the state?” Yes, the government is not the one that I like very much, but it is the point where they are right. Otherwise, of course, we become taxpayers in many ways.

Do you have social security, by the way, because you also have a family?

Yes, I have. I am currently Victim of Delayed Pension Age (VDPA). But I have so many friends who are not involved in the tax bracket, have no security, and cannot prove their status in any way.


Is there a formation, association, professional union that brings together the employees in the technical part of the sector? 

There are many proffessional chambers. In the pandemic, platforms covering all of these tonmeisters and technicians established. I am a member of TEGSEP (Turkish Entertainment and Performing Arts Workers’ Platform), which is one of them. We are still trying to make our voices heard. Good things were also done, you know, meeting with the Minister of Culture and Tourism Mehmet Nuri Ersoy was realized. They responded us. He said that everyone who applied there would be given 1000 liras in January, February, March, April and May. It was also a success, after all, it was noticed that such an industry existed. They didn’t want to know, recognize or see us anyway. Because according to them, we eat, drink, have fun, stay out. We are disgrace. In our country, they only know how to collect taxes, there is no turning back. They have a problem of exploiting people up to their throats. This is the 98% reason why we are unregistered. I mean, how much tax can I pay for a daily wage of 1000 liras that I earn from somewhere? I am sure that it will deduct 60% of the 1000 lira from me as tax. That’s why none of us are subject to tax. If these works had been done back on time, if they had been done 15-20 years ago, if the daily wages we received were sufficient, maybe it would have been different. I don’t know whether it would be through a union, through a platform, through a ministry.


Musician Ufuk Şafak, who lives in Istanbul, always played the bass guitar in the bands he took part in until the pandemic. Şafak, who says that he mainly makes alternative rock music, adds that he also makes different types of music in many different bands. “Being on stage is not just a means of livelihood for us musicians. Saying that it is a lifestyle, the musician emphasizes that he misses being on stage very much at every opportunity and says; “I miss being able to communicate with people and sing the same songs in unison… A lot has been missing from my life, I feel like I am missing now.”


Ufuk Şafak

Saying that he hasn’t performed since March 2020, Ufuk Şafak states that he has not earned any money from music since then.

“Of course, it is not easy to earn a living without being a famous musician,” said Şafak, and started to work as a motorcycle courier during this period as he could no longer do his job. Explaining that he couldn’t do that job for 1-1,5 months due to a traffic accident he had a short time ago, Şafak thought of course, “What would happen if I had that injury permenantly and could not play the guitar again?” While the musician, whose health has recovered, has returned to being a courier, he also excitedly shares that they started working on an album with the Ne Münasebet band, which he started playing before the pandemic.


“As the way we perform our art requires close contact, we became one of the first affected sectors” Şafak said, “But of course, we can’t just limit it to music. There are people from different sectors like us who have been unemployed for months. I feel that the government has left us alone and I expect more investments to be made for the people who are victims in this area.

I personally did not receive any support from any institution or state in this period. It should not be like this,” he emphasizes.

While thanking our platform for our effort to be the voice of “musicians whose voices cannot be heard,” Ufuk Şafak expresses his primary demands by saying, “My expectation from the Ministry or the local administration is that if full to the brim congresses can be held, they will allow us to perform our concerts in a controlled manner…”.