Who would be so generous as to organize such an event, and why? Jerry Chen’s your guy and his cryptic answer to the “why” question was “corporate social responsibility.” Unpacking that term, Jerry is the CEO of Express in Music, providing songs for other companies’ marketing needs. On the side, he channels his passion for music towards such non-profit ventures in order to grow the local music scene and bring musicians together. Giving a speech to kick off the open-mic night, he exhorted musicians to stop being so shy, complaining in jest that if “you don’t network I will make you network.” One of his gripes about the local music scene is how bands are scattered all over the country, with no centralized events like this one to help them mingle and collaborate, leaving a lot of potential musical creativity untapped. “Talk to each other”, he therefore emphasised, “this event is not just for you to play your music and leave.”
The Singers and Songwriters group has slowly become more well-known in the past 3 years, especially as meet-ups became more frequent in the last few months. The musicians on Wednesday were a diverse group of people – students trying their hand at performing in public for the first time, young men who were bankers for money and musicians for fun, a hippie-looking pair who covered Loreena McKennitt and had an Australian tribal drummer playing with them, some almost-elderly men who clearly had lots of experience and so on. It was a no pressure environment that welcomed practised and inexperienced musicians alike, where fledgling musicians testing their wings could play alongside more polished, confident ones.
Where does all this lead, however? Do musicians use such events as preparation for a career in music, or do they see music as purely recreational? Nabil Aizat, a final year student in Temasek Polytechnic, sees his band The Cumulus as “really make or break for us” as he attempts a serious shot at a career in music. On the other hand, much more common are musicians who play music on the side.
Beverly, both an organizer and participating musician of this event, has released a few albums with her band but ultimately derives most of her income from a separate job in wealth fund management. Challenges she cites in making a living as a musician: Gigs in bars can also be hard to find as many bars stick to their in-house bands. Local bands generally don’t get much exposure to the general public, which prevents one from selling enough to cover the cost of making quality albums. Yet the possibility of making a living from music is a powerful incentive to improve as a musician – the smaller that possibility, the less dedicated musicians we have in Singapore, and the less vibrant our music scene. Granted, money shouldn’t be the main thing motivating musicians, and many artists do still make excellent music on the side purely out of love. But money is necessary for life, and the more time people devote to jobs that actually pay, the less time they can spend on music. All the worse for the future of local music.
Nonetheless, just because music doesn’t pay doesn’t mean musicians shouldn’t still keep doing what they love, whether casually or seriously. If you’re the kind of artist who thrives on having an audience, who needs external affirmation or criticism in order to stay motivated, such are your options: SOFT Forum is the main online forum in Singapore for meeting other musicians and advertising your music. Soundcloud, Bandcamp and ReverbNation are just a few examples of websites where you can upload your music for others to listen to, buy or download. Therefore, if music be your thing, play on. We need “people with passion to build the music industry”, says Beverly, and the more dedicated musicians there are making their songs heard in this country, the more people with the necessary resources will be willing to build up our music industry.
If you’re a musician wanting to be part of this potentially exciting future, here’s one place to start: the Singapore Singers and Songwriters Group will be having their next meet-up (tentatively) in August. See you there?
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