I’ve been increasingly aware of the fact that there is a massive, massive amount of great musical talent in Singapore. Not that I’ve never known this (haha, cover backside statement ah), but it just hit me that there is an exponentially greater number of fantastic musicians and people making original music, right here, right now, than at any other point in history that I can easily recall. Need proof? Let me try to list all the Singapore acts I can recall off the top of my head (with hyperlinks, so you can judge for yourself):
sub:shaman, Sam Willows, Nick Chim, Inch Chua, Tim de Cotta, Giants Must Fall, Anechois, supersixteen, Kevin Mathews, Pitch Feather, Kevin Lester, Shimona Kee, Lights in the Woodland, Samantha Rui, Zero The Memory Thief, Pleasantry, The Constant Idealiste, Dharni, ah5ive, the Great Spy Experiment, plainsunset, Shelves, cockpit, Charlie Lim, Dru Chen, A Vacant Affair, the Summer State.
Phew. I could go on, but searching and adding those hyperlinks is really damn annoying. Feel free to namecheck more great Singapore artists in the comments.
That’s a lot of talent, and this list just barely scratches the surface – I know I’ve missed out a whole lot more. We don’t really need another talent show to prove that Singapore’s got great musical talent, do we? But I’m not writing this post to knock talent shows. There’s a time and place for such things, and I’m sure there are compelling reasons to continue putting out programmes like that, which do unearth some great singing (and by no small coincidence, great looking) talent. But I take issue with Channel 5’s ad nauseum repetition of Kit Chan’s fervent declaration of being “vindicated” by the Final 1‘s ability to uncover some great Singaporean talent. Kit, with all respect – when it comes to proving that Singapore has a ton of talent, Google is your best friend. Or the SGMUSO facebook community.
Talent shows aside. Just thinking about just how much talent we have in our little 710 sq km island, I’m feeling a great deal of pride in how far we’ve come. That said, I’m also feeling a certain amount of pressure and no small measure of musical inadequacy. I guess you can say I’ve been feeling a bit of a “push”.
I recall a time when some Singaporean musicians felt the need to articulate their musical differences by making dubious claims of musical distinction and originality – words like “cutting edge”, “genre-defining” and “unique sounds” were frequently thrown about. Fairly often, anyone making such bold claims often produced music that was far from that. Any illusions that a music lover might harbour about these acts after reading their marketing literature were often disabused of these notions once they came into contact with their actual music. Whilst some of these acts were certainly very capable musicians and performers, unfortunately they did a great disservice to the music by claiming distinctiveness and innovation where there was none.
Thankfully there’s a lot less hyperbole and a lot more savvy in today’s crowd. More importantly, they’re letting the music speak for itself. And what a statement they’re making. Its not just the artists I’ve namechecked above, there’s definitely way more artists making fantastic noises in their bedrooms and rehearsal studios, truly pushing the boundaries of music and teasing my ears with sounds I could never imagine or recreate on my own.
And that really, really intimidates me.
It’s been a few years since I was in a band (after the ambiguous dissolution of Vertical Rush in 2009), and over twice that amount of time since I last wrote any music and lyrics on my own. Having restarted my songwriting in recent years, I’ve been pretty content putting out a few little bedroom tunes, figuring out how far music tech has come since my days of pining for a Tascam 4-track tape recorder, and uploading my music to Soundcloud:
But now that life has kind of settled down a bit for me (after changing jobs and becoming a father), I’ve been thinking about really doing something with my music – hopefully with my pals and musical collaborators in automobil. While I’m not really looking at making a career out of this (though I’m still sufficiently naive to think that it’d be neat if I could), I definitely don’t want to put in a half-assed effort. Even with a limited amount of time available to me to do this, if I’m going to get out and do shows again, I’m going to do it right. Invest in doing up an EP, hook up a string of shows, play out and play hard, try to get word out, be consistently approachable on and offstage – hopefully we’ll be able go somewhere with what we have.
Breaking even would appear to be the first challenge, though with music distribution becoming so much more simple (viz Bandcamp, or the iTunes music store), its no longer as insurmountable. Coupled with the ability to build and maintain a community of fans and friends through social media, its certainly easier than ever to build and maintain a following, and send content to them on a regular basis. Trouble is, there’s just so much fantastic original music out there that the real challenges lies in figuring out how to distinguish my music from the rest and catch attention. This is probably compounded by the fact that I don’t think I’m even half the songwriters that many of these folks are. I’ve pondered this over numerous high-quality fermented malt beverages in past years, and have yet to come up with any better solution than simply getting off my fat arse and just going out and doing something about it.
You can say that I’ve kind of got it figured out. I could feel daunted by all the great music out there, and just resign myself to the fact that I’m going to be a bedroom muso for the rest of my adult life. Or I can be encouraged that its so much easier and cheaper to make music, have it recorded for posterity and distributed to an international audience.
So I pushing myself to choose to be encouraged. To give it my level best – and you bet I will – and keep on making the best damn music that I know how.
Because at the end of the day, if you take away all the social media and digital distribution, all I can really do is to pour my heart and soul into the music that I make, the lyrics that I pen. And hope that someone, somewhere, someday, will find this music and resonate with it. If there’s anything I’ve taken away from the past 18 years I’ve spent playing out and making original music, is this: So long as I remain true to myself, being honest to my creative urges, and not trying to be someone I’m not, someone will recognise that, and appreciate it for what it is. Strip away the recognition and the glamour of the big stage, and this is what its really all about. Reaching out, and making a connection through music.
One can only hope for such a privilege.
Feeling the push to make your own music and play out, but too scared to take the plunge? Want to say something about my music? Or do you have any other great Singapore music acts you think I need to check out so as to confirm my inadequacies? Sound off in the comments!