50 Steinway Pianos? Here’s 5 Other Ways to Promote Homegrown Music
Main photo taken from Telegraph.co.uk: “Lang lang Inspires” at the Royal Festival Hall in London culminates in a massed piano concert, with Chinese pianist Lang Lang performing alongside 100 young British pianists on 50 Steinway grand pianos (Trust us Singaporeans to be original about creating a concept for a Sing50 concert…)
I refer to the The Straits Times article, “$348k boost for home-grown music” (Sunday, 18 Jan 2015).
As Yahoo Singapore has reported, the creation of a Sing50 music fund that has an initial $348,000 to promote homegrown music has drawn flak from various stakeholders in the music and media communities.
Furthermore, the first initiative the fund will take, the acquisition of 50 Steinway-designed Lang Lang Pianos for a Sing50 concert (See AsiaOne report), seems to be a slap in the face of many independent musicians in contemporary rather than classical music — who have been working hard at garnering funding, gaining the right type of exposure, and seeking larger local and overseas audiences for their original music.
“The fund will build on that by introducing local music to younger generations and the community, and to cultivate in them an appreciation for and love of Singapore music. It will be used to teach students to sing Singapore songs, and to support the organisation of song competitions and concerts to showcase local vocalists and choral groups.”
While the above statement seems to have the right intent, it has not resulted in an initiative that understands that local heritage is firstly built on a pride for music produced by independent contemporary homegrown artists, not just commissioned songs produced for National Day celebrations, traditional songs like “Rasa Sayang”, and already mass-exposed works of established Singaporean music figures.
As the growth and promotion of homegrown music lies very close to my heart, I could not help but think of a few ways that the government and the management of the Sing50 fund could explore to truly promote the growth of a healthy music culture in Singapore. I do hope that the managers of the Sing50 music fund will take some of these into deep consideration.
1. Mandate a Minimum Quota for Music by Homegrown Artists on All Local Radio and TV Stations
Truncated letter written to exhort MDA to institute a quota for local music on Radio, April 2014
I have written letters to both The Straits Times and MDA on this topic before (Quota Lets Local Music Be Heard — read full-length letter here). However, there does not seem to be any interest from MDA to relook this issue in the near future. This is not merely a funding issue, but a deeper policy and ideological issue that must be addressed from the leadership of MDA, NAC and any other stakeholders in the government and civil society who are truly interested in the growth of local music culture — culture which leads to heritage creation.
Gentle Bones has captured the imagination of the youth audience and deserves wider mass exposure on mainstream television.
The Sing50 fund could also be used to subsidize commercial prime airtime for television broadcast of contemporary homegrown music videos of high local interest. Think Gentle Bones: in my humble opinion, his work deserves mass exposure after already garnering a large youth audience through strategic Youtube marketing.
2. Create a local touring infrastructure for homegrown artists to perform their music on a regular basis in Primary, Secondary and Pre-tertiary institutions
Nathan Hartono at School Invasion Tour
The youth make up the most active music-seeking segment of our society. Yet, due to our globalized media, high internet penetration rates and lack of exposure to homegrown music (itself due to many factors, including lack of frequent radio play of contemporary homegrown music — see Point 1), most of our Singaporean youth consume Western-produced music, Korean-produced music or Taiwanese-produced music (depending on which language) most of the time compared to consuming local music.
It is essential for homegrown artists to therefore have the opportunity to build communities among the youth through live performances to large audiences. And what better place than schools? Schools could host once a month or once a quarter showcases of homegrown contemporary music artists as part of this music education.
Local indie music manager Willie Tan from Invasion.sg / Aging Youth used to and are still working on creating such School Invasion tours, but they can only focus on only bringing a limited number of artists to a limited number of schools each time given their limited resources.
With substantial funding from something like the Sing50 music fund, School Invasion Tour model could be studied and replicated on a much larger scale, with a team of full-time staff that should be hired to sustain this program for at least 5 years to grow the culture and youth audiences sensitivity and inclination for homegrown music.
3. Canonize Contemporary Homegrown Music with Documentaries, Anthologies, Compilations, Revivals
Singapore Country, a documentary by Wee Li Lin on Matthew Tan, our first Singapore Cowboy
The Sing50 music fund should be used to highlight heros of our contemporary music culture, who can be traced all the way back to Singapore’s earliest days. Music veterans Ann Hussein and Kuo Po have personally shared with me that in the 70s and 80s, there was a flourish of many bands that did not conform to a single music style but worked in a variety of music styles from Country, Rock and Pop to Soul, Jazz and R&B. Where is this missing heritage of independent music, and how are we continuing to create new contemporary music for our time?
We need filmmakers and historians to come together to document and share the extremely rich heritage we come from, and continue to document contemporary artists. One example of an extremely well-produced documentary is Singapore Country by Wee Li Lin, which features the journey of local country music pioneer Matthew Tan (of Matthew Tan and the Mandarins).
4. Invest in promoting contemporary Singaporean music on the International Map
Kevin Lester was featured at CMJ Music Marathon in 2012 before being spotted by Apl de Ap and signed to his record label, BMBX Entertainment
Contrary to our counterparts in Canada, Korea and Taiwan, Singapore does not have a regular, official festival presence in major music festivals such as SXSW, Canadian Music Week and Glastonbury Contemporary Arts Festival. To take Taiwan as an example, they aggressively promote and select suitable music acts to showcase at international platforms. One such artist who has benefited greatly from such initiatives is Joanna Wang, whose eclectic original music has found overseas supporters through her exposure on platforms like CMJ Music Marathon in New York and Glastonbury Music Festival.
The Sing50 fund should set aside a budget to make a sustained presence at these international festivals with a Singapore pavilion, with at least for a commitment of 5-10 years.
The Sam Willows have been building consistent momentum since their North American Tour in 2013.
Our homegrown acts definitely have the talent and content to be showcased. As examples, The Sam Willows broke ground at SXSW and CMW in 2013, while last year’s signing of Miguel Antonio and Kevin Lester by Apl de Ap’s BMBX Entertainment highlight the interest of international-level producers who desire to work with Singaporean talents and help them go the next mile.
5. Give individuals and companies incentives to sponsor or patronize homegrown musicians, such as tax rebates and 1-for-1 fund matching
JJ Lin, who has been in the industry for more than a decade, finally received recognition as Best Male Artist at the Golden Melody Awards in 2014, the equivalent of the Grammys in the Chinese music world.
For new pop artists to truly emerge from Singapore, on the level of Corrinne May, JJ Lin, Stefanie Sun and Tanya Chua — artists who can really make a difference on the regional and international level, large amounts of mentorship, funding and music business resources to push our deserving talents to the next level. It’s been at least a decade since our last major pop artist broke out on a regional level, and it’s about time for a new generation to rise up — but this generation needs financial resources, teams, network and infrastructure.
Therefore, in the same way charitable organizations offer double-tax rebates on donations to their donors, the government should consider creating an incentive for corporate sponsors and donors to have a vested part in giving back to society — through funding the creation and promotion of homegrown music through direct donations to independent artists or any of the previous points mentioned above.
Furthermore, the Sing50 music fund should also directly contribute towards artists who are able to garner independent funding and pass certain assessment criteria. I would suggest a 1-for-1 fund matching system so that artists can boost the funds available for production, promotion and hiring of staff. Currently, there are no such funds available to independent music artists who desire to create and promote quality content on a regular basis, much less take their music to the masses on a regional level.
In a small nutshell: together with the production of high quality and diverse contemporary music for our own audiences, we must note the importance of exposing our own contemporary homegrown independent artists to Singaporean youths and the masses both locally and overseas.
Together as a music community, surely we can find new and creative ways to use generous funding that these patrons have come forward with, if the lovely folks in the government and the Sing50 music fund are interested to engage various stakeholders and actual independent musicians in dialogue. Sadly, donating 50 Steinway-designed Lang Lang pianos to schools can hardly be considered a sustainable or deep-impact initiative to spend SGD1.3 million on.
I do hope that future initiatives will take into account the deep passion that we independent homegrown music artists have for our nation and our desire to make a real difference.
Thoughts or comments? Please feel free to leave a comment below, or tweet me at @sarahcdw 🙂