SGMUSOs: Why We Must Keep Going
In light of the rather pessimistic article “What’s wrong with the local music scene?” – I thought I would instead share what personally keeps me going, and my thoughts on why we must keep going, as musicians, artists, creatives.
1. We must keep going because we believe can make a difference
Having spoken to some other artists, not necessarily from the music scene in Singapore, we are really in a strange cultural state. Being in our 49th year as a nation means we are babies compared to centuries old civilisations. We don’t have that cultural backbone to draw from. But that also means, that what we are doing in our respective creative fields can actually make a difference and enter the “canon” of Singaporean music.
Huzir Sulaiman taught me Playwriting – he is one such established practitioner in the theatre industry that is mentoring and grooming new playwrights. He told us, while we were still university students, that he really believes we could make an impact in the Singaporean theatre scene. And true to his words, those who stuck to playwriting and theatre have made a difference, such a Faith Ng, Joel Tan and Shiv Tandan. And they’re just one generation! Imagine the next?
So ultimately, the ones who have the talent, single-hearted passion and drive will stand out and press on. Even then, there are many who stay on for a while, but give up due to financial pressures. The rest enjoy making music but they are equally comfortable having other day jobs.
This principle is the same for any creative field! So you must believe and gain confidence that you can make a difference. Even in a small way. You are. Engage in the business of creating your art, and you seek critical affirmation by others (send your work to music critics, established producers, and media). Talent and passion is not enough. It is perseverance with talent and single-minded passion that bears real fruit.
Another good read… Eric Ng’s blog post on do you have faith in the music industry.. or?
2. We must keep improving ourselves: this is our personal responsibility.
As Singaporean musicians, have we taken a really critical look at ourselves to understand how we measure up to the internationals? Knowing that you are not perfect and constantly looking for ways to improve yourself, will inevitably help any artist career.
In technical skills, I took a series of private piano classes with pianist, music director-arranger Joel Nah to improve my skills so that I could at least play some songs on the piano on my own. I used to shy from the piano (despite having Grade 4/5) because I used to write jazzy tunes, and jazz was too hard for me, i though.
But now that I’m writing pop-soul music, playing the keys in performance is often empowering! And last time I’ve since progressed to play about half of my set on keyboards with the band. I also had the chance to learn from contra-tenor Peter Lee, who is based in Taipei these few months, and he figured out my vocal fatigue was from because I wasn’t breathing correctly! It was such revelation and relief that my technique was intact, but that my breathing could improve my singing a great deal.
Over the years, I have also picked up some best practices on managing a band (organizing rehearsals, set lists, etc) and I still continue to learn through informal meetings with other musicians, and working with them in real life settings, getting feedback from them. Many people don’t realise that soft skills with people is just as important as technical skills. So get the experience you need by working with as many people as you need to.
I have learnt from just these two examples, that self-improvement is key for any artist. It is important to always stay relevant and pick up skills that will help you to be a better person, performer and it keeps you humble, because you realise each time, when you’re learning from someone else, how limited your own knowledge is.
3. We must continue to support one another.
Although I haven’t been able to attend many of the ad-hoc sharing sessions, I must say that I felt such a great sense of community at last year’s Music Matter’s Academy. So many great artists all sitting in one room: TSW, Mark Bonafide, ShiGGa Shay, Bevlyn Khoo, Shabir… It made me proud that we have such amazing talents from our tiny Island. Someone commented that we’re the size of Dallas. But I’m certain that we have a much greater variety of artists across different genres, ages and ability than Dallas has! So let’s keep sharing each other’s work. Let’s cross-promote. Let’s collaborate. Let’s do more that will build up our community, not tear it down.
4. To keep going, sacrifices must be made — so, your purpose has to be clear.
The success stories that have come out from Singapore have made many sacrifices to be where they are. Thinking along the lines of the Chinese market, JJ, Stef and Tanya had to be based or are still based in Taipei. But they have paved the way for many other Singaporeans to make a difference in the larger Chinese music market!
The purpose you have in your heart must be clear. It would be different from person to person. But it must be set in your heart and all your actions should be founded on it. Your mission, your calling and your identity will be drawn from your innate purpose.
Now this doesn’t have to be a grandiose statement. Your purpose start as simple as: to make people happy through my music, by bringing people to their feet. But more on this in another blog post for the future, perhaps on Branding for an Artist, maybe.
Once your purpose is clear, then any sacrifices to be made can be judged against this purpose. Would this sacrifice bring me closer to fulfilling my purpose in music (and the arts)? Does it bring me innate satisfaction?
If the answer to either is no, then the sacrifice isn’t worthwhile. But if you keep giving yourself excuses and think you’ll have another opportunity, then you are deluding yourself to think that fulfilling you purpose comes naturally… it doesn’t. We have to fight the good fight and persevere.
And to those who do, a crown awaits.
(I leave you with my latest YouTube: Sam Smith’s Stay With Me – A Positive Acapella Version)