By Biddy Low and Stacy Ooi
It is hard to break into the music industry. It is even harder when the music industry is almost non-existent. Newbie bands/musicians in Singapore will need all the ammunition they can get and "How to get started in the music industry" provided it through insight into the fledgling local music industry as it aims to catch up with its international counterparts.
The panel, consisting of Saiful Idris of The Great Spy Experiment, Ian Toh, the principal of Thunder Rock School, Roland Lim of Sync recording studios and Syaheed from The Bedsty Group, shared their experiences and many, MANY pet peeves developed along the way with moderator Willy Tan, part of Aging Youth which organised this event.
And it is clearly not a gathering for hobbyists looking to twang on their instruments over the weekends to blow off some steam. This is for those who are in it for rizzles. The information gleaned from the event was a mixed bag of industry practices, expectations and songwriting strategy, all aiming at commercial success in one form or the other.
"Visions have to be grand." Says Saiful, he attributes having a clear vision of the band's creative and business direction as a major driving force in its success. It is also essential for everyone including the manager and team involved to be aligned to this direction right from the beginning. Together with Electrico before them, Great Spy has successfully squeezed itself into that yummy cusp which encircles both the "indie" genre as well as commercial viability. They are headline acts which draw crowds and are able to comfortably command a decent fee for a performance without organisers going "who do they think they are?".
How did a band which started out playing for a measly $80 a show get to play for 4 figure sums now? There is no sure way, but Great Spy seems to have achieved it by maintaining a high level of professionalism, putting serious effort into their songwriting process and picking the right shows for themselves. Their manager, Mike See, plays an integral role in everything outside of the creative process. He tends to emails, negotiates rates with gig organisers and the band is able to fully focus on their craft because of it.
The panel is essentially in agreement with the importance of good management. Syaheed, who manages musicians and bands such as Sixx, Kevin Lester and Singapore Idol winner Sezairi Sezali, emphasizes on the importance of choosing the right manager.
" The artiste manager must understand the band."
It is not enough to have representation, it must be the right representation. A good manager is someone whom the band can trust with their earnings as well as their branding. Someone who successfully manages metal acts for example may not be able to help singer songwriters or hip hop groups. Although it might be a fun ride to see how that turns out, for bands who want to go far and be connected to the right stage and demographics, having a manager does not guarantee success, in fact, according to Ian who recalls his own experience with bad management, having a bad manager can prove to be detrimental to the band's progress and leave you bitter for a long time.
Which is why in many ways, self management as a starting point is advisable, given that good managers are hard to find or overloaded and unable to take in more artistes. To this, Syaheed suggests interning with management groups such as his to learn the tricks of the trade. Use the experience to market the band with the aid of social media and other creative solutions which help circumvent the difficulties faced by musicians with no budget. Once a certain level of exposure is attained, it may in fact be easier to attract a good manager. " Give a s*** about your own success first and it’ll be easier to find a manager. It’s a chicken-egg thing." Explains Roland.
The panel also touched on what it means to be a musician. Why it is important to have strong internal quality control, while maintaining a balance between artistic expression and the music's ability to appeal to the masses. "(If you think) guitar drums bass vocals is enough – you gonna be f**ked man." explains Willy, driving through the point that music needs to derive from an identity beyond having a band, but also what the band is about and how that is reflected in the songs and performances. While the approach to crafting a good song differs with each panelist - some see no issue with borrowed elements from popular music, others seek out inspiration and prefer to see their music come from a more organic source, dedication and commitment to creating music that one believes in is the order of the day.
Says Saiful, " If you don’t love your songs you will never get other people to love them."
Stay tuned for part II of this coverage, where the panelists talk about what is wrong with local musicians and deal out some tough love.
Check out http://agingyouth.com/ for updates on future events.