Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Off-pitch: Hitting a bad note in SIngapore

Times have changed.

I still harbour the childhood dream of recording an (music) album, as do many people. But is this dream relevant or feasible in this day of age?

Before the advent of the internet, talents and aspiring musicians will ply their trade in the jamming studios, and play in concerts. The rites of passage normally involve connecting with your audiences, getting new fans and all, but also equally as important are making the contacts who hang around such venues. Some of these process continue till today.

With the internet, how relevant is recording and releasing an album in Singapore? How relevant is this dream? Does an album matter any more?

Listeners (not fans) go for the really good songs, and hence compilations, acquired either by legitimate or illegitimate/"democratic" means, become more marketable. This phenomenon does give a kick up the musician butt, making him/her pull up his/her socks and write better material. Even if this results in a music album of considerable quality and potential, is it marketable to the point it covers the costs of production and post-production, and perhaps give the musician enough money.

In the internet age, do making and selling albums matter? Are they a satisfying financial goal as they are a personal artistic goal?

Furthermore, what does the future hold for studio musicians (i.e. those who are not into performance, but just into making music)? Most notably, The Beatles did that in their later years, but of course, they rode on their earlier mega-popularity and big bucks.

For a musician to be rich and famous (and respected), he/she now has to do more than just making good music, but appear on various media platforms, have showmanship and have a well-oiled public relations machine. You cannot just let your music do the talking.

YouTube and most video aggregator websites may seem to provide a popular even playing field, but I feel it has become a domain for the better-looking musicians. Perhaps it is the way visual culture has developed and the way with which we have grown into it. Music alone does not do the talking for music.

Sure, there are more talents coming out of their musical closets and showcasing their material, but is music a lucrative business, a viable livelihood for any aspiring Singaporean talent?

Here's a hypothetical question, if all musicians were visually anonymous, had no pictures, no flashy promotions, no concerts, will our selections weed out the better ones?

Will Radiohead be as popular if 'Kid A' was their debut album? Or 'Magical Mystery Tour' for The Beatles' first album, or 'Revolution No. 9' for any aspiring musician's first single?

It is a reality that music stores such as HMV and Tower Records are continuing to shrink in size, perhaps also due to their prices. Obviously, that is strong enough a signal to indicate that there is something different about music these days, and the way it is developing.

What does the future hold for music, for music in Singapore? Is it just all about live concerts and part-time musicians (we have too few full-time musician/performers because it does not put food on the table for them)?

How can we get people today to consume music in a way that it benefits musicians?

Some musicians dream of the rock n' roll lifestyle, myself included. It is a life guided by the belief that there are and there should be no rules, wherein norms, beliefs and labels should be continually challenged.

Our ideas about life and the need to live on and perpetuate the same cycle the social machinery wants us to perpetuate, are all founded by these norms, beliefs and labels. Why are we so afraid of questioning the purpose, continuance and existence of this cycle?

But like most people, (I and) we are sealed shut into our own shells. We are subjected to the rules of society and the economy, hence our current identity and current fetishes. If the rules of society and the economy hold no relevance or importance to us, will we have the same identity and fetishes?

I see music as art, for it embodies a message and a philosophy, and also serves as a critique on our conditions. Unfortunately, art (and criticism) does not put food on the table in Singapore.

At the same time, I feel the pain of socio-economically under-privileged musicians/talents who forsake their musical development because they have to get "real" jobs. Singaporeans are missing out on a class/stratum full of talent thanks to our mindsets.

Before I end this, I would like to qualify that by "music", I mean English music.

Another note, it is quite peculiar I said "Singaporeans", because we spent most of our time (4 decades and more) developing our economy and all that we have not forged a strong national identity. And it does not help that we are becoming more cosmopolitan. The word "Singaporean" could have meant a lot more.

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