What is a music scene without original music? Can you imagine an art gallery filled with copies of classic paintings? Would you patronize such an art gallery?
Probably not but that is what happens every night in the Singapore music scene, where virtually all nightspots feature musicians performing covers of popular songs heard on radio.
It’s what the customers want, it seems. They want to hear familiar tunes, songs that give them a sense of comfort as they chug their beers and gobble down their pizza.
It’s a commercial reality in Singapore that will never change.
Lest we forget, there was a time when these same customers (or their elders, perhaps) would not tolerate cover music performed by a Singapore band because back then, Singaporeans were believed to be incapable of making good music, even covers. Only foreign cover bands were acceptable.
Wasn’t that also a commercial reality back in the day? But that changed, didn’t it? And it changed because a nightspot decided to brand themselves as supporters of local music and local musicians and it worked. They delivered a unique value proposition that connected.
Yet, somehow now, despite that achievement, upsetting the new status quo is a dangerous concept that could cost these nightspots their very existence.
We just don’t buy that.
What is truly threatening these nightspots is digital disruption. The fact that more and more customers are willing to order food delivery from home rather than spend time at a nightspot is a very real challenge that demands that nightspots up their game as far as re-branding themselves and delivering a new unique value proposition for these disrupted times.
While food can be delivered to your doorstep and all cookie-cutter cover bands sound basically the same, what original music can achieve is to allow a nightspot to distinguish itself from the competition and deliver a unique live experience that customers cannot get elsewhere.
From the musician’s perspective, playing covers exclusively is quite damaging to one’s creative and artistic talents and having 90% of our musicians expending their skills on reproducing cover music is surely a regressive state of affairs, especially if we want to move our music scene to the next level.
So, what we need to see is the provision of financial incentives for nightspots to give up precious prime time to Singapore bands and artists to showcase their original music to the masses. Perhaps a one-year trial period where bands/artists are given a six-week residency – two at a time – on a Friday or Saturday night at the 9.30pm to midnight premium slot. These incentives could be extended to two or three nightspots as an ‘experiment’ of sorts.
The bands/artists would then be given a reasonable amount of time to showcase themselves and (hopefully) build a fan base – the way in which numerous bands all over the world have cut their teeth and become successful.
In addition, the greater exposure to original local music on a regular basis will (hopefully) signal to audiences the change in the status quo. Obviously, some sort of music advocacy will also have to be delivered as part and parcel of this initiative. A strategic assault on this anti-artistic mindset has to be on many fronts in order to have a chance to work.
Hopefully, the National Arts Council – which is the de facto government body responsible for music in Singapore – or some other government body will take up this simple idea to make a difference in our music scene.
… still there’s more …