This article is meant to be read together with this one.
Folks in Singapore love music. Just not music made in Singapore.
According to the findings of PWC’s latest Global Entertainment and Media Outlook, Singapore’s music market was worth US$73m in 2016, up 3.1% from the previous year. Not only that, a buzzing live music business should boost total music revenue to US$89m in 2021!
Great news except that none of this actually goes towards music made in Singapore! Obviously, Singapore residents value music enough to spend huge amounts of money and consider the unique experience afforded by musical enjoyment important enough as the numbers attest.
Thus, the question arises: How to make Singapore-made music an integral part of Singaporean life? To get an idea of what has been achieved successfully elsewhere, we look to Canada.
In the 1960s, Canadian artists and bands were generally forced to turn toward the United States to establish healthy long-lasting careers as they were not able to achieve the same success in their own homeland as local audiences were more interested in artists/bands from the USA and the UK.
This led to the Canadian government passing Canadian content legislation to help Canadian artists. On January 18, 1971 regulations came into force requiring AM radio stations to devote 30 per cent of their musical selections to Canadian content. Though controversial at the time, there is no doubt that this measure is behind the success of Canadian artists/bands since then. The time is ripe for the Singapore government to do the same.
Awards & recognition
Canada’s first nationwide music awards began as a reader poll conducted by Canadian music industry trade magazine RPM Weekly in December 1964. A similar balloting process continued until 1970 when the RPM Gold Leaf Awards, as they were then known, were changed to the Juno Awards. The Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences held the first Juno Award ceremony in 1975.
Since then, the Juno Awards and many others (e.g. the Polaris and Felix Awards) have gone a long way towards engaging Canadians and helping them to appreciate their own local music acts. Similarly, there should be nationwide music awards to promote Singapore-made music. This would be unprecedented in our local music scene but no time like the present to change the way things are.
It’s amazing to realise that Singapore-made contemporary music was not supported by government funding till about 5 years ago! At the moment, the National Arts Council (NAC) supports artists/bands with the cost of recordings, concerts and tours. Looking at recent grants, there appears to be a shift towards more commercial music by the NAC when dispensing music grants, with the more artistic being left behind somewhat. The NAC needs to expand the scope of the music grants and also perhaps change their focus to more artistically worthy artists/bands.
In recent times, there have been very sporadic attempts by different government agencies to bring Singapore bands/artists overseas for promotion and exposure, but nothing concrete has resulted with the lack of follow-up usually the big issue. Singapore needs a coherent export strategy to place key bands/artists at key music festivals/conferences to help these bands/artists to build overseas fanbases.
Strangely enough, Singaporeans are more convinced about the credibility of our bands/artists when they are recognised overseas, almost as if they cannot even trust their own taste! But this is the problem we have.
Considering the sheer popularity of music festivals worldwide, this is an area where a return of investment will be possible only if we take this issue seriously. If there’s no will, there will no way.
The influence of the internet is all-pervasive now and the music influencers of Singapore need to rise up in quality and commitment to provide expert guidance to music fans and relevant promotion to bands/artists to raise public awareness and appreciation.
However, the fact of the matter is that most young people are blissfully ignorant of musicology and history and the level of music journalism here is pitifully low, where most music writers never quite come above the level of superficial bloggers. This is a challenge but once again, perhaps the NAC (or even educational institutions) can look into providing educational opportunities for aspiring music journalists.
Just the tip of the iceberg, honestly. It is really not that difficult to come up with the general ideas. The trick is developing these ideas into action plans for implementation. That’s a whole other story. To be candid, in order to achieve the ultimate objective, Singapore probably needs a dedicated body focusing on music, with the authority and the funds to carry out its strategies. Sounds like a dream but if nothing is done, then the status quo of the Singapore music scene will never change.
… still there’s more …