There have been three big music business stories attracting attention in Singapore over the past couple of weeks. I’ve decided to put them together, because they give us something of a snapshot of the scene here.
MusicMatters Is Back
In late May, the MusicMatters conference will be back in Singapore. Last year the conference moved from Hong Kong, significantly expanded the live showcase and nearly doubled the number of sessions and panels to accommodate a new digital and online entertainment programme. This year, the live showcase will be even bigger and a gaming stream will be added to the conference.
It’s exciting stuff.
Well, obviously not exciting enough for some in the local music scene. The Straits Times ran a regrettably negative piece (behind a paywall now) that quoted local music figures suggesting the conference was “not relevant” or “helpful” for local musicians.
To be blunt, the “what have they done for Singapore” whine started even before last year’s conference was over. That despite having Singaporeans on the main stage panels, Singapore bands playing in the showcase, free tickets to the conference for people in the local music scene, and the spotlight of the world’s music industry being put on this city.
$4Million Dollars Went Somewhere
Apparently, the Singapore government has spent over $4 Million (about U$3.2 Million) in the past three years on growing the music industry here. It seems that a significant amount of this has gone on promoting foreign tours and showcases at conferences like SxSW, Canadian Music Week and MIDEM.
This story seems to have split people into two camps, with some viewing this as a huge amount and others suggesting it is just a drop in the ocean. But, there does appear to be a consensus that the government should spend more.
There appears to be a lot of enthusiasm (in the music scene) for the idea of imposing “local content” quotas on radio stations in Singapore. The idea is that by forcing radio stations to play more “local content” it will change listeners’ tastes and improve the support for musicians here.
While it is true that local content rules have helped the Canadian music industry and are now in place in Australia, the devil is, as always, in the details. For example, in Australia a lot of radio stations get around the rules somewhat by playing more local content at less popular times of the day. And, although the rules require at least 25% of content to be local, only 6.25% needs to be new local music.
And, what qualifies as local content? Would it really be that much better if the airwaves were full of local artists singing covers of yesterday’s hits?
The Thread Of Connection
I’ve strung these stories together, because there’s a common theme here. It is a discontent that says more needs to done for (and spent on behalf of) Singapore’s musicians.
And, by extent, it’s a discontent that implies things will never change for Singapore’s musicians unless the government and other external agents do more. That’s a very paralysing mindset. Art doesn’t need validation.
Fantasies And Realities
If you are waiting for someone else to do the heavy lifting for you, be it a conference, or a government programme, then you will always be playing catch up to those who are not waiting for anybody. And, when you look at the global music scene, there are so many people doing amazingly innovative and collaborative things to create a buzz around their work right now, with very small budgets and no government or big industry support.
When I started out, it cost a few years’ worth of salary to build a basic (but decent) project studio (on top of buying instruments). That didn’t even get you a label, or distribution. Now, for a few month’s salary, you can record amazing quality, produce videos and get your stuff in the biggest music stores in the world.
I’ve got some pretty bad music industry stories to tell (and the emotional scars to go with them). But, they don’t really matter anymore. Because this new reality is so much better than any of the fantasies I had as a teenager with a guitar and a four track.
“You don’t need a recording contract to be a musician.
You don’t need a book deal to be a writer.
You don’t need a venture capitalist to be an entrepreneur.
You don’t need a Hollywood agent to be an actor.
You don’t need mega movie studio backing to be a director.
You don’t need to get the big conference gigs to be a real expert in your field.
You don’t need the in crowd to give you the nod.
You don’t need permission.”