Culture — April 30, 2012 at 5:11 pm

Singaporean Contemporary Music: May We Sit In The Room For Improvement?


Janice Koh, the current Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) for the arts community in Singapore’s first two speeches reminded us the importance of the arts’ role in society building, and evaluated the impact of arts policies. A theatre veteran, NMP Koh voiced well-researched key issues of the music community, which was very welcomed by its members. However, the government’s response may have ruffled a few feathers, leaving us with more questions and suggestions for improvement.

In late February, NMP Janice Koh’s maiden speech covered three issues, one of which was simply to promote local work. Koh suggests the need “to make [our] arts, culture and heritage a source of civic pride…to make them easily accessible to Singaporeans from all walks of life” through a “collective ownership of this process” and not through the Ministry for Information, Communications and the Arts (MICA) alone.

Her second speech called for support of local contemporary music after reviewing the Arts and Culture Strategic Review (ACSR), which is a review of the high profile Renaissance City Plans (RCP I, II, III) proposed to invest in creative capabilities, invigorate the local cultural landscape, explore arts business as a growth opportunity, and expand the demand base.

NMP Koh noted that, “the proposals put forward by the [ACSR] report seem to prioritize infrastructural and business needs over the longer-term development and promotion of individual musicians and bands,” citing that musicians themselves have felt that the “local contemporary music sector has been suffering from a lack of opportunities to showcase upcoming artists as well as experienced, export-ready talent.”

She also pointed out a bigger obstacle to developing an audience for homegrown music: not having sufficient airtime on radio, thus calling for a quota for broadcast of local music. This would a) help to support the development of a unique local music culture and the forging of a common cultural identity and b) allow regular access to local music, which will feed demand.

MICA’s Yaacob Ibrahim’s reply to NMP Koh became a hot topic, most specifically the stated fact that S$4 million has been spent on the music scene over the last three years, citing talent development and training, overseas promotion, participation and profiling, and platforms and opportunities for collaboration and showcase as areas of expenditure. These involved several grants of varying amounts awarded to some local bands.

The minister conceded radio airtime was a challenge, but did not cite reasons, although both NAC and the Media Development Authority (MDA) have been co-operating to give local music talents a platform to showcase their work (through Noise Singapore for example).

Responses to the minister’s reply flooded the social media playground- most of which were questions of how and why musicians themselves have been unaware. The most heartfelt response came from one of Singapore’s own music talents, Vanessa Fernandez, who noted that apart from not being publicized enough, the amount did not seem adequate to groom musicians. More importantly, the ex-Mediacorp Radio presenter voiced a likely reason why there has not been enough radio airplay for local music thus far – because most of the “people who play the music you end up listening to are not musicians” and are not inclined to local music.

Journalist Zul Othman’s article published in The New Paper in mid-April raised a similar issue, among others: Do the ones administering and approving the monetary grants to musicians appreciate the musicians’ needs? Several musicians and artiste managers interviewed also asked for transparency in how these grants are approved.

Perhaps the key to the current issues of the local music scene, apart from a quota on local radio to jumpstart demand, is to give more authority to industry practitioners (like Fernandez and those interviewed by Othman) closer to ground level. Can relevant, objective industry practitioners be consulted by NAC and MDA in the process of awarding grants? Why not hire or nurture policy makers who are academically qualified and more deeply rooted in their art form? Perhaps there are many practicing fine artists or dancers in NAC, but surely not enough people in the contemporary music scene.

Alternatively, allowing more transparency about processes and pushing more publicity about available grants will catalyse improvement in quality of local music content, as more musicians will apply, breeding healthy competition. The best local content will get the international exposure they need and the not-so-good will try harder. At the end of the day, we will gladly co-operate, because the local music community shares the same goal as its governing body- we just want our art to be appreciated.

By Audrey Fenghuang


Audrey Fenghuang is one quarter of rock band The Auditory Effect, and an oddball fascinated by music in the context of pop culture. She graduated from Lasalle College of the Arts with an Honours Degree in Arts Management.