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Combating stereotypes in Singapore music

Gaining acceptance in a culture of pragmatism


Published: 3 Nov 2022

Time taken : ~10mins

Shay is a Baybeats Budding Writer who was mentored by Eddino Abdul Hadi, music correspondent for The Straits Times and Daniel Peters, a freelance journalist and contributor at NME Asia and radio DJ at Mediacorp’s Indiego.

Cover image: Baybeats Budding Band Reserate performing at Baybeats 2022. Photo by Cliff Yeo (IG: @cliffyfly). 

As a society, we tend to place great emphasis on how our future careers and side hustles could have value in our economy. Due to such a culture, stereotypes pertaining to the music industry imply that individuals who place themselves onto such a career path would have a hard time surviving in a place like Singapore.

Music has always been a huge aspect of a community’s culture, and the kind of music produced by local musicians speaks volumes of a community’s history and people. 

Making inroads over time

Throughout Singapore’s history, music has presented itself through many genres, artists, languages and mediums. Over time, local musicians have started making their mark in the industry as homegrown artists with songs that go beyond the themes of National Day and how far we have come as a society. These songwriters would release songs and soundtracks about their emotions, experiences and thoughts.

Musicals that depict stories relatable to Singaporeans such as Sing to the Dawn (1996) and Fried Rice Paradise (1991) consist of musical numbers and songs that have incorporated local flavours such as Singlish vocabulary and terms only we are familiar with.

Similarly, independent bands and musicians have also emerged over the years, releasing songs that appealed to global audiences rather than just their Singaporean listeners.

Beyond the rise of local plays and performances, independent and contemporary artists have also emerged in recent days. These artists have also inspired new generations of musicians and contemporary bands to debut and start music careers of their own. They would gain exposure through social media and online streaming platforms such as YouTube and Spotify.

Common stereotypes of pursuing music

One of the more common stereotypes surrounding the music industry in Singapore would be: “Anyone who attempts to pursue music full-time while they do not have the means to do so would not see a sustainable future.” This particular stereotype is often associated with the mindsets of many Singaporeans born in a post-war Singapore, also known as Baby Boomers and even those from Generation X.

Another stereotype that many independent bands and musicians encounter would be that pursuing music would be a waste of time and would not add value in any way to individuals and society. This is a stereotype that would be mentioned by families, or parents of these musicians.

Music as a sustainable career

With the greater economic appeal that many industries such as healthcare and technology give to our society at large, many Singaporeans tend to gravitate towards these industries in pursuit of their livelihoods. This has resulted in many individuals in our society being led to pursue music as a side hustle, or letting go of their interest in music completely.

However, many musicians have taken inspiration from preceding artists and the kind of music they have been exposed to in life. One example of this would be singer-songwriter Marian Carmel, who was born in the Philippines and came to Singapore at the age of five. Her journey in music began when she was taken to the newly opened Esplanade in 2002 to watch a locally produced musical called Forbidden City.

Marian Carmel (right). Photo by Baybeats Budding Photographer, Jing Zhe (IG: @lol.kayz)

From that point onwards, she remembers singing along to Kit Chan’s songs from that musical which fuelled her newfound love for music. Marian then went on to pursue songwriting and performed in multiple gigs through the years. Today, she continues to write songs based on her own experiences and emotions for her listeners to relate to.

Besides many musicians in Singapore pursuing solo music careers, many members of homegrown bands have also encountered hearing stereotypes, especially the ones pertaining to how beneficial pursuing music would be to them.

Singapore-based metalcore band Reserate is made up of members from varying music backgrounds, and each of them has heard remarks of concern on how their future as individuals would possibly look should they go down this specific path.

Reserate’s drummer, Ridwan, holds a day job as a drumming instructor. This is something he does as a full-time career aside from drumming for the bands he is a part of, including Reserate. Ridwan has shared that at the beginning when he first started out, his parents did raise some concerns over what a career in the music industry could offer him.

“At the start, the both of them weren’t really on board with the idea because of the common assumption of money being hard to earn in the music industry.” Ridwan recounted as he shared about how the perspectives of his family members shifted throughout his journey.

“When I got my first paycheck from my drumming career, I realised that I could show them that I could do something with my music. Over time, I’ve covered all my expenses with just the earnings of my drumming career, and that was when they saw that I was able to sustain myself and my family and beyond.”

Responding to stereotypes

Culturally, Singapore has definitely come a long way in implementing music into our communities and education. From offering platforms for local singers and musicians to showcase their talents and building multiple music-related interest groups, we are definitely moving towards a society that is more receptive to pursuing music full-time. There is greater appreciation of how a thriving music industry would be beneficial to us as Singaporeans, not just individually but as a society as well.

However, although we are progressively moving towards that level in our culture, we would only see these stereotypes continue to hold sway if we as a community do not further promote education of the role music plays in our daily lives. By doing so, people would have a better understanding as to why we should be more open and receptive to embracing one’s pursuit of a music career should they wish to do so.

Contributed by:

Shay Floreda

Shay Floreda is a Baybeats Budding Writer who is also currently a university undergraduate majoring in Communication Studies. Having been an avid performer herself while dabbling in various social media coverage and journalism projects during her time in school, Shay has gone on to be a part of the Baybeats Budding Writers team.

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