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Notes on the Campus

Nurturing musical innovation in college spaces


Published: 4 Oct 2023

By: Fidel Tan

Time taken : ~10mins

Fidel is a Baybeats Budding Writer who was mentored by Eddino Abdul Hadi, music correspondent for The Straits Times and Hidzir Junaini, freelance journalist at NME Asia, Rice Media and FEMALE Magazine.

“We did it for the culture and for the fun of it all,” says Faseehudeen, a National University of Singapore (NUS) student, of his time at Tembusu College making music with his friends.

Faseeh is part of a growing community of student musicians who have to balance between academic commitments and their passion for music. Indeed, the college environment is fertile ground for cultivating musical innovation, where young talents can gather, collaborate and let their creative juices flow. In this feature piece, we explore how academic institutions provide safe and conducive spaces for students to find their musical identities.

Hustle and flow

Fascinated with music since young, Faseeh first dabbled in music production when he was 13. Little did he know that these early experiments would flourish into a full-fledged journey during his undergraduate years at Tembusu College.

The decision to apply for the college was intentional. “It is known among students for its strong arts culture,” Faseeh explains. For him and many others, Tembusu College offered a unique environment where creativity could thrive alongside academic pursuits.

Faseeh quickly forged bonds with fellow Tembusians over their shared love of music, and soon enough, he co-founded Braggadocious, a 20-member comedy hip hop collective, with his friends Muhammad “Amud” Bahajjaj and Anirvin Narayan.

Faseeh and Anirvin performing at a student-led concert in Tembusu College. Photo credit: Shimin Cai

“We wanted to create something that felt inclusive, light-hearted, and authentic,” Faseeh recalls. The group pledges itself as “open to all,” seeking to make hip hop fun and inviting to Tembusians, while also being known for its witty commentary on identity. 

With Braggadocious, Faseeh believes it could serve as a haven for students to let loose of academic stress and find solace in music. “It is important to provide a space for people to try something new and not worry about failure,” Faseeh adds. 

The college quickly caught on to the inventive spirit of Braggadocious, and as of today, the collective stands at over 65 members, including Eli Ordonez, frontman of Count Vernon, one of this year’s Baybeats Budding Bands. Their journey from a small group of friends making music to a thriving collective symbolises the power of community within the collegiate music scene.

Faseeh and some of Braggadocious' members during the music video filming for the song <em>Cheers to the Tree</em>. Photo credit: Kaena Sutanu and Crystal Tan

Tembusu College's facilities have played a pivotal role in stimulating Faseeh’s artistic spirit, not only providing him with access to equipment, but also physical spaces for people to gather and exchange ideas. "It's just so easy to get like-minded people together," Faseeh remarks, emphasising the importance of collaboration in encouraging musical innovation amongst youths.

Learning the business of music

Faseeh isn’t alone in pursuing his musical dreams as an undergraduate. Dominic Yuan, a Singapore Management University (SMU) student, embarked on a journey that is as inspiring as it is entrepreneurial. After struggling to break into the music industry, he founded Parka, a company that provides music production and marketing services for aspiring artists.

At 14 years old, Dominic first started out by playing in church and learning songs by ear on the piano. His natural affinity for music soon led him to experiment with his own compositions and pursue a Diploma in Music Audio Technology. However, it was during National Service when Dominic recognised the desire to build a platform to showcase his talent as a music producer, and the idea for Parka began to take shape.

Dominic's decision to study Business at SMU was partly informed by his fascination with project and business management, and this aligned with his role as the founder of Parka. “I’ve always been goal-oriented and felt the need to see things through,” he adds. 

Dominic performing at Music Day Out 2022. Photo credit: Edmund Lau

SMU's entrepreneurial environment proved invaluable to Dominic. He seized an opportunity to pitch Parka to his business professor, who later became one of the company’s investors. Further validation came when he secured a capital grant from SMU’s startup incubator programme.

Just like Faseeh, Dominic was steadfast in balancing school and music. “I didn’t neglect music because deep down I knew it’s something I’ve always wanted to do,” he explains. 

When asked on how else SMU helped nurture his musical aspirations, Dominic highlights SoundFoundry, a student organisation for music enthusiasts. Through this club, he found a community of like-minded friends, and credits several members in helping him actualise Parka’s vision. “If I didn’t have that community, I wouldn’t have been able to start the company,” he acknowledges.

Dominic recognises the unique perspectives that young artists bring to the local music scene, and this is reflected in Parka's roster, which includes student musicians like Jeyes.

(Left to right) Bryan Leong, Amari Teague, Jeyes, Dominic & ANNÉ at Music Day Out 2022. Photo credit: Edmund Lau

Now in his final year, Dominic believes he has benefited from his university education, particularly the application of business models taught in class to his entrepreneurial ventures in Parka. His second major in Arts Management also opened doors for collaboration with local arts companies.

Crucibles for passion and experimentation

Nanyang Institute of Education (NIE) music professor Dr Larry Francis Hilarian is heartened by these success stories, but would love to see more growth going forward. 

He observes that students are more inclined toward fields that promise stable incomes in Singapore's competitive society, making it challenging for the music industry to thrive. 

"Singapore has one of the most modern and enterprising music programmes for students. Our schools have very well-trained music teachers,” Dr Larry affirms. While the necessary resources are already in place, there remains a crucial need for deeper societal appreciation of music.

Though schools boast robust music programmes, Dr Larry hopes for more initiatives to foster a love for music amongst students. “It is encouraging when students discover their passion for music through my programmes. I urge them to continue this passion even beyond my classes,” he adds. 

Moving ahead, Dr Larry highlights the importance of collaboration in music. “Music has no boundaries, it is communal, something to be made with other people and enjoyed together,” he says. Additionally, he hopes that Singaporeans will pay closer attention to local music and recognise the relentless dedication of musicians.

As Faseeh and Dominic continue their journeys, their aspirations extend beyond personal success. 

Faseeh hopes to see more low-stakes campus initiatives where musicians can experiment with their craft without the pressures of the commercial music industry. Such endeavours not only foster creativity but also create a sense of belonging for student musicians.

As for Dominic, he envisions a future where musicians can sustain themselves without undue financial burden. He seeks greater support for the local music scene, acknowledging that many initiatives thus far have not been sustainable. He also calls upon fellow Singaporeans to embrace homegrown talent and cultivate an organic appreciation for local music.

Faseeh and Dominic’s stories extend beyond the realm of individual aspirations; they reflect a collective yearning for music to resonate within society. For Dr Larry, he is confident of the infrastructure schools have in place, but instead nudges towards the lack of societal awareness and empathy towards musicians as bigger issues to address.

All in all, it is a collective effort to nurture musical innovation among youths. The three stories remind us that music has the power to unite, transcend, and enrich. It is a melody that resonates within us, and by forging a deeper connection with our local music scene, we ensure that this symphony of creativity will thrive for generations to come.

Contributed by:

Fidel Tan

Fidel is a Baybeats Budding Writer with a deep passion for music and cinema. He spends his free time scouring the internet for intriguing pop culture stories and listening to his cherished 2000s music playlist. He finds solace in writing and shares his musings on pop culture at fidback.medium.com.

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Baybeats 2023

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6 – 8 Oct 2023
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