PME Conversation - Catching the Music Bug: Passion to Career


Photo by Lim Weixiang


SYAHEED
VICE PRESIDENT OF SGMUSO COUNCIL (THE MUSIC SOCIETY, SINGAPORE), DIRECTOR, BEDSTY ARTIST MANAGEMENT, & COUNTRY MANAGER (SINGAPORE/ MALAYSIA) & TRADE MARKETING MANAGER (ASIA) AT BELIEVE DIGITAL
 

IN THE LAST 4 TO 5 YEARS, THERE HAS BEEN A LOT MORE SUPPORT FOR THE LOCAL MUSIC SCENE COMING FROM GOVERNMENT BODIES.
 

    I am something of an outlier in that I did not follow the conventional pathways that most Singaporeans take. I did well enough for my O'levels to get into a Junior College where I caught the music bug and decided that being involved in music was what I really wanted to do with my life. I threw myself into the local music scene and as you would expect I failed my A'levels. Going to university was not an option for me, but that was in some ways liberating, because that meant I could focus my energies completely on music.

    I started out as a producer in the then nascent local hip-hop scene. It wasn’t easy starting from scratch but I was very eager to learn. In the absence of an academic education, I had ten years of formative experience where I got my hands and elbows dirty. There was close to no money in the beginning. I was fortunate that my parents supported me with the basics like food and accommodation, but for everything else,I had to take on part-time jobs. I sold insurance, I worked in event companies. At one time, I even pumped gas at a petrol station. It was really passion which kept all of us involved in the scene going. There was no direct trajectory, no school, or system to guide us. We had to figure out everything on our own. All we had was the dream that we wanted to be the guys who made it happen, the guys who were able to make a living out of music in Singapore.

    I was fortunate to have mentors, artists and artist managers who were just gracious enough to become my friends and allow me to hang out with them to see what they were doing and how they did what they were doing. Many of them were friends from across the border. I would book out from National Service on a Friday evening, take the night bus up to Kuala Lumpur and spend the weekend just observing how they worked, chipping in to help whenever I could.

    Malaysia has an established and respected music industry. We don’t have that yet in Singapore. We have a vibrant scene with many talented artists but not much of an ecosystem where there is a critical mass of artists who are able to live off their craft. Those weekends in Malaysia really opened my eyes to the inner workings of the music industry. Eventually, I was able to build up my networks. You meet the right people, work on the right projects and those eventually became big hits. And that is how I got to where I am today.

    In the last four to five years, there has been a lot more support for the local music scene coming from government bodies. The National Arts Council has been helping us all along, but we now have the Devan Nair Employment and Employability Institute (e2i) and the Singapore Workforce Development Agency coming on
board to provide support in the area of skills development for artists. One very significant event that would not have happened without their support is the Steve Lillywhite Production Week. We brought the five-time Grammy Award winning record producer in for a week in 2013 to work with four up-and-coming local bands. It was a priceless learning experience for everyone involved in the program to be able to observe, interact and work with someone of that caliber and stature for an extended period of time.

    I am excited about the next few years because we are uncovering so many new talents. Bands like the Sam Willows, Monster Cat, and those who I manage personally, like THELIONCITYBOY, Sezairi, Wicked Aura and Sheik Haikel, have already been commercially successful on iTunes and they have the potential to do even better. We are very thankful and fortunate that we have a government who sees the value in local contemporary music and we hope what we are doing will encourage them to continue their support. Going forward, we have to focus on building an industry that is capable of standing on its own two feet, rather than one which subsists on government funding. It’s an immense challenge which will require us to look beyond Singapore but I am optimistic that we will get there eventually.

 


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This story is part of the PME Conversation book which was launched in April 2015. To read more stories, click here.

 

 

 

 

 

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