Can Singapore Cultivate Music Talent?

Is Singapore the right stage for local musicians to show off their talent  and thrive? STORM talks to members of the music community for their views.

In recent weeks, the Internet has been abuzz with Singapore-born talent announcing themselves on the regional music stage with a bang. An up-and-comer in local pop music, Nathan Hartono crooned his way to second place in the Sing! China competition. Singapore-born Melbourne resident Natalie Ong then shot to Internet stardom after her powerful performance on The X Factor Australia.

While these franchise platforms have been located offshore, Singapore used to have its own avenue for spotting talent. Back in the day, Talentime was much anticipated in households. But then there wasn’t much by way of distractions in the 1970s.

In more recent times, Singapore Idol made a short dive into the talent pool, but it turned out to be a puddle, as it unearthed a scant few gems before fading away.

And now there’s talk of The Voice coming to these shores.

Fortunately, the music scene has continued to push out local talent, some of which have enjoyed success beyond our shores. Gentle Bones, Inch Chua, Sam Willows, Dick Lee, JJ Lin and Kit Chan are among the recent contributors to the music scene, which has benefited from the rise of more performance venues. But it would seem talent is not in abundance, or at least they don’t want to make an appearance on a stage nearby.

It then begs the question — can musical talent “make it” in Singapore? We get views from various industry players.

From Local To Global

Danny Loong, Chief Creative Director, Timbre Group (

Yes! Look at all our success stories — The Sam Willows, Charlie Lim, and Gentle Bones. They have all had success in recent years; I think Gentle Bones set the benchmark for local music with his show at the Esplanade.

In the last five years, there has been an upward trend in the arts, particularly in music, and the signs are very positive.

The talent is clearly here, and the recognition from the audience is improving too.  However, there is still more work to be done, for us to build greater audiences for local acts and for them to show more support to our artists.

Because of our size, the greater (more profitable) market may be overseas but it is still important to build the foundation here. Work on the local scene before going global.

Your Time Is Now

J.P. Nathan, Advisor at a local arts organisation

There has never been a better time than now for local talent to come up and make something of themselves.

The range of avenues and opportunities available to the young artist is greater than it has ever been before. Many organisations (government and private) have put in conscious effort to make improvements and it’s getting better.

So much has gone into developing talent, at different age groups, there has been a rise in the accessibility of education and professional help, thanks partly to the increased funding for the arts over the last decade.

Interest, across all art forms, has grown exponentially as well.

New artists also have more outlets to perform, be it in a small pub along Arab Street, at a festival like Baybeats, or even in the digital sphere.

Even if super stardom is out of reach, the job opportunities still exist for an artist to build a career around his craft.

The Evidence Is Clear

Dr. Timothy O’Dwyer, Head, School of Contemporary Music, LASALLE College of the Arts (

Local musicians are already making it.

Musical talent in Singapore is absolutely on par with anywhere else in the world. You don’t have to look much further than some of our alumni to be blown away — Kit Chan, Sara Wee, even young singers like Reuby who are already winning awards in Hong Kong.

Home-grown singers are holding their own at international festivals such as St. Jerome’s Laneway and many more in the region.

Singapore Is Only The Beginning

Kok Tse Wei, Deputy Director, Sector Development (Music), National Arts Council (

Beyond the reality TV success of Hartono and Ong, musicians like Arun Shenoy, Dick Lee, JJ Lin, Shabir Tabare Alam and Stefanie Sun have been making waves internationally for years.

The support that Singapore audiences and the media have given to up-and-coming acts like Gentle Bones, Linying, Myrne, Reyza Hamizan, ShiGGa Shay and The Freshman (among many others) is also a good sign for local music.

It is equally important for Singapore musicians to have a strong local following, as it is to break into regional and international markets. They need to build wide networks and sufficient touring circuits to sustain careers as performers.

Singapore’s Size A Double-Edged Sword

Rani Singam, Jazz Singer (

Singapore being such a small country has a small pool of talent, spaces, and opportunities. However, its size is an advantage for anyone with talent to get noticed and gain visibility.

Our existing education system, infrastructure, and environment also provide and encourage artistic development and growth.

However, it is important for artists to remember that the sustainability and longevity of their career will only be secured if they think global and participate in wider markets beyond Singapore.

The Bar Continues to Rise

Lesley Chew, Label Manager, KittyWu Records (

It is a matter of perspective, and it varies from artist to artist — they have different goals. What does “making it” mean? Winning a contest, getting public recognition, selling albums, getting on the radio, breaking into the international charts, touring overseas — there are many levels to it.

Local artists have already achieved all these and more!

The key to making it in Singapore is fearlessness, consistency, originality, and the ability to think bigger than what our little island holds.

In the last five years, we’ve been surprised by the number of local acts that have broken boundaries and set new standards with their music. We’ve had several Singaporean acts go to the US, Europe, and Japan to tour, get signed by labels overseas, play music festivals, and release albums.

Some of them probably don’t feel like they have made it yet. There is still so much more to do, learn and create.

We are “Making It”

Jack Ho, Singer/Musician, Jack and Rai (

I think musical talent can definitely make it in Singapore! Nathan Hartono had actually carved a name for himself here before embarking on his China journey.

I fondly remember Nathan as Singapore’s answer to Michael Buble when he was much younger. He has since developed his art, but he gained good success and traction even before Sing! China.

We must take note that you can get greater exposure in China and Australia. (Prompting many acts to go overseas).

Then again, when you think of having “made it”, what is the yardstick to determine that?

Right now, Gentle Bones is doing great, so are The Sam Willows, and other artists like Jawn, and Take Two are coming up too.

We have come a long way since the days of Singapore Idol being the biggest deal in local music. While super stardom may yet be out of reach for many artists, the scene is definitely vibrant. The industry heads all seem to believe that Singapore and its musicians are already on the path to success. Or are they all looking at it through rose-tinted glasses?

What do you think? Have your say in the comments section below or on join the conversation on Facebook.

See also  The Route Less Travelled