SGMUSO: At the heart of Singapore Music Export

Evan Murray talked to David Siow, President of SGMUSO, Singapore.

SGMUSO is a charity organisation that supports artistry, business and production by developing skills, advocacy and opportunities. Transcending music genres, cultural and language boundaries SGMUSO supports the growth of the music industry both home and away.

SGMUSO Live Showcase London

Tell us about SGMUSO, It's history, the functioning, and how you got involved? So SGMUSO has been around since 2013, and has a vision of a viable Singapore music ecosystem, so the initiatives and plans have always been about plugging gaps within the Singapore music industry. In the past, that meant seminars and workshops, songwriting camps and showcases in Singapore, but now we are moving towards music export, advocacy and fundraising.

I was hired in Sep 2017 as a project manager but got promoted in Feb 2018 to take on the President role and run the operations of the society, been like that ever since! What music genres have been popular in Singapore in the last 5 years? In your opinion, are there any music genres that wouldn't work in Singapore?

I'd say our market is mainly import heavy, so generally genres that do well internationally do well here, and artists that align themselves with those genres generally find success faster.

Perhaps it could be due to the meritocratic nature of the society, which puts more focus on traditional industries that yield more results like banking and finance, hence arts is put on a backburner most of the time. Also our market is segmented into 3-4 ethnic groups so the pie for music consumption is cut up even further and sustainability is harder to find - hence our mission! 

SGMUSO Live Showcase, New York

Is there an underground/Indie music culture in Singapore? If so, what types of genre trends are you noticing?  For sure! As with every country the underground and indie scene bubbles right under the surface of the mainstream, but here it's pretty vibrant. The artists and content are of top quality, so some of them are trying to find their markets outside of Singapore and find their niche audiences there.

Math rock and Shoegaze has always been strong here with artists like Sphaeras and T-Rex and hauste, but there's also Emo/Grunge like Forests, CB Dogs that have cult status within the communities.

I understand Singapore is a country of different languages. How does this play a role in the popularity of artists in Singapore and abroad?  It helps with having more food choices! Surprisingly many of the more mainstream-friendly genres like R&B and indie pop and dream pop have found streaming audiences in Taiwan, even though most of them sing in English.

Coming back to the local market, the mando-pop scene and the Malay scene have matured quite nicely with a healthy demand and supply, since the markets outside Singapore have provided sustainability (like Malaysia, Indonesia and Taiwan) and re-import opportunities (they go over and make a name for themselves, and are re-imported back to Singapore).

What makes Singapore music culture unique?  I think there exists a hunger amongst Singapore artists, one that makes them willing to do many things in order to sustain their careers, including taking up day jobs to fund their music careers.

Another thing that a good friend Vanessa Fernandez aka Vandetta told me was that Singaporean bodies of work tend to be conceptual in nature, so a strong focus on concept throughout the songwriting and content creation process, which leads to a cohesive body of art.

David Siow, President

What are your thoughts on Singapore's export initiatives? How have they impacted the local music economy? 

The national agencies like NAC and STB have tried to do music export with moderate success, but now that music export is one of SGMUSO's focuses we can assist with the finer details and connecting artists to the right networks.

More could also be done to celebrate these export programs to let Singapore audiences know that Singaporeans are making waves overseas! Touring and export are always a good way for artists and their supporting cast to hone their craft, we've seen their quality of live shows improve because of experiences overseas.

What countries do you feel Singapore export should be focusing on, and why? 

To me the focus markets are artist-specific, especially for a country like Singapore where we don't have a specific country sound like Kpop or Jrock. That being said, I think we should focus on emerging markets that are opening up like Vietnam and Thailand, as well as import friendly countries like Taiwan, as well as our closest english speaking market the Philippines.

SGMUSO Live Showcase London

What are the future plans for SGMUSO? 

To date we've helped and given opportunities to more than 200 Singaporean artists, but I think we will continue to focus our efforts on what is needed in the local industry, if it's music export then you'll see us exporting a lot more!

Of course COVID-19 has changed the trajectory of the live entertainment scene here, so things might be tricky moving forward.

What are some artists from Singapore you would like us to check out? In your opinion what makes them special for an international audience? 

Here are some!

Charlie Lim - our resident melancholic neo-soul/UK Garage artist that blows people's minds with his live set

.gif - Dark electronica duo, kinda like hiatus kiayote with electronic elements

sobs - Dream pop darlings with cult status

M1LDL1FE - Indie pop mainstays with feel good music

The Steve Mcqueens - acid neo soul that are technically on another level

Linying - songstress that will make your feelings come to the surface

Sam Rui - R&B gen-z artist

brb - they coined the term PopnB

Narelle, RRRiley, Jon Chua JX and Benjamin Kheng - all previously members of The Sam Willows, now they've launched their solo pop careers

LEW - will make your heart melt with his vocals

Forests - emo to the extreme

Caracal - post-hardcore these guys are intense

Yung Raja and Fariz Jabba - our new Hip-Hop duo

Gentle Bones - Pop sensation the past 5 years  

Live sets are a strong suit for these, and like I mentioned before their content all have strong concepts!

If there were ways you could change the  music industry or the goverment funding sector in Singapore, what would you do to try to improve it?

Music is often seen as a parentless art form, since the directive is spread across many governmental agencies like NAC, MCCY, IMDA, STB. We need to influence things at a policy level to unlock funding and opportunities for Singaporean artists, they are talented and truly deserve it!

Anything you want people to know about Singapore music?

I would say Singapore artists need festival opportunities and collaboration opportunities, please reach out if you would like to work together!

EVAN MURRAY is Event Co-ordinator at Live at Heart, Newfoundland, Export Development Officer at Vision 360 (Canada) and Canadian Coordinator at Live at Heart, Sweden. He is also International Music Consultant at Wonderwall Media, India.