by Imran Ajmain
aku@imranajmain.com

1) Don’t give up your full-time job
If you’re singing at night clubs and trying to break into the pop commercial scene, that is going to prove tough as it can be a little sensitive for the audience made up of young impressionable people and their conservative mothers. If you have a day-time job, stick to it. If you’re still a student, study hard, get good grades and work your way to save up for your recordings. Right now, it’s the only way to sustain your interest in being a singer because shows in Singapore pay peanuts, and if you’re really good at what you do, mental note, the award shows don’t give out prize money. Reality check.

2) Record Radio Friendly Songs by Familiar People
Enough with the Ziana Zain covers. Even Ziana Zain don’t sing her own songs from the 90s anymore.

a) TV and Radio has put together dozens of songwriting contests for the past half a decade. If you don’t write your own songs, that is, find the award-winners on Facebook. Highly likely, they’d be able to get you a decent pop song and recommend you arrangers and studios where you could put it down in a recording.

b) Flip through the album sleeves of the better local albums. Find out who wrote your favourite local songs, who arranged them, and who produced them. Contact those people, find out how much it costs, and get it done.

c) Most arrangers/producers charge around the same amount. Insist on paying. A song recorded for free will not bind the musician to your ambition of going far in this line. They need to recognize your talent and understand that it might also help them in the long run. You pay them, expect a good job. If you don’t pay them, can you blame them when they go missing or give you half-baked goods? Always work with a producer. It’s too big a job to do yourself, especially at first go.

d) If you think its a good song, it might not be, after all. Ask for a 2nd, 3rd, and 4th opinion. The more brutally honest the critique becomes, the more likely it is true. Accept them with a pinch of salt, especially if you did everything yourself. Choose your song(s) well. Do it all over again if you need to. But don’t dwell on it.

e) And when somebody offers you a recording contract, you might get a song or an album done but that does not guarantee you that radio will play your songs, that you will get shows, or that the album will get promoted at all. It’s an entirely different story. My take: Do it yourself.

3) Make Friends With the Media, Whether They Like You or Not
There are only 2 radio stations, 3 lifestyle magazines, 2 television stations, and 1 newspaper in the Malay community. All this is necessary to get yourself known to the public. It can be too many or too little, depending on how you see it.

Not everybody will like you or your music, but not everybody will hate you either. If you’re having a hard time to break into the scene, it is easy to take it personally considering how small the community is. But when you’re new, just suck it in and go with the flow. If you’ve collected some accolades, you can choose to speak your mind, but be prepared for no reaction. It will keep you thinking and wanting to do more creative work. You will realize you can only speak through your art therefore you should keep doing it.

Rezeki can be found anywhere, nobody controls your ricebowl. Stop blaming others for your pitfalls. If they don’t like your first song, try again (and again, and again, and again).

4) Is A Music Video Necessary? If not, What is?
For your Facebook friends to unconditionally click Like, yes. But to spend money, time and effort on an actual music video, without knowing where to send it, or how to get returns from it, I say no. Not for a newbie. Organize mini-showcases regularly and build a fan-base. You can record that and put it online instead. You can earn from ticket sales, sell your CDs there, and get a chance to get better at what you do. Do it often. Make sure all your friends and family come down to support, the same way they would and should unconditionally Like your video on Facebook.

5) Aim Higher, Much Much Higher
Being a Singaporean-Malay artiste can sometimes limit you to the cabaret style TV variety shows, small-paying but plentiful Hari Raya engagements and awkward community centre gigs. If that is what you’re dying to do all your life, then I’m sorry, that is all there is for you. This is what you need to do to achieve better.

a) Speak better, both in Malay and English.

b) Representing yourself better (that means, dressing better, stop with the emotional Twitter updates and the youth-gone-wild Facebook pictures).

c) Avoiding negative people who keep telling you that you can’t make it in this line or you can’t do it in Singapore. The sacrifice kicks in when those people happen to be the ones you love.

d) Get to know industry people and keep asking questions.

e) Send your profiles to event organizers outside of the circle. Perform for corporate dinners, award shows, and send your songs to production houses to use for in television dramas.

f) Find out how you can take part in international festivals abroad.

e) Find out what an artiste manager does, and appoint your most trusted friend to do the job. It might be temporary, and you might learn more from it than your friend will. So just apply that knowledge to the next candidate.

g) Keep believing that this path was made for you no matter how big the hurdles are and how painful its obstacles can be. It is easy to give up when there isn’t anything to look forward to. So most importantly;

h) Create your own opportunities, do not wait for them to fall from the sky. Because, sweety, its not going to happen that way. Not for many of us, anyway.

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Two comments on “5 Steps to Becoming a Malay Singer in Singapore”

  • Fazley Yaakob says:

    Very well said Mr.Imran! this should be a good reference for many. Even in Malaysian this can be a wake up call for those who wants the same. Thank you for ‘boxing outside the thinking’ as oppose to thinking outside the box. Kudos!

  • Kak Lin says:

    This is interesting and very useful tips indeed, Imran.. and it is nicely summarised. Couldn’t agree more with what has been written.

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