It's my first time as a mentor for Noise Singapore's The Music Mentorship programme this year. I'd heard about it for the first time many years ago when Jason Tan and Don Richmond were involved. I'd been spending a lot of time at their old recording studio and they were mentors to Zahidah and Shigga Shay respectively and I remember thinking it was such a great idea to enable newbies to learn from experienced musicians in a non-threatening, organic environment. Giving back to the community is an important part of our scene. It continues the legacy of the musicians' role of passing on history aurally in some way.
At the feedback session yesterday I felt pretty inspired seeing the variety of young artists who have talent and purpose. Most interesting to me were Canvas Conversations (experimental electronica), Zeeaura (jazz influenced pop performance art) and Sangriento (J-Rock influenced melodic power metal).
My mentees this year are singer-songwriters, Stephy Cube, Fym Summer, who I share with Randolf Arriola and Lewis Loh, who I share with Sara Wee. Both Stephy and Fym performed 2 songs at the feedback session yesterday and afterwards I had to do an interview for the camera to answer a few questions including what I'd learned from my mentees. It was the end of the day and I was a little tired and rushing to get to 100bands + 50 so I didn't really get the chance to reflect on this question til I was alone with my thoughts later. On camera I said something about seeing them nervous and excited and it reminding me of starting out as a teenager. Upon deeper reflection what I've learned from them so far and what I wish I'd said is:
1. The struggle and the pain can help you find your purpose.
Fym was very brave to bear her soul at yesterday's session and spoke honestly about feeling frustrated about how it seemed like money was so essential to getting yourself out there, and that it made her feel like it was too hard. As an artist she is magnetic and writes beautiful sad songs. You can tell that she feels very deeply and for such an emotional artist the creative process can be much more draining than usual. The panel comprised musicians who have been involved in their craft for over 10 years, who have felt and continue to relate to that struggle but have the benefit of hindsight to know it's part of the journey and it's worth it to just keep creating. The reason for doing so is best found in Fym's answer to a poignant question asked by Brandon Khoo (drummer for The UnXpected), "Why do you make music? What's the first thing that comes into your head?" and Fym's answer was "Because I was born to do it."
2. You must never be afraid to be who you are.
Stephy came to meet me a few days before the feedback session. I wish I could spend more time with my mentees but my workload is sometimes so intense that it can be difficult. I try to make up for it by being as efficient with my critique as possible but I still greatly wish I could just spend every day with them to help them along with their journey.
Stephy wasn't sure about playing a song she auditioned for Noise with called Emergency Ward. As someone studying to be a doctor she didn't want to highlight that part of her because she was worried about being judged for it - that people would think she was showing off if she incorporated it into her identity as a singer-songwriter. But to me that was the most interesting and inspiring thing about her. The panel of mentors connected with that song the most and I think that gave her the assurance she needed that it was ok to be true to herself. Eddino Hadi (formerly guitarist/vocalist of the popular band, force Vomit turned influential music journalist) described her as an "unpolished diamond" and I think it's important for any musician starting out to be true to themselves in the creation of their art.
3. Young Singaporeans who are making music in varying sub-genres feel a need to reach out to their community in a meaningful way that showcases the kind of music they do because they are already worried there is not enough of an audience.
This insight is useful to me as the programme director of Lush 99.5FM, which has a basic philosophy to celebrate the local music community in all its sounds and styles. I thought the members of the panel answered this anxiety well, whether it was Saiful Idris (Great Spy Experiment) who said it was ok that an artist made music that wasn't mainstream and accepting that was important, or Daniel Sassoon (In Each Hand A Cutlass) who rightfully articulated that it was dangerous to get too clique-ish instead of connective with their contemporaries.
I realize now one of the beautiful functions of the Noise Singapore iniative. Whether or not they realize it, these young musicians are on a journey to find their unique voice while being opened to the idea that there are many different voices, and we can ALL live in the same space with respect. It is this function that I am most grateful to them for.
4. Failure is imperative.
None of anything I've said has not been said before.
I think all the time about the impact of my creative decisions on my culture, whether it's through making music or strategic decisions for Lush. I separate this from the actual creation process a little but it's always part of anything I do because I like to make sure that I am always actioning on a purpose.
When I look at my mentees I am reminded of myself as a young, unsure, insecure artist starting out. Over 15 years on, I'm able to keep doing what I do because I cannot separate music from my identity and because the experiences I've had - both good and bad - have given me time to hone my craft and find confidence in my instincts. I've learned to focus the consideration of others as a means of connection instead of a need for approval and I've also toughened my skin to the things that are not useful for artistic development. And I would not have discovered this if I hadn't learned to appreciate the mistakes.
Mistakes are simply just opportunities in disguise.