Banding Together

Published on 18 January 2016

Deciding to be a full-time musician in Singapore can be daunting — but the Musicians Guild of Singapore provides a support network that amplifies possibilities.

BY PAMELA HO

When it comes to pursuing music as a career, “stable” is a term seldom used. Whether you’re a singer, songwriter, musician or sound engineer, jobs don’t always line up back-to-back. Even if they do, there are countless stories of musicians not being paid, or not being paid on time, and few have the legal know-how to safeguard their rights.

“Based on the focus group discussions we conducted, the topic of musicians’ pay was identified as one of the biggest areas of concern,” reveals Rani Singam, a founding member and director of the Musicians Guild of Singapore. “Advocacy in this area will figure in the Guild’s plans at a later stage. Due to limited resources, we’re focusing on building up immediate value-add and tangible services to members such as legal support, insurance, workshops and networking opportunities.”

Dedicated to supporting the careers, livelihoods and professional development needs of musicians working in Singapore, the Guild is a recipient of the National Arts Council Seed Grant from 2014 to 2016. Formed by a handful of industry stalwarts — including Singam, a lawyer turned full-time jazz singer; classical conductor Adrian Tan; and Chinese classical musician Yang Ji Wei — it was officially launched as a non-profit organisation on 25 April 2015.

“It’s the first of its kind in Singapore!” enthuses Melodie Mike Ng, a percussionist and handbell ringer. “When I was in the United Kingdom, I was a member of the Musicians’ Union which petitioned for better musicians’ welfare and protected our rights. I really benefited from the constant communication and support from the union. I hope the Guild here will grow into that some day, so I decided to join as a full member and build its strength. One has to start somewhere.”

GUILD(MORE) GIRL Jazz singer Rani Singam, a founding member and director of the Musicians Guild of Singapore, says the Guild is a ground-up initiative — by musicians, for musicians.
PHOTO Dju-Lian Chng

Heavyweight Backing

Industry giants such as Stefanie Sun and Dick Lee have lent tremendous credibility and relevance to the Guild. “Stefanie Sun joined the Guild on her own accord and even paid for her full membership,” Singam reveals, adding that in November last year — as part of the Guild’s ‘In the Spotlight’ series — Sun shared her experience and insights on what it takes to make it in the music business. The response from members was overwhelming, and Sun’s talk ended up being over-subscribed.

Sun’s admission into the Guild as a paying member and her active contribution have helped drive membership. And the momentum is growing with media coverage to augment these developments. “We’re confident that we will reach our target of 300 by the end of 2016,” says Singam.

IN THE SPOTLIGHT When pop sensation and Guild member Stefanie Sun (left) gave an exclusive talk last November, the response was overwhelming and membership spiked.  PHOTO Leon Loh

“Stef Sun’s talk was very inspirational. During the Q&A session, she answered our questions with total honesty. It made me question myself, and reminded me of why I chose to do music in the first place,” says Nur Afiq Jalaludin who is pursuing a diploma in music at LASALLE College of the Arts, and is a student member of the Guild. “I left feeling even more motivated to continue doing music.”

In the same spirit of community and leadership, Cultural Medallion recipient Dick Lee was involved as the moderator for Songwriting in Singapore — Ideas & Inspiration, a songwriters’ forum held on 11 January. The panellists included Jimmy Ye, Art Fazil, Inch Chua, Ruth Ling and Mohamed Raffee.

“The Guild is a ground-up initiative, so it’s very heartening to see the growing support within the music community through such active participation,” says Singam. “It’s all done on a voluntary basis, for the benefit of fellow musicians.”

We’ve Got Ya Back!

Members have also found the legal and financial planning talks helpful. For Ng, who holds an honours degree in music, “knowing I can get legal support puts me at ease when dealing with clients. The Guild also provides discounted insurance policies. The best thing is, the people behind this are musicians, so they understand our situation and are better able to advise us. The talks provide insight into what I should plan for and think about as a working musician in the local industry.”

However, as with any new organisation that is not-for-profit, the Guild’s primary challenge has been funding. It is presently run solely on its seed grant which totals S$210,000 for three years. That said, membership fees are not a significant source of revenue for the Guild. “We’ve kept fees affordable, with student memberships as low as S$50 per year. This is to enable all musicians, including aspiring ones, access to the benefits and services.

“Currently, all directors serve on the Board on a pro bono basis,” she adds. “With more funds, sponsorships and volunteers, the Guild hopes to hire full-time executives and administrators to take things to the next level, and to secure its long-term viability.”

PHOTO  Nur Afiq Jalaludin

For the Next Mile

To facilitate the smooth running of the Guild, arts manager Ng Siew Eng was brought in as general manager last November, around the time Adrian Tan stepped down from his role as executive director.

Of the recent changes, Singam explains that Tan “was the primary force in the creation of the Guild. He rallied the founding members, board of directors and our patron, Professor Tommy Koh, to form the Guild. Having kick-started operations, we decided to hire an administrator to take charge of overall operations. Adrian continues to serve as a director on the board.”

For her part, Ng Siew Eng brings a wealth of experience to the Guild, having managed the Singapore Symphony Orchestra, Singapore Dance Theatre and Singapore Lyric Opera. “I’m still new to the job, but I see my most immediate tasks as building infrastructure for the Guild and boosting membership,” she says. “The bigger picture is to promote the musicians’ welfare and interest. For that, you need lots of funding. The reality is that it won’t be easy, so let’s take it one step at a time.”

For members like Afiq and Melodie Mike Ng, the Guild remains a very important community for them. “Here, we meet people, exchange ideas and learn from one another. These are lessons that can’t be taught,” Afiq elaborates. “Also, we look out for one another. That’s important for any musician — to know we’re not alone on this path we’ve chosen.”

Ng concurs. “It’s very important that our little voices are heard, and heard as one.”

To find more about the work of the Musicians Guild of Singapore, visit www.musicians.sg.

DRUMMIN’ UP SUPPORT Percussionist and handbell ringer Melodie Mike Ng  joined the Guild as a full member because of her rewarding experience with a Musicians’ Union in the UK.
PHOTO  Melodie Mike Ng

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