One Small Voice: Danny Loong

Published on 17 February 2015

Can Singapore’s Golden Age of music be resurrected? Timbre’s Danny Loong reckons it’s “not impossible”.

In the 1960s and ’70s, music played a different role. We were a young country and music was a way for us to come together, stay strong and define our cultural identity. As the years went by, society became comfortable and the role of music changed.

Back then, there were also less distractions. We have so many options for entertainment now! Can we bring back the heyday of Singapore bands? Tough, but not impossible. We have popular bands like 53A, The Sam Willows and Gentle Bones, but they’re not as popular as they should be. My benchmark would be if they release an album that becomes gold or platinum in the region. Filipino artists have done it.

Next, we need to find a way to get their music to what I call the ‘gatekeepers’ — people in America who make the decisions. Look at Psy! I know people will criticise me for bringing him up as an example, but most Americans know him.

Ten years ago, we started Timbre because we realised there were not enough live music venues in Singapore. You need to have an active, vibrant music scene, then you can produce enough talent to go out there. But they need experience playing live. To bring in crowds, we started with songs audiences wanted to hear. Along the way, we introduced projects like Singapore Originals, where we featured bands who wrote their own songs. Bands like Jack & Rai, Sara Wee’s 53A and Goodfellas connected well with live audiences and grew their fan base here.

The Timbre eco-system works like this: we have live music venues and we also have musicians who are experienced enough to teach. The Timbre Music Academy was set up to nurture young musicians and give them a platform to play regularly. This creates a more holistic approach than just teaching them, and them playing at their family BBQs!

It’s a tough life, I tell them. For the industry to grow, we need mentors who are willing to critique and give honest opinions. There’s still not enough real arts dialogue here. As an audience, you can play a part by smiling, clapping, cheering and saying ‘thank you’ if you enjoyed the music. It doesn’t cost a cent, but it makes a difference to the bands. Singaporeans are too guarded — we don’t have that basic etiquette yet.

I think it’s the duty of national broadcasters to push local content. Every other country has a natural instinct to do that, but we haven’t gotten there yet. What I’d really like to see in my lifetime is a Superstar from us!

The Canadian music scene was weak in the 1970s and ’80s until a certain Bryan Adams came along. Then the government came in with touring grants and a quota system for radio stations — I believe it was 30 per cent for Canadian music. Today, everybody knows a Bryan Adams song. Because of him, Canadian music grew. We need our Bryan Adams. We need that hit song that will make the world sit up and say, ‘Where’s Singapore?’ It will take time but it’s not impossible.

Danny Loong is the co-founder and chief creative director of Timbre Group, a homegrown company with a diversified portfolio of music lifestyle brands, including the Timbre chain of live-music restaurants and bars, international events Timbre Rock & Roots and Beerfest Asia, as well as Timbre Music Academy. Together with partner Edward Chia, he was conferred the Tourism Entrepreneur of the Year award by the Singapore Tourism Board in 2010. He was also bandleader of the now-defunct Asian blues band, Ublues.

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