One Small Voice: Rani Singam

Published on 11 November 2014

Can one survive as a jazz singer in Singapore? RANI SINGAM enlightens us.

TEXT BY PAMELA HO

When I first started singing jazz professionally in 2002, [email protected] – a quintessential jazz club in town – had just opened. There was also Somerset’s Bar at Raffles City, one of the oldest jazz joints here. Both these places have since closed down. The only listening room for jazz in Singapore is currently Singjazz Club, formerly known as Sultan Jazz Club. 

Sadly, not many venues provide live jazz music these days. Hence it’s quite difficult to rely on working in clubs or hotels as a regular source of income. Many of us have found that a career in music becomes more sustainable if we diversify our income sources.

Many musicians hold teaching jobs for a base salary. Corporate gigs are also another viable source of income, provided one is good at marketing. I’ve been fortunate enough to perform regularly at corporate events, weddings, festivals and concerts.

Aside from that, I also conduct vocal master classes. Since 2007, I’ve run a jazz appreciation programme for young people called ‘Jazz 123 – Rani Sings for Kids’, which has been a part of the National Arts Council – Arts Education Programme (NAC-AEP) since 2013.

One of the biggest issues I face is keeping my professional fees competitive. There have been instances where agents have grossly inflated the fee they quote to clients to earn their commission. The best solution I’ve found is to represent myself or to only work with agents I trust.

Sometimes, I’m also asked to perform at charity events for free. But unless it’s one of my adopted charities, I insist on an honorarium at the very least. I still find this difficult because clients don’t always appreciate the time, effort and opportunity cost involved in committing to a job.   

Having worked as a lawyer for seven years and as a singer for 12, I have come to realise that the most important ingredient for success in any career is professionalism.

Professionalism to me is about learning the ropes, having a positive attitude, being a team player and most of all, having respect – respect for one’s self and for fellow musicians, clients, the media and audiences.

It is also important to never stop learning. I am a self-taught musician. When I started to sing jazz, the Internet was my school. I am still learning today, on the job.

Sometimes, serendipity steps in, too. Indeed, it was a video recording of an interview on BFM Radio when I was in Kuala Lumpur for a club gig that landed me my first acting role in Cathay’s upcoming movie, Our Sister Mambo. And it was a simple demo CD that got the attention of jazz maestro Jeremy Monteiro, who produced my first album ‘With A Song In My Heart’.

Looking back, I think Singapore audiences have changed partly because they’re so spoilt for choice these days. It’s not a bad thing. What it means is that it’s really important to give each performance 150 per cent. When you do and people see that, the reception can be simply overwhelming. It is that which spurs me each time to do my best.

Rani Singam is a much sought-after jazz vocalist, lyricist, recording artist, educator and actress, with a career spanning over 12 years. She is also a founding member and director of the Musicians’ Guild of Singapore, a member of COMPASS, and an external assessor for music projects for the National Arts Council.

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