Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Speech by NMP Janice Koh at Music Matters 2014

ON THURS 22 MAY 2014

1.             Distinguished guests, ladies and gentleman, a good morning to all of you. May I first take this opportunity to give a special welcome to all our friends who are visiting Singapore. It’s really wonderful to see so many music artists, producers, managers and thought leaders from the industry, both from here and abroad, at Music Matters today.

2.             Thank you, Jasper, for the introduction, and the invitation to make this welcome address. It is indeed a great pleasure to be part of this prestigious event.

3.             I have spent a good part of the last two years or more as a Nominated Member of Parliament, representing Culture and the Arts in Singapore. As an actor and arts practitioner for over two decades, working in theatre, television and film, it is a privilege to play this role in helping to shape the development of Singapore’s art scene. But today, I’m going to talk about Singapore music, and in particular, Singapore English-language music. I’m not from the music scene, yet I feel I have journeyed a little with the music industry over the last two years.

4.             This journey began in January 2012, interestingly enough, at the old Parliamentary Chamber, which had been converted into a performing venue at The Arts House. I was at a forum attended by a house full of freelance music artists, promoters and producers. They had gathered to discuss the state of the music industry in Singapore and the need to speak with one collective voice. I was probably the only non-musician in the whole room. That many talented Singapore musicians and indie bands were still largely invisible in mainstream media simply floored me. How do we even begin to talk about a sustainable music industry when there is so little awareness of homegrown music amongst Singaporeans themselves?

5.             Barely a few months after, at the 2012 Budget Debate, I gave one of my first speeches in Parliament about the need for a broadcast quota in Singapore. It was the first of many speeches and parliamentary questions raised on the issue of music development, and while the journey towards change has not been easy over the last two years, I can safely say that as a result of deeper consultation with government and advocacy on the part of industry, a significant amount of effort and attention is being placed on music development in Singapore today.
6.             Government has played no small part in this process by promoting dialogue between music makers, broadcasters as well as other industry partners, and there have been encouraging signs that some positive changes are beginning to take place.

7.             First. Radio has stepped up and listened. In this age of Youtube, social media and new digital technologies, I believe radio is still important. Culminating from meetings that were catalysed by Music Matters, Mediacorp radio stations have been playing 1 song per hour on English radio, and re-launched Lush 99.5 as an indie station, dedicated to supporting this cause with its “Lush loves local” hashtag and with regular programming of Singapore-made music. It may not be enough. But for now, it’s a good start, and we hope more radio stations will come on board.

8.             Second. We have been asking for greater consolidation within government agencies and a strong vision that would take a holistic view of the music industries’ needs. I believe they are listening, with recent news that the National Arts Council may transition to become the central agency to administer all music grants.

9.             Third, on copyright protection. Increasing online piracy is a global problem, which adversely affects the creative sector. In response, the Government is intending to amend Singapore's Copyright Act to enable rights holders to protect their rights more effectively against websites whose primary purpose is to offer infringing content. Alongside this, efforts will be made to reinforce the public's understanding of and respect for copyright in general, and to promote better availability of legitimate content. The music industry in Singapore has shown strong support for these objectives.

10.        Finally, music export has continued to be an intrinsic part for industry development due to the relatively small size of Singapore’s market. We welcome back Deon, Caracal and Kevin Lester from their recent shows at Canadian Music Week (CMW). Canadian Music Week is an important platform for us in the music event calendar, and with many Singapore artists regularly being invited to perform there highlights the ongoing interest in our talent.

11.        We’re also beginning to see industry success for Singapore artists. Sony Music Singapore has recently signed three acts - Sezairi, Trick and Gentle Bones, whom, I understand, will be making their appearance in the programme later. Cosmic Armchair was recently signed to Belgian EDM (Electronic Dance Music) label Alfa Matrix; Wormrot was recognised as one of Grindcore’s Top 10 bands worldwide by OC Weekly; MonsterCat’s debut album ‘The Violet Hour’ reached Number 1 on iTunes, and local labels such as Darker Than Wax are building a strong presence internationally.

12.        Many of these developments would not have been possible without the music industry coming together to speak with one voice. This happened two years ago, when the Music Society, Singapore or SGMUSO was born on this very platform at Music Matters. We know that industry associations have always played a big part in promoting music development in countries like Canada, Australia, the UK and the US, and it is no different here in Singapore. I would like to acknowledge the contributions of the founding members of SGMUSO and its current team, including Graham Perkins, Syaheed, Mike See, Danny Loong, Kevin Matthews and Sarah Sim, and all its 820 members, who have come together, and put their vested interests aside to tirelessly push for the promotion and advancement of Singapore-made music.

This week, over 100 members of SGMUSO have been given free access to participate in the Music Matters conference and the exclusive Music Matters Academy that begins tomorrow. This year, the Academy has been expanded to include all artists performing at Music Matters Live, which will enable a greater opportunity for learning and collaboration. For this, I’d like to thank Jasper and HP for their kind support.

14.        The Singapore music industry has made some good strides, but I believe we still have a long journey ahead of us. Deeper, more sustainable efforts are needed if we want to transform what is now just a Singapore music scene into a Singapore music industry. This can only be achieved if key stakeholders play a part to ensure the wider accessibility of Singapore-made music. For a start, I’m proposing three ideas: First, a radio broadcast quota to help build an audience and jumpstart the demand for homegrown music. Second, a strong export strategy that can tap into the commercial and soft power potential of our music talent in international markets. Third, a central agency to promote excellence, support the needs of the music industry and develop a strong vision for everyone to work towards. Hopefully, as I mentioned earlier, one of them is being looked into right now – so, one down, two to go!

15.        The government has said that it cannot do this alone. Well, I have no doubt that with sustained efforts from industry professionals and associations like SGMUSO, to promote and advocate for Singapore music, we will get there in good time. Singapore is young. But I believe we can make our music a part of the lives and memories - not only of Singaporeans but music listeners worldwide - and that, one day, like many countries all over the world, we too will have a strong music heritage to look back upon, and be proud of.

16. On that note, I wish each and every one of you a wonderful and productive time at the conference. Thank you!

Published with permission

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