Heartlands are alive with the sound of musicBY EVAN ROBERTS
From an operational perspective, the home computer had a profound effect on the local music and recording industry. We had computers and other equipment in the 70s and 80s that did similar things to what we have today, but these were large, expensive installations.
A recording studio at this time could easily cost S$1,000,000 in the currency of the time. By the 90s this had dropped to S$100,000 and now you can accomplish the same results for S$1,000, and with much better equipment. This has had many impacts on our industry.
People often ask me "whatever did you do in the old days?” Well, we settled for less and had to get it right, first time, with ‘real time’ crafting skills. We only created one version of a given project and that took all day or all week.
Today, we are able to make as many versions or permutations of the project that we or our clients desire. We didn't have non-destructive editing back then, so we hired a person who was trained to speak a block of text and who could deliver it in 30 seconds without making a mistake.
But we only had a handful of such skilled people, fewer still in a small market like Singapore. People like this are still around but are by no means required. Now, I can get almost anyone I want to read for broadcast television voice over or radio and knit all the pieces together, time squeeze, process and do all manner of things to make them sound huge.
I can even use someone who can't hold a tune and knock them into shape to the point where it sounds like they can sing a complex song with all the backing vocals, or I can turn someone speaking conversationally, who never sang at all, into a singing performance, disturbing to hear as that is!
I can play an orchestra on my music keyboard that sounds increasingly more like the real thing. I can fix bad playing from a performer and make use of what would have previously been unusable, or replicate a group of players, or use a kit set of prepared flexible recordings that I can augment instead of hiring a group of people to do this job.
Now, anyone with an idea about how to do something creative with music or audio can get quite far in their HDB bedroom, even to the point where they could record, mix, produce and distribute a final product if they had enough knowledge. So, this evolution has given us an opportunity for wider range of creative talent and more opportunity for those people. Talent that might not otherwise have been encouraged, because that million dollar equipment previously required would only have been offered to that one person that showed an outstanding talent in that area.
Those interested in educating themselves in our industry also have a big advantage. Singaporeans who are very tech-savvy and can ride the many benefits of online Media resources. There's free audio software, free extensive video tutorials on any subject, and 24 hour access to professionals online to get your efforts heard and your questions answered.
You can get feedback and support from potential fans or pay a small amount of money for professional feedback from an array of social networks, and create a global fan base for your work if you are doing well, how’s that for encouragement?
Singapore Students entering the job market now would have been able to buy "Reason" at the age of 10 for well under $$1,000 in the year 2000, and have that million dollar equipment sitting on their PC at home to play with, when I was 10 the only computer available had 16 k of memory and would struggle to produce a word document.
I would not have been allowed access to the equivalent of Reason at that time. No one would have risked me damaging it!
School leavers today also have had access to iMovie or adobe Premier and a camcorder from an early age and could have trained themselves to edit, direct and produce video.
There's an emerging class of talent trained to produce audio and video together. A person like this does the job of 10 or more people from the last millennium.
For example, my job entails recording, editing, directing, producing music, playing musical instruments, singing, designing sounds, mixing, programming, and voice over. The complexity and flexibility of the clever people that designed my computer software means I can even set up my computer to do much of the work required automatically, freeing me up to also offer creative input including writing or to be involved in helping with executing the concept.
The downside of access to this wide range of equipment means that some of these emerging multi skilled people have massive gaps in their craft knowledge. Some have surface knowledge of software but no deep knowledge of the subject - Jacks of all trades but masters of none. For example, many of us can knock something up in Photoshop but have no idea what half of the features do, or the reasons behind why they are features.
From a work perspective, globalisation and the rapid increase in the size of large companies with the decline of television's central role as an advertising platform has affected some of the work we get nowadays. In the 80s and 90s, television was king in Singapore. This meant the TV advertising work we were asked to do was plentiful and diverse with quite a bit of money invested in these productions. Some TV ads were very entertaining and unusual.
As advertising moves towards the online platform, we have seen smaller budgets for television projects and fewer of them; this is to be expected and the sound and music industry needs to roll with it.
Larger companies still make TV ads for their products. I'm told by staff from these companies that they aren't able to quickly track the effectiveness of their TV advertising due to the increased reach of the companies and scale of markets.
This means they need to know in advance whether the TV ad is going to work, because the consequences are increasingly greater than they used to be. This means that these large companies want to put their TV ads in front of test audiences first. We have not seen so much of a decline in audience testing projects that we call ‘animatics’. This is a demo of a TV ad played to a test audience.
Market testing weeds out the things that an audience doesn't like or understand and in a conservative with a small ‘c’ market such as Singapore this filtration can be important. Unfortunately these are also the things that are quirky, fun, clever and unusual. So when you collate these opinions and take away the things that various audiences object to or don't understand, you get very bland results, which in turn produce bland local TV ads. You see this is large scale movie projects as well nowadays, all of which are audience-tested.
The rise of the internet has also changed and increased options for any emerging local artist wanting to do music professionally. If you're a musician who has a band or music project today, the move towards online is both a blessing and a curse.
The Blessing is that Marketing and Distribution was previously something handled by record companies when there were only CD and record shops. Now you can hire an aggregator who you can work with directly, so you can be your own record company.
You can pay your aggregator who deals with a distributor as little as 10 dollars, and your music will end up in a large professional music distribution site like Amazon, Beatport or iTunes. You keep 60 percent or more of your sales, versus 5 percent with a record company.
You have to do your own marketing, but this is quite easy with social networking tools like Bandcamp and Twitter. When you perform live, you display your Twitter account on your flyers and at your performances. Wherever you perform publicly anyone who sees and likes you can subscribe to your service and track your act. This is a fan database that builds itself that you control and own. As you do more projects, you can immediately communicate with this resource for targeted advertising and promotion. If you do any kind of performing in a public arena and want to build a client base, you should be capitalising on this advantage.
The Curse is that a whole generation of Singaporean music lovers have grown up with free music courtesy of napster, limewire, and more recently the various torrent providers. If you are a musician and spend money and time promoting your product, you increase the likelihood that your music will end up in a torrent compilation. The more famous you become, the more likely your music will be distributed free without your consent.
Also, Twitter is a marvelous marketing tool but it is possible to end your career with a few badly chosen words. It has already severely damaged the careers of various artists and actors who didn't understand the potential of these very powerful social networking tools. But the bottom line is that the new Media have certainly created a situation in which you don’t have to have made it through to the finals of Singapore Idol just in order to get noticed! With online resources and affordable software the Heartlands Are Alive with the Sound of Music!