Singaporean artists on the importance of mentorship: “So much of the music business can’t be taught through textbooks”

Members of M1LDL1FE, Stopgap, Coming Up Roses and more talk about how they’ve been guided in their music careers

In partnership with *SCAPE

Singapore’s music scene is small and tight-knit, and it’s not uncommon for lifelong friendships relationships – sometimes between the unlikeliest people – to bloom and bear fruit.

That includes the bond of mentorship, which is often fostered by local music bodies and programmes. These include *SCAPE Music Day Out!, which is an event that offers live performances and conference panels but also a yearly mentorship programme called ALT. Residency.

At Music Day Out! on October 23, *SCAPE will run its Demo Drop, where emerging musicians can bring their material to a review session where industry professionals – including performers, songwriters, producers and event programmers – will give feedback on what they hear, whether it’s an experimental new single or a homemade demo.

The Demo Drop will also be how *SCAPE selects the musicians for ALT. Residency, where they will be paired with seasoned mentors who will share their experience on both the creative and industry fronts, empowering them to produce a four-song EP and a music video for release in 2022.

One of ALT. Residency’s mentors is Tan Peng Sing, the guitarist of M1LDL1FE and head of indie label Where Are The Fruits, whose roster includes dream pop band Saints Amongst Sinners, singer-songwriters lewloh, Marian Carmel and many more.

“In my own line of work as a label manager, I often find myself taking on the role of a mentor as well,” he says, “sharing knowledge, past experiences, and also just encouraging artists and letting them know that someone else also shares their struggle.”

Having been through the mentorship process himself, Tan trusts in its importance. “So much of what happens in the music business can’t really be taught through a textbook,” he explains.

“I mean, you could spell out how royalties work, distribution, publishing, etc. But the real world is always quite fuzzy around the edges with a lot more gray areas and niche market-specific norms. So [it’s good to be] able to meet someone in the field to even just hang out with them, ask questions, and soak up the knowledge.”

Listen to M1LDL1FE's gritty new single 'Can’t Seem to Get Anything'
M1LDL1FE, with Tan Peng Sing second from left. Credit: Press

A mentorship can be tremendously fruitful on a professional but also personal level. Such was the case for indie rock band Coming Up Roses, who underwent a mentorship programme in 2018 and will be performing at *SCAPE Music Day Out! this year. “When I think about mentors, I think of two very precious people who mean the world to me,” says frontwoman Emily Sera.

The band received the mentorship of Leonard Soosay and Lennat Mak, the former a veteran record producer/engineer at Snakeweed Studios (and a mentor for ALT. Residency) and the latter an A&R executive at Warner Music Singapore.

Soosay, described by Sera as “one of the kindest people I’ve ever met”, provided feedback on Coming Up Roses’ music and supervised the recording sessions for their first EP, while Mak guided the band on the essentials of music industry know-how.

Though the bulk of the mentorship happened during a specific time period, Coming Up Roses cultivated enduring relationships with both Mak and Soosay. Sera remains grateful for their time together. “Without them, I don’t think my band would have become what we are today.”

For Music Day Out! performer Shak’thiya Subramaniamm – who has performed over the years solo and with his band The Baits – he learned a valuable lesson during his mentorship that could only result from serious soul-searching.

“There’s no point looking to get mentored if you aren’t gonna put in the time and effort. You’re not only wasting your time, but you’re wasting your mentor’s time,” he states. “[It’s] something I was guilty of. But, you know, live your life and reflect as you go.”

The years have only made Shak’thiya wiser, and he sincerely believes in mentorship wherever you can find it.

“You’d be surprised by how keen people in the music industry are to help you along your way, if you’re reasonable with your requests,” the singer-songwriter says. “Like the difference between, ‘Can you give me feedback on this demo?’ and ‘Can you record me for free?’. You get what you give, so give.”

Shak'thiya Subramaniamm and the Baits SCAPE Music Day Out
Shak’thiya Subramaniamm. Credit: Henzy David.

Besides being reasonable with what you ask of your mentor, it also helps to have specific goals that you’d like to work towards with them. When a mentorship doesn’t work out, it could just be a matter of incompatibility – not a failure of the process itself.

Adin Kindermann, who will be performing at Music Day Out! with his band Stopgap and is also A&R manager at Sony Music Entertainment Singapore – remembers when his band entered a mentorship with an industry expert they respect.

Stopgap have always been protective of their sound, with an attitude Kindermann candidly describes as a “gang mentality”, and their mentor’s input was simply not what they were looking for.

But they remained open to the process and found another mentor who ended up a kindred spirit: Saiful Idris, former frontman of indie rock band The Great Spy Experiment.

“He really understood what we were after,” Kindermann says. “It wasn’t just on a surface level like ‘Oh, yeah, I understand what you are doing’ – but what we were doing was naturally a part of his own musical makeup as well.”

Ultimately, mentorship is all about empowering young artists to take strides forward as they begin making music professionally. Mentorship can help demystify the music industry for young artists and ease the external pressure that can cramp their internal development.

As Shak’thiya himself puts it, “Mentors have helped me see that there aren’t levels, or tiers, there is only progress. There is only the journey inwards.”

*SCAPE Music Day Out! will host the Demo Drop Review on October 23. Get your music heard by Baybeats programmer Akilesh, M1LDL1FE bassist (and producer and label exec) David Siow, songwriter-producer Josh Wei, and Weish of .gif and sub:shaman. The deadline for Demo Drop submissions is on November 7 – find out more here.

For more information on other *SCAPE Music Day Out! activities from October 18-23, including live performances, panels and workshops, click here.

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