Pop Culture

Do budding musicians still need record labels to get their music heard?

Today, there are many ways for home-grown musicians and singers to market themselves and sell their music

When it was announced last week that record label and artist management company S2S - home to Singapore acts such as Tay Kewei and Bonnie Loo - has shut down, there was in the industry no chest-beating, no hair-tearing and no soul-searching.

There was, in fact, a sense of inevitability about it, given the decline of music sales over the years.

Besides, are record labels still relevant to our home-grown music acts today?

While Sony Music last week released the long-awaited debut album by rising pop act The Sam Willows, there has never been a better time than now for artists to get their name and, more importantly, their music out there.

Any musician and singer today can get their music online for others to listen to for free, or for a price, and at the same time use social media to market themselves or keep fans updated on their comings and goings.

Earlier this year, self-taught local electronic dance music producer Myrne scored himself a contract with American superstar DJ Diplo's label by putting his work on Soundcloud.

At their core, record companies help artists come up with recordings, market and sell them, handle the publishing and help them grow and reach their full potential.

Today, there are plenty of ways all these can be DIY and inexpensively (quality home recording equipment seems to be getting cheaper and better all the time), especially for new and up-and-coming acts.

There has been a sea change in the way people get their music fix these days, whether they are serious, crate-digging music geeks or they want to hear tunes in the background while they work.

The closure of the last HMV store in Singapore at the end of September was further proof of the decline in the popularity of music in physical formats here.

The resurgence of vinyl is an exception of course, but it is still a niche hobby and unlikely to be the music medium of choice for mass consumers.

What this means is that new acts can choose to skip the costly and time-consuming process of getting CDs into brick-and- mortar stores and go straight to digital distribution companies such as CD Baby which will get their songs on major online channels including iTunes and Spotify.

Of course, few artists enjoy being bogged down by the business side of music, and rightly so, as they should be focusing their energy on their art.

Which is why it is so important to get help in the form of a manager or a team to handle all the nitty-gritty, from booking shows, handling accounts to getting press and dealing with royalty issues.

In these aspects, home-grown companies such as House Of Riot and Bedsty do an excellent job with their acts, including Charlie Lim and TheLionCityBoy.

However, the fact that major labels Universal, Sony and Warner are still operating in Singapore proves that they are still a force to be reckoned with here.

Besides marketing the Taylor Swifts, Drakes and other marquee, international pop stars, the last couple of years have also seen them sign on more home-grown acts.

In the case of The Sam Willows, the band themselves admitted that their label Sony Music played a huge role in getting their debut album released finally, years after they started establishing themselves in the market.

Sony Music has also signed on other Singaporean acts who have garnered significant achievements. They include Trick, who picked up top local English pop song prize at the recent Compass awards, and Sezairi, who won a Best Collaboration (Song) accolade at regional Malay music awards show Anugerah Planet Muzik.

Universal Music has expanded into the concert promotion business and not just for its global acts. Next month, it will stage a show for one of their recent local signings, singer-songwriter Gentle Bones, at the Esplanade Concert Hall, a landmark venue for any artist here.

Warner Music was instrumental in getting talented singer- songwriter Reuby out of the bedroom and into the regional music market - he became the first Singaporean to win at the Hong Kong Asian-Pop Music Festival in March.

Having been in the industry for so long, major record labels have the expertise, connections and, of course, money, to ensure that their artists reach larger audiences.

But getting signed to a major label is just one way of getting the music out there, especially in the relatively small music scene in Singapore.

And for known talents such as Tay Kewei and The Sam Willows, they will keep on churning out music, whether they are signed to labels or not.

For musicians, especially those starting out, there has never been so much freedom in choosing what works best for them.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 04, 2015, with the headline 'Looking beyond record labels'. Print Edition | Subscribe