Local indie acts signed by major record labels

The Sam Willows were signed by Sony Music Entertainment last week. -- PHOTO: TNP FILE
The Sam Willows were signed by Sony Music Entertainment last week. -- PHOTO: TNP FILE

Local acts such as Gentle Bones and The Sam Willows can reach larger audiences

Bands and singer-songwriters such as The Sam Willows and Gentle Bones need no introduction to the local music scene.

As independent artists, they have each built a sizeable fan base in Singapore, managing to produce songs that have done well on the local music charts.

But they are hoping to further their careers now that they have signed to a major record label.

Recently, Sony Music Entertainment Asia Pacific announced the signing of three local artists - folk-pop quartet The Sam Willows, singer-songwriter Sezairi and hip-hop act Trick - along with its launch of a new music brand consultancy, called Brands Solutions Hub.

Three days before that, Universal Music Singapore announced it signed indie-pop act Gentle Bones to its label, with a "360-degree deal" that includes recording and publishing rights, events, endorsements and merchandise.

This is the first time Universal Music has signed a Singaporean artist.

The man behind Gentle Bones, Joel Tan, 21, says as an independent artist, "you can have a lot of ideas and a vision in mind, but you work with limited resources... the English music scene is pretty hard for you to make a sustainable living".

Now that he is with Universal, he hopes to reach out to a bigger audience.

"It's hard to attain contacts independently. You could travel and tour for years and still not have half the number of contacts a label can have," he says.

Mr Lim Teck Kheng, marketing director of Universal Music Singapore, says there are "definitely discussions with international producers for the new Gentle Bones release".

On top of planning tours and releases in different countries, he adds that the record label's roster of regional and international artists means there is a good pool of talent to tap from for possible collaborations.

Local singer-songwriter Reuby, whose single Sunshine reached No. 1 on iTunes Singapore's Top Singles Chart last year, has already gone regional with the help of his label Warner Music Singapore.

In the wake of his album launch last year, the company planned for him a tour which included stops in South Korea, the Philippines and Hong Kong.

Mr James Kang, artists and repertoire director of Warner Music Singapore, says: "His unique vocal tone, acute songwriting abilities and the advantage of his young age excited various territories."

In South Korea, a Warner affiliate managed to get one of Reuby's songs, The Key To Her Heart, featured on the popular drama Spy, giving the Singapore singer "instant regional attention".

Even with what The Sam Willows have achieved thus far independently - their self-titled debut EP made it to the top 30 most downloaded albums of 2013 and 2014 on iTunes Singapore and they have more than 52,000 subscribers on their YouTube Singapore channel - they have room to grow.

The band's singer-guitarist Benjamin Kheng, 25, says of their decision to sign with Sony: "We're just hoping to be able to attack bigger projects with a little more muscle. A major record label helps set a music act down a commercially viable path, especially if that aligns with the act's sound and vision."

Sony Music has already started the ball rolling, confirming The Sam Willows' releases in Australia, Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia, with Hong Kong and the Middle East to follow.

Mr Julius Ng, 52, managing director of Sony Music Singapore and Malaysia, says: "The challenge was really getting them out of Singapore. We needed to build a sound that is so international that we can sell them in any part of the world."

So the label has hooked the band up with veteran Sweden-based music producer Harry Sommerdahl, who has worked with popular acts such as The Wanted, Celine Dion and Ace Of Base. Most of the band's new songs for their upcoming album were recorded with him.

The good news for other aspiring singer-songwriters and bands: Universal and Sony are still on the look-out for more talent.

Sony Music's Mr Ng says: "We've covered three of the genres already - pop and hip-hop with Trick, adult contemporary with Sezairi, pop-folk with The Sam Willows - so we want to listen to something really different... maybe even a boyband or girlband."

melk@sph.com.sg