Monday, March 12, 2007

1st Street-singing experience in Singapore!

I meant to post some pictures that Tammy took for me during my street-singing today, but for some reasons all the pictures she took for me "disappear" once I reach home (while the earlier photos in the camera are still intact), so I guess I'd post my busking pictures next time. In any case, I was really psyched about today's busking. I've done plenty of street-singing in the States but this will be the first time doing my thing on Orchard Road. And THAT can actually makes a lot of difference.

First of all, you don't need a license to street-sing in America (well, at least not in the Bay Area) whereas in Singapore one would need to go through an audition (held once every month) before obtaining a license that specifies the exact locations one is allowed to perform on the streets. I stress the word exact because the National Arts Council really do have a long list of very specific "legal" locations. For those who intend to perform with an amplifier (which to me is a must unless you're confident of fighting against the noise from the traffic and all that jazz on Orchard Road), be sure to bring along the exact speaker that you'd be using to the audition too! The folks at NAC need to "check out" the volume of your speaker (despite the fact that the audition is held in a small conference room where you could literally hear someone whispering), and yours truly actually have to show up for auditions twice because of that! But that's another story.

In any case, after a 3 months break from street-singing, I finally found myself setting up my gears on the spacious pedestrian walk in front of Takashimaya (on Orchard Road). I arrived at 11 in the morning and was prepared to sing till 3pm. The spot I chose has a huge tree above so I know I won't die from heat exhaustion. However, the place doesn't have the kind of acoustic (echo effect) that I was hoping to get (I guess the pedestrian walkway is too wide for the sound to be "trapped"). Coupled with the occasionally "deafening" noise from those decades-old SBS buses, i wouldn't say that it's my most memorable place to street-sing. The humidity is also something that I find myself having difficulties adjusting to (somehow my throat gets dried up much faster compared to when I was busking in San Francisco). Nevertheless I knew that this was my first time doing this in Singapore so it'd probably take a few more times before I seek out the perfect spot and get used to singing for 4 hours non-stop under such weather conditions.

What's more intriguing to me, however, was to observe how will the passers-by behave differently compared those in the States. Before I left the house in the morning, my mum, in her typical "you-shouldn't-be-singing-when-you-should-be-working" self, chided me by saying that "I wouldn't give you any money if I were to see you busking on the streets...because you look so normal."

For those non-Singaporeans reading this post, the statement my mum made might not make much sense. Fact is, a substantial (perhaps even majority though I can't say for certain) proportion of the buskers in Singapore are actually handicapped in some ways. So it's fairly often to see a blind person performing outside a train station. Busking, to them, might actually mean a means to become financially independent, or at least be an additional source of income. That is what my mum mean by saying that I look "normal". To my mum, and I suspect she's not alone in this mentality in Singapore, a person who needs to "resort" to performing on the streets is compelled to do so because of difficult circumstances (=> 逼不得以). She thinks that there're "proper" venues for one to perform music (such as a musical concert?) if one really wants to share their music.

Of course, I'm not doing it for the money. However, I still put up a $$ collection box in front when I street-sing because I want my busking trip to be an activity to be as financially-self-sustainable as possible (ie. pay for cabs, water and snacks to consume during busking, the cost of making those CDs that I give out for free etc). Will this actually draw away the $$ from those who needed it much more than me (for instance the blind dude who sings outside MRT station)? I thought hard about the question and in the end, I decided that the likelihood of that is quite low. Besides, I'd actually be much more satisfied if some passers-by actually stop for abit and listen to me for a while, even if they don't give me a dime.

In that regard, I was disappointed today. It could be because of the weather, or the noise, or that I didn't sing well, but very few people actually stopped to listen (except Tammy and Nicholas of course, who purposely dropped by to give me some moral support for my "virgin" attempt in Singapore). By the time I stopped at 3pm, I had about $52++ in my box. Sounds like a very decent sum but actually there're three 10-dollar notes in there. If you go with the rationale that only those who stick around for a bit would give their $$, then it's quite obvious that most passers-by, well, just pass by me. This is quite a stark difference from my experience in the States where I'd be getting roughly the same amount (in US$ of course), but in much smaller denominations. Perhaps I should also add that most of the $$ I receive today came from tourists or "Ang Mo"s (=> Caucasians).

I refuse to attribute that to my mum's "you look normal" perception of street-performers like me yet (I'd rather blame it on my poor performance). After all this is my first time and it'd probably take a while before I get more comfortable with street-singing here. But if there're many here who view busking as a "last resort earner", then I hope there'd be more street-performers like me in Singapore who'd work to change that view (and frankly speaking, there ain't that many of us in Singapore now. I was told by NAC that so far they've given out about 130 busking licenses since 2002, a number that I feel is too small for our 4-million population). Anyhow, hopefully the next time I blog on this subject I'd have better things to say and pictures to post~

Some other oddities that happen during my street-singing today:

- One rather dubious-looking man kept pestering me to let him sing, to which I politely rejected him by saying that the license forbids me from doing so (actually I'm not sure if that's really the case...but a valid excuse nevertheless). After that he came back a few times to call me a "selfish bastard". Perhaps I should tell him that I've dealt with much more dangerous-looking men while singing in the States...

- A group of girls who obviously were supposed to be doing some kind of survey (as their jobs) were actually slacking most of the time and sitting right next to me...they asked me to play a few songs for them before I called it a day...

- Tammy (thanks lo po zai!) was really sweet and bought me a packet of Tako Pachi (which I love!). I left it on my guitar case, thinking that I'd eat them in a while. Bad decision. Next thing I knew a stray cat had already taken the box apart and munching through my "lunch"!

- A newly-wed couple were taking ROM shots on Orchard Road and their photographer asked me to be their "prop" (in his own words). The couple was "forced" to clap along as they pretended to be enjoying my song. Really staged, really awkward.


Kevin said...

OMG, this is hilarious! It's brave of you to bask in the streets and you mum made a good point... they all mums tend to think that if you're young and able, you should be begging (which is really different from basking of course!).

Next time you try this again, let me know. I'll bring my video camera along to record some clips for you. :)

Benjamin Koe said...

Awesome! Your post made my day. =) What songs were you singing? Something you composed or like common songs? I wonder if it helps singing songs people are familiar with.

Michael Cho said...

hey kevin, ben,

thanks for your kind words dudes~

Ben, I do sing both originals and covers...but you're right that often times it's the popular covers that gets people's attention.

Kevin, I'd try to let you know the next time I do this...although it'd probably be a rather last-minute notice since it depends alot on my mood, weather and other "last-minute" factors :P thanks for offering to film me thou...

anisuuu. said...

Hi im teratai i salute you for your hardwork and Singaporean has no knowledge dont say appreciate music!!I would agree with you as music has never been reconised as money making hence its not normal to basked.Well in other countries it seems you are talented and gifted. Please keep doin what you believed in.It takes time to change their mindset,if Snr Prime Miniter dont think music is making$$$$ what the big deal of our Durian??you think so?Congratulations for you gutsy move.Its only your firstime prove the wrong..All the best.

shirozen said...

Hi there Michael! This is ZeN here, you may not have heard or even noticed me but you're definitely someone I look up to! I have seen your videos and you done great!

Its true that most people in Singapore busk are physically disabled and thus, gives an impression on the masses that busking is somewhat a kind of begging activity.

Despite that, I'm against all odds on trying to become a busker and hope I'll get my license soon as I failed the audition three times already. Doesn't stop me from trying though, its a passion!

Well, actually I was there today while you're doing the filming but didn't get a chance to know you better. Its a pity but well, you were great!