Updated: Sep 15
As Drum Feng is gearing up for their October concert, some of you might be wondering how musical productions are set up. For veterans of the music business, professional productions are more than just tedious rehearsals and ensuring that every performer knows their music pieces at the back of their hand.
Back in March, Glen Ng from Drum Feng hosted an Instagram livestream with pipa performers, Gildon Choo and Chua Yew Kok. During this era of live performances returning to Singapore’s stages, the trio discussed the highs and lows of preparing for productions, and how digital presentations may be here to stay.
Screengrab of#LaichatwithDF featuring guests Gildon Choo and Chua Yew Kok
Money Makes The World Go Round
In 1968, the late prime minister Lee Kuan Yew said, “poetry is a luxury we cannot afford” at an event with students at the National University of Singapore (NUS). It sparked great debate on the value of Singapore’s arts industry. Under this school of thought, a big issue for the arts community would be: Funding.
“Some people think artists no need (to) eat,” Gildon, 30s, said. The pipa performer honed his musical talents at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA) and has worked with many a well-known performers and crew during his career. Funding is a sensitive but crucial issue which all production stakeholders should handle with transparency and great care. Many arts groups, including Drum Feng, rely on bootstrapping, self-funding and sponsorships to put together professional productions.
Like many other financial issues, the paperwork is often one of the deterrents in getting the ball rolling. The time-consuming process may eat into precious time which could be devoted to ideation and rehearsal hours. Whether one works in music or film/television production, all artists know the cutthroat deadlines they have to meet.
However, the saying, “When there’s a will, there’s a way”, rings true for most productions. Glen and Gildon agree that performers do not always perform on stage for monetary compensation. Although, artists should be fairly compensated for their labour and creativity.
The emergence of digital performances revealed the tenacity, compassion and resilience of many artists. YouTube natives would be familiar with Tiny Desk Concerts with NPR, and the #TogetherAtHome movement, where artists played music from homes to fans using online mediums. Gildon revealed that he put together a few “mini home concerts” with his fellow performers, at minimal costs. It was in the hope of sustaining an appreciation for local music. Critics have said that these virtual concerts create a much more intimate experience with fans, which live concerts are not always capable of doing.
But for livestreams like #LaichatwithDF, the trio noted that many people do not see the heavy manpower needed to power larger sets. “Live concerts are (defined as) “plug and play”,” says Glen. Now, good lighting and a variety of props amp up the atmosphere in digital presentations. Even for hardcore fans, watching your favourite artists on livestreams chatting with comments makes the experience feel one-sided.
In comparison, the suitability of a production location determines the atmosphere which will be created during the show. Drum performances would typically require closed-door or soundproof locations to support the show’s ambience. Under the vein of soundscaping, sound has always played a huge role in establishing a production’s atmosphere.
It’s Not a Secondary School Showcase Anymore
Excellent productions always bear in mind the brand identity of the arts group. As such, certain groups camp up their “look and feel” by having more elaborate or flamboyant costumes. Unlike secondary school co-curricular activities (CCA), a professional production would usually employ experienced crew members, who are the backbone of weaving the show together and meeting the audience’s expectations.
The Show Must Go On
Yew Kok and Gildon explained that relying on faith and “trial and error” build challenges which vary throughout productions. In Singapore, it is difficult to work with new faces all the time as the community is compact. Veteran musicians like Yew Kok teach budding musicians at NAFA, like many other artists, in the hope of connecting with up-and-coming talents. Chiming in, Glen says that “skills can still be improved when one practises on their own”.
The compact community comes with both ups and downs. Having a negligible adjustment period to working with familiar colleagues or friends enables smoother communication in some cases. On the other hand, differences in work ethic may divide crew members and talents rather than encourage healthy collaboration of ideas.
Maturity and mutual respect are key factors in ensuring harmony between all crew members and talents. “Trust that your teammates who may be your friends are capable of doing their work to the best of their ability,” says Gildon. But when unforeseen circumstances or emergencies arise, it is up to the production’s producer to mediate any conflict(s) or issues which may hamper the progression of the show.
From the livestream, it is clear that our artists in Singapore put their heart and soul into the work they create. While every production brings forth both technical and life lessons, sustaining the “heart” behind every arts group creates an unbreakable bond that is united in times of struggle.