TNV: Darren Dubwise “The Radio Star Killed The Dance Floor”
The Nocturnal Voice (TNV) is a weekly column on Singapore’s nightlife written by the movers and shakers of the industry. From DJs to marketing executives and label honchos to club owners, TNV is where they share their opinions, visions and ideals.
What’s playing on Singapore’s radio stations affect clubs’ music policies. This reflects the current state of electronic music in Singapore. Which to me is regressive.
We are all creatures of habit, and Singaporeans are famously known to live happily in their comfort zones. Ignorance is bliss and familiarity is key. To some, music acceptance requires a stamp of approval from their peers or a higher authority. Our society seems to only jump on the bandwagon if it’s generally appealing; refusing to flirt with something different; something more unfamiliar.
An example of a “higher authority” is radio. It remains as an important medium to introduce new music to the general masses. Although there are music blogs, web radio and mixes, there’s nothing simpler than to dial to a station and listen.
Why does cites like London have a thriving music scene that never stop evolving? Pirate radio stations.
Not bound by traditional broadcast rules their main purpose was to promote music that BBC didn’t play. But the BBC of today has reputably evolved with their brand of dedicated “underground” stations.
Apart from two Mediacorp stations, Lush and 938 Live, the rest work on a variant of payola (an illegal practice where record labels pay radio stations to play their music more regularly.)
Instead of labels paying radio stations for airtime, there are instances where up to 6-figure packages are offered to record labels to buy in “ad time”. The more they advertise, the more airtime they get.
There are even packages where presenters are scripted to cast releases in a favorable light. So it’s no surprise that major labels have complete control over all radio charts in Singapore.
When I was working for a record label, I’ve been directed to a sales manager instead of the music director countless of times.
In Love Da Music, my job was to facilitate the sales and marketing of European and US labels we represented. We had, at that time, what I deemed as completely radio friendly artists: The XX, Phoenix, Bloc Party, Vampire Weekend, Fleet Foxes and Bon Iver to name a few.
But the radio stations I approached to were more concerned with the relational damage they might face from major labels —all who have deep pockets filled with advertising dollars.
How many times have you heard music from the likes of David Guetta, LMFAO and Far East Movement? Where did you first hear them? And then ask yourself what really got them there.
Expanding from this, chances are, if an average person enjoys listening to LMFAO on the radio, it’s likely that they would want to hear it from a large sound system.
Where do they go? They go to a club.
Clubs feel a need to cater to what radio stations have given birth to and what major labels have paid for because that’s where most of the music-goers are. Or is it?
In this internet age —where new music trends changes in months instead of years— knowing when to stick to your guns and when to adapt to change is very crucial.
Driven by a system that strives for commercial success, club owners are no doubt concerned with their Key Performance Indexes (KPIs) and Return of Investments (ROIs). But they sometimes forget that in order to build a genuine following, time is needed.
Time lays the foundations of a club. Time will eventually result in a club maintaining its bottom line —like a packed trance, open format, commercial nights— and yet still retain some form of music integrity.
The quality of offerings found at Zouk and even smaller venues like Blu Jazz were not built in a day. It took years of determination and a hell lot of investment to get to their current level of comfort, and even so, there are times when they falter. (There were weekends when I head to Zouk and wondered, “Where is everyone?”)
Here’s the catch: Changes to a club’s music policy is irreversible.
Going from cutting edge music, to commercial dance hits and music steeped in the veins of Thai discos, there is no turning back.
Next week: Debbie Chia’s “How I Stopped Being A Music Purist”
Previous week: ZQ Loh’s “The Misconception That We Have The Best Job in The World”
Go to: The Nocturnal Voice archives
When Darren Dubwise (@DarrenDubwise) is not busy being the pioneering force behind Singapore’s earlier dubstep movement since 1999, he continues to be heavily involved in the clubbing and music circuit. From promoting international artists through Hong Kong-based Love Da Records, to curating music policies at the now defunct Supperclub and on to Lucky 13, Darren has a finger on the pulse. Having DJed at major festivals such as the Good Vibrations and Gilles Petersonʼs Worldwide, he has also bagged gigs in Bali, Jakarta, Saigon, Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur. Now, as part of the famed audio-visual crew, Syndicate, he continues to purvey the sound of reggae, dub, grime and UK garage that he has long been known for.