Some thoughts by Jeremy Monteiro

Running a jazz venue or a bar in a sustainable way has become really difficult.

Firstly, when smoking was disallowed, it cut out a huge part of the audience. I am not saying we should bring smoking back in bars, we shouldn't, I am just stating an economic observation.

Next, because of strict drink driving laws, people don't drink at jazz bars these days, not much. Again not saying we have to remove drunk driving laws but just outlining another reason for lowered expenditure/income at jazz clubs/bars.

The "one coke wonders" come and sit all night and expect somehow for the club to miraculously make enough money to pay rent, staff and the musicians from their $10-12 "contribution" of one or maybe two drinks.

So clubs figure out that they should charge a door or cover charge to at least cover cost of the musicians and then the clubs hope to struggle with revenue from drink sales to cover the cost of staff and stock.

But the audience members don't understand this, so they grumble about the cover, try to negotiate like "If I buy a bottle for my 5 friends and I, you should waive cover for me", without thinking that the math actually does not add up for the revenue from that bottle to cover the cost of the bottle, the share of rent, staff and musician fees.

Then the audience stays away more and more because they are unhappy about the "cover" charge. Also because most people now live in homes with enough home entertainment so going out has become much less attractive.

But they will pay a big ticket price to sit in a recital or concert hall without any drink, which is quite incongruent to me.

So then clubs may then use cheaper musicians, edging top pros out of gigs.

Then, top pro musicians will start a teaching practice or teach at schools & colleges and they sometimes make enough to form a base income to then occasionally make the upside income on tours, concerts or corporate gigs.

Trouble is, the pros are teaching a whole new generation of musicians, some of whom turn out good enough to enter a job market in music, where there are no jobs.

The jazz musician Eco system, in its previous form, it's dead. All over the world it's like that. Even the top pros experience difficulty.

My advice to young ones wanting to make a living doing music? Think very, very carefully. Actually, really, really consider doing something else.

It's harder than it ever was and its getting even harder. I never would imagine giving this advice until about 5-8 years ago.

I used to always love seeing young people come into music. Now I feel sorry for most of them except for the very few exceptional talents who I think will do ok.

But if you love music and love to play music, don't expect to depend on it for your living going forward.

Love it, play it, write it, listen to it, even take a gig or sell a song if the opportunity comes.

But as a career that feeds you, your loved ones, your children's school fees and medical bills? It's very unlikely to bring you enough income. And, if you like nice cars and expensive things? Forget this as a career.

Unless you play pop and even then, it's not that simple either.

Do this (music), and be prepared to live a life of misery where your love for this thing you love becomes the most painful thing in your life.

You still want to do it? Then more power to you, I wish that you will be one of the few that find a way to make it work in this day and age.

But if you don't want to suffer for this and want to have a decent lifestyle, then you should really, really think about whether you want to do make music your job.

Is there a way out for the scene? In Singapore, maybe.

It involves serious work by government and its arts agencies to seriously do some grouting to the foundations of the arts industry instead of looking above ground so much.

It involves, for one thing, to create incentives for hotels and restaurants to use more live music instead of cutting down or cutting out music in hotels in order to lower expenses.

If not, then better for government to stop allowing the proliferation of arts & music schools which are then feeding a scene who cannot support more musicians coming into the scene.

If not, we may end up like Europe, where musicians of NYC quality end up playing gigs that pay enough for dinner and taxi-fare, maybe a beer and then 10-20 Euros to put in the rent kitty. They then work a day music teaching job to train their replacements.

I am not exaggerating here and I am not talking about the very few "anointed" musicians in the world.

But honestly, if everyone who is involved, government, arts administrators, artists and musicians, music buyers, venues, record companies and audience members don't seriously look at completely restructuring the music scene in Singapore, it will collapse.

Me, yes I feel blessed having lived the life I have. But man, it's become so much more difficult instead of easier as I grow older.

This is not meant to discourage. Although I hope that those discouraged go on to have much more comfortable lives than that of a jazz musician.

It's just things that needed to be said to add some "realness" to our lives as jazz musicians, should we choose this.

So there, I've said it.

End of quote.

While I'm not 100% sure this is by Jeremy Monteiro, this looks genuine. It is consistent with what I have said before that while it is OK to want to be a musician, you got to be nuts to want to make a living by being one.
Yes, the post was made by Jeremy. Check out his Facebook page at

The thing about music is that one cannot be forced to perform or listen. Making a living playing music should not be too difficult. Just that one has to play what the audience want and not what one wants.
Yes, the post was made by Jeremy. Check out his Facebook page at

The thing about music is that one cannot be forced to perform or listen. Making a living playing music should not be too difficult. Just that one has to play what the audience want and not what one wants.

In the context of what you said it is then not surprising that this comment was made by a jazz musician. Jazz has been more or less dead since the 1970s.

Maybe it is more accurate to say that maybe you could just perform what the audience wants and you'd make a living as a musician. But if you want to do what you really want to do, for the love of music, that is almost certainly mutually exclusive from performing what the audience wants. Unless there is a coincidence that what you like doing is the same as what what's popular, and what will sell.

And suppose you were to play just what the audience wants there are two problems with that. First, it means you can almost never be an innovator. Second and more importantly, it's impossible to predict what's going to be a hit. Perhaps we should all turn to mandopop or soft lounge jazz or heavy metal and forget that every other genre of music exists.

There is nothing wrong with what you're saying. I think there should be a core group of musicians out there doing nothing but playing what Singaporean audiences want. Or keeping the scene alive by pandering to the needs of the majority. This keeps the scene alive. But it's equally important that people realise that between playing what you love and making a living you can only choose one and not the other.

And there are people whose mentality is "well since I can't keep myself alive by performing, I'll go into teaching". That's fine as long as you are teaching well-to-do kids how to play for leisure. It is OK to give kids the gift of music. Don't tell people that you are "mentoring" their careers and teaching them how to "make it big". And what will happen is you will have this big pyramid scheme where they can't make ends meet and they will make their living by teaching the next generation how to "make it big".

Things were bad enough in the good old days when everybody had to pay 20 bucks for a brand new CD. We are living in a day and age where a musician might earn $100 for every million times his song is heard on Spotify. So if you want to make money from music you must be a live musician. Except that running a performing venue these days is extremely expensive because of the Singapore real estate market. So you do the math.

As for the vast majority of you youngsters out there, when Jeremy Monteiro - most famous jazzman in Singapore, author of One people one nation one Singapore - tells you to forget about making a living as a musician, you listen to what he says.

Don't get me wrong. You should follow your dreams. Just make sure that you dream the right dream.
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