The Esplanade's Mosaic Music Festival is back - and features another great spread of musicians. From March 7-16, the festival will continue its tradition of going beyond established greats to showcase talents with no respect for genres or pigeon-holing.
Well-known artists like jazz guitarist Lee Retainer - who will open Mosaic - are worthwhile mainstays, but many a talented band might remain unknown to Singaporeans without an Esplanade showcase. Out of four fresh acts - Broken Social Scene, Raul Midon, The Bird & The Bee, and Fujiya & Miyagi - none have ever performed in Singapore, underscoring the point.
But despite the Mosaic Festival's primary aim as a showcase, it also serves the goal of helping the artists' tour, which, in these days of digital piracy, is one of the few remaining reliable sources of music-derived income.
'In my experience, playing live is the biggest factor in making a living,' says David Best from Fujiya and Miyagi. 'Live shows are probably the best way to make a living,' agrees Greg Kurstin from The Bird & The Bee. And Raul Midon adds that he's glad that he's 'known for giving a great live show'. In fact, Midon thinks that opportunities to throw concerts can actually make up for diminished album revenue.
'There are many other ways to get paid for what we do, including live shows,' he notes. 'There is no way to stop people from downloading music. So we should consider a part of what record companies used to call 'free goods'. After all, we want people to hear our music.' Echoing Midon's positive attitude towards technology and the Internet, Best says that while he likes 'the fact that music is more obtainable than say, 10 years ago', he would 'also like people to buy (the material) if they like' what they hear. 'I think a lot of people download music for free to see what it is like, then if they do enjoy it they buy it,' he says. 'I think that's a good thing. I would prefer people who buy our records to know they will enjoy it rather than realise it's not their cup of tea after they've bought it.'
Concert-goers hearing these acts for the first time will get a considerate mix of old and new. The musicians are evidently aware of the need to introduce themselves musically to Singapore. 'Our set list will include old Broken Social Scene songs, songs off Kevin Drew's Spirit If and perhaps a few brand-new tunes the band has been writing,' says Broken Social Scene. Fujiya & Miyagi's Best adds: 'We plan on playing a lot of songs from (previous album) Transparent Things and about five or six from the new record called Lightbulbs.'
Fujiya and Miyagi seem eager and ready for their concert. 'We played a lot of shows last year so we are well-rehearsed,' Best declares confidently. 'I suppose incorporating the drums will be our biggest challenge, as well as playing the new songs,' he adds, commenting on the inclusion of drums in their act for the first time.
The keyword here is 'concert'. All four acts will perform in the Esplanade's main concert hall. Years ago you would have expected acts with such little Singapore penetration to be relegated to the Esplanade's recital studio, or even lower-profile venues like The Substation. And the fact that The Bird & The Bee's gig is already sold out shows that Singaporeans are willing to pay.
If you've bought a ticket to any of the concerts, you might want to take a cue from Best and check out the musicians' albums online before the gig. Just don't forget to pay for it.