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Being a musician today is no longer just about having the best musicality. It’s also about learning how to grow a following and nurturing it.
Although being good at several different instruments is still a mark of significant talent, having an aptitude for marketing is rising to the fore as an essential skill. This is especially true for many a bedroom pop artist vying for attention on YouTube, Spotify and the various other music streaming platforms there are.
The reality is that hiring a manager to take care of the “business” aspect of performing is a luxury few aspiring musicians can afford.
26-year-old bittymacbeth knows this all too well, having hustled to carve a name for herself in two cities; Boston and Singapore, for more than four years now since graduating with a Diploma in Music and Audio Technology (DMAT) from Singapore Polytechnic (SP).
While on scholarship at Boston’s Berklee College of Music, she was able to experience what it’s like to compete in the American music scene and was even nominated in the Boston Music Awards after just playing a couple of shows there. Apart from composing, songwriting, arranging, mixing, producing and performing, the Singaporean has organised her own concerts and getting articles written about her journey, in close to 20 publications which include the Straits Times, Vulcan Post and Girls Club Asia.
One of the things that stood out for us about bittymacbeth a.k.a Beth Yap, was the way she pitched us in her email.
With my engagement rate of 8.72% (according to Social Blade), higher than the average of 5.6% for social media accounts with 1-5k followers, I will be able to direct more readers to Eksentrika, many of whom are creatives from all industries.
In Eksentrika’s four year stint covering musicians, actors and other performing artists, we had never come across one who knew or even paid attention to their “engagement rate”, let alone how this can be a leverage for publishers to act upon. Indeed, this term is probably more familiar among digital marketing professionals in the ad world. But if you really evaluate it, you’ll realise it isn’t at all misplaced.
bittymacbeth is right on track with her efforts to get noticed. Read on to hear in her own words, how this bright, young lass is taking control of gaining the limelight that she truly deserves.
You’re a “one-woman show” who sings, composes and even organises her own concerts – what drives you to be so independent?
I’ve always had an independent spirit, I feel. I never chose a school or an-after school activity to enrol in or join just because my friends wanted it too. I’ve also always been driven to pursue my interests from a young age.
For me, personally, performing my own music on stage gives me greater fulfillment than performing only covers, and organising my own concerts gives me greater satisfaction when I manage to play to a sell-out audience on my shoe-string marketing budget. I like to do things that keep me fulfilled, and maybe you can call it an entrepreneurial spirit, but sometimes I think I’m too much of a fool to know when to quit.
Tell us more about how you are a music producer – what does this entail and how did you learn to do this?
For now, I mostly produce my own music that I write, and also create commercial music for brands/agencies and such.
Today, being a music producer is kind of being a traditional music producer – someone who makes a certain musical vision happen by choosing the right instrument sounds, guiding the performance of the vocals and playing and using the right effects in the mixing – and being a composer who writes the instrumental music, and an arranger, who writes certain parts for the instruments used according to a given style and each instrument’s ranges. So I do all that, on top of writing my lyrics and performing vocals, bass, keys and synth.
I honestly never envisioned myself being able to do all this, because until nine years ago, I wasn’t even able to figure out chord progressions to songs, and I had never recorded any music before. Enrolling in Singapore Polytechnic’s Diploma in Music and Audio Technology course made a huge difference, because it was very equally focused on the musicianship, songwriting, performance, sound engineering and synthesis.
By the end of the course, I’d recorded maybe eight originals and a few covers, a few of which I refined and polished to become tracks on the Beauty For Ashes album.
Between performing, creating music, organising your own events and marketing yourself – which do you find the most challenging and how do you overcome it?
Marketing. It’s way more work and the process of making music has become second nature by now. My distributor’s label services manager asked me for my content marketing plan for the BETTER NOT BITTER EP in October or November 2019, and I came up with what I thought was a detailed plan on how I was going to push it to my followers.
She replied soon after I emailed it to her saying I was missing quite a number of key details. In the end, I realised I had to come up with a whole spreadsheet:
These were already on top of the things I knew I had to provide like a press release, an updated bio, new high-resolution press photos, and tour dates. And this doesn’t even delve into the branding aspect of it – many music markets are so saturated it’s hard to truly stand out for long.
How do you juggle all of this? Do you have a system that keeps you organised – care to share on this?
I think I still need to get better at this but lately I’ve been keeping a diary, and I try to plan the coming week out on Sunday night. I’ll write down the things I need to do each day in navy blue ink, bearing in mind how long it might take to do those things so I can ration them out fairly, for example many quick tasks in one day – mainly correspondence and chores or errands, or just three time-intensive tasks like filming and editing a video or mixing down a song.
I’ll also include what meetings I have on at what time so I know not to plan too many other things. Or if I do, then I’ll know I was just being ambitious and it would be okay that I didn’t hit my own self-imposed KPI. (I still also rely on Google Calendars for scheduling meetings since Google can alert me when it’s time to leave for my meeting and I can input the address so I can easily check out to get there.)
The extra space in the journal, I use to jot down notes from my tasks, like quickly figuring out the chords of a song by ear instead of doing up a score for it. At the end of the day, I’ll use light blue ink to write the things I was grateful for – I feel that this is important for my spiritual and mental health. They usually revolve around being thankful that I was productive and that I ate nice food that day.
BETTER NOT BITTER offers such simple clarity out of the chaos of struggle – how did you come about the phrase and what or who inspires your wisdom?
I first wrote the song Get Better. Not Bitter, the key single off the new EP, while crossing the street to get to my next class in January or February 2017 when I first started studying at Berklee College of Music. At that point in my life, I think I was pretty bitter – I always seemed to be missing great gigs because I was already committed to something else that seemed to have lower returns, and I had lost so many close friends over the course of the years before that, for different reasons. I thought we were going to best friends for at least the rest of my mid-twenties lol.
That’s how close we used to be, but now we aren’t, not by my own choice or actions, in my opinion. But I thought to myself I don’t want to live life with a chip on my shoulder, which was how the last friend acted towards me after I had been helping them and they literally almost put me in danger (of being stranded in a foreign country). I thought to myself that I want to do better than that, because for me to want to take revenge or do anything unkind would be like becoming the people who had betrayed my trust and hurt me. Also I thought, why should I allow my bitterness to eat away at me? Because it can be like a debilitating autoimmune disease for the soul, when these people are out there living their best lives without the emotional burden of remorse. So yeah I was like, I need to do better as a person, not wallow in bitterness. Get Better. Not Bitter.
My wisdom comes only in retrospect, from my mistakes in friends, amongst other life experiences of my own and others. In particular, I came to the conclusion I had to forgive my friends and let go of the resentment because of my faith. None of us are perfect, and I believe that if God can and does forgive us despite our shortcomings, so we must forgive others.
How easy or difficult is it to take your own advice in the pursuit of becoming an artist – in the context of making it in the Asian or world music industry?
I definitely still feel like I’m still in the process of carving my path and have ways to go towards achieving my dream of dreams. Very often, things won’t go according to plan, and I have to adapt. There will be delays, or some press opportunities will fall through, or suddenly there will be an economic downturn or pandemic (or both simultaneously) that results in gigs getting cancelled left and right, etc. So it can be tough. But I’m always thankful for the people who’ve believed in me, recommended me for gigs, booked me, turned up to shows, and supported me in some way or other.
There are little successes here and there like getting on the viral chart at #4 just under Drake or being nominated for the Boston Music Awards after just playing a couple of shows there. Also I’m thankful for my Singaporean listeners who first turned up to my shows in 2016 and who still turn up today.
What is your definition of “making it” in today’s music world?
Being able to tour, playing my own music, and fully supporting myself just through my artistic practice (whether it’s writing and producing for myself or others), without having to do corporate music and audio work.
What are some steps you have taken to grow your social media presence?
I’ve tried to be regular in showcasing my core competency. So every third post, I’ll have a video that showcases my ability to play bass and and sing simultaneously, or that have me playing funky basslines from well-known songs across genres. Those typically also get a very dependable amount of engagement in terms of likes, sends, comments and saves. (I’ve suspended that for now because of the #BETTERNOTBITTER campaign, and cause I need new ideas for songs LOL.)
According to my label services manager, consistency, not content, is key, and commenting and sharing are more important cause that takes more time and effort than just liking a post and scrolling away. Although this creates a nice pattern, I don’t focus on the layout of Instagram grid too much – a manager from IG once gave a talk at Berklee saying it’s really not about the look of the grid, it’s about the engagement that gets the algorithm machine churning. Hashtags are still important, but don’t just go for the most obvious one with a million posts, because your post will be more likely to be discovered in the one with maybe 10k posts, so make the hashtags a bit more specific. So if I include hashtags, it’s mostly for the videos.
Still, the thing that has provided the most growth for me, honestly, are:
After playing my Sofar show in Singapore in February 2020, my Instagram followers jumped by 30 plus in the next 24 hours, which is the most it’s been for me in a long while. The personalised interaction with each and every person is more important than you might think it is.
What is the difference between the Singapore music scene and the one in Boston where you lived?
It’s easier to get started and get to a point of sustainability in Singapore, but the opportunities might pay off better in Boston. There’s more competition in Boston for sure, which means it’s almost a given that you have to settle for a lot of undercutting, worse payouts and playing for free, with exception of weddings, which is the bread and butter of corporate bands which they called General Business (GB) bands.
What I didn’t like there, was that most gig opportunities were reliant on bars as venue hosts, and many of them mandated that your gig attendees had to be 21 and over to attend because of their drinking laws. Either that or they had to be 18 and over but then couldn’t drink, which affected your earnings. In Singapore, we actually pay regular gigging musicians relatively well, even compared to saturated markets like Taiwan and South Korea. Up-and-coming musicians have good opportunities to be exposed to large audiences while still being remunerated because of government-backed venues, festivals, events, and campaigns.
However, it’s easier to build up an audience through touring in Boston, especially if one were to travel to New York City to perform at regularly. I would say NYC is the biggest music capitol after Los Angeles and Nashville, so it’s relatively easier to build yourself up to a point where you can command a large fanbase even through a niche market, because each of these states are already so big. Singapore only has that one city, one state. Commanding a nation-wide fanbase in Singapore doesn’t compare to a nation-wide in the U.S. or even some states there. It’s then, also, much harder to translate to being an internationally-renowned act as a Singaporean artist.
bittymacbeth’s official music video, Get Better Not Bitter
If there’s one thing you could change in the music industry today, what would it be?
It would be how people consume music – the lion’s share of it now is streaming, and it will only be larger when iTunes is phased out completely for Apple Music. Streaming is great for discoverability or you could say, lower customer acquisition cost if you’re not paying for ads in streaming freemium services or buying spots on playlists from third party curators. But the returns are much lower compared to downloads or even physical formats.
I would at least wish that there could be more diversity in how people consumed music today, since, of course, different platforms work better for different artists.
What are your future plans – what, where and how can our readers see more of you and your works?
In five years, I aim to be a full-time composer-producer, working on many different kinds of projects, from games to singer-songwriter songs. I hope to be my own boss, having set up my own company, but I recently started working full-time as a composer for a creative agency, so we’ll see where that takes me. I also feel it will be difficult to be just another music and audio post-production company, there are quite a number in Singapore alone.
In 10 years’ time, I hope to eventually move to do the same songwriting and producing but as a full-time artist, while also producing for others similar to what Pharrell and Missy Elliot have done. So by then, I hope to not be reliant on corporate work anymore for a living. In say 15 years’ time, I want to have toured several countries like Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan, U.S., UK, fully doing the artist thing with very selective production work for other artists.
My music is available everywhere on Spotify, Apple Music, etc. I’m also planning to rejuvenate my YouTube channel in line with more original music from the new EP and covers. Having been away from my home base for the past few years, I’ll be performing in Singapore for the coming year, and then hopefully get back to playing overseas from 2021 onwards.
Cover image by bittymacbeth.