Why indie is music’s new black

Charles Tan practising in his studio Photo: Aun Ngo

INDIE seems to be the new black in the music industry these days, as an emerging generation of artistes tire of the record-label hobnob and painstaking wait for the big break.

New mediums have “given legs” to independent singer-songwriters like Charles Jedidiah Tan, who has used the internet to reach out to the world, a dream unimaginable just some ten years ago.

He began with the Common Couch podcasts, which paved the way for the 2008 EP release of An Acoustic Preamble, and preparations are underway to launch a full-length album later this year.

Being “indie” means there are no holds barred when it comes to creative direction, Charles says.

“For me and most independent artistes, there’s this fear about management – Are they managing me out of their own bottom-line? Are the compromising my creative vision?

“Being indie presents an alternative platform for artistes to be heard, but it also means I have to do everything myself,” he says.

They are far from being a selfish people, though.

“It’s my hope to be a part of the soundtrack of the next generation,” Charles says.

There is an unspoken code, a “pay-it-forward” concept where resources are shared and an understanding that everyone is “in it together”.

“There’s an incredible sense of comradeship with all the artists I’ve met and played with, bands like Broken Scar, Nobody and SceneAtTheMovies.

“At one of my first gigs, SceneAtTheMovies helped me give change out of their own pockets to the people that bought my EP when I didn’t have a float going.

“My Melbourne family believe in who I am and what I do, and those who can, send opportunities my way. It builds from a grassroots level, and with every show there’s another shot to sing to a new audience,’’ he says.

And there is a certain way about which the 34-year-old has chosen to follow his dreams, a sense of earthliness that shows up in his music.

The simple melodies, honest lyrics, driving guitar riffs and gritty baritone is the voice of a weathered soul who has clung on to hope despite heartbreak, disappointments and bankruptcy.

“I came to Melbourne in 2001 because I felt as if I needed space to grow,” Charles says.

“I was very clear I wanted to pursue a career in music, but I didn’t have enough life experiences. I didn’t have enough of the words that I felt a songwriter should have.

“I remember listening to Open Spaces by The Dixie Chicks and being so moved by it.

“Singapore is such a concrete jungle, with no place to run to, to scream and shout and cry and explore yourself and who you really are. And since Melbourne was the melting pot of the arts, I thought it would be a good city to grow and find my own space, my own voice,” he says.

And change him, it did, as he quotes the observations of an old friend, “how I’m so much more than I was before”.

He suffered an “epic breakup” just as he was about to get a foot stuck into the local music scene, and one thing led to another.

“I thought I was going to get married, and when it didn’t work, it really shook me up,” Charles says.

“It prompted me to try something new – the business side of music. I started a small music label and production studio with a friend. Ultimately, I made some rash and naïve business decisions, and I went into a lot of debt which threw me into a few years of financial ruin,” he says.

But there has been no room for regret.

“I would do nothing differently,” Charles says.

“For more than the media degree I had come here for, I’ve discovered more about myself, about the things that make me who I am. It has strengthened my resolve and shaped the way I play my music and approach the craft.

“It would never be the same if I didn’t have my experiences in Melbourne,” he says.

But he does issue a caution : follow your dreams, just don’t take it too freaking seriously.

“If you do, you can literally get quite suicidal – take it from me,” he says.

“Be wary of thinking that if you don’t get there immediately that your existence is meaningless.

“Following your dreams is rarely easy. It’s definitely an uphill battle, but
 have fun along the way. Go crazy. Remember why you do what you’re doing – how you feel when you do it. Remember what it’s about, because nobody can take your dream away from you.”

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