Nicholas Chim

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Having grown up in the working class, Nicholas uses songwriting as both catharsis and self-discovery. He believes "that there is an ideal, honest way to live and through the writing process, I'll be able to find it".

With the release of his new EP "The Greatest Enemy”, Nicholas looks set to get back on the road and reconnect with audiences. To him, rediscovering that connection between audience and performer is "the best feeling on earth and I want to keep chasing it".

What I Wish

In the blink of an eye, 2018 is already coming to a close. Where did all that time go? The end of the year tends to make me feel nostalgic and stirring with wishes, with hope.  

This year, one wish that often surfaces to my consciousness’ front is: I wish that Singapore was bigger. Not bigger in size, but bigger in heart.

Big enough so that people would:

not be discriminated for leading different lives.

actually have a healthy work-life balance.

own a home without it costing their lives to do so.

still have a desire to explore and discover more music they can genuinely identify with. 

focus on becoming rich in their hearts first, not their pockets.

Not bigger in size, but bigger in heart

be proud whenever one of their own succeeds, not only when it’s cool and trending to do so.

hold on to their dreams and work hard to make them come true.

be more patient with and willingly help others in need. 

stop complaining and instead, actively take steps to realise the future they envision. 

be able to say they lead a fulfilling life they’re proud of, filled with people they love.

I don’t think this version of Singapore is impossible. We all need hope to make us get up in the morning. So don’t give up! Let’s take that one more step, live that one more day with purpose because just maybe, better is coming tomorrow. 

Lessons From Learning German

For the past two years, a big part of my life has been spent learning German. Has it been challenging? Have I missed out on what regular people do on Saturdays? Have I studied so much that I replied my mother once in German by accident? 

Yes to all the above! Along the way, I also learned other things and wanted to share them with you.

The lies I told myself were just that. Lies.

I didn’t realise how much of a hold messing up my A levels had on my mind until recently. I had let it define me as unintelligent so much, that despite doing well in LaSalle and the CELTA course at the British Council, I felt I was never good enough for myself.

With that negative mindset, I had put off the idea of learning German for a long time. After all, my Mandarin is so atrocious, I can’t manage more than order food at hawker centres. It stopped me from seeing the obvious, that German is a totally different language, that just because I suck at Mandarin, it didn’t mean that I’m bad at all languages.

As I practiced to stop discrediting the facts in front of me, my confidence grew. I have my off days for sure, but the best way forward is to just keep practicing. I’m happy to share that I finished near the top of my class for the last term this year =)

Mistakes are part of the growth.

Many times in class, we’re tasked to role-play with our classmates using a set of phrases we learnt earlier. Without realising it, I would try too hard to nail a phrase perfectly on the first try. My classmates would tell me that I have to relax, because it stresses them out practicing with me!

I guess this old habit of being highly critical of myself (read: self sabotage) doesn’t go away so easily. Instead, I need to remember to replace it with more positive thoughts, that the classroom is not a performance space but a safe place to make mistakes and grow from them.

It wasn’t easy to internalise the idea that mistakes and failure are normal, that they are merely markers along the path to becoming good at something. After all, if something was so easy that you never made a mistake, you’re not growing, you’re regressing.

You’re never too old to learn something new.

I don’t know if it’s just a Singapore thing, but living here often feels like you can see how your life will end up very quickly. Maybe it’s how things are structured? Perhaps that’s why I fell into a mindset that by a certain age, there’s no time to learn something new and I would just have to work hard till I couldn’t anymore.

Entering the classroom the first time, I expected to be surrounded by eager 18 year olds, fresh from attaining their A levels. What I saw was the total opposite: Majority of the people were around my age. Many of them wanted to pick up the language because they knew it would open the door to work opportunities beyond Singapore. Others, for love. I was glad to be part of a community of committed learners and that made me look forward to the weekly lessons. Another lie thankfully debunked, all because I decided to move against that fear!

The process of learning achieves balance. 

Upon graduation, most of us dive straight into “adulting” and slog away at our careers until suddenly, we look up and realise that our lives have passed us by. Without the effort to constantly have input in our lives, there would be a limit to how much we can give to our work and the people who matter to us. 

Just by taking one day a week to learn something new, I could feel myself becoming more balanced. More than that, the process allowed me to see, that there was more than one dimension to myself, more than just the songwriter.

I know that it will be a few more years before I become fully proficient in German but I know that as long as I keep working at it, I will get there someday. I’m grateful to the many teachers at Goethe, friends in Germany and of course my wonderful girlfriend Laura for their help =) 

I encourage you to do the same and learn something new! If you have questions about getting started, feel free to get in touch with me. Tschüss und bis bald wieder!

Trouble Will Find Me - Tales from Performing

Performing music is a relatively safe process. You get to a venue, do your soundcheck, have a small dinner, pour your heart out for an hour or more and receive love from your audience in return. Then there are the other nights, when trouble will find me. 

Before memory fades, here are a few interesting stories from the years of performing.

Drunk guy messing with Shaun’s pedals - Wan Chai, 2013

Independent musicians in Hong Kong would tell you that you have to play at The Wanch if you’re coming through. I remember that they called it a “baptism of fire”. With its raw and honest vibe, it’s definitely the place to cut your performing teeth.

It’s a intimate space so with my four piece band at the time, so guitarist and friend Shaun was set up close to the entrance. A patron standing at the door, obviously inebriated, decided to become part of our set. He spoke loudly into Shaun’s ear while he was performing and even stepped on his effects pedals, believing that some part of the songs needed more distortion! This went on throughout the entire set. Poor Shaun!

Despite that, I would recommend other musicians to perform there if you can. There are very few places like it left in our modern world.

Getting molested - Aachen, 2014

I had just finished my set in Aachen and stepped out for a breather. Most of the audience had stepped outside too. Suddenly, this guy bear-hugged me from behind and whispered in my ears “your fingers, they fly like magic”. I looked at Rayner desperately for help but he refused to with a cheeky grin. Eventually the guy’s friend got him to let go and apologised on his behalf, explaining he was quite drunk.

Locked Out in the Middle of Nowhere - Melbourne, 2011

We were at Loch Ard Gorge to take a few shots for the music video for “I Want You Again”. Returning to the car, my friend Ian accidentally threw the car keys along with his jacket into the car boot and slammed it shut. Realising our situation, we tried calling the car rental company for help but our phones could not get any reception. We quickly ran to the driver of the last tour bus around, whose phone had enough reception. Thanks a bunch, Vodafone!

After an hour of enduring strong winds from the Antarctic and dropping temperatures, the mechanic from the nearest town found us and opened the car boot for us. We definitely learnt to be more careful, as well as how to jack open a car!

A Lack of Privacy - Munich, 2017

The Lovelace Hotel is a cool “popup hotel” which repurposes an abandoned building in the middle of Munich. I usually wouldn’t stay in such lavish accommodation while on tour but this time, it made sense since I would be performing there the next evening. 

As is the norm with cool hotels, you’re bound to be pleasantly surprised when you enter your hotel room. For Debra and I, it was the lack of a door for the toilet! This led to arrangements to maintain some level of privacy, but then there was the morning after I had pork knuckles and too much beer.. 

An Unforgettable Opening Act  - Melbourne, 2010

The younger me had no idea how music scenes outside of Singapore worked yet somehow, I managed to land a slot at the Empress Hotel in Melbourne within a couple of weeks of sleeping on a couch. 

I was to share the night with three other acts, one of them being a former Australian Idol reject. I told myself, “it’s just television, no one could be that awkward”. But I was proven very wrong that evening!

When he got up on stage, he plugged in his earphones and proceeded to play along to an Oasis song blasting in his ears. You had to be there to hear the level of terrible the sound engineer was subjected to. 

He didn’t bring anyone to watch and yet demanded his share of the pool. This is raised by everyone’s friends paying a small entrance fee each and is divided equally amongst the acts at the end. He also made me feel uncomfortable, with prolonged stares throughout the night. It’s taken several years for me to listen to “Champagne Supernova” again.

Looking Legit Emo Backfires  - Singapore, 2009

My band Vertical Rush was about to perform on national television, when suddenly a bunch of young men shouted from the crowd, “Take off your top!”, while pointing at a female friend of theirs. I though it was the usual heckling, so I reacted by saying “$10!” to put it to a stop.  

After the performance, said girl came up to me outside the studio and asked me for a photo. I felt bad vibes coming from her so I quickly grabbed bandmate Marcus and had him stand between us. Moments before the photo was taken, she leaned behind Marcus and began to say things like, “ oh my god you’re so hot, you look like xxx from Saosin..”. I didn’t how else to react except to run to the dressing room and hide.

Twitter Stalkers - Singapore, 2014

One day, I decided to search myself on Twitter. I saw an interesting conversation. It went like this:

A: Saw Nicholas Chim at the xxx Bus Stop, wondering what he’s doing here.

B: @A oh don’t you know? He stays in Teck Whye, *proceeds to disclose almost my entire home address on the internet*

I can’t remember what they said next but I decided to deal with it in a constructive manner. I tweeted them “Hey @A and @B, let’s meet in real life =) My next show is on..” No more tweets from them ever since!

 

Do you have any funny stories of your own? Share them with me in the comments section, maybe we could write a book of our collected experiences =) 

Asking for Help

Lately I’ve been preoccupied with the future, not in that “living in the future” way though! Reason being, I’ve been quietly setting things up to prepare for a new chapter in my life (will announce it properly when the time’s right). Honestly, it’s scary and uncomfortable. The words “struggle” and “sustainability” have been surfacing in my consciousness. 

Sustainability

because I want to keep creating and putting out music, at a pace that I’m happy with.

The old method of working a job to raise the money needed to create, release and promote an album, doesn’t allow one to produce songs at a desirable rate. Social media is important, but I still believe that a songwriter’s first and foremost task is to write good songs. Without these, there wouldn’t be any point to this, would there?

Struggle 

because I’ve begun to accept the responsibilities placed on myself and to the ones I love, that I know I have to make things work somehow. 

Yet at the same time, I find it difficult to ask for help, even though there are people out there who want to give in a capacity larger than streaming my songs. I know that it stems from a low self-esteem, an ingrained belief that I don’t deserve the help and generosity of others, that wants me to sabotage my own success. 

In my mind, the recurring dialogue sounds like “What fans? I don’t have anything to offer them, I’m not good enough, why would they say yes?”. I refuse to believe that, because the truth is, what’s the worst that could happen? They could say no, and that is definitely not the end of the world.

I’m no Amanda Palmer but I want to believe in the power of asking. I want to believe that my songs have touched your lives and that you would want to support the creation of more music. 

The Solution: Bandcamp Subscriptions

That’s why I’ve decided to start using Bandcamp Subscriptions: to give you the option to support me in a more sustainable way. 

For starters, you’ll get the stuff you’ve always wanted: B-sides and live recordings that I didn’t think were good enough for an official release, but I think that you might appreciate them, flaws and all.

You’ll also get the entire Vertical Rush discography, official and otherwise, where you’ll hear a younger me sing and perform on some of the songs.

I also plan to share clips of the songs-in-progress at the end of each month, to assure you that I’m writing as hard as I can! We could even arrange a subscriber-only living room concert =)

Let’s Make Music Together

I don’t dislike the current trends of music consumption, not at all. In fact, the Internet has taken my music further than I imagined. I’ll still put out stuff on Spotify and the other usual channels, and I’m already grateful for you listening to the music there. 

But like I mentioned earlier, it’s an option for those of you who want to give more and get more back in return. If you need more information about how Bandcamp Subscriptions work, check out the following links:

https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/nov/11/bandcamp-musicians-subscription-services

https://aristake.com/post/turn-your-fans-into-paying-subscribers-with-this-platform  

A big “Thank You” in advance to everyone who chooses to get on board with this! I’ve never done something like this before and I’m looking forward to being part of a community that passionately supports the creation of independent music.

See you there.

Touring Overseas - Why You Should Do It and How

I wrote this article on touring overseas back in 2015. It was wonderfully edited by Daniel Peters and subsequently published by Bandwagon and Red Bull. I'd like to thank Daniel for giving me the opportunity then, it was a great experience working with him :)

Though it's been a few years since, I believe that its contents still have some relevance today and would be of help to any musician aspiring to tour outside of their home country. I'm planning to write more about what I've learnt from the tours I did after this article came out, so do check back in regularly. I'm still trying to figure out technology stuff like RSS feed etc!

Enough chatter from me, hope you enjoy the article. 

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It’s been said that touring is the one income stream that musicians can still depend on to make a living. Even so, it’s still rare to see Singaporean musicians take their music abroad — aside from landing a slot at an international music festival, thanks to requirements to receive funding from the National Arts Council, among other obstacles.

With homegrown independent music bursting at the seams — in terms of releases and shows — this year, it’s about time we take advantage of our much envied passport and show the world what Singaporean musicians have to offer. 

It might seem daunting to take your music beyond this island but if done right, touring will reap larger benefits for your music in the long term. I want to share my knowledge with you, in the hope that this would inspire you to go on the road.

Why Should I Tour?

After all, you could just make it on YouTube right?

It can look like the more viable route to take to be discovered overnight, rather than deal with planning overseas logistics for five bandmates and their gear. Though it is true that YouTube has been a critical part of some musicians’ success, you can’t guarantee that it will achieve the same results for you. 

Having worked in the industry side of things, I can say that there are at least a hundred releases going live on iTunes everyday. Unless your song is that universally special (e.g. Gangnam Style), that release you poured your heart into is just going to add to the noise. 

Even an exceptional release is only going to be buzzing in any town for two weeks at most, so most bands don’t know what to do once they’ve exhausted their local community. If you feel that album deserves to be heard by as many people as possible, it’s time you put in the hard work and bring your music directly to a new group of people.

That’s what touring does for your music. People who’ve never heard of your band are being directly exposed to your music. By the end of your first song, they’ve decided about buying a copy of your album or not. They might go online to check out your YouTube channel and Facebook Page. There you go, brand new fans! If there’s a tepid response, it’s probably because the audience couldn’t relate to your music. You need to do much more research and practice your live set until it’s almost perfect. 

Know Your Goals

It’s important to define these as soon as you decide to tour.

Something vague like “I just want to get my music out there” won’t do. Anyone who plays music has that feeling. Lacking well defined goals causes you to lose focus and the tour would end up a very expensive “working” holiday. 

If this is your first tour, you will have to consider it as part of your marketing budget. That means you’re going to lose money during the first couple of times. My advice is to keep these trips as cheap and short as possible. A week-long trip is more than enough to start with. You don’t want the huge loss to outweigh anything good on tour. 

Flights make up the bulk of touring costs, so have someone more experienced in booking flights help you if possible. My travel agent managed to get us cheaper flights to Japan by booking several months in advance. I saved several hundred dollars by doing an overnight layover in Dubai en route to Germany. 

There’s no need to starve but you should try to keep the fine dining to a minimum. Salaryman diners, food stalls at train stations and street food offer affordable yet decent options for sustenance. I was surprised that a couple of onigiri from Lawson’s in the morning was enough to keep me going till after soundcheck!

For the more seasoned, you’ll be leaning towards making profit and expanding your followers base on social media. Be as specific as possible because that will determine your actions at the shows. 

For example, if your main priority is to sell as many CDs as possible, one thing you can do is spend time talking to everyone after your show. If people discover that you’re a great person who also writes great songs, they’d be more inclined to buy your CD. People generally hang around after a show for 30 minutes at most, so you have to move around a lot! You really have nothing to lose, so move past your insecurities and social awkwardness by staying focused on your goals.

The different people you’ll meet on your tour will not only enrich your worldview but it may just earn you fans along the way. 

"Music is about people connecting in a very pure way and the business aspect should never interfere with that."

Do Your Research

You can take on the whole world but you need to pick your battles. Thanks to the internet, it’s easy to decide which countries would most likely prefer your style. You also need to find important information such as the currency difference, hospitality deals, the size of your target demographic before deciding you want to break into that market.

It’s best to work with someone who knows the ground well. Try to identify local bookers and gig organisers, contact them through Facebook and email, offer them something of value in return for helping you. 

Sometimes this falls through and you might then feel like booking venues on your own. This is very risky and I wouldn’t recommend this. In 2011 I’ve turned up to a venue in Melbourne, where the owner had completely forgotten about me and booked another band to play that night instead. Imagine how embarrassed I was in front of my friends who came out to see me!

Plan, Plan, Plan!

Murphy’s law occurs almost every time on tour.

Call me obsessive, but you need to plan for every contingency that could ever happen. Preparation before your tour ensures that only an Act of God can cripple your performance.

As a personal rule, I have almost whatever I need to perform in my carry on baggage. I’m usually anxious until my guitar is safely back with me.

Music shops aren’t exactly easy to find in larger cities, so make sure to bring extra guitar strings, batteries, cables etc. If you run backing tracks off your laptop, bring a backup hard drive. Keep your tech rider as lean as possible.

Plan your shows closely with your booker so that routes from one destination to the next make sense. When possible, buy a month long pass so you can travel with more ease.

If you’re still not convinced, here’s a short list of things that happened to me:

In Japan, two of our three voltage converters blew. I also didn’t get data roaming for my phone so we constantly got lost.

In Hong Kong, we had to take two cabs for every show because we stayed too far from the venues. That cost us (6 people) a fair amount of dim sum money.

In Germany, we got lost travelling to a host’s house to sleep for the night. It was raining as well. All because we got complacent and got off at the wrong train station!

Keep Your Team Happy

It really is true: touring isn’t as glamorous as it sounds. Unless you have a good host, there will be lots of waiting around until it’s time to perform. Continuous weeks of traveling, late nights, sleeping on couches can incite cabin fever even amongst the best of friends. Specific dietary requirements and other special needs of bandmates can make logistics an even bigger ordeal than it already is. 

The best way to beat cabin fever is to keep communication between every member open. If everyone feels safe to speak their honest opinion, I find it hard to imagine any frustration building up. It’s important to establish that discussions need to stay objective and should only contribute to making the tour better for everyone. 

Be mindful when you see your team start to lose their patience. Making effort to make them more comfortable will go a long way. Happy team members means better vibes when you perform together.

Here are some things you can do:

  • Spend a little more money so they can eat better food. 
  • Let them shower first.
  • Where you sleep doesn’t have to be fancy but make sure it is safe and clean. 
  • Plan to stay on after the tour for a small holiday. 
  • Pay them fairly. Agree on the split early on.
"Don’t be afraid to dream a little bigger for your music."

It's Okay to Make Mistakes

No matter how much you prepare, you’ll never get touring right the first time. You’ll still be making mistakes on the tenth time. Mistakes happen because every tour is inherently different. 

There will be so many factors out of your control but that’s what makes touring an exciting adventure. Learn to take it on the chin, be ready to improvise in any given situation and let life happen. 

For example, we missed our connecting train to Frankfurt. The old me would be panicking and need at least some time to calm down. Instead, I quickly used the local public transport app on my phone and found us another train to take us to the airport. It was old and slower, but at least we didn’t miss our flight home!

Time spent on the road, playing your songs thousands of times over, will show itself in your performance. Trust me, a seasoned professional act is very attractive to bookers. Once you put in time getting out there, everything else you’ve been hoping to happen for your music probably will.

Think Long Term

It would be a waste to put in that effort for a successful tour and only go to that country once. If there is potential for you in that market, you should commit to play there at least once a year.

Each time you go, aim to build long-lasting and authentic relationships. Not just with people associated with their local scene, but anyone who expresses a connection with the music. You never know who can help you, but people will only do so if you have been real to them.

I realised that my tours in Hong Kong and Germany happened after I had done something kind without expecting anything in return. Music is about people connecting in a very pure way and the business aspect should never interfere with that. People might forget how you sounded that night but they won’t forget how you made them feel.

Believe In Yourself

Many times, we give ourselves reasons to not go on tour. I’ve been guilty of that myself.

If there’s one piece of advice to impart, it's this: If you want something in life, you have to work hard and make it happen for yourself. Don’t wait for things to happen. Of course, you can just get Shia LaBeouf to scream that to you anytime if you need it.

Don’t wait to land a festival slot before you finally get to play outside of the island. Don’t be afraid to dream a little bigger for your music. Working a little harder can make the difference. It did for me.

 

Why I Write

2018 marks 10 years since I began this solo project. After so long, I sometimes find myself losing sight of why I decided to pursue this crazy dream of mine. 

Therefore I wanted to commit this to writing, so that I can always come back here and remind myself. At the same time, I wanted to give you the listener, whether you’ve just discovered my music or have known about me for years, an insight into the motivation behind these songs, behind the disparity between who I am on and off stage.

I guess the best place to start would be with the environment I grew up in. I come from a single parent household, where my mother repressed her emotions to provide for my sister and me. I went to a public school in the nineties, when young people thought it was cool to join gangs and unwarranted violence was part of life. My mother brought us to church on Sundays, where I was exposed to music and soon after picked up the guitar.

It wasn’t long before I began writing my own songs with the simple chords I knew. In songwriting, I found the only place where I could be vulnerable and thrive, a channel to express loneliness and other “negative” emotions that seemed unacceptable elsewhere. It’s never a competition of who had it worse growing up (there will always be someone worse off), but because of the habits I picked up from my mother, I felt there wasn’t anywhere else to express that part of me. 

During the years of performing in now defunct emo band Vertical Rush, I experienced moments on stage when a song I wrote to work through a sense of loss touched an audience member deeply. In those moments, I felt connected. Not just to the audience in front of me, but to a universal energy much larger than me. 

For me, that connection is the best feeling on earth and eventually, I decided to pursue that connection for the rest of my life. That is, to write personal songs that would mean something to someone, to let them know that they were not alone in their pain, to be their voice when they could not find the words. To do anything else would be essentially denying myself of my purpose and merely existing for the sake of it.

Thanks to the Internet and help from countless individuals, my music has travelled further than my younger self would’ve ever imagined. I consider myself very lucky to get to do what I love on a daily basis. Life is getting harder, but I never want to stop doing this. I consider it my lifelong vocation. 

I don’t say it enough so again, thank you to everyone who has made this journey possible. I wouldn’t be where I am today without every person who has lent me their time and talent. Even if it’s only a single play on Spotify, you made a difference in my life. These songs are as much yours as they are mine. I hope they will continue to comfort and heal people in pain, even long after I’m gone.

I’m planning to write more of these blog posts to keep connecting with you in between my releases. Thank you for reading and I hope that you’ll keep checking back in.

First Post Coming Soon!

Hello! Welcome to my blog, the place I have assigned for all my tl;dr musings.

I'll be writing about my journey, internally and externally, as an independent musician from Singapore. I will also be starting on a new phase in my life very soon, and am planning to journal it too. 

The first post will be published on 16th August 2018, at 4:30pm!