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".

Filtering by Tag: Germany

The Journey Makes The Destination

For a week or so, my mind has been recalling the time I accompanied my mother and her friends to trek in Nepal. I think it’s because something I learnt then has finally begun to become truly relatable to my life.

I saw the trip as an opportunity to not only spend quality time with my mother, but also to try something new to expand my perspective. I also hoped I could healthily gather song material and inspiration post Forgiefan, instead of seeking a new muse to break my heart. Little did I know what was in store for me.

I totally underestimated how hard the Upper Mustang trek would be. Misinformation left me unprepared to take on the mountain range. By the third day out of 10, I had lost the full use of my right leg. It took two jeeps and a horse to get me back to civilisation. As I wasn’t aware of my negative mental habits then, I beat myself up for being so weak. I felt guilty for costing my mother so much when it came to treatment post trip. I was so angry with everything and everyone for a long time.

It’s been several years since that trip. A lot has changed and I think I’ve grown a lot emotionally. One thing I’ve finally understood is that the journey makes the destination.

There are generally two ways to get to a summit to take in the amazing scenery around you. Firstly, you could take a jeep up to the summit. It’s quick and convenient but you won’t appreciate the view as much. Alternatively, you could do it on your own two feet. When you do, you really feel the size and age of the mountain. Reaching the summit this way is also a most exhilarating experience. You swell with pride, knowing that the achievement was hard won and no one can discount it.

The same thing applies to our individual journeys, songwriter or otherwise. Though painful at times, we shouldn’t take the easy way and rush to reach our goals. We need to trust the process. Only then, will we fully appreciate the view as we reach our summit. Even if it doesn’t make sense right away, looking back a few years later hopefully will =) 

I got to see the most beautiful natural scenery, unspoilt by man and technology. Shaun had asked me to help him buy a Tibetan singing bowl, so I bought two for myself and incidentally discovered the overtone that would become a big part of the song Overboard and my live performance. I was so pleased that everywhere I’ve performed in Germany, people are so enchanted by its sound!

Most importantly, I got to learn this crucial life lesson, which I hope would serve you well too.

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!

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.