Nicholas Chim

Music Portfolio / Store

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 Category: Hard Truths

Hard Truths for Young Musicians: Who You Are Affects What You Write

One piece of advice to songwriters floating around the internet is to finish one song a day. Though there is some merit to that, it isn’t that one can’t complete a song but rather write one that they know they can be proud of years later. What these songwriters don’t realise is that, they can’t grow in songwriting if their internal world isn’t.

The Writing Starts in Your Mind

The famous horror fiction writer Stephen King said that “Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.”, but how exactly does one do that? Just as we should consistently spend time writing songs, we also need to cultivate habits that promote mindfulness. 

Being present emotionally is so hard when everything is screaming at us for attention but nevertheless, it is critical that we do so. By strengthening your sense of identity, you can critically appreciate incidents happening around you when they do. This way, the material needed for the actual writing session is being harvested on a daily basis. Without doing so, it will be hard to create songs with depth.

“Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.” - Stephen King

Think Deeper 

I’ve been teaching songwriting to a recently new student. I like her songs’ vibes but somehow they seem to just miss the mark lyrically. Our hours together are mostly spent dissecting her lyrics, encouraging her to dig deep and realise what she truly wishes to communicate. I’ve found myself telling her repeatedly to not skirt around the issue and not to be afraid to “hit straight”.

For example, try writing about what really affected you today. Did someone ruin your day? Examine yourself, try to understand why you let that person trigger you. You’ll realise there’s so many layers to your own psyche and voila, so much material to work with! 

There is Life Beyond Heartbreak

Nothing is as complicated, diverse, multi-faceted and yet relatable as matters of the heart, which is why so many songwriters start there. The trouble is, what else are you going to write about after that one traumatic breakup? Or worse still, would you unintentionally invite new drama into your life?

I’m not discounting your breakup and loss. It was no doubt a painful experience for you and I’m glad you’re using songwriting as part of the cathartic process. I highly encourage you to explore themes similar to romantic relationships for a start. The human condition is so much more than that.

“The Greatest Enemy” was my first attempt to switch from musing over unrequited love to disappointment and anger in other areas of my life. It was definitely more difficult to write but I knew I had to start writing about more mature subjects. There will be always be a place (and market) for songs about puppy love but at a certain age, I believe it’s simply not appropriate anymore.

Don't be more in love with how it looks

In this visual age, musicians spend just as much effort into creating their image as they do on writing their songs. I get that the packaging needs to match the product. It’s something that I need to work on improving. However, you need to remember that audiences can smell bullshit very quickly.

If you’re not convinced, check out this remark made by a girl I was dating about an up-and-comer a few years back: 

You, you are the real deal. At first I was so impressed with her songs and performance, but after sitting across from XXX for an hour, I realised she (or more likely the onstage persona she put on) is just fake.

You might get away with overcompensating with your aesthetic for a while but you won’t be able to sustain your fan base. 

Get a Life 

Books and films are a great starting point to find inspiration, but they should serve as a counterpoint to your personal journey. Your songs should always reflect more of you than the book you read! Unless you’re actually the author of the book and are writing music to serve as an accompanying soundtrack, you simply wouldn’t know the subject material well enough.

So go out and take a trip that challenges you. Experience life until you see where you fit in this world and its schemes. Seek personal growth, not serve superficial #wanderlust. You might not think it makes a difference, but people will feel it.

Hard Truths For Young Musicians: No One Owes You A Living

In the recent years, I’ve encountered other musicians who were relatively young in their journey. They share a similarity in their attitudes, which I strongly feel is hindering them from truly succeeding in their music. Most encounters consisted of them asking for help, which is a good place to start, but just going about it incorrectly.

In no way is this meant to be a personal attack of any sorts. I’m not perfect myself. I simply want to share my opinion, in the hopes that all readers could learn from my experiences and most of all, not make the same mistakes that I did starting out. 

It’s Nothing Personal

I’d like to believe most people are not malicious in the slightest. It takes someone truly mean to make stopping you from succeeding in your music their life mission. Everyone is trying to do what they can to make their goals a reality. Sometimes that means turning some people down, despite its unpleasantness.

I believe in the power of asking and you should believe in the value of your music. At the same time, you need to consider if the person you’re asking a favour from sees similar value in you and your music. If he or she doesn’t, there wouldn’t any form of fair exchange.

Get What You Want, By Giving Them What They Want

This is hard to swallow and it took me a long time to accept this: your friends, family and countrymen are not obliged to like and support your music. It doesn’t make them bad people. They are entitled to their opinion, just like you are.

However, people will support you if:

  • they feel you are a nice person (though this could be short term and/or limited in extent) 

  • they like your music and feel that it adds value to their lives 

  • helping you helps them to achieve their goals

I’ll explain this further using more specific situations.

Others with more experience

I came across this article by Fernando Gros and really enjoyed reading it. It made me realise that just like everyone else, I have only 24 hours a day. Therefore I need to prioritise my time, because an hour spent on my music would eventually make me more money than giving advice in exchange for a coffee. 

Usually there is hardly any level of relationship established prior to meeting up and it feels unfair to me to give you something precious for free. If you expect someone to hand everything to you on a silver platter, then you’re going to be very disappointed. Life isn’t like that.

If you really need to pick someone’s brains, offer them more than just a coffee. One idea is to tell your followers about them. You can do this with a few simple posts on social media or even, uploading a video of you covering a song of theirs onto YouTube. After all, they are taking valuable time out of their schedule to help you. Life coaches, whose core business is giving out advice and monetising it, would charge much more for an hour of theirs.

Government bodies & other sponsors

In Singapore, musicians typically apply for two grants from the National Arts Council, namely the Marketing and Audience Development Grant for touring and the Presentation and Participation Grant to produce their EP. I’ve been fortunate enough to have received support from them.

The officers there have much responsibility placed on their shoulders, to make sure the grant is awarded to those with strong and convincing proposals, as that helps them meet their own performance targets.

That grant money doesn’t magically appear at the end of a rainbow. It comes from taxing hard working citizens and residents such as your family and friends and therefore, we need to show how we would diligently use that money to achieve both our own goals and the government’s.

One might feel that government bodies should lend you support the moment you decide to do a tour. Sadly, not all tours are made equal and yours could be deemed not good enough. Thankfully if you ask, most officers are friendly and willing to share how you could improve for future proposals.

So please, start working on your application early, not the night before! In my opinion, grants are great supplements but you should never make receiving the grant the crux of your fundraising strategy.

Music Industry Professionals

Many think that hiring a manager would solve all their problems and make that a top priority. They also forget that be it indie or mainstream, the music business is exactly that. A business.

Managers offer their services to make a living, not a charity. If 20% of your performance fee doesn’t cover their transport, why should they sign you? Imagine an event organiser not paying you enough. Even in an indie context, you wouldn’t take on that gig, because you feel that your value is not being recognised.

You need to instead prioritise building your audience and monetising them. This could be done through a combination of social media strategies and touring. Remember, “if you build it, they will come”!

Try Again

I’d hate to see you give up your passion for music because you thought no one wanted to help you. That is simply not true! I hope that you will take all I’ve shared, take some time to reflect and work on yourself then finally, ask better!