Striking the right note with local musicians

Striking the right note with local musicians
Edward Chia, founder of Timbre, was named one of Ten Outstanding Young Persons in Singapore by NGO Junior Chamber International recently.

Playing a musical instrument might not be Mr Edward Chia's strongest suit.

But that has not proved to be discordant with his ambition of grooming aspiring musicians and developing the performing arts scene in Singapore.

The founder of music and lifestyle company Timbre Group admits to having only tinkered with the piano as a child and has scarcely any background in the arts.

In fact, he was a triple science student in secondary school and junior college, and he studied political science and economics at the National University of Singapore (NUS).

Today, however, the 30-year-old is the unlikely owner of six live music venues and a music school.

He also clinched the Singapore Youth Award last month - alongside home-grown film-maker and Camera d'Or award winner Anthony Chen - and has been lauded by nightlife honcho Dennis Foo as a "mover and shaker" in the nightlife scene.

Mr Chia finds the label "humbling", especially since he never planned to venture into the nightlife industry.

"But I did know from a very young age that I wanted to do something on my own," he said in an interview with The Straits Times at his newest outfit Barber Shop in Old Parliament Lane.

"I've always felt that our generation has been blessed with good education, certainly better than what our parents had.

"I felt that if I ever were to create an enterprise, it must have a social intent."

He aims to "lift the standard of local music", which entails having musicians here put their heart and soul into perfecting their craft.

"Our goal is to make sure that more musicians can go full-time. We provide the right audience and stage for them to truly be musicians.

"We like to call ourselves 'the home of local musicians'."

He had his first taste of the performing arts while in the student council at National Junior College, where he helped to organise events and rally performers.

The ability on display convinced him that more had to be done to develop the students' budding talent.

With that in mind, the then18-year-old roped in friends to organise a fund-raising concert for the Children's Cancer Foundation.

The show at the Victoria Theatre raised S$17,000 in one night.

The concert's success convinced the volunteers to form a non-profit group to stage similar events, and Mr Chia's first venture, Arts For Us All, was formed.

Mr Danny Loong, 42, a professional blues musician, crossed paths with Mr Chia after he was invited to perform at one such event.

Mr Loong, now the chief creative director of Timbre Group, had always wanted to perform on his own stage and to groom others like him.

Mr Chia, on his part, said it was getting "tiring" to run a non-profit organisation without sustainable revenues. Together, the two started Timbre Group in 2005.

The toughest part when setting up the business was juggling his undergraduate studies while dealing with all the issues with start-ups, he said.

He had just enrolled in NUS, and often shuttled between lecture theatres and Timbre Group's first outlet at Armenian Street many times a day.

"Some memories I try not to remember," he joked.

He recounted the experience of starting the firm's annual Beerfest Asia back in 2009, and running operations on the ground despite having a final examination the next morning.

"It's really a miracle that I didn't become a college dropout," he quipped.

On the contrary, three years ago, NUS named him an "outstanding young alumnus".

Despite his success so far - the firm turned a profit just two years after it was set up - he is not one to rest on his laurels.

His ultimate goal is to give his musicians regional, and even global, exposure.

Together with the National Arts Council, Timbre Group recently set up the Singapore WestAustralian Music Exchange, where artists are invited to perform across borders.

He said: "The real goal is to set up Timbres in the region, so that we own and manage physical venues, then it makes the whole 'cultural exchange' viable.

"That is the grand vision in the next two years."

His schedule is less hectic now with a management team in place, but he has found himself making sacrifices of a different kind, with the arrival of a newborn son.

"I wake up twice a night to feed him - life has gotten much simpler now," he said with a smile.

This article was first published on August 18, 2014.
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