Kueo chases singing dream with $30,000 debut EP

Taking the reality talent show competition route is now a tried-and-tested way for a new singer to break into the scene. But it is not suitable for everyone, as Singapore's Ruth Kueo found out.

The 22-year-old took a stab at shows in Taiwan such as Chinese Million Star, where she reached the top 100, and Super Idol, as a challenger contestant, and ultimately learnt something about herself.

"I met a lot of really talented people from various countries, but I was not as ambitious and I tended to pick safer songs that I felt I could do well with," she says. "Competitions tend to favour songs which go big on emotions and shoot for the high notes."

There was also the danger of losing sight of her own personality.

She took on Taiwanese diva A-mei's Don't Rub Salt In The Wound for Chinese Million Star last May and it did not go down well with judge Yuan Wei-jen, a veteran songwriter-producer.

He felt that she was imitating A-mei and added: "You need to find your own style."

Those were words that she took to heart. She now believes "the best way of displaying your own sense of style is through your own compositions".

Her debut recording of original material she wrote and composed - the four-track Mandarin and English EP, Conversations With - has just been launched and is available from CD Rama and iTunes.

She paid S$30,000 from her own pocket to produce and market it.

She says: "This is not for profit but it's a dream I want to accomplish while I'm still young."

However, she is not just some dreamy idealist with no head for the hard realities of making music for a living.

Her income comes from her gigs at weddings, corporate events and live music outlets such as Switch by Timbre and Shuffle Bistro Bar.

"This is a sustainable mode of music business," adds the communications and new media graduate from the National University of Singapore, who set up her own wedding live band company while still at university.

While the petite Kueo might come across as soft-spoken in person, she has always known what she wants and how to get it, even if it meant getting a little creative with her businessman father and housewife mother.

The eldest of three children says: "I would usually do things first and then tell them the truth after."

She merely told her parents that she was going on an overseas trip with friends when she took part in the China variety show Ming Shi Gao Tu (Great Master And Brilliant Disciples) in 2009.

A training course she took at home-grown company Ocean Butterflies after her A levels was a "music enrichment course".

After being initially against her foray into "impractical" music, her father has since come round. Her parents have supported her EP by asking their "big group of badminton friends" to buy it from the shops.

Kueo, who is single, is in this for the long haul and hopes to come up with a full-length album next. She will be performing at BookFest@ Singapore on Saturday and at the Esplanade Concourse on Feb 11. She is also building a presence on social media. Her YouTube page now has about 1,700 subscribers.

She may also embark on a music showcase tour on Taiwan's livehouse circuit and music festivals.

"I do have a long-term plan after releasing the EP. I've never thought about doing anything other than music."

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