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Home Grown Musical Talents. Do you aspire to be like them?

When it comes to earning a living with music in Singapore, it could seem like a lofty dream to some realists. Either you go big or go home. On the other hand, it could be just an avenue for creative expression. But it seems that musicians do not actually use money as a yardstick to measure their success. They just do it. Along the way, they learn a lot about themselves, about people, how to manage expectations, and be clear of the reason for creating music.

Making music so as to lead the Rockstar lifestyle will not be a good reason, as you will lose motivation to carry on when hit with a setback. Making music for self-expression, creating awareness or to inspire others are better reasons.

Generally, Singapore is moving towards embracing local musical talents. Now let’s take a look at a few musicians who have made their mark beyond the little red dot:

1.Nathan Hartono

Image credit: 8 days/Yip JieYing


Nathan’s singing career sparks off way back when he was just 3, when he performed in front of audiences by singing to Barney during a Mid-Autumn festival. By the age of 15, he was already taking part in teenage magazine talent contest, which later kick start his music career officially. From then on, he gained numerous experience in performing jazz-pop music and became the youngest performer to do a headline show in the Esplanade’s Late Nite series at the venue’s recital studio.

He was a student from Anglo Chinese School (ACS) Barker and Anglo Chinese Junior College (ACJC), and later graduated from the Berklee College of Music in Boston, majoring in Music Production and Engineering.


Previously from the Music and Drama Company (MDC) of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), it provided him with numerous opportunities to perform for shows. It's also where he gained experience and confidence to perform.

Despite clinching first runner-up for season 1 of Sing! China in 2016, he was able to remain as a warm person and maintain his down-to-earth personality.

Learning points

With Mandopop king Jay Chou being his mentor in Sing! China, Nathan learned how to continuously innovate and never rest on his laurels. He also mentioned that every once in a while, it is good to do things to scare you as it helps you learn and grow as a person. One example was when he took up the challenge of being the lead role in his first stage performance, Spring Awakening in 2012 (which was ongoing for one whole month) despite having only 2 months to rehearse.

Fun Fact: Nathan is afraid of heights, not upwards down, but downwards up.

2.Joanna Dong

Image credit: The Straits Time/Ng Sor Luan


Joanna Dong has been active in the jazz scene and the musical theatre in Singapore for almost a decade before making a name for herself regionally.

She once participated in Singapore idol in 2004 and was in the top 40s. She released a Jazz Extended Player (EP), Lullaby Nomad, under Red Roof Records in 2008.

She was highly active in musical theatres and won awards since 2007, including notable plays such as “If There Are Seasons…” and the “Great World Cabaret”.

She graduated with an Honours Degree in Sociology from the National University of Singapore (NUS), and is an alumnus from Victoria Junior College as well as Raffles Girls.


Her fame skyrocketed after clinching 2nd runner-up in Sing! China in 2017.

Learning points

Even before Joanna joined Sing! China last year, she was already actively involved in Singapore’s arts scene for the past decade. She shared with 8 Days that she needed to give up 4 months of work in order to pursue Sing! China, which she felt was a challenge as she needed to live with the possibility of getting disqualified every week with no income for 4 months. This shows that in pursue of passion, there are sacrifices to make.

Fun fact: Joanna can sing, host, act and dance but she can’t play an instrument.

3. The Sam Willows

Image credit: Arcstreet Journal


The Sam Willow is Singapore’s millennial pop group, which consists of Benjamin Kheng (guitarist/vocalist), Narelle Kheng (bassist/vocalist), Sandra Riley Tang (percussionist/ keyboardist/vocalist) and Jonathan Chua (lead guitarist). Their music genre revolves around Indie Pop and Jazz fusion.


The band was formed in 2012 and released their first album “Take Heart” in 2015. The release earned them the accolade of the Best 2015 Artist " in Singapore by ITunes, as well as being the first Asian artist to be featured in the Spotify Spotlight Campaign in Asia.

Learning points

During an interview with JUICE, the band have a philosophy of trusting the process and finding happiness”. Sandra Tang also shared the difference between contentment and complacency. In her opinion, contentment is being happy with the results after working hard while complacency is being happy at the current state even when you see the fault but do nothing to change it.

Jonathan also shared that It is about learning how to fall in love with what you’re doing. Do the hard work but love the hard work as well”. The band shares good chemistry and knows how to complement each other’s’ strengths and weaknesses.

Fun fact: Jonathan is probably the most resourceful but naggy person in the team.

4. Lin Jun Jie (JJ Lin)

Image credit: Shanghai Daily/Song Xinyi


Singapore Mandopop prince JJ Lin is a multi-talented artist who is a singer/producer/songwriter/actor. (What can he not do?)

JJ’s musical talent was discovered when he was in his JC years (SAJC). His music teacher discovered he had talent in singing during one of the school performances. She then recommended him to enrol in a music school where he learn how to write Chinese songs and the rest is history.


At the age of 18, he signed a contract with local music label Ocean Butterflies.

Fast forward to 2014, JJ won the Golden Melody Award (GMA) - Taiwan’s version of the American Grammy. From 2004, JJ continues his winning streak at the GMAs when he was awarded Best New Artist. This year, he was nominated for Best Mandarin Album Producer, Best Composer, Best Male Singer, Song of the Year and Album of the Year.

Learning points

Despite his success, he did not change much. He was described as sincere, well-mannered and humble by one of the SAJC’s teacher during the China Quotient Student Forum held in 2015 at SAJC Cultural Centre.

In the same year, according to Straits times, he was seen at the streets performing “Jiang Nan” (River South) while shopping in Taipei. JJ was listening to the busker for a while before joining him for an impromptu performance, attracting a large crowd. The process was recorded by one of Lin’s friend. After which, the video was uploaded by Lin, causing it to go viral on social media, with 4.6 million views and receiving close to 300k likes.

While many popular stars would have walk away, JJ actually sang along with the busker (which would draw attention and decrease his shopping time), which shows that he has the humility to encourage others who might need help.

Fun fact: He does not like exposing his forehead. He prefers to have a fringe.

5. Stefanie Sun

Image credit: Yahoo Lifestyle Singapore, by Bryan Huang


Everybody knows Stefanie Sun is a soon-to-be mother of 2, as she expects her second child by September 2018. With 15 years of experience in the music industry, she is a sensation in the Mandopop industry. She has fans from Hong Kong, Taiwan, Mainland China and of course Singapore. She is also the voice behind 2 Singapore National day songs, “We will get there” and “One United people” which she performed during SG50 National Day Parade.


In 2000, she released her first album “Yan Zi”, which allowed her to bag home the Golden Melody Award (GMA) for Best New Artist. In 2004, she released her 8th studio album “Stefanie” which won her another GMA award, but this time in Best Mandarin Female Singer.

Learning points

Despite all the success and limelight, during an interview with NTU, the down-to-earth alumnus advises aspiring individuals to do whatever it takes to succeed, to never

stop learning, and if one cannot please people, make them laugh.

Doing whatever to succeed

Sun did not grow up speaking Mandarin, but English. Another reason was because the English Pop scene wasn’t as established and was more popular when sung by westerners.

Never stop learning

Another learning point Sun shared was to never stop learning. Up till now, she is still sharpening her Mandarin by revising Chinese. She even posted a picture of her revision on Instagram.

If one cannot please people, make them laugh

The above statement was referenced from one of her visit to one of MacDonald’s outlets during her off days in T-shirt, shorts and flip-flops. Somebody went on to take a picture of her and posted on social media and commented she looked like an auntie.

Stefanie improvised by editing the image by adding a crown, a sarcastic self-deprecating statement and finishing it off with sparkles. This provided a good laugh for netizens, which was rather a witty move to deal with the lukewarm dissing.

Fun fact: She cannot cook well, and love MacDonalds.

From the stories of our home-grown musical talents, surely, their success today is not an overnight endeavour. It requires hard work, faith, patience, boldness, humility, teamwork, musical flair and a host of other factors. However, one thing for sure is that:

"Winners are not those who never fail, but those who never quit".

- Edwin Louis Cole

So when you are in for a challenge, keep calm, heads up, and embrace it with a smile.You never know what you could learn and be capable of!

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