Every once in a while, we come across people who spark an interest in us, and you can’t help but wonder about their lives, their thoughts and their motivations.
To me, that fascination often surfaces when it comes to musicians.
Being an avid music fan, I’ve always been curious about how my favourite musicians were inspired to write songs that have the power to touch hearts all around the world. I’ve always wondered about how musicians’ lives have shaped them and therefore their own creation of this universal language; how they discovered their sound and passion.
I was therefore very excited when I got the opportunity to speak to one of Singapore’s newest musicians, Beth Yap, who goes by the stage name bittymacbeth.
Who Exactly Is bittymacbeth?
Beth is your typical 22-year-old who loves photography and skateboarding; she just so happens to have a not-so-typical job.
She sings, plays bass, writes songs and does live looping. Her music is peppered with elements of jazz, soul, funk and pop. Despite having been compared to artistes like Lianne La Lahavas and Esperanza Spalding, Beth does not limit herself to the likes of any particular musician; instead, she says that her style is inspired by a combination of her favourite singers and whoever she is listening to at the time.
Quoting musicians like Erykah Badu and Ginny Bloop from The Steve McQueens, she listens to and learns from their techniques and chooses to apply them whenever she deems.
After learning about her intriguing style of music, I was curious as to how she discovered this passion of hers.
Growing Up Musical
Beth recounted on her days growing up in a musical family and explained that music had subconsciously always been an integral part of her life.
She was always writing songs about her daily life – she had written one about going to her Grandma’s house when she was only six and one about a trip to her chiropractor’s clinic when she was 12. It was also around this young age when she seriously considered pursuing music.
She looked into courses providing her with this opportunity after her ‘O’ levels and decided on the Diploma in Music and Audio Technology (DMAT) course in Singapore Polytechnic (SP).
Fortunately, her persistence and strength did not allow any opposition to faze her choice of course and silence her talent – Beth had done well enough to go to most Junior Colleges (JCs) in Singapore and the JC route was considered to be a safe, conventional route that most of her Secondary school classmates went for.
Her mother, too, wanted the JC route for Beth, but Beth explained that had she pursued that path instead, she would have felt like she was just existing rather than living.
Hence, she was determined to chase her dreams and to go after a future that she could be excited about.
A Choice That Paid Off
Her journey and experiences in SP certainly did not disappoint.
She picked up invaluable skills and musical knowledge that have benefitted her career today from her course and her CCA, SP Jazz Band.
She learnt about jazz harmony, how to arrange and produce music, and how to write the kind of music she wanted to write. That sure came in handy when making her debut album, Beauty for Ashes.
On the topic of Beth’s debut album, my curiousity peaked and I was especially interested in probing this musician’s mind to find out what inspired her songwriting.
If you try picking up a piece of paper and a pen, writing lyrics to a song really isn’t an easy feat, so I was deeply interested in finding out how someone around my age created the music that she did.
Beth explained the theme of the album as reflective of life’s ups and downs. The songs start off positive, progressively get darker but end on a hopeful note that things eventually get better.
In general, Beth’s songwriting is inspired by things that she has witnessed and experiences, therefore making it deeply personal.
She recounted how she had written one of her songs, Alcatraz, based on her experience of overthinking and becoming a prisoner of her own mind. Another of her songs was inspired by her experiences of being misjudged, but later realising how everyone, even the bullies in her life, is a victim in some way and that people shouldn’t be judging each other but rather coming together to help one another in their struggles.
“It is a lot harder work than I thought it would be”
It is evident that Beth has the talent, skills, mind and knowledge to become a successful musician. After all, that’s all a singer needs, right?
Wrong, and I think that this is a common misperception that people have about the music industry. Quoting Beth, “It is a lot harder work than I thought it would be”.
To Beth’s surprise (and to mine too), being a singer was not just about the talent and vocals.
Her full-time job as a musician requires her to do almost everything related to her career by herself, from administrative to marketing work in order to put her music out. Some of the things that she has to do, apart from writing and singing, include sending press releases, scoring music and creating content for and managing all her social media.
It is a round-the-clock job for her and as she quipped, work is omnipresent whenever she has an Internet connection.
Things got especially tedious in preparing her album, as apart from writing lyrics, she also had to write melodies, harmonies and then arrange and produce her own music.
Even things like writing a report to get an album grant from the National Arts Council and in the process, coming up with the tabulation of costs that go into making the album (including the costs of hiring mixing engineers, printing song booklets and renting a venue for the album launch) were done independently by her.
Despite the hard work, Beth deems this to be the most fulfilling job she has ever had. After all, she gets to do what she loves – writing her own music and performing her originals. She describes her feelings as cathartic and wistful, especially when she sees people singing along and moving to her music and when people come up to her to tell her how her music has impacted them.
Alongside this, Beth’s career has also allowed her to fulfill many other dreams of hers, such as working with people whom she has always looked up to in the local music scene, like Dru Chen, Benjamin Kheng and Inch Chua.
As she says thoughtfully, “It’s all these serendipitous things that are quite amazing to me when I look back on them”.
Remaining Down-To-Earth In The Face Of Imminent Success
As Beth steps forward to take on the local music scene, she remains down-to-earth and true to her roots.
She recalled fondly the day of her album release and related a little story to me: one of her friends had reminded her that she had once mentioned to him her dream of playing on a stage with a Persian carpet underneath her feet. To her delight, she had actually had a rug sponsor who provided her with a Peranakan rug for her album launch, making this dream of hers come true.
It is through this wide-eyed wonder at little things like these that really emulates Beth’s excitement at her bright future ahead. Ticking things off her bucket list one at a time, she truly doesn’t take anything for granted.
A hardworking, talented and humble musician, Beth certainly deserves all the good things coming her way.