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Articles by Don Bosco

Don Bosco
Don Bosco creates fantasy entertainment for young readers. He runs his own publishing studio, Super Cool Books.
Don Bosco
Band photo (above) by Jeri Soh. The Cave, from left: Huxley, Emerson, Haadi  and Harry.
All other photos from Fran Lebowitz.
Band photo (above) by Jeri Soh. The Cave, from left: Huxley, Emerson, Haadi and Harry. All other photos from Fran Lebowitz.

Adventures Of A Rock Band Mom In Singapore

Posted on April 2, 2014

People say it’s hard to make it as a musician in Singapore. Meet a determined mother who spent the last seven years on a quest to try anyway.

The Cave is made up of four teenage boys who riff and roar in a style somewhere between Foo Fighters and The Doors. They are: Huxley Rittman (lead guitar, backing vocals), Harry Darling (lead vocals), Haadi Moochhala (drums) and Emerson Gonzalez-Park (bass guitar), all 17 years old. While based in Singapore, they have already been featured on music TV in Russia, opened for Taking Back Sunday, and secured a partial worldwide deal with music distribution company ToCo International. Not bad, right? But behind every successful band you’ll find a hardworking manager, and this is no exception for The Cave. Fran Lebowitz, Huxley’s mother, is the band strategist that takes care of their business bookings and creative well-being.

This not-so-regular-mom candidly sums up her career history as “former agent, briefly novelist, humour columnist, and now mom-ager”. Before moving to Singapore in 1997, Fran was based in New York as a literary agent with the likes of William Morris and Writers House, where she focussed on young adult and pop culture books. (Not to be confused with the other Fran Lebowitz, writer and TV personality.) “I had a few books on the New York Times bestseller list,” Fran recalls, “A couple of clients made it to the US National Book Awards; I negotiated television shows and movies and merchandise and had two babies while still yelling at people on the phone.”

When her husband was posted to Singapore for work, they brought along their two kids. Once the younger one, Huxley, was old enough to play music with his schoolmates, Fran found herself devoted to one consuming mission: take the group of eleven year olds and whip them into a kick-ass rock band. Sounds like a wacky Hollywood comedy, but every bit true.

If you’re reading this and you’re young and talented, based in Singapore, with rock star dreams, you’re probably getting ideas of having Fran manage your band. Well, I wish you luck with that. The next best thing you can do is read this interview, where she very kindly shares what it took for The Cave to earn their stripes as musicians and performers.

FROM CRADLE TO CLARKE QUAY

How did you get involved with The Cave?

I bore the guitarist, for one thing! I just said to Huxley and his friends when he was about 10 or so, “Why don’t you all make a band!” We had so many instruments at home already including mics and stands. I gave them a song I thought they could do, “Bad Reputation” by Joan Jett, and then I hired a music teacher to teach them all the parts. I always thought they sounded great, and that’s probably why I took it seriously and never let it sizzle out. At one stage, we had two music teachers come every Sunday; one for bass and drums and one for guitar and piano.

How would you describe The Cave?

Smart, exciting music, a big sound, four very proficient talents and a voice that stops people in their tracks; a voice that can sing to the back of a stadium without a microphone. The Cave met at Overseas Family School. Harry is from the UK, Huxley is a New Yorker, Emerson is Japanese-Mexican and Haadi is a Pakistani-born Singaporean. Going to school together, eating together, having the same group of friends means they are extraordinarily close. The flip side to this beautiful mulitcultural band is that you also get four sets of parents guided by the mores of their heritage.

What did it take to promote the band?

I never turned down a chance to meet people. I started a three week long battle of the bands called School House Rock, at a bar in Clarke Quay, pitting the international schools against each other. It was a big nail-biting success. And from there, School House Rock got the bands to perform on commercial stages, usually with several bands at a time. So there was often a gig to practise for and people to play to. And that way I met bar owners who would later – when they got good enough – invite The Cave to play. Also, going all out to get them into the Music Matters event and then attending myself and shmoozing, handing out thumbdrives, getting name cards, making follow ups. I have confidence in them and I feel credible. I don’t feel subjective about their music or performances and I can prove it: I’m the one who got Harry (vocalist) in the band and fired Huxley as lead singer. My son. Fired. At eleven years old.

Very early edition of the band with Huxley and Emerson (extreme right).

Very early edition of the band with Huxley and Emerson (extreme right).

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Creative Teams Don

How a Creative Team Loses Steam

Posted on February 25, 2014

It seems like almost everyone today has a job that involves making content and attracting an audience.

The age of social media, brand journalism, content marketing, self-publishing, self-promotion, idea-preneurism, etc, has turned many of us into professional creators. Unlike the old days, you also have to be your own proofreader, photo editor, publisher, video producer, digital strategist, and more.

It’s just a matter of time before you hit a wall and feel overwhelmed. When an entire creative team experiences this, the situation can quickly evolve into a new level of hell for everyone.

While it’s a crazy way to make a living, I’ve managed to get by with a code of creative conduct. I call this The Way of The Writer, because that’s what I spend most of my time doing, but it could work in other creative fields. It’s just five simple ideas that help me keep a project from going off-track. Hopefully, the ideas below will resonate with you too.

1. The way is inside you, not anywhere else.

Creative teams lose steam when they get busy working on something they don’t really care about. They justify the reward and bully themselves to finish the work. That’s always when people start overdosing on coffee, cigarettes, junk food, etc, because their natural sense of motivation has shut down. Eventually, this may lead to a ‘shut down’ or burning out.

Creative teams can keep moving forward when they commit to something they feel is worth making, because they genuinely care about the outcome, and this gives them a quiet power to see things through. This is why creative teams should value honesty: it actually translates into real energy.

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The cast & crew for "This Is Why": (L-R) TOP: Gordon, Jynn, Colin, Chong Lam. MID: Shen, Nick, Vanes, Ming H., Jean, Bryan. BOTTOM: Ming Y., Jared, Careen, Qikit. Absent: Shawn, Tze Ken
The cast & crew for "This Is Why": (L-R) TOP: Gordon, Jynn, Colin, Chong Lam. MID: Shen, Nick, Vanes, Ming H., Jean, Bryan. BOTTOM: Ming Y., Jared, Careen, Qikit. Absent: Shawn, Tze Ken

Making The Ming Thing

Posted on August 27, 2013

The Ming Thing is a popular YouTube channel that features a group of Malaysian talents, mostly making lighthearted videos about the funny side of life.
 
Who’s the creative mastermind behind all this? Twenty-four-year-old writer, director and producer Ho Ming Han, from Selangor, more popularly known by his online moniker, Ming.
 
He actually started YouTube-ing to promote his own music, back when he was still in university. Starting off with sporadic video postings every few months, his YouTube channel suddenly took off in early 2012 — inspiring him to concentrate fulltime on this social media venture after completing his studies this year.
 
Perhaps you might have even seen a few of his comical YouTube clips trending on your Facebook wall: “If Asians Made Burgers”, “12 Types of Love Confessions” (by Dan Khoo Productions), “Shit Boyfriends Say”, and the more recent “If Hashtags Were A Language”. His most epic production so far, though, is a romantic mini-series called “This Is Why”, about how a shy young man finds the courage to tell a pretty girl that he likes her.
 
We invite Ming to explain what it takes to make a living as a young YouTuber in Malaysia.

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SIX SONGS AND A BOOMBOX: REMEMBERING “MILD” BY THE ODDFELLOWS

Posted on July 31, 2013

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Photo by Ivan Thomasz

In May 1988, 20-year-old songwriter Patrick Chng entered a jamming studio with two friends, a boombox and a simple plan to record his own tunes and share these with his small circle of indie music fans in Singapore.

His band was The Oddfellows, and the result of those sessions was a cassette EP called “Mild”. This selection of six songs set the template for Singapore’s indie bands from then on: original songs, self produced releases, modest circulation. But more than that, it created a new chapter in the evolution of local pop music.

Over the next few years, against expectations, the band made the magical transformation from underground status to mainstream acclaim. Chris Ho, musician, DJ and music writer, calls The Oddfellows the “true sons of local indie”. He recalls: “They were the first Singapore indie band to top the local Top 10 chart. That does say much about how the band captured the hearts of music-lovers here at a time when support for original-local was at an all-time low.”

Avid fan Ivan Thomasz shared photos of his treasured copy of “Mild” for this article. “It’s been a long time since I last played “Mild” on my old tape deck, and it has brought back a flood of memories, bitter, sour and sweet, from that time,” he writes. “This is testament to the passion, faith, and love that Patrick and his band members (drummer Casey Soo and bassist Stephen Tan) invested in this little tape that is as deceivingly ordinary-looking as the persons who put it together.”

We spoke to Patrick about those pioneering days, twenty-five years ago, and the six songs the kicked off his esteemed career as an indie rocker.

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Meet the Makers of Singapore

Posted on June 25, 2013

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Photo by Luther Goh

In May this year, local startup Pirate 3D launched their own Buccaneer 3D printer with an overwhelmingly successful Kickstarter campaign that made global headlines. The device seems not only easy to use but also beautiful to behold. The price: only US$347 plus shipping. They intended to raise just US$100,000, but as I write they have crossed US$1 million already.

It’s a good example of trendy tech enjoying crowdfunded glory. Some people are wondering if it’s a sign that local makers will soon experience boom times. But the truth is, such stories are rare in the Singapore maker scene.

Look around and you’re more likely to find modest maker meetups around town where friendly tinkerers exchange tips about down-to-earth projects, including everything from origami-inspired sculptures to mesmerising LED displays for the visual effects industry. Like the Singapore Makers Meetup, which happens every two months at HackerspaceSG. They are organised by local hack-ducator William Hooi, who works at the Science Centre Singapore conducting workshops for kids. In his free time he manages community projects like the Singapore Makers meetup group and the HacKIDemia Singapore chapter.

William is also part of the team behind the coming Singapore Mini Maker Faire in late July, a geeky gathering that Singapore’s makers, hackers and DIY enthusiasts are eagerly anticipating. It will be held at the *SCAPE Warehouse over the last weekend of the month, and provides a platform for some 60 or so local inventors to showcase their DIY projects and share their craft skills. If you turn up you’ll find that it’s a wildly diverse crowd. Still, William believes they share one important quality: the maker mindset.

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