Jason Singh: on sound art

Taking as a starting point his own career, Jason Singh provides useful advice on how to work as a sound artist, being commissioned by different organisations, working as an artist in residence and how delivering workshops is hugely rewarding .

Sound Art, what is it? Well, according to Wikipedia, it “..is a diverse group of art practices that considers wide notions of sound, listening and hearing as its predominant focus. There are often distinct relationships forged between the visual and aural domains of art and perceptions by sound artists.” Yes, I would agree with that definition but I also think that it will change and go onto encompass other meanings as time goes on as sound art is still a relatively young creative discipline.  For me sound art is everything I do; from beatboxing and vocal sculpting to dj’ing, composition, facilitation and production.

Over the last 12 or so years, I have worked with many organisations that work with sound and music. These include the PRS for Music, BFI, Royal Albert Hall, Fabric, Contact Theatre, The Sage Gateshead, Roundhouse, Jazz Cafe, The Hacienda, Glastonbury Festival and the BBC to name but a few. As well as performing in traditional music venues like clubs, bars and festivals, I have also ventured into creating performances in art galleries, museums, tunnels, living rooms and more recently, mediaeval forts in the deserts of Rajasthan! The ways in which these opportunities arise are all very different.  Some came from word of mouth, others as nominations for bursaries and also through friends who work in organising festivals and events. Being dyslexic I have in the past found it very difficult to fill out arts funding forms and so shied away from applying for funding myself, but more recently I have found that there are people and organisations (Arts Council England, The Hub, PRSf) who can help in taking the stress out of filing out forms by giving practical advice and tips.

For me, collaboration with other artists and the exploration of different artistic
practices is paramount. I have never really been able to focus on one particular thing as I take inspiration from almost everything in life. Taking sound and music into different situations and settings is vital to me and my growth as an artist. It also keeps ideas fresh and opens me up to see things differently. My creative life is made up of performance, facilitating workshops, collaborations with individuals, bands and organisations, dj’ing, session work and private tuition. I think it’s very important to collaborate and share thoughts and ideas with other artists and organisations too. If your passionate about what you do, this rubs off onto other people and gets them excited about your work and wanting to work with you.

Making money as a sound artist is a tricky thing and my income constantly fluctuates between good months and not so good months. I don’t think that there is one particular way of earning an income as an artist, I feel that one has to find ways of seeking out many small income streams which all contribute to the bigger picture. I feel it is important to get involved in projects that may have little or no fee in the budget as often the experience, knowledge and contacts gained from these opportunities can be invaluable and lead onto paid work in the future.  There are many factors to take into consideration when thinking about fees and budgets like who is the client, what is the project, how many people does the venue hold, where is the projects (will you have to travel long distances?), how interested are you in the project?, what are the next few months looking like financially? And also “mates rates”.  Each person’s situation is different and I think it’s all a question of trial, error and experience.

Diversification is also vital. I make it my business to see work across different creative platforms and also try to develop ways of creating collaborations with artists from all artistic backgrounds. This is achieved through initiating a meeting with the artist or organisation, dropping an email to say how much I enjoyed the work and inviting artists and relevant individuals to performances, sharing’s etc.

I strongly encourage people to meet and talk to people from all walks of life and situations. Some of my most inspiring creative moments and opportunities have come out of the most random of meetings. I would say that a large part of the opportunities that arise for me come from meeting people and networking. I love what I do and I love to hear about what other people are creating and I always explore ways of bringing different worlds together. I get excited about the possibilities of experimenting with different disciplines and seeing what happens, its about taking risks and not having too many fixed ideas about the outcomes but by allowing processes and discussions to be organic, flexible and to flow. I also take advantage of the various online sites like Twitter, Soundcloud and WordPress as these tools all help to let people know what I am doing, buy my work, how they can catch the next performance or project. I collaborate with artists online by sharing sound and images I have created,  I also share with my networks the things that interest me or think may be relevant to someone else.  Through working this way, I have had organisations contact me for work, I also approach individuals and organisations directly if I like what they do, and all the while I endeavour to make the process fun and exciting, whether its a meeting, the work, performance or a project evaluation.

Over the last 10 years I have been delivering workshop in many different settings and situations. I facilitate beatboxing, music production, dj and music therapy workshops and I work in schools, colleges, universities, prisons, mental heath institutions, museums, galleries and festivals. A good starting point for anyone wanting to explore delivering workshops should get in touch with a local project, youth centre, local festival or an organisation such as Youth Music to see what’s going on locally.

For me, sharing is vital as it completes a holistic cycle of inspiration, creation, performance and education. It is also a humbling experience, which helps to keep my feet firmly on the ground.  I would say to anyone who is thinking about delivering workshops, “do it because you want to do it”.  Also, teaching your craft to someone isn’t always easy and one has to develop skills in facilitating and delivering workshops.  Take part in a workshop that maybe happening in your area and evaluate it to see what you enjoyed or could do differently if you where running it.  Local arts organisations can help with training through professional development workshops and courses that focus specifically on workshop delivery.  One can also find out about teaching courses through arts mailing lists, so it’s a good idea to subscribe to some of these.  Delivering workshops is demanding and can drain your energy but the rewards are huge. It’s amazing to see someone tap into their own creativity through your guidance and support and I have met people years after doing workshops who have said that they went on to do music/art because of the workshop or projects they took part in. That is priceless.

Jason Singh is a multi-disciplinary artist who creates work through the mediums of sound, music, photography, poetry and moving image.

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