Live music venue closure prompts call for long-term solutions

Comprising four shopfronts and two levels, Singapore’s Broadcast HQ housed a restaurant, a record shop, and a bar until it was forced to close its doors permanently this week due to ongoing licensing issues.

The original concept for the venue when it opened three years ago was that it would host local and international bands and artists, and serve as a live music venue, something sorely missing from Singapore’s entertainment industry.

However, restrictions placed under their Category 2 license for Public Entertainment, which stipulates that only the “transmission of recorded music without dancing by customers” is permitted in the venue, forced them to shift their focus instead, towards DJ nights.

The venue soon earned a reputation for fostering an environment where patrons were challenged with more alternative music, but this was not to last long, as they soon learned that even DJ nights were banned under their license, deemed as ‘live performances’.

Essentially, the venue was forced to shut down operations altogether while they continued to appeal for a Category 1 license. With all of its temporary closures and re-openings, and renovations to appease the process over the years, it seems that Broadcast HQ’s whole, short existence has been at the mercy of the unreasonable and inconsistent restrictions of Singapore’s outdated licensing laws.

While perhaps, Broadcast HQ should have been more thorough in researching the details of their initial license, there are some other very interesting factors at play — in a blog post announcing their closure, the venue takes issue with a number of facets of the licensing system, even going so far as to mention how some businesses exploit the system as a means of bringing in foreign workers.

Compounding all this shadiness, the Singapore Police Force’s grounds for rejecting the application reek of bureaucratic bullshit, as Broadcast HQ explains, “Their justification was they would not consider any new Category 1 PE applications in the location due to complaints about existing Public Entertainment outlets in the area,” despite the fact that the venue shares a wall with a KTV outlet with a Category 1 license until 3am and several other similar outlets in the same area.

The statement continues, “We were very confused and confounded by the ruling that under our Category 2 license we could play a pre-recorded DJ set on a laptop, but if we wanted to employ an artist to play pre-recorded music (even using DJ technology on a laptop), this would be considered a live performance, and therefore was illegal under our license.”

The saddest part of this whole debacle is that Broadcast HQ’s closure will likely discourage others from trying to start businesses with a similar concept in Singapore. Moreover, it represents another mammoth obstacle in Singapore’s struggle to develop a local alternative music scene — one of outdated, uncooperative, and totally uninspired bureaucracy that does not look like it is going to change.

Beyond being a venue, Broadcast HQ had a number of initiatives in the mix to help local fans and musicians get involved in the scene: they held a monthly crash course in DJing so anyone could have a go on the decks. They had a dropbox where aspiring artists could submit a mix to receive feedback, and, if their style fit with the programming, schedule them in to play.

Moreover, they were about to launch their Broadcast Radio site, an internet radio station with a heavy focus on local music, which would have engaged local musicians for different shows and presentation slots, and cover a variety of alternative music with the intention of introducing Singaporeans to new music.

Broadcast HQ explains:

“If there is no support for PE Category 1 licensing outside the main entertainment hubs, there will be no strong alternative music scene. After our [application] was rejected we viewed a number of other potential locations where Category 1 licensing was assured. Due to Cat 1 licenses currently not being issued in our area, venues which had the license came with a premium of between $100,000 – $250,000 business buy over fee in addition to the monthly rental which was solely a reflection of being able to obtain the license. Trying to earn back that money promoting alternative music is not possible.

In the main entertainment districts, rental was so high it would necessitate abandoning our alternative music program, and achieving a very high alcohol sales turnover rate to pay the bills, which would essentially mean providing mass-appeal music and events programming.”

While it is incredibly sad that a business which aimed to foster local music has failed solely because of bureaucratic bullshit, this is a real opportunity for Singaporeans to push for legislative reform: the baffling inconsistencies between the different categories of Public Entertainment licenses reveal a system which is out of date. If Singapore is serious about supporting music as part of a rich cultural scene then the bureaucrats need to sort this stuff out, and punters need to support businesses which take risks to bring patrons great new music.

Click here to read Broadcast HQ’s full blog post.

By Katherine Pollock