It was never her dream to be a singer-songwriter, but Tay Kewei ventured down a new path when she agreed to a friend’s request. She took the plunge as a second-year undergraduate, singing a piece composed by her friend at “Fei Yue Shi Kong,” a Chinese song writing competition organised by NTU’s Cultural Activities Club.
“I had learned music, piano and the Erhu, but singing was new to me,” said Tay, who has released five albums since she started her career in music.
Since her first singing performance, Tay has not looked back. Even though she did not win the competition, it sparked her love for performing.
In her third year at the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information, Tay successfully auditioned to be a backup vocalist for famous Mandarin pop artistes such as Wang Leehom, JJ Lin and A-Mei.
“It was very humbling and eye-opening to understand how they work. I saw how punishing their schedules were, and I was inspired to work doubly hard,” said the 32-year-old, who majored in Broadcast and Cinema Studies.
She toured to some 50 cities with these celebrities, and was grateful for the opportunity even though she had to juggle her school and work commitments during her final year.
“None of the dates clashed with my exams, so I graduated successfully. My Final Year Project group mates were also very kind and I tried to be involved as much as possible.”
After graduating, Tay released her first EP album “KEEP!” together with artiste Lee Ein Ein in 2009. Her talent and determination culminated in another big break for her when she signed on with S2S, a Japanese music label and artiste management company.
During the EP launch in Hong Kong, Tay’s favourite artiste Khalil Fong made a surprise appearance when the duo performed at a live music bar in the city.
“He did a guest performance at my show and actually jammed on stage with us,” Tay said.
Music opened another door for Tay when she met her husband Alfred Sim, an athletic coach and fellow singer, in 2004. The couple were guest performers at the solo EP launch of acappella singer Peter Huang, who is also the band leader of Singaporean music group MICappella.
The couple share the same love for life and their careers, said Tay.
“We were both pursuing careers that most parents are afraid of – music and sports. We grew in the same direction, experienced volatile times and tried to create opportunities for the long run,” she added.
Despite her successes, Tay’s journey as an artiste also came with challenges.
“A lot of people ask me what I would do if I wasn't a singer, and I don't have an answer because I feel there's so much I can do in music.”
Last November, her record label S2S shut down. As a result, the digital version of her first Mandarin pop album “Turn Back and Smile” was taken down from online platforms.
“I wrote nine out of the 10 songs on that album. It was really heart-breaking. But that’s life, it happens,” said Tay, who has since signed on with a new local record label Cross Ratio Entertainment, which also manages singers such as Kewei’s husband Alfred, YouTuber Clarence Liew, and former “The Final 1” contestant Louisa Kan.
Through it all, Tay has never given up on her dreams to be an artiste, said Dean Augustine, founder and director of Cross Ratio Entertainment.
“Before I met her, she had been struggling to make a name for herself but her strong determination enabled her to succeed with time,” said Augustine, who has worked with Tay for almost seven years.
Among Tay’s original pieces, her favourite original song is “Plastic Mannequin Love,” an item about a mannequin thrown into the Great Pacific garbage patch. Driven by social conscience, the song critiques global pollution but takes a light-hearted tone, said Tay.
“Every songwriter creates songs which are close to his or her heart. What makes a difference is how you want to share it,” she said.
Looking back, she does not have any regrets about her journey as a singer-songwriter.
“A lot of people ask me what I would do if I wasn’t a singer, and I don’t have an answer because I feel there’s so much I can do in music.”