Singer-songwriter Jason Yu reveals his metamorphosis from being the ‘chosen’ one by his primary school teachers for singing performances to his exciting experiences in busking on the streets, personal struggles, and how he shakily enters the elusive mainstream music industry.
“I didn’t manage to get your name, you are?” Jason enthusiastically asks after his filming for the channel ends. We are running a bit off the schedule, so the pleasantries are left out. Jason endows geniality, and it shows evidently when he speaks. Typically, after exchanging names and a little bit of hi and hellos with someone you just met, the conversation dies very quickly. Still, he knows how to carry an exchange; you feel the warmth and openness, unlike any PR-machine-trained personalities we’ve encountered before.
“You look far different from your Instagram photos,” I utter. He looks at me and asks, “Which ones?” I start to tell him my feedback in as much honesty as possible. I explain how he looks mature and tired in some of his photos compared to all the great features he has in person. “I appreciate the honesty; I like it when people tell me what they think of me,” he responds, “I think I’ll leave the mystery there, people will be surprised when they see me,” he continues, but I don’t respond.
Jason Yu is currently in his final semester taking up Bachelor of Music at Monash University. At the age of 14, he already knew that music is the future for him, and like any other teenager, he procrastinated a little; he felt that there is “no need to rush.” As he grows older, he learns that in a competitive world of the music industry, he needs to be a step ahead every time; thus, at the age of 26, he already holds a diploma in Sonic Arts and a few months away to being a Music baccalaureate.
The spark of Jason Yu’s passion for music.
Jason’s love for music is not by chance but rather a progressive journey. He shares how he started singing on stage at the age of 11 when his primary school teacher selected him to perform for the Teacher’s Day concert.
I ask him, “So the teachers know you can sing, are you aware that you really can sing?”
“My teachers were just being encouraging. As long as you don’t sound too bad, they’ll let you have a shot.”
His first most significant performance was in his secondary school year, when he performed in front of 2,000 people as part of the Church’s music competition. Yu and his friends formed a band where he acted as the vocalist – he didn’t know how to play the guitar back then. They made it to the finals and won.
Talking about missed chances, Jason shares how that music competition opened up opportunities for him, but given that he was only 14, his parents objected.
“One of the judges is like a veteran in Singapore’s mando pop industry. He saw potential in me and tried to reach out by contacting my youth group leader. My parents rejected, and I never knew about it,” he shares.
“When and how did you know about it?” I ask. “And what did you feel?”
“Another guy from the said group accidentally mentioned it to me two or three years after,” he recalls, “I was a bit bummed out, the judge has somewhat of a big name in the industry. If I had already started my career at the age of 14, things might have turned out differently.”
“Maybe that’s not your moment to shine yet. Perhaps it’s not meant to be. It could be that you have to find yourself first and know where your passion really lies?”
“Yeah, that’s true, too,” he seemingly agrees, not trying to be complaisant. “There’s a lot of things that could have gone wrong; I could have lost the passion I had. It might have become so much of a job for me, right? I could lose passion for music, and then I would have end up being an accountant or something.”
“An Accountant’s pay is higher, don’t you know?” I say jokingly. He lets out a clipped chuckle, responding rather matter-of-factly, “Yeah, I know. My sister is an Accountant.”
That incident is probably the last objection Jason received from his parents. After high school, he took up Sonic Arts as his post-secondary education while getting all his parents’ backing financially and emotionally. While his mother is a little worried about his choice, his father, on the other hand, gives him the support. Cliché may sound, but to his father, what matters is his happiness. If the definition of success is by singing and making it a career, he will be all go.
Jason performs on the streets.
Trying to set off with his chosen passion with an unmistakable dent, Jason starts putting more effort into music, which rewards him with little but steady progress. After attending polytechnic, a mutual acquaintance showed him a photo of a busker’s crowd at Orchard road. He was impressed by it – the idea of random people stopping for buskers caught him.
At this point, I get excited. So I ask him to bring me to his first busking experience.
“The very first time I busked was outside MBS (Marina Bay Sands). I avoided Orchard Road at the start of my busking journey because I knew there would be competition there, and I was a bit afraid,” he confides deliberately. “I did it like, for one and a half hours, and then I was already so tired, I got like, 40 something dollars.”
Like those who do what they love, Jason finds it astonishing, too. His post at that time is a technician, and he gets $1,800 per month. With only spending one and a half hours singing outdoor and earning like $30 per hour is undoubtedly something that a capable person will be attracted to.
“When I’m busking, I’m just having fun. I’m freaking doing what I love and getting paid for it!” he continues proudly but never swaggering. “I started with a very small PA system that comes with a Bluetooth microphone and an input where I plug my guitar in. It didn’t have effects or anything fancy. The speaker actually sounded poorly, but I worked with what I had. We all have to start somewhere, right?”
At present, Jason has accumulated a whopping four years of performing at the most popular places in Singapore including the busiest Orchard road. He has placidly cemented his place as one of the big names in Singapore’s busking scene. A quick scan through on social media gives you numerous sneak peeks of his performances. His appearances in different platforms and creative partnerships sprout one after another, impressing the listeners with his soulful voice.
Out of curiosity, I ask if he ever gets anxious when his parents watch him perform on the streets. “Not really, I perform at home all the time. They know what’s happening cos I always update them,” he shares. “Actually they always count the taking of the day with me whenever I’m back from busking.”
Jason Yu, ready to conquer the mainstream.
Like any other singer, being a household name is his greatest goal too. While Jason is busy finishing his degree, his game plan to make it in the music industry is neither left out nor pushed aside. He continuously writes and composes music. In fact, his latest single release, Now I Know, is a testament to his dedication to his craft.
“Now I Know is a song about loss, realization, and regrets,” he explains. “A song that is very personal to me. I wrote it after a fall out between me and the person who was dear to me.”
For less than two months after launching the single on Spotify, it already amassed 47,463 streams, and his monthly listeners spiked at over 25,000. Jason also has an upcoming release on 23rd October, and another single in December before Christmas.
When I ask if he is still composing songs: “I’m not stopping, I’m only getting started. A bit late to get started —”
“It’s never too late. It’s always never too late,” I interrupt.
“Yeah, I mean, in that case, right, it’s a good thing that I still look like a boy,” he shares happily.
In the entire conversation I have with Jason, I feel like I know the guy for years. His answers are genuine, and his straight-to-the-fact statements are never standoffish. There’s so much passion, something I rarely sense from every budding person his age. There’s also fear and doubts of not making it, but his sheer innate talent combined with his strongest desire to make it happen will pave its way.
I ask if he’s going back to busking again.
“Definitely, I’m just waiting for Phase 3 to come, and I’ll definitely hit the streets to busk again! Busking is where I started, and it’s the most authentic way to communicate with my listeners.”
While we are having our dim sum, he gives his phone to me with his Instagram profile open. I pause a little, and he says, “show me which photos you don’t like, the ones you think I look bad.”
From then and there, I know I like the guy even more.