The singer-songwriter shares how her mental health struggles also inspired her to write her own music

Two years ago, when Covid-19 hit, Singaporean pop singer-songwriter Priscilla Tan lost all her income after live music was banned temporarily. Depressed and feeling like a failure, she turned to Instagram where she realised that everyone seemed to be doing better than her. It was this dark spiral that inspired her to write the song Picture Perfect Fame, which later inspired her recent collaboration with homegrown craft company Bynd Artisan.

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“I’ve loved singing since I was a little girl. My whole family also loves to sing so my parents would always bring us to karaoke spots,” Tan shares.

However, knowing that this was not the most practical career choice when she was still in school, Tan decided to enrol at the National University of Singapore and major in marketing. 

“My first job was as a marketing executive in Marina Bay Sands, where I helped to brainstorm and execute different marketing campaigns to bring in new customers and retain and develop existing ones,” she said. “Then I moved on to Singapore Press Holdings where I was a brand manager for The Straits Times.”

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Photo: Priscilla Tan
Above Photo: Priscilla Tan

It was around this time that Tan was approached by a close friend to sing and play the piano at her wedding. 

“After I sang, an agent came up to me and asked if I would like to sing more. Of course, I said yes,” Tan says with a smile. “Over time, I eventually decided that my singing on the weekends brought me more joy than my corporate job and that it was good enough to sustain our lifestyles. So I quit my job to pursue music full time.”

Unfortunately, it was around this point that Covid-19 hit and everything began shutting down. “Live music was banned and so I completely lost all sources of income.”

“I went through the hardest time in my life. I felt like such an irresponsible wife and mother,” she shared. However, it was from this extreme sadness that Tan decided to start writing songs as an outlet. 

“I got my inspiration from everything around me. So one day, I was scrolling through social media and I realised that everyone seemed to be doing better than me. It really hit my self-esteem,” Tan says. “It was around this time that I listened to a podcast that talked a lot about why we compare ourselves to others particularly when people only show the highlights of their lives on Instagram. This was where the song Picture Perfect Frame came from.”

The song, which talks about how we don’t see what we should sometimes and that our tears, pain and struggles are all part of a greater plan, eventually would open doors that Tan would not even think were possible. 

“One thing I’ve always liked is journaling and so when I was looking for creative ways to market my song, I decided that I wanted to work with a brand that could help tell my story and produce tangible reminders for people to lean on for strength when they are going through a struggle or challenge like I was.”

“Bynd Artisan was a company that I had already worked with in the past in my corporate days and I decided to just send a proposal over to Winnie, the founder,” Tan adds. “She really loved the message and here we are.”

The Picture Perfect Frame collection comprises a series of lifestyle items that features lyrics from Tan’s song, Picture Perfect Frame.

“I gave them my lyrics and they worked with The Letter J Supply, a local art studio, to bring my song to life. The team was very open to my feedback and truly they were a dream to work with," Tan says.

With the Picture Perfect Frame collection currently out for sale in Bynd Artisan, Tan is now focused on continuing to write and release songs while also preparing for the birth of her second child after announcing her pregnancy on Instagram just a few weeks ago.

With all she has going on, we spoke to Tan to find out how she is making it work.

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Photo: Priscilla Tan
Above Photo: Priscilla Tan

What is a typical morning like for you? 

Priscilla Tan (PT): My daily morning alarm goes “Mummy!” at about 8 am, and then we have some family time over breakfast. I will then prepare my son for school and I’ll usually exercise about two to three times a week before starting work. 

What does a standard work day look like for you?

PT: For me every day is different. On Mondays, I’m acting in a commercial. On Tuesdays, I’m at a recording studio for my songs. On Wednesdays, I’m at a cafe editing videos for my marketing content.

On Thursdays, I’m at home writing a jingle for a brand campaign. Fridays I’m talking to clients and send out quotations and invoices. Saturdays and Sundays I’m typically hosting or performing at corporate events or weddings. 

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Photo: Priscilla Tan
Above Photo: Priscilla Tan

What time do you usually have lunch? What do you usually have for lunch?

PT: 12 pm to 1 pm. If I’m home, my favourite go-to is my home-cooked fish soup. If I’m out, I always go for my favourite hawker fare.

How would you describe your working style?

PT: Creative, fun, and detail-oriented.

Free time: overrated or underrated? Why?

PT: Time is never free. There are only 24 hours a day and so many things to do and people to meet. I consciously decide how I spend my time because anything that I take up means less of something else that I can’t do.

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Photo: Priscilla Tan
Above Photo: Priscilla Tan

How do you achieve a work-life balance? How do you set boundaries?

PT: As a freelancer, it is very hard to set boundaries because home is where I work and rest. If I don’t work, that means no income.

When I first quit my corporate job to become freelance, contrary to popular belief, I worked 24/7 to build my brand. I set my working time from 10 am to 5 pm and once I picked my son up from school, I cut work off unless there is anything urgent or an event I’ve been booked for.

I also make sure I’m present after school with my son as we have dinner. Then, if I have any pressing work to do, I continue at night. Otherwise, it’s husband time.

How do you chase your dreams?

PT: Keep going and stay grounded. 

Risks: should you take them? Why or why not?

PT: If you will regret not taking the risks, then take them. 

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How do you deal with your shortcomings?

PT: Keep learning and improving. Having a supportive group of family and friends who will always remind you of what you are capable of is also very important.

What is the best piece of advice that you have ever gotten?

PT: “There are many good singers in this world. But not many are good storytellers.”

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What is an idea/thought that you heard recently, that you thought was interesting?

PT:  That the life you envy is made from the sacrifices you can’t take.

How do you unplug?

PT: I go for runs in places where there is beautiful scenery and where I can stop and just spend time looking at something bigger than myself and all my problems. 

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Photo: Priscilla Tan
Above Photo: Priscilla Tan

How do you stay grounded?

PT: I make sure I spend time with my family. One day I’m on stage singing and getting praise, the next day I’m a regular mum bringing my son to swimming class and I’m loving it. 

How do you manage stress?

PT: I start off each day by writing a to-do list in my journal in a sequence of urgency. 

How do you stay motivated?

PT: I review my work and write down the good and the bad so I can keep improving. I also ask for feedback and watch and learn from others. 

What is one item that has changed your life for the better?

PT: My piano.

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