Jo Mari Chan’s advice to young musicians is going viral 2
Jose Mari Chan. Photo by Alfredo Ruzol, ABS-CBN News

'Just do music on the side': The internet reacts to Jo Mari Chan’s advice to young composers, singers

Mr. Songwriter is going viral, and this time it’s not because it’s the season for “Christmas in our Hearts”
ANCX Staff | Sep 07 2023

Jose Mari Chan is the subject of online talk and not only because it’s September and it’s time for his yearly ber months anthem “Christmas in Our Hearts” to fill the airwaves. It’s also thanks to a quote he gave the Boy Abunda talk show “Fast Talk” recently, a piece of advice to young composers and singers. 

Asked where people can find him outside of the last four months of the year when he’s spreading holiday cheer just about everywhere, the legendary hitmaker said he would either be at home or at work. Not a lot of people are aware that apart from making music, Chan is also a businessman. His answer quickly led him to saying: “Especially now with the technology change, it’s very hard to live on music. That’s why my advice to young composers, young singers is that: Use that as a hobby, or on the side, but get another career. Either in law or accounting or in medicine. And then just do music on the side.” 

Roland making music with wife Jeannelle.
Roland making music with wife Jeannelle.

Chan, with his ever present smile, clearly had no intention to offend anyone with his statement but some creatives online have taken issue with it, sensing a whiff of privilege in the guy’s message. It’s easy for the veteran singer-songwriter to dispense such advice, they seem to say— Chan is a successful businessman. He’s in the sugar industry—he owns the Binalbagan-Isabela Sugar Company Inc. and A. Chan Sugar Corporation. “I’m in the sugar business that I inherited from my father. I’m running the business even until now,” he told Push in a 2019 interview. 

One musician online said Chan’s advice is discouraging not only to those who want to pursue a career in music but in other creative fields, while another said it hurts musicians fighting for a more fair compensation from performance venues. But there are those who find nothing wrong with Mr. Songwriter’s advice and believe Chan is just being practical. Besides, it’s just advice, they say, and anyone is free to take it or ignore it. There are also parents who, even when they are in the creative field, would want their kids to listen to what Chan said. “You lose nothing by having a college degree AND music in your life,” said one Facebook comment. 

Roland Raymond Roldan, was “triggered” by the statement and took to Facebook to express his sentiments. But rather than argue against it, Roldan, an opera singer and composer, a voice teacher at the Star Magic Workshops since 2010 and now an off-cam vocal coach in “The Voice Generations,” said he’d rather share his personal story. He gave ANCX permission to publish what he wrote: 

“When I realized that I wanted to take up music as a degree, I was a first year college student in the seminary. I already was having voice and piano lessons at the Colegio de Santa Isabel (CSI) in Naga City, and have also composed a few liturgical songs.

Roland with his Tita Fides Cuyugan Asencio, the National Artist
Roland with his Tita Fides Cuyugan Asencio, the National Artist

“I told my parents about my decision to leave the seminary and try my luck in Manila, but they refused, and instead asked me to study in Naga. I agreed and enrolled at the CSI Conservatory of Music, with the condition that I also take English subjects. 

“Since I have been quite a bookworm and familiar with the literary classics, I agreed. Despite the study load I persisted in my music aspirations. As proof, I was able to win First Prize at the National Competition for Young Artists (NAMCYA) in CCP.

“Then I graduated with a degree in English (not Music). Apparently, I was a better writer than musician at that time.  

“I was then set to go to Manila and try my music career dream at the UP College of Music. I auditioned personally to [now National Artist] Tita Fides Asensio and was accepted. For about two semesters, I was living my dream, making music, even winning another voice competition. 

“Then we found out that my mother had cancer. I was asked to come home. My brother was on his way to being a lawyer studying in UP as well, so I agreed to going back to Naga and teach English subjects in college and Liturgical Music in the seminary while taking care of my mother.

After her passing, I continued studying music in UP and did quite well. I even had good grades and was given a scholarship by the UP Concert Chorus as its tenor soloist.

“But there were things that happened that made me stop studying at the university and concentrate more in working as a musician full-time. 

“When I was down, I would go back to teaching, with the English degree as my back-up. And when things become better, I would come back to working as a musician. That cycle went on and on.

“I strove on and survived, working with friends and foes alike, and learned to be better and wiser. I kept on honing my music skills, so when opportunities presented themselves I was ready.

“Now, I am getting older, and quite happy with how my music career turned out. I am now more intent in sharing the knowledge that I have learned through the years, and helping these young people in fulfilling their dreams. 

“I would say things differently to what JMC has said in that Boy Abunda interview, and emphasize instead to learning non-music skills that would keep the dream of making music alive. 

“My parents knew me well, and I have to admit that their advice that I take a non-music degree was sound.”

[Roldan is also a composer and opera singer.  He’s composed two musicals with his wife Jeannelle, with libretto written by National Artist Fides Asensio. As an opera singer, he’s sung in productions of Der Shauspieldirektor, La Traviata, and L'elisir d'amore.]