Sunday, 18 November 2012

"Opportunities are everywhere. It's what you make of it," says Wu Jiahui, multi-award winning Malaysian singer-songwriter

With more than 150 songs under his belt and multiple award wins, including the Malaysia Outstanding Artist Award at the recent Global Chinese Music Awards (全球華語歌曲排行榜) 2012 held in Singapore, Wu Jiahui (伍家辉) is arguably Malaysia’s fastest-rising singer-songwriter.

He has written songs for some top artistes such as Jacky Cheung 張學友 (Black and White 黑白畫映), Stefanie Sun 孫燕姿 (Wish you happiness 祝你開心), Leon Lai 黎明 (Man with Love 有情郎) and Jerry Yan 言承旭 (One metre一公尺), and sang the hit song One-Half from movie 881 original soundtrack that sold more than 13,000 copies in Singapore.

Jiahui first started as a songwriter writing for other singers, but eventually became a full-fledged recording artist and performer, singing his own material. However, it’s still songwriting, as Jiahui admits, that gives him the kicks.

“I definitely prefer being a songwriter, because I started out behind the scenes. But today, being a singer and a producer allows me to exert more influence and control over the music. Although being a singer definitely brings in more revenue from performances as compared to the efforts put in as a producer or songwriter, ultimately it’s still songwriting and producing that brings me the greatest satisfaction.”

Multiple award winning Malaysian singer-songwriter, Wu Jiahui

“When I first started, I already felt contented just merely by sharing my music through songwriting. Later when I took part in a songwriting competition, I was discovered by a publisher, and was later signed as an artist by renowned Singaporean musician Eric Ng (Funkie Monkies Production). Actually, I feel that as long as I am able to sing for one more day, I would grasp that opportunity and continue to make the music I love and share it with others, because music is my dream and an indelible part of my life.”

We understand that you did not renew your contract with Funkie Monkies (FM) Productions and decided to become independent. Could you share why you made this decision? How different is it having your own label?

Actually, I’m very thankful and grateful to FM Productions for grooming me all this time. My decision to set up my own company was because both the label and I share the same consensus that it’s time for me to step out on my own. I’ve been signed to FM since 2006, and during all these years we’ve experienced so much together, and have built a lot of camaraderie. Our relationship is not just simply that of a label and its artiste, it’s more like a family, and now the parents are very happy to see their child take flight.

The new label starts out with signing myself. It’s called “Dreammy Studio”(吾梦工作室), which means finding one’s dreams. Currently there’s a manager running it for the moment, but later, when the time is right, we will slowly expand or work with other companies who are interested.

The difference between having my own label and being signed to a bigger label is that having my own label gives me a lot more freedom and control to exercise my thoughts and opinions, while a bigger label would have more financial and human resources.

What's the music industry in Malaysia like? Are there more opportunities as compared to Singapore, Taiwan and China? Where does the majority of your fan base come from? Is the media more supportive in your home country?

There are several segments in the music industry in Malaysia. There’s Malay music, English music and Chinese music, and within the Chinese music market, it’s split between local and overseas Chinese music. Actually I feel that the level of opportunities is equal everywhere, it’s all a matter of how you target the market and where you stand. Basically, my fans come from Mainland China, Taiwan, Singapore and Malaysia, and I’m thankful that the media here supports me very much.

How many performances do you do typically in a month? Are they mostly in Malaysia or overseas? Now that you have won the Most Outstanding Artiste Award (Malaysia) in the Global Chinese Music Awards, do you see anything changing for you?

On average, I do about three to four performances in a month, out of which usually one is from overseas (but it depends on the market, sometimes we could have more requests towards the end of the year, all at the same time). I feel that winning the award is just a form of recognition, and perhaps a platform for more friends to know me, and maybe because of that there are more performance requests.

Other than the Most Outstanding Artiste Award (Malaysia), your song <我們怎麼LOVE> has also been awarded as one of the Top 20 Songs. What do these two awards mean to you?

I’m very happy because I never thought that <我們怎麼LOVE> would win an award, because when I was writing it, I didn’t have too many considerations or further thoughts, I was simply just writing what I had wanted to express and record down my feelings at that moment. So now it’s really great that the song had won.

What do you think of the future of the Chinese music industry in Malaysia and in Asia would be like?

Malaysia’s music industry has been creating waves and is now on a surge. In the Chinese music industry in general, Malaysian artistes make up a considerable number; and now, as long as we stay united and work hard together, we can definitely achieve even greater success and reach higher levels. I hope that all musicians will put in their very best and their upmost sincerity in every song and every musical note, to move and to encourage more and more people out there.

After note
In the midst of arranging this interview, another of Jiahui's works, , has won Best Television/ Movie Soundtrack at the PWH Music Awards 2012. 《灰》,together with another recent work, 香火, written for a TV serial by Malaysia’s NTV7 of the same name, are nominated Best Theme Song in the upcoming Asian Television Awards 2012.

Certainly a wave-maker himself.


Thursday, 15 November 2012

Ranked No. 1 in Singapore on Reverbnation, Eli T. sets to take on both Asian and Western markets.

With his 2009 major hit song “Record Breaker” sung by multi-platinum selling Filipino artiste Sarah Geronimo, 2 award nominations "Best Singer/Songwriter" & "Best Solo Artist" in the 2012 "All Indie Music Awards" held in Hollywood, CA, and more than 33,000 likes on his Facebook page as of writing (an impressive number for a Singaporean artist), Eli T. is an upcoming electro-pop act certainly worth tuning into.

Born in Singapore and grown up in Canada, Eli reveals that his East-meets-West identity as an artist poses many challenges for him. Nevertheless, with the love and support from his fans “which mean the world to (him)”, he continues to stick true to himself.

 “It was pretty tough for me when I first got back to Singapore. I just didn't fit in. Collectivistic culture is an interesting thing that doesn't take well to sore thumbs. I was told to chisel away aspects of who I am to be more accessible. I sing, write, produce, arrange, perform and am extremely particular about the execution and presentation of my art form. Critics have tried so many times to box and compartmentalize what I do. Thankfully my fans see the larger picture and stick by me because they understand that I view the entire process as part of the art form too.”

Eli T. - Voted Female magazine's 50 Most Gorgeous people in Singapore and Cleo Magazine's 50 Most Eligible Bachelors in Singapore

You started out as a producer behind the scenes. What made you decide to step into the limelight and become a performer instead? Was it something that you were always working towards? Tell us more about this journey and what you have learnt.

Yes, I got my start professionally as a producer. Stepping into production was a growing phase in my career. There's something special about taking a song in for a good "buff and shine". Writing, producing, arranging and re-mixing bring me large amounts of joy and satisfaction.

That said, I've always been performing but it was only in 2011 that performing took precedence. I've always been an Artist (learnt that the hard way, haha) and I needed a larger outlet for expression.

There's something cathartic about flushing your thoughts, emotions and experiences into a song and production. Performing it just takes it to a whole other level. There's just nothing like it.

I feel like I'm always learning, which is great, cos I never want to be stagnant as an artist. Travelling down this road has also hardened me a fair bit. Artists are sensitive creatures but anyone who decides to go for a spin in the industry will have to learn that business and art are mutually exclusive.

What made you decide to leave a bigger label and become independent?

For me it's all about the art. I wanted to have the ability to create and deliver my best. It was exhausting - trying to be moulded into the "next so and so". I am much happier just being me.

For now, I want to make art on my own terms.

Could you tell us more about your fan base and how you stay connected with them?

I love my fans. They are a huge source of strength and encouragement. I talk to them on Facebook and Twitter whenever I can and it always brings me such joy to see them.

We've been touring/performing extensively and the power of social media has allowed us to connect. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I am a workaholic. I aim to give my fans the best.

Apart from the many social platforms that we have, there's an app for the fans to get instant updates about shows as they get come in.

You have released your debut album "Revolt" in March this year. How has been the response so far?

It is a really exciting time for my team and I as well. We released the record at our show for Mosaic in March. Truth be told, I can only say that we feel extremely blessed for everything to have come together the way the way it has. Just this year alone, we've travelled to so many places and played at major festivals and venues like M.E.A.N.Y Fest (New York, US), Mosaic (SG), City Showcase (Napier, NZ), Singapore Arts Festival (SG), Music & Mens Fashion Week (SG), Indie Week (Toronto, CA) etc.

The album is now available in multiple countries and across all major online platforms including iTunes and Amazon. In June 2012, we signed a distribution deal in Korea and the album is currently distributed across all Korean online portals like Mnet and Olleh Music. We currently rank #1 in Singapore on the Reverbnation music charts and we couldn't be happier.

Right now we're in New York getting ready to go on tour again. This leg of the tour will see us through, New York, L.A. Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. There's just so much more to come. It's going to be an amazing experience.

How do you and your management team work things out, artistically and financially?

My team and I are really close and we function like a family. It's all part of the art form for me and I feel deeply blessed to have a manager that is so patient and understanding. We sit through long team discussions to learn together and make decisions.

I am also so grateful that my team entrusts me with the creative vision. It's not often you get a bunch of crazies working so great together. haha

You are not only a producer, singer, songwriter, but also a model and actor. What do you enjoy doing most?

I would say that I am a musician who can act and I was lucky when I was younger to stumble around a little bit of modelling. Music is definitely the heart of me. Acting comes a close second, but music is so all-encompassing that it's a whole different world than acting for me. I would say that they are all rewarding but the best part about all of this is that it keeps me on my toes. I keep learning and I keep getting inspired to put new elements into my music.

What do you think of the future of the music industry in Singapore and in Asia? Is Asia also a place where you will be focusing on too?

The music industry in Singapore is growing. It is my opinion that it is not near as flourished as the Philippines, Japan or Korea at the moment (which is surprising cos Singapore is so forward with so many things). That said, a number of talented artists released records this year and that is a huge sign of growth and that makes me super excited.

North America shaped a large part of who I am but it was in Asia that I got my professional start as a musician. I also feel really close to my asian fans and I can't wait for 2013 to come around so that I can see them again.

We're in the 2nd leg of our North American Tour, among other things but I try as much as possible to live in the moment.

The journey's so much more enjoyable that way.

My dream is to connect with as many people as possible through my craft and every day I feel grateful for being able to do just that.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Ex-NUS undergraduate receives $10,000 seed money in entrepreneurship grant scheme to set up local music discovery website.

It all started when Danny W., back then a National University of Singapore (NUS) undergraduate, saw an advertisement while waiting for a shuttle bus on campus and saw the poster ad of the NUS Innovation and Entrepreneurship Practicum Grant.
Back in college, Danny had several musician friends who aspired to become full time musicians, but they struggled and finally decided to follow the "normal" graduate path and find a stable job. Danny wanted to make a difference, and his vision was to create a digital music platform that focused on local musicians as a means for them to be more easily discovered. By coming in together as a grassroots movement and having a concentrated platform for local musicians, he hoped that aspiring musicians will then be able to reach out to a lot more people than just their friends-zone.
Danny W., creator of

However, putting ideas into action naturally required a financial investment and it had been a tough start for him.
“I was still a student in my final semester and without a penny in my pocket. How will I fund this social project?” Danny asked himself.
So when the opportunity came, he jumped on it and submitted his proposal to set up After weeks of waiting, he was finally notified that his business plan was selected to receive the $10,000 worth of funding.
He immediately looked for reputable website developers to create a prototype, The Alpha version came out for test drive in January 2012, and then on April 2012, the Beta version finally went online.

Screen shot of the website

How did you think your proposal stood out?
I believe the reason for being selected for the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Practicum Grant was because iamLOCALIZED's main element is that I identified it as an online grassroots movement, where iamLOCALIZED will bring together local musicians and listeners to promote local music. Online grassroots movement is undoubtedly the most happening thing at the moment, and my idea consists of that element. The area I chose, local music, is probably also the reason why my proposal stood out. There have been so many efforts by the organizations and musicians themselves to promote local music. Every time when they are asked what is lacking in the local music scene, their answers have always been more-less the same: "there is no platform that brings local musicians and listeners together". Hence I came up with an idea of having an online music platform specifically just for the local musicians.
It seems that currently there are no revenue streams in your model. How do you plan to be sustainable?
We do know that we need to be able to sustain the website, and most importantly to keep on developing the website for better user experience. Thanks to the grant, the website will still run for the next 2 years and this gives us ample time to experiment a few business models, may it be something that already exists or a totally new innovation. As of now, we are trying out different revenue generation models that would fit well with Singapore market. Music is consumed differently in different countries, and hence we see the importance of not sticking with just one business model. We believe there must be few trials-and-errors, and analyze to figure out what fits well with Singapore market. One revenue stream is through our IALiveSHOW. We have tried it, and currently we are in talks with few prominent venues to hold future IALiveSHOWs.
How can artists be discovered on your website?
At the moment, it's actually just a normal simple search algorithm; no rocket science implemented. Users search band name that they already know. Type the band name or genre, and then it displays the results. 

Discovery can be done through the following features:
- Music Charts: Most Loved Chart, and Most Played Chart of the month
- New Releases: Recent uploaded songs on iamLOCALIZED
- Welcome Playlist: Mix of random playlist upon login
- Artists section: Manually look for artists from A-Z
- Search bar: Type in name of band or music genre 
- IALiveSHOW: Discovery through the live show, or via recorded video of the live show on iamLOCALIZED homepage, or YouTube
- Social Media posts: daily posts on Facebook and Twitter.
We found out from our survey that most of the local listeners have the tendency of not looking for new local acts themselves, but they tend to discover accidentally or they have seen the artists performed somewhere or through recommendation. Not only in Singapore, but this is also happening all over the world in these days. Through the discovery features that we have, especially with the Music Charts, New Releases, Welcome Playlist, and IALiveSHOW, we are actually recommending local music that our local listeners would like hear. We believe in equal promotion, so the amount of promotion each artist get on iamLOCALIZED is more or less equally the same.
Music charts: how does it work? One vote per person? Or multiple votes per person? Is it a weekly or monthly chart?
The music charts is a feature that we hope to bring the competitive spirit into the local music scene. Users can give one vote per song. It is a monthly chart where the Most Played Chart will reset at the end of the month. Most Loved Chart is where you give your votes (showing some loves as we call it) to the song that you like, and it will reset at the end of the year.
How are you working out the licensing issues?
We are currently in touch with COMPASS in how do we stand and go about in terms of music licensing matter. Copyright is a big issue for us because after all, we are promoting original local music. We are also helping aspiring musicians to know about the importance of copyright and protecting their original music, because it is part of the music business element that the aspiring musicians themselves need to know about.
As a new platform, how do you intend to get artists and publishers to join your website?
The main challenge is to convince the musicians that putting their music on iamLOCALIZED is safe, and is beneficial for their exposure. We have realized that, and we are able to convince the musicians that the website is safe. As mentioned before also, we are currently in touch with COMPASS in protecting the musicians’ music.
As for their exposure, IALiveSHOW is definitely the main feature we have. Musicians are able to perform live in venues where people are watching them perform. It is good for the aspiring musicians to be exposed to such atmosphere, and for the existing musicians, it is always good for them to have the opportunity to perform live. From there onwards, it is the musicians’ duty to impress using their music talent.
How is the response so far? Any future targets?
The long term target for iamLOCALIZED is to become the one-stop-shop music channel for local Singapore music. Since the beta went online, we have 70 registered artists and 165 registered listeners. That sum up to a total of 235 registered users. Through those 70 registered artists, there are a total of 101 songs, made in Singapore. By the end of the year, we are targeting to round up the number to 300 registered users. Not so ambitious as one might see, but starting next year we will be going "full force" in promoting the artists and their music through innovative collaborations with various parties.

Music sales/distribution definitely plays a big role as an indicator for the musicians’ existence in the music industry. But for iamLOCALIZED, discovery is the most important factor at the moment. If we are able to engage high numbers of audience to play songs on iamLOCALIZED, we can promote the musicians further and enable them to generate income from music sales/distribution, playing live/tour, royalties, etc. This would empower the musicians to keep doing music, and aspiring musicians to follow the footstep of those successful ones. From here, we can eventually start to have a healthy music scene where you will be able to see local musicians can live from doing music. For iamLOCALIZED, this would be our tipping point where iamLOCALIZED will be able to generate income along with the musicians.
Since your site only focuses on local music, do you think the market supply and demand is big enough for your model to be sustainable?
I believe that the local market supply and demand is not enough for iamLOCALIZED to be sustainable. Other than being able to sustain itself, iamLOCALIZED also needs to grow. Hence we believe there is a need to venture out of Singapore as well. What we are trying to do is to grow along with the musicians. We are also working toward getting collaboration and partnership outside of Singapore. This would open the door for the musicians to showcase themselves outside of Singapore and empower them in bringing good music representing Singapore.
To sustain the interests of listeners, the golden rule for all musicians is to keep challenging themselves to create new music. The same goes to our local musicians. It is not about quantity, but quality, and as a matter of fact considering the population we have, we actually do have quality materials to sustain the interest of users. For musicians, it is a matter of keeping the standard high and create even more quality material.
What is your view on shifting the role of taste making from mainstream media to the average listener?

With the power of social media, the opinion leaders are none other than ourselves. All of us now are giving comments or opinions to almost everything that we're being exposed to on social media platforms.
From what I discovered through research is that what shifted the decision-making in this case is the medium that the consumers use. Consumers have moved from listening to radios, to watching music videos on TV, and they now are able to consume both via the Internet, and more specifically via social media platforms. Consumers are however mostly still influenced by what others recommend. If they used to get recommendations from the DJs on the radio, or the music channels on TV, now most music consumers get recommendations from their Facebook newsfeed, or Tweets, or YouTube recommendation list. Your friends on Facebook are mostly friends you have similar interests. The same goes for the Twitter accounts that you follow. Hence you would likely to get hooked with what your peers are listening/watching. To figure out whether you would like it or now, it is now just a click away.

IALiveShow: how do you intend to bring audiences to the shows? Any plans to monetize this area?

We started IALiveSHOW as part of the discovery feature, and as mentioned before, we are currently in talks with few prominent venues to collaborate with us. We definitely have plans to monetize in this area that would benefit the musicians, venue, and iamLOCALIZED. As this is a grassroots movement, one strategy is revenue sharing with the venue, depending on how many people actually come to the venue to attend IALiveSHOW and watch the artist perform. We have seen this done before in Singapore, and we are definitely going into this direction for IALiveSHOW.

Friday, 21 September 2012

Singapore's market may be small, but they don't hate this place

Prudent is how one could describe Singapore-based synth pop band, I Hate This Place (IHTP). Not artistically, but financially. The band is self-proficient in producing its albums and chooses to focus its resources on funding tours and raising awareness instead. 

"When carefully planned and executed, these things end up paying for themselves also. So in that sense, yeah the project is sustainable. Let's also not forget that time working on music is money not spent on partying, which can be a substantial savings in and of itself :)" says Sean Nerny, who is the creator and soul of the band.

In 2007, IHTP entered into an agreement with Tokyo-based XTAL Records to distribute the music in Japan. Three dedicated Japanese editions of IHTP music have now been released and IHTP has toured extensively across the Land of the Rising Sun.

We spoke to them about the challenges of gigging in Singapore as compared to other countries. But even as Sean admitted that it is a small and developing one, he is hopeful that with the right attitude and mindset, the little red dot still has the potential to create world-class acts.

Q: How do you find the gigging industry in Singapore as compared to other countries that you have toured i.e. Japan, US and Philippines?

Singapore is an interesting place to play, and it does have some things going for it - you'll never have to travel far to get to a show, most of the live spaces are fairly well equipped, and the number of venues I feel is growing. That said, at this point in time, I think that the music scene here is still developing and the market is also very small -- this can make it challenging for a niche group like IHTP to build a sustainable local fan base. I don't think that there is a great deal of value placed on supporting local music on a large scale, and while it would be great to see any band from Singapore get known on a global level, my sense is that is a little while off.

Q: Describe your relationship with XTAL and how it has worked for you. What matters to you most when you go into a deal with a distributor or a touring agent?

XTAL has been great because they were able to get us connected with Japanese fans. Working across languages can be challenging so it was really nice to have that help. In terms of what to look for when agreeing to any sort of deal with anyone, I think the main thing is to make sure that expectations on both sides are clearly set. I would also recommend that the agreement be reviewed by someone with a legal/entertainment background so that you have a clear understanding about what you are committing to.
Q: Digital vs physical copies: what's your take and which works better for your band? How about streaming (e.g. Spotify) vs downloads (iTunes, CDBaby)? Which gives you better awareness and income?
At this point in time, for IHTP digital really makes the most sense and comprises the majority of sales, and we are fans of both streaming and downloads. The band's fans are in many different countries, CDs are expensive to manufacture and ship, and our target audience lives firmly in an iPhone world. We do have limited runs of discs that we sell at gigs and occasionally on line, but at this point it seems easier for everyone to do things digitally.

Q: How big is your fan base? Where do your fans come from geographically? Other than gigging, what are some of the efforts have you done to attract new fans and keep current ones interested?
IHTP is not world famous, but we do have friends all across the world! The majority of the band's fans are in the US, Japan, and the Philippines. Because of this, social media plays a big part in keeping in touch and getting the word out about the latest developments. The availability of the tracks online has also made it really easy for people just to stumble across the music by chance or listen if a friends recommends it.

Q: How do you think you can manage and make better use of that mailing list?
IHTP doesn't actually maintain a mailing list. There's so much email out there - I'd prefer that people keep in touch of their own accord. Anyway, it's the people that actively search you out and maintain contact that are most likely to positively impact your musical endeavors.

Q: Any future plans? New album, collaborations, distribution points, gigging lineup?
We've got a new EP in the works and a gig on 22 Sept (Saturday)! You can always find the latest news via our Facebook ( and Twitter (@ihatethisplace)
Q: What do you think would be the future of music industry be like in Singapore and in Asia?
Certainly Asia has scenes both local and international that can rival what you would find in the US or Europe. As for Singapore, though developing the market will continue to take time, if everyone stays focused I don't see why this place couldn't create a reputation for being a place to find successful, high quality music and musicians.

About I Hate This Place

I Hate This Place is a pop/electronic project that was created by Singapore-born Filipino/American Sean Nerney in 2004. Drawing inspiration from the likes of The Postal Service, The Album Leaf, as well as some of Sean’s favorite 80s synthpop groups, I Hate This Place’s music has a distinct pop appeal that is still sensitive, deep, and thoughtful. Fans of Owl City, Lights, Shiny Toy Guns, and Swimming With Dolphins will feel right at home in IHTP’s world.

Though traditionally a solo project, in recent years I Hate This Place has been fortunate to have several talented co-conspirators. Since relocating to Singapore, Sean has teamed up with Singapore Idol finalist and The Kitchen Musical singer/actress Gayle Nerva, former Firebrands guitarist Roman Tarassov, and Bostonbased bassist Dave D’aranjo. The latest album, Shiny One, was released in September 2011. IHTP’s seven album discography is available online via CD Baby and iTunes. I Hate This Place plays live often, having completed a successful five city tour of Japan in February 2012 in addition to previous shows in the US, Singapore, Japan and the Philippines.
On the web:
@ihatethisplace (Twitter)

Saturday, 1 September 2012

"Musicians must be paid and paid on time. It's a form of respect to their craft and their occupation." ~ Peng Chi Sheng, Promising SME 500 Award recipient

It is never easy earning a living in the music industry. Many musicians have day jobs, and even if they are working full-time in the music industry, they have to wear many hats as writers, performers, sessionists, educators, artiste managers, publishing managers and many more. When Chi Sheng started out as a student and music enthusiast in a local music school, he never dreamt of becoming an entrepreneur. But fate has it when he eventually established his own outfit, Intune Music School, with a fellow ex-colleague, and struggled with the steep learning curve of turning from employee to employer. Yet, he has come a long way, and the business has since then not only stabilized, but also been recognized by various institutions, including the Small Medium Business Enterprise Association of Singapore, which presented them the recent Promising SME 500 Award 2012.

Chi Sheng (centre) and his partner, Aaron Lim (left) receiving the Promising SME 500 Award

Q: How did you get started out in the music industry?

I started out as a student at Lee Wei Song School of Music (LWSM) when I was 21, and was quite fortunate to be one of the last batch of students taught by Lee Wei Song himself. During those days, I started performing at Music Dreamer Café (爱情海民歌餐厅). The owner of the café, Sally, was also my music teacher. She saw the potential in me and gave me the opportunity to go on stage for a regular gig, and within half a year, I was able to perform on the popular slots on Fridays with local artiste Cai Li Lian and former lead singer of ‘Dreamz FM’ Ric Low. The weekly gigs were a motivation to hone my playing skills. Although we were only paid a transport allowance, the exposure was good and it served as an opportunity for me to jam with other musicians. Later I became a music instructor teaching music theory, but continued composing. We wrote songs every week as homework submissions, and one of my songs was selected for Tony Leung (梁朝伟). Lee Wei Song helped refine the song, so the final version was co-written by both of us.

I was a teacher at LWSM for 6 years, and was a publishing manager for the last 2 years there. My job was to look out for writers who have potential and ensure that the group of writers under me submitted good quality demos. I also formed the writers’ club, organizing monthly meetups for writers to showcase their demos, usually attended by one of the Lee brothers. The group of writers consisted of both current writers and those who were selected from the pool of students upon graduation. I had about 15 writers under me, and published about 10 songs over the period of 2 years. The biggest challenge for being a publishing manager is to ensure good quality demos, because most of the time, demos are rejected because the singer was not suitable, or the arrangement was not good enough. But once the demo is right, pushing the song to the sub-publisher will be much easier.

After 6 years at LWSM, a few of us left, and Aaron and I set up Intune Music School.

Q: So you went from being a writer/teacher to a publishing manager and finally an owner of a music school. What were some of the challenges you faced?

We set up Intune by circumstance, but I never regretted the decision because I have definitely learnt a lot throughout the years. I’m very fortunate to have Aaron take care of the school’s administration, finances, accounting and business development, so I can focus on the classes, PR, and the artistic development of our students. Running a business is never easy; it is always a challenge to maintain profitability. However, our principle is to never default on payment to musicians and music teachers. Musicians must be paid and paid on time; it’s a form of respect to their craft and their occupation.

Q: Tell us more about Intune Music School. Who are your customers? What are your strategies to attract new students and retain current ones? Has the strategy changed or evolved over time?

Running a school is running a business, so the decisions and strategies that we undertake are commercially driven. Our school is unique because we offer many different types of courses, including vocal classes in classical broadway and ukelele courses. Our customers are aged from 13-35, and about 30% of them are international students. We are seen more as a bilingual music school, unlike from other music schools which may focus on Chinese pop. We are also the official examination centre for the London College of Music Examinations since 2007.

To attract new students, our marketing is done purely online, so most of our students find us through our website. We also conduct live performances to increase general awareness.

Intune’s main revenue stream stems from our in-house classes. However, we also conduct music classes in various Primary and Secondary Schools, which is a growing market, as many schools celebrate an annual two-week festival promoting mother tongue by bringing in various vendors to expose students various fun and interesting ways to learn the language. There are also schools that engage us on a longer stint to conduct 8-week music classes for their students.

The courses and activities we conduct in schools vary from iPad Music Making, Vocal Placement, Chinese Lyrics writing to song writing competitions such as the NEA Eco Music Challenge.

Q: What are your plans for the future?

Now that the school’s operations have stabilized, we have just set up our own publishing arm and are planning to work with a sub-publisher in the near future. The timing is right, because we now have a stable of writers and are able to create a consistent flow of good quality demos. We will start small, with 5 writers under the publishing wing. It will be an exciting new phase for us.

About Peng Chi Sheng

Chi Sheng is one of the directors of InTune Music School, and has 10 years of music teaching experience in Singapore. He specializes in pop songwriting and sing-and-play courses, and has achieved Honours for the London College of Music Pop Vocals Grade 8 Examinations, as well as a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Recording Arts from Middlesex University, in partnership with the School of Audio Engineering (SAE) Institute, Singapore.

As a songwriter, Chi Sheng has published a number of songs for various artistes, including Kasih Indah (Love is Beautiful) for the NTUC 'U Care' compilation album in 2009 and 《这次是真的》 for Hong Kong Artiste Tony Leung Chiu Wai.

Friday, 31 August 2012

“Be persistent and patient. Even if the song does not sell this time, it may still stand a chance in future." COMPASS Young Composer of the Year recipient Derrick Tham says.

A music lover since childhood, Derrick Tham (譚志華) began composing in 1999 & was later signed as a songwriter with a music publishing house in Singapore.

Derrick had his first song published in 2002, titled《我不能飛》, and that marked a milestone in almost 10 years of songwriting and publishing songs with local as well as regional artistes.

Today, he is best known for his collaboration with singer Sam Lee, having written numerous songs for him, including 最近 (Recently), 擦肩而過 (Passer-By), 靠近 (So Close), and many more.

As we spoke to the recent COMPASS Young Composer of the Year Award recipient, he comes across as a down-to-earth and sensitive writer who takes humble pride in his own works.

“All these songs are my babies. Most people only hear the 3-4 minute track, but they didn’t know the story behind the song, they didn’t know that this song had been rejected or criticized many times, but when it becomes a hit song, it gives me the strength to believe in my own work.”

COMPASS Young Composer of the Year Award recipient, Derrick Tham

Q: Describe your musical journey as a writer. What made you go into writing? When was your tipping point?

When I first started with song writing, I didn’t know how far I could go. And when we looked at established writers like the Lee brothers, we would always wonder if we could achieve the same too. Singapore’s market is very small, and there aren’t many success cases that could make it overseas.

I started with classical piano, and then one day I just decided that I was so tired of playing classical music, then I attended a songwriting workshop conducted by a local pop music school, after which I joined their courses for several years. Songwriting, to me, is like keeping a diary, but instead of using words, I use musical notes.

One day, I decided to write my own song, and submitted it to my teacher. She added a bridge to the song, so the final version was co-written by both of us. A few years later, to my surprise, I heard my song on a newly released album at a music retailer, but when I checked the booklet, I didn’t see my name, only my teacher’s name. That was the first song that I published, so I was sad that my name wasn’t included. I went to the publishing house, and they told me that there was a miscommunication, and said that if the CD sold well and were to go for a reprint, they would include my name, and they would still include my royalties. In the end, the publisher did offer me a contract, and so I had my first contract when I was 18.

A few years later, I sold other songs under the same publisher, and the third song was sung by Sam Lee, which became the turning point of my whole music career. After my contract ended, I chose not to renew it because I decided five years is enough and I wanted to try something new. I spoke to Sam Lee over the phone, and at that time, he had just started his own production company, so he asked me to join him. I went over to Taiwan, and had the experience of being a studio assistant. Even though the tasks were menial, like buying lunch or making coffee, it gave me an opportunity to listen to what the producers and audio engineers discussed during recording sessions and the decisions they make, and this experience helped me create better demos that were more in line with what was required commercially. It was something that could not be learnt from school. I would never have that kind of chance in Singapore. In Taiwan, the turnover is high: every month there’s a new singer and every other day, there will be a recording session and a learning opportunity.

Q: Where do you get your inspiration from?

I enjoy watching movies and reading stories, or it could be inspired from the stories around me or from my own personal experience. I didn’t expect to become a lyricist too, and it was because I couldn’t find any lyricist to write them, so I wrote my own. Some suggested that I submit my demo without lyrics so that it would not restrict the producer’s imagination, but at the end of the day, I choose to put in my own lyrics, especially after selling the song by Sam Lee. It was encouraging to know that even a Singaporean’s Chinese lyrics could be accepted by the market and I began to have more faith in my own lyrics.

Q: What do you think other budding writers can learn from your story? How can they stand out from the rest?

Firstly, making the first move is very important. Take the initiative to sell your songs actively and find a publisher whom you can work with.

Secondly, create a unique style of your own, and stay focused. In this way the producer would be able to identify you clearly for a certain genre (e.g. ballads). Producers will want albums to have a variety on their menu, so having 10 ballads on the album will be boring for the listener, and normally they would include songs influenced by other genres to create an element of surprise.

Thirdly, believe in yourself. Be persistent and patient, because even if the song does not sell this time, it may still stand a chance in future.

Finally, be flexible and open to changes. Sometimes, amending the song according to the producer’s request may not mean that the previous version isn’t good, but it’s to show that you are open to ideas and willing to improve, and this will help win the producer over. Don’t be too stubborn!

Q: Tell us more about your relationship with a local publishing house and later as an exclusive writer with Zoommuzik. What are some of the pros and cons of being an exclusive writer? What are some of the things you would look out for in your publishing contract? What do you value most?

Back then, I didn’t really look at the terms closely, but if I were to be offered a contract now, one of the things that I would look out for is that the rights of the song would be returned to me after the contract has ended. Over the years, I have also learnt to be more discerning about the royalty rates shared between the publisher and writer. In the past, it was typically 50-50, but now it is possible to have a higher share for the writer.

Although I’m an exclusive writer under Zoommuzik, it does not mean that I only write songs for the artists under the label. It does, however, mean that they would have the first right of refusal to my material. If the song is not suitable for their own artists, then the song is submitted to other publishing companies.

When I was under a local publishing house, I would have to submit my songs to the publishing manager, after which the publishing manager will liaise with the overseas A&R manager for selection. But when I’m with this Taiwanese publishing house, I would be able to contact the Taiwanese sub-publisher A&R manager directly, with the consent and knowledge of the original publisher of course. At the end of the day, you would still need a sub-publisher to manage all the accounts.

As a writer, I would like to work with a publisher who is equally as aggressive as me in pushing out my works. I remember once there was a local publishing manager whom I approached to submit a song, but the manager simply just placed my CD aside and I felt disheartened and demoralized. That was when I decided that (this publisher) was not suitable for me. The environment must be right. You must be happy with your colleagues. Even if you can sell many songs, but if you’re unhappy, then there’s no point. If we can work well together, even if the song is not sold, I would still value the effort that the publisher has put in.

Under the Taiwanese publishing house, I was introduced to not only the singer, but also the producer and audio engineer, and having the opportunity to be in the recording studio is also an experience I value very much.

Q: After writing so many hit songs, what kind of income do you generate as a writer?

I receive mechanical royalties from the publisher and performance royalties from COMPASS. The proportion of performance royalties is much bigger because of high radio airplay, and royalties from Karaoke and ringtone downloads.《最近》and 《擦肩而过》are my top grossing songs.Top songs can generate up to a four figure sum per year in terms of royalties. I’m not sure how the royalties are calculated in detail, but I trust that they will do their job properly.

Q: You seem to have found some success in Taiwan, HK and Singapore, according to your accolade of awards. What are your future plans?

My plan is to conduct a live music showcase with a couple of friends who are live performers and tour around music cafes in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, so that more people will get to know my music, and because both the singer and myself are Singaporeans, I hope that more people will get to know more Singaporean artistes and writers. So far there have been a few local artistes who have been conducting such tours, but most of them are females, so we would like to have an all-male team for this tour.

Q: How do you think local composers and authors can collaborate with each other better?
Personally, I never had the opportunity to work with other local writers, but in my opinion, the local music schools are a great way for different musicians (writers, lyricists, vocalists) to congregate and collaborate together.

Q: What do you think of the future of the music industry in Singapore and in Asia? How should writers be looking to sell their music?

In China, some publishers practice “买断, which means that writers are paid upfront a fixed amount. Their name is credited but they do not receive any royalties thereafter because the publisher owns the song completely. We wouldn’t know how big a hit the song would be, and whether it would be used in other media such as in a film, so it is difficult to assess if a writer should take up such a deal. I would advise writers to consider very carefully with such deals.

Awards and Milestones of Derrick Tham

• 1999年開始創作
Began Songwriting Career in 1999

• 2002年發表第一首歌曲《我不能飛》
Published 1st song in 2002, entitled I Cannot Fly

• 2004年成為《新加坡詞曲版權協會 》會員
Became an Official Member of Composers and Authors Society of Singapore (COMPASS) in 2004

• 2006年以作品《最近》深受大家的註目與肯定
Garnered popularity with the song, Recently, in 2006

• 2007年以作品《這樣就好》獲得香港新城國語力 熱爆K歌
Awarded the HongKong Mandarin Karaoke Song Award, for the song, That’s All

• 2008年錞藝音樂公司專屬詞曲作者
Became an Exclusive Songwriter with Zoom Musik (Music Production Company in Taiwan)

• 2008年受邀出席新加坡S-POP萬歲嘉賓
Invited to attend the S-Pop Event in Singapore as a Special Guest in 2008

• 2008年以作品《擦肩而過》獲得台灣單曲連續數周6大電信鈴聲下載冠軍
Awarded the Taiwanese Ringtone Download Champion for the song,“Passer-By in 2008

• 2008年以作品《擦肩而過》入圍馬來西亞 Red Box2008最高點播率K歌20強
Top 20 Most Dedicated Songs in Malaysia Red Box 2008, for the song Passer-By

• 2008年以作品《擦肩而過》入圍台灣KKBOX年度數位音樂風雲榜 No.5
Was Awarded 5th Position in Taiwans KKBOX Annual Music Chart, for the song Passer-By in 2008

• 2008年以作品《擦肩而過,最近》入圍新加波KBox 年度K歌金曲大奬20強
Entered the Top 20 position in Singapore KBox Annual Hit Songs Award in 2008, for the songPasser-By and Recently

• 2008 担任第14届《飛越時空》半决赛 评审.
Judge for NTU Chinese Society 14th Music Express Songwriting Competition Semi-Finals

• 2009年与歌手“李聖傑”在新加坡舉辦音樂分享座談會
2009 Conduct Music and Songwriting Workshop in Singapore with Taiwanese Singer Sam Lee

• 2012年  新加坡詞曲版權協會 COMPASS 年度青年歌曲创作人
2012 awarded COMPASS Young Composer of the Year

表作品(Songs Published)

·  我不能飛 (I Can’t Fly) - 路嘉欣 Jozie Lu
·  矛盾 (Paradox of love) - 何静萱 Nicola Ho
·  最近 (Recently) - 李聖傑 Sam Lee
·  分心 (Distraction) - 王傑 Dave Wang
·  這樣就好 (That’s all) - 鄧穎芝 Vangie Tang
·  別要走 (Do not go) - 鄧穎芝 Vangie Tang
·  讀心術 (Read my Mind) - 卓文萱 Genie Chuo
·  擦肩而過 (Passer-by) - 李聖傑 Sam Lee
·  靠近 (So close) - 李聖傑 Sam Lee
·  下个幸福 (Next Love) - 卓文萱 Genie Chuo
·  抱歉 (Sorry) - 李聖傑 Sam Lee
·  明白 (Realize) - 李聖傑 Sam Lee
·  最後紀念 (Last memory) - 陽韻禾 Melody Yeung
· 擦肩而過 (Passer-by) - 王馨平 Linda wang
· 當初 (In the beginning ) - 胡夏
· 第一次 (First time) - 陳浩民 Benny Chan
· 會過去的 (It’ll be Over ) - 梁靜茹 Fish Leong