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    Sunday, December 31, 2006

    It's that time of the year where people think there are flexing their humour muscles when they go "See you next year!" when they could have said "See you next week!"

    I did a rather primal thing at the beach. I actually started a fire with some friends. And to make it a Charlie Brown moment, we roasted marshmallows. Then we went over the edge and sang Debbie Gibson songs. (I am not kidding!) We tried to redeemed ourselves by singing songs by the Police but it was too late.

    Back to the fire. I strongly recommend that you start a fire. Or at least try. Maybe it is a guy thing but there is this sense of connection I made with the very core of me being a homosapien on this planet. Or maybe I just had bad fruit and I was feeling loopy.

    But seriously, it's the most basic thing a man can do for survival. And it gave me some small sense of achievement. (Now it sounds almost pathetic when I actually think about it!) It also gave me some sense of control and power. It's a good thing. Go start a fire. Although I wonder, if I had failed starting that fire, would it have devastated me instead? What kind of man would I be if I can't even start a fire?

    In other news, I have finally completed Farah Asyikin's album. Eleven tracks. Eight months. Rock. Please buy it when it comes out. Then you can read my blog. Otherwise, you can't read it.

    And something totally unrelated but yet kinda...I recorded Mac Chew playing piano on Thursday. That was exciting and intimidating all at the same time. You see, Mac Chew and Jenny Chin were my heroes whom back in 1987, inspired and encouraged me to do music. Along with Helen Yap, they gave me the glimpse of the possibility that a Chinese can actually do stuff in the Malay music industry. And at that time, the new and interesting local music had Mac Chew and Jenny Chin on them: Sheila Majid and Zainal Abidin. Mac went on to do even cooler things in Taiwan. Mac also introduced me to Roslan Aziz and that was my first step into the industry. I've always remembered Mac telling me back then, "If you can do something cool in English, why not do it in Malay and sell it to more people?"

    So, fast forward almost twenty years, I am in Babyboss Studio behind Mac's MacBook Pro recording him playing a baby grand piano for my production. How sick is that?!

    Incidentally, Mac runs Windows XP on his MacBook Pro.

    Thursday, December 28, 2006

    It's the Christmas season. I am reminded how it is such an inconvenient celebration for a lot of people in Malaysia. Especially if these people do not see Christmas as a religious celebration where family and friends actually get together. Instead it's just a trivial one-day holiday that involves gift-giving and yet another reason for Malaysians to get drunk and eat. I say this because I celebrate Christmas but I still get calls on Christmas day from people asking me work-related matters which are not urgent. However, when it is Chinese New Year or Hari Raya, it's almost like everyone has turned into civil servants in government offices during lunch hour. I can't get any response, let alone get any work done two weeks before the holiday season starts. But when it is Christmas, (and I am sure it happens with Deepavali too), the general population just doesn't care. In fact, one of the universities have exams scheduled during the Christmas season. Nose bleed.

    The moral of the story: Not all Malaysians are Buddhists or Muslims. Or Christians and Hindus need to have more sex and increase their numbers so that their holiday season will be taken more seriously.

    And this concludes my only remotely-social-and-racial commentary for the year.

    In other news, I received an interesting request from someone very powerful in the entertainment industry asking me to quickly produce this new artist.

    Mr Big Shot: I need you to produce this album for this new artist.
    Me: What style? Direction?
    Mr Big Shot: Err...rock.
    Me: What kind of rock?
    Mr Big Shot: Err...like something Ella would do today.
    Me: OK. What's her tone like?
    Mr Big Shot: Like Ella.

    So in my mind, WHY would you want someone who already sounds like someone else sing the same kind of music that that someone else sings. (I am sure I've broken at least six grammar and sentence construction rules there!)

    And Mr Big Shot is not alone. Every A&R meeting... (A&R is just a fancy way of saying "image, direction, and songs" where we decide on what kind of songs the singer will record and how tight her pants will be for the album cover)...at every A&R meeting, every label and manager decides on the direction of their artist based on what some other artist sound like. It is almost like cloning. That's another reason why I think the local industry is failing. It's the attack of the clones.

    After this, I am pretty sure I will never work in the music industry again.

    Sunday, December 24, 2006

    I recorded the lovely Dayang Nurfaizah today. This is our second session for the second song. I must say that she is one of the sweetest (and also quietest) singers I've recorded. Go figure. Anyway, I was excited. But I am over it. I have moved on.

    Then I went to dinner with J. It's my belated birthday dinner for her. We talked and talked. Things are not going too hot for her right now and in our deep self-searching, I asked if her life today is what she had expected when she was in her late teens. Then I started thinking...

    No. My life today is not what I had expected it to be. I thought I would have been married now. I would have children. But then again, I had thought I'd be wearing John Master slacks at my age and will be saying things like "Back in the day, the songs we had on radio had this thing called melody." So, on those fronts, I am a failure. I am not married. No kids. Still in jeans. Still dig the stuff on radio. And I know what the Wii is.

    I am not sure what all this means. Did I not grow up? All I know is, a little joy was sucked out of me.

    I hope that 60 is really the new 40 because it has been a slow start.

    But hey...I recorded Dayang Nurfaizah today.

    And tomorrow is Christmas and I will be celebrating Christmas with meaning. I will be celebrating the birth of Jesus. And because I believe, I celebrate Christmas. (And by celebrate I mean, receiving gifts. Thank you Jesus for being born.)

    Wednesday, December 20, 2006

    There is a strange smell in my studio and I can't figure it out. It's not the computer. I am not sure if it is the air-con. Nothing I know of is overheating. It's not me. It smells a little like evil.

    I had some people from 8TV visit me at the studio today for an interview. I'd rather have my eye brows plucked than to be interviewed. And this time is for a Suki special. I get the usual questions. "How did this song come about?" "What inspired you to write the song?" "What do you think of Suki's performance?"

    I wonder why people still get asked that question. You'd think viewers would be sick of questions like these. Celebrities get it even worse. If you're a singer, "Are you going in to acting?" And if you are an actor, "Are you going in to singing?" And then there's the "When are you getting married?"

    I wish I get asked more interesting questions and I didn't have to be politically correct with my answers.

    8TV: What inspired you to write the song?
    Me: Everything around me inspires me. The morning dew. The chirping birds. The laughter of an innocent child.

    What I really want to say.

    8TV: What inspired you to write the song?
    Me: The money. Rent is due.

    Friday, December 15, 2006

    When you watch the music video for Wham!'s "Wake Me Up Before You Go Go" in 2006, you can't help but wonder why we didn't figure out much sooner that George Michael was gay.

    Thursday, December 14, 2006

    True story.

    Pretty singer: I need a ballad from you.
    Me: But I dowan to write another ballad. Children in Africa are...
    Pretty singer: Here's five thousand ringgit. Shut the hell up and just write the ballad, monkey boy. Make sure you have real strings.
    Me: OK. I also have some new bells you should check out.
    As composer and music producer in this lovely almost-wasteland of a music industry we have in Malaysia, I would like to openly beg and grovel to my fellow composers and producers to STOP WRITING BALLADS. Should a singer want a ballad, kindly suggest for her to cover a previously recorded ballad instead of doing a new one. The reason is simple, there are still great ballads written in 1997 (which sounds like ballads written in 1985), that people have not heard. Better yet, if the singer has previous albums, just reuse the older ballads. Chances are, the listener won't know the difference.

    Why do this? It's a very simple case of demand and supply. There are just too many ballads in the Malaysian music diet. There has been a ballad surplus since 1982. And with each new ballad written, some child in Africa dies! So don't do it.

    However, if the label or singer insists on a new ballad, make sure the new song and production follow these simple rules:

    1. No strings (especially real/live strings...which is really just two guys overdubbing.)
    2. No modulation or key change after the bridge where the singer holds the note for 48 seconds to show how amazing he/she is.
    3. The key of the song actually suits the singer and is not three keys higher in order to create that "dramatic effect." You call it "effect". I call it a poke in the ear with a sharp stick.
    4. There are no synthesiser bells especially bell sounds from Roland synths.
    5. Intro is less than 15 seconds and the song should not exceed four minutes.
    6. And finally, no timpani or belltree/chimes.

    Stop the senseless deaths of African children. Be a man. Do the right thing.

    Wednesday, December 13, 2006

    There is one thing I feel every man, woman and child should have. I am talking about the CD-RW.

    Rewritable compact discs are so obviously practical. I am still using the same CD-RW I bought in 2001 for RM8. And I use it to burn audio CDs of music that I don't care to listen to for long just so I can play it in the car.

    OK. So it is not exactly the sort of thing that would make you cream in your pants but still exciting nonetheless. Save the planet and use CD-RWs.

    Next time, we talk about another practical wonder called rechargeable batteries.

    Sunday, December 10, 2006

    I’ve never been so popular on Friendster or MySpace before but I’ve been getting all these nice and supportive messages from fans of Nikki and the song I wrote and produced for her “Caramu”. The song was the favourite in the Muzik Muzik semifinals to get into the finals. But on Friday, the judges voted otherwise. Hence the flood of messages.

    I wasn’t going to say much about this whole thing because frankly, I don’t really care. Not because I do not love what I do but more because I have always thought these things were silly anyway. They should be giving money, awards and recognition to people who save lives and do good things for humanity. Name one famous teacher or social worker and I will name you eight composers who really needs the prize money from a song competition. (who are coincidentally the same people who are in the finals :-)

    But I digress.

    Now I feel I owe it to those who have been supportive these past few days to explain and give my two cents on the whole situation.

    First of all, I am really OK. I am not in denial. Honestly, I don’t really care. I never did. I don’t need to cry. You don’t have to talk to me in a way that you think I am going to burst out into tears. Not all composers are emotional. I am not Bob Dylan.

    Now I will tell you why I don’t care.

    Because majority of people in the industry today will never understand what I do. Which is OK because all it really shows is how antiquated their tastes are and dare I say, how irrelevant as well. But I understand where they are coming from. They are looking for “real” songs. Songs with the right chords, right structure…in their world where there is such thing as “wrong” music. I heard “Caramu” didn’t make it because they thought the lyrics were too simple. With that same logic, a song like “Obladi Oblada” wouldn’t have made it. And Ruffedge’s “Da Bomb” is stupid and repetitive. But they fail to see that half the people leaving the hall that night probably had that song stuck in their heads. So for my next track, I am getting Usman Awang to write lyrics.

    Also, the judges are learned, musically-trained, established and creative artisans. Compared to them, I am a hack job who got lucky. Can you imagine one of their kind actually saying they like something simple?

    Judge 1: Eh. Aku suka lagu Ruffedge "Da Bomb" lah. Korus tu memang da bomb.
    Judge 2: You, my friend, are an imbecile with tastes best suited for someone who lives in the outer rim of Kay-pong.
    Judge 1: Oh pardon me luv. I must have lost my head. By the way, do you have some Grey Poupon?

    Then they'd air-kiss and drink tea.

    I will tell you what is important to me.

    That there are people out there who like the stuff I do. I am grateful for the fans of Nikki and those who like my songs and even suggest to artists that they need songs from me. That’s what matters to me and that's what makes my balls grow bigger. The only thing now is that I wish you cheap bastards would pay for the music instead of downloading the thing. :-) But I have nothing but love for y’all.

    Having said all that, I do feel bad. Not for myself but for Nikki’s manager, Vernon and her mentor Joe those who worked on getting the song to work for Nikki. And also for Nikki who worked her ass off having to dance in high heels. My two or three weeks working on the song pales in comparison to their many thousand hours of thinking and work they put in after I give them the final track. But enough of the ass kissing. My lips are chafing.

    One last thing. Many people feel “Diari Seorang Lelaki” by Pretty Ugly do not deserve to be in the finals because it sounds too much like “Sunday Morning” by Maroon 5. Hell yes it does. But not the melody. If you strip away the music arrangement, and have them strum that song on a guitar, you will hear a good song and I think it does deserve to be in the finals like all the other songs in the finals. After all, it's all a matter of tastes, isn't it?

    Friday, December 08, 2006

    I am reminded today why I am a music producer who sits behind computer screens and not a performer who stands in front of hundreds, if not thousands of people, entertaining them. Because doing the latter will shorten my life expectancy.

    I was required to be at TV3's television studio for a live interview for "Muzik Muzik". That whole three-minute experience was almost as calming as having an airbag go off in my face.

    Wednesday, December 06, 2006

    Something interesting just happened in my world.

    I actually composed a document in a word processor online using Google Docs & Spreadsheet. (You can tell when technical people come up with product names!) Yes, Google Docs & Spreadsheet (formerly Writely) is a very useful Word and Excel-compatible wordprocessor and spreadsheet application which you can get to via your Gmail account or at docs.google.com

    This way, I can write my documents and have them accesible online. Of course, I am completely screwed should Google goes out of business, or if their server crashes, or I eat too much sugar and I forget my password.

    Still, the prospects of doing everything online in a Web browser is just too exciting for me. It is really that great!

    The Office guys at Microsoft must be pissing in their pants right now.

    Tuesday, December 05, 2006

    If you know me, you’d know that nothing much impresses me or makes me laugh. (I might laugh at it but not because of it. That’s another story.) But I have to tell you about a few things that impress me and I can’t rave enough about it.

    One is LASIK surgery.

    Second is V-Kool. Rather daft name but this is one fantastic product. I just had V-Kool recently re-installed in my car and after driving around without it for the past two months, I can tell you the difference is like the difference between “cancer-heat” and “sauna-hot.”

    Third is the new iPod-with-a-phone, iPhone from Apple. Whenever someone mentions iPod with a phone, I’d say it won’t work until they sort out the battery problem. As a fan of these convergent devices like the O2, I would not use the PDA or tax it because I didn’t want to drain out the battery and be left without a phone. I figured, until they come up with a super battery that can go on for weeks without charging, the iPod phone won’t work. And this battery better not be nuclear that it has a warning that it might fry my nuts if I left the iPhone in my pants pocket for too long.

    So, what does Apple do? They put in two batteries in the thing. One for the phone and another for the music player portion. Abso-ferkin-lutely brilliant! Touch screen and slideout keyboard too. Mama.

    And I have also decided that my next notebook computer will be a Mac. I will probably still run Windows on it but I will at least look cool doing it. But this will probably be in three or four years from now. (You hear that Justin? I will get a Mac!)

    Sunday, December 03, 2006

    Forgive me…it has been 43 days since my last blog entry.

    A lot has happened. Obviously.

    The most life-changing of the lot is that I had LASIK surgery. Yes, I allowed another human being to touch and do things to my eyes. Hell almost broke loose. But I highly recommend it and it will be the best thing you can do for yourself.

    And sometime in early November, I went to Bali with the lovely people at Fuse. Last year was Bangkok. This year, Bali. Do these guys know how to party or what?

    Bali was excellent. The hotels we were at were excellent. So excellent that I almost didn’t want to leave the hotel to see the what was beyond the hotel. I have never been so close to nature before. (And I am not talking about feeling the need to pee in the woods.) George taught me how to swim. Kinda. I may be able to delay death by drowning by 30-40 seconds. I had bacon. The one thing everyone told me to try while in Bali was “Babi Guling.” I did. It’s gross. Then I had ice-cream. On the way to the airport, I left a little piece of me behind in Bali. To be specific, it was a bag of vomit which I was advised by the cab driver to just leave at the sidewalk.

    That’s six days in Bali.

    Back in KL, I finally did it. I’ve moved out. I no longer work at home. I am now renting studio space at Fuse which means I am no longer allowed to work without clothes on. It has been almost four weeks since moved all my equipment there with the intention of separating my work life and personal life starting a personal life. And after four weeks, I am not pleased to say that not a single bit has changed. I am practically living in the studio now. Still working like a dog. The only difference now is I don’t get to shower as often in a day and instead of scratching myself in the privacy of my own home, I now do it in the presence of a disapproving lot.

    Work has been fairly exciting. (It is almost wrong to call what I do “work”!) I am looking forward to next year. Lots of new songs coming out and I think it will make the local Malay music scene a little bit more interesting. I got Farah Asyikin (“Malaysian Idol 2” and “One In A Million”) coming out. Hopefully, Liza Hanim’s stuff is coming out. Kaer is coming out. Errr…OK. I am working on some new and interesting stuff for Faizal from “One In A Million”. I just recorded Dayang Nurfaizah last night. She was great. I think the stuff we are working on is going to make you want to listen to local Malay-language music again. I really enjoy working with singers like Dayang, Ning, Jaclyn Victor, and Vince who can do things with their voices on demand. And I don’t have to call up Auto-Tune™ too much. So, please go buy CDs that I’ve worked on. If you don’t want to, you can always download it. It’s illegal and wrong but go ahead and do it anyway.

    I still miss my grandmother.

    And I recently celebrated my 35th birthday, which by the way, I hear is the new age of youth. And 60 is the new 40. It was fairly quiet but it was one of the best birthdays I’ve had all year! Because you go “OH NO! I missed your birthday!” and start leaving me belated birthday greetings in the comments box, just know that I am still open for gifts and free meals.