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    Tuesday, September 25, 2007

    This post is going to make me a lot of friends. I am going to go out on a limb here, shoot my mouth off and probably end up digging a hole for myself.

    The Malay newspapers have been highlighting this matter of the local Malay stations playing more music from Indonesia and not supporting local music. This newspaper interviews a bunch of washed-up veteran producers and writers. Of course, they all collectively blame the radio stations for the state of the local music scene and why they cannot make a living because the radio stations support Indonesian music.

    And today, I read that the government is actually conducting an investigation! As if there is nothing else more important to do in government, the government is looking into this complaint and will probably have a quota on how many produced-in-Malaysia songs they have to play.

    While you may think this is ironic and it goes against my personal interest for me to comment on this, I think this is the most ridiculous and most offensive thing anyone can do to creative works and the free market. Of course, such a ruling would benefit me tremendously since I am a songwriter and I stand to make more money if the local stations are forced to play locally produced music. Hence the irony.

    All the arguments that were brought up by these veteran writers have no merit.

    A radio station is a business. They cater to the demands of the market. (Of course, some stations take this way to personally and actually think they know what the market wants and then become an imposition.)

    The reason why radio stations are not playing as much local music is because no one wants to hear it. And not many people want to hear it because the music, simply put, SUCKS. (That's the technical marketing term, by the way.)

    I am not kissing ass with the radio stations. It's not a conspiracy. The radio stations are not out to kill the local industry. If anything, the musicians and songwriters are doing it to themselves by trying to sound like Indonesians today or Indonesians back in 70s. If I were a radio station, I'd too be embarrassed to play some of the local stuff I hear. Even if I were embarrassed, but if listeners wanted it, so be it. Play it.

    As a producer and songwriter, I welcome the challenge. It bugs me whenever I hear an Indonesian song on the radio. But if it is good, it is good and it deserves its place on radio. I take it as a personal challenge and I want to do better to compete. Understand that I am not anti-Indonesian. I am in awe of their progress but I do not see them as one to emulate (since they are emulating the British.)

    The bottom line here is the radio stations as a business, owe the music industry nothing. They owe it to their customers and listeners.

    And then there was this new argument today suggesting that there should be a law to force local stations to play local artists so that we can have international acts. He cited Australia with Savage Garden and Kylie Minogue. I don't see the logic here. How, by force-playing local acts, will the act go international. (Incidentally, Kylie made it via the U.K. and most Australians probably hate Savage Garden's music.)

    So let's say the government manages to have a quota and radio stations are forced to play local music (but there isn't really enough good local stuff so they either repeat the good ones or start playing crap). First, all the stations will sound like X-Fresh. Or RTM! You can see where that is going.

    But this is what is going to happen: Radio will lose their listeners. Listeners will go to music social networks like imeem.com or last.fm and get their music. Radio will become less relevant. It will become what the railway station is to transportation. And then we would get closer to completing our mission as a nation that takes one step forward but two steps back.

    And when listeners go online for their new music discovery, NO ONE IN MALAYSIA GETS PAID.

    As for the music industry, it's Proton all over again. Constantly expecting handouts and never wanting to look at the real cause of the problem.

    Burn that analog tape machine and take a good look in the mirror.













    Phew! Now I feel better.

    Friday, September 21, 2007

    Usually at this point of a production project, I will show you an image of the final master of an album project I am working on. Unfortunately, I have to photos of the final master. Even though, I've done this a few times already, I still get a thrill whenever I get the final master on CD. (This final master is the CD that goes to the CD duplication factory where thousands of copies are made and then packed and shipped to stores and your simple job here is take a copy of that CD in exchange for your money.)

    Anyway. Back to that thrill. I still get a kick out of it because this piece of plastic represents thousands of hours of work. I think, I stress out, I have sleepless nights, and basically work hard to create little pieces of music on a computer. And then the music gets ripped and goes on the Internet. Some guy downloads it and listen to the first five seconds and then makes some unnecessary comment about the music. Makes me wonder why I even bother.

    Having said that, I think this is the last full album I want to produce. Don't get me wrong. I am grateful that I get full albums to produce. And usually get to do what I want. But given my nature, it's too stressful for me to be the only person bearing the weight of the success (or otherwise) of the album.

    I just had a look at the CD artwork for Diddy's album. Looks great. Sounds great. (I only heard the final mastered versions at Nick Lee's but didn't get a chance to pick up the final master. Hence, no photos.) It's the most complicated project I've ever been involved with, given the number of musicians and sessions (including over-the-Internet international sessions) required. That's all I can say for now. I think there is a gag order and I can be sued by the label manager for saying too much.

    And now that the album is done, I am focusing on finishing this other dragged-out-for-months album for Faizal Tahir (which without a doubt, is the most creative singer/songwriter I've ever worked with and so far, the only writer I can connect and co-write with.) Totally different style of music which in itself is a challenge for me to switch between being ghetto and being rock, and sometimes in between, I am Hannah Montana.

    So after Faizal's album, no more full albums for me!

    I now sleep three hours a day. I am desperately trying to go to bed early instead of the past 5a.m. I am clocking in for the past four months. I eat poorly. I am hardly ever at home. I am tired all the time. I forget easily. I haven't been exercise or doing my manly yoga. I don't watch TV anymore. I just found bread in my fridge that expired in March 07. I haven't been back to my mother's in Melaka since Chinese New Year. And I am quite sure that Smurfs are living in that giant mushroom I have outside the balcony. And for the love of all things sacred and pure, I am collecting hair in my bathroom's drain hole and I have an art piece made with chewed gum!

    This is what full album productions will do to you!

    Incidentally, Diddy's CD drops 25 September 2007.

    Friday, September 14, 2007

    After my previous thought-provoking blog post, I felt that the floodgates of my personal life has been busted open. So share, I will. Since I've introduced Harry Klump and Satu, let me share another joy of mine. I don't have a name for this (torn between "germfest" and "midday cream" but this is a pile of gum I've collected. Not just mine, mind you.

    Me: Hey Maya. Would you like a piece of gum?
    Maya: Sure.
    Me: But you realise that I am not giving you this piece of gum right? I want it back?
    Maya: What? Why?
    Me: It's a gum loan. After you are done, give it back to me and I'll add to this.

    You should take a moment. Click on the image above for a larger image and admire the intricacies. And if you stare at it long enough, you might see the face of someone you know or a new position for human reproduction.

    I wanted to show this off and offer a piece of gum to Siti. But I didn't want her to think I was weird or something.

    As always, feel free to save this and have it as your desktop wallpaper.

    Coming soon: Ever wondered how much finger nail a person clips off in a year? Find out next week on Batdude!

    Thursday, September 13, 2007

    The Reluctant Music Label Executive

    About five years ago, I met Colin Pereira, one of the directors of Fuse, a then-new audio production house doing mostly music for advertising. They also had talent management business and they managed rather interesting music acts including Deanna Yusoff, Discomafia, Nightlife Camera, and Reshmonu.

    I was at the tail-end of a kinda-sorta-failed business. I was broke, in debt, and honestly, quite lost as to what my next step was going to be. I was introduced to Colin and I was given a shot to work on some music of a commercial. It was something new and I struggled at it. But after a few months, I think I was getting it.

    After almost three active years and almost a hundred productions in advertising music, I think I finally got it. And shock horror...I was making money. While advertising music was paying my bills, I still did album work here and there whenever someone gave me the chance to.

    But those years in advertising were interesting. I had a few defining moments:

    - I annoyed Malaysia (and Maxis and DiGi) with my Celcom 5sen SMS song: "Gimme gimme gimme...what I want" and the many many variations after that.

    - I did the music for two Malaysian Airlines TV commercials which I am proud of: The one where things move backwards in time and the one introducing the airline's new jumbo Airbus

    - For my advertising productions, I recorded, for my first time: Clarinet, Steve Thornton, Coni Soliano, some singer from Hungary (or some Eastern European country), string players from the MPO, Mia Palencia, Jaclyn Victor (before she became Jaclyn Victor), and recorded at King's Studio on freakin' analog tape!

    Underlining all that, my heart was still in local music scene. And more specifically, Malay-language music. But it was frustrating because there was not a lot of room for creativity and innovation because major labels do not take risks on new ideas. Up until 2005, the major labels were still in control. Kinda.

    I was frustrated with where the local music industry was going. Not because I am patriot. It was because there was something more exciting going on the flip side which is the local English-language scene. And that made the Malay-language scene look like a dinosaur. Malay-language music became something that is old and outdated. When you say "Malay music", you think "ugly old rock music or screechy ballads."

    When you question why? And why not try something new? The lame-ass answer would be "because the market loves ballads." So name me one ballad that has had an impact and I will name you two non-ballads that have. The market will try to take what we give them. If they don't like it, they will find what they want some place else. And that "some place else" is Indonesia.

    Moron: This is a cool song. Who is it?
    Me: It's Peterpan.
    Moron: No wonder la.
    Me: *Sigh*

    One would not associate the words "modern", "new" or "progressive" when it comes to Malay-language music from Malaysia. But when it comes from Indonesia, then it's different. When it's "Malay" and it sounds good, then it must be Indonesian.

    Idiot: This is a cool song. Who is it?
    Me: It's Dina from Malaysian Idol.
    Idiot: Wow! Really? The music sounds really good. I thought it was Indonesian.
    Me: You are an idiot.

    Putting it in a nutshell, it has come to this: Malaysian music only sounds good when it sounds like Indonesian music.

    Moving on to June 2006.

    Me: I want to make the kind of music I want to make which I think will work. Not because the label tells me to. I am not on a "syok sendiri" trip. I want to make music that sells. I want new pop music in Malay. I want lots of people to like the music and not just the urban few. There is a new segment in the music market. The kampung folks have moved up the social and economic ladder. Not all Malays want to listen to old-school rock ballads. I want that same excitement I felt when I heard Sheila Majid's "Warna" or Zainal Abidin's "Senang-senang" for the first time back in the 80s. I want that excitement when I heard Innuendo and OAG for the first time back in the 90s. I want to make Malay music cool!
    Colin: OK.

    So I decided to do producers do when they want to prove a point. I will find talent. Develop and produce an album for them. Sell the masters to a record label to market and distribute, and get Fuse to manage the artist. And then I move on to my next project. Clean and straightforward. That way, I won't have to depend on labels to jobs. There's risk but at least I have some control and I'm more proactive in making sure I have an income. After all, didn't Adnan do this and discovered Siti Nurhaliza, Liza Hanim, and Misha Omar?

    Seemed like such a simple idea but God had other plans for me.

    Fast forward to August 2007. Everything I had planned for has fallen apart evolved. There has been personnel changes. Roles have been redefined. Over the course of the past few months, things have taken shape and I've come to terms with it. I am now part of a record label.
    I have taken the role that was the very source of my frustrations. I'm struggling to digest this.

    Today, we had a media event. To see the artists all in the same room was a little overwhelming but at the same time exciting. Never have I had so many opportunities to screw up one's career.

    Today, I want to tell you of my association to Satu.

    (Imagine that! A Malaysian entertainment company with a Malay name that even a white guy can pronounce.)

    I hope to achieve several things with Satu and they are mostly related to my thoughts expressed earlier: To change the perception of the market to Malay-language music. And to open new markets for local Malay-language music. Satu is not competition. We will not produce power ballads. So help me God...to have our Malaysian sound. I want the Indonesians to one day say "Let's make it sound Malaysian!"

    Putting it simply, I want to make Malay music sound cool. And I also want to double the size of Harry Klump II.

    I am still writing and producing for others because I see these artists as an agent of change. I am always grateful whenever artists puts their trust in me and give me the freedom to come up with something I think will work for them. It's always a risk when you go with an Audi Mok song. ("It sounds cool but where do I breathe when I sing the chorus?" :-) But that opportunity is something I appreciate and would be foolish to pass up.

    So there you go. A new chapter for me. A year from now I will know if I've completely ruined my career or I'm onto something and I actually do some good for the industry. Needless to say, I need all the help I can get. So if you want to impress me or have me in your debt, now would be a good time.

    (Suddenly I feel like Steve Jobs with his open letters.)

    Got music here: satu.fm

    Thursday, September 06, 2007

    I'm sure you notice the hair at the drain hole in your shower. You'd notice it even more if you have females with long hair using the shower. (And it's not limited to just the shower. It extends to the rest of your dwellings.)

    But let me ask the tough question here. While shampooing, have you ever wondered what would happen if you just left the hair there? Perhaps, a month? Maybe two? Well, like you, I asked and I found out. (Sacrifices!)

    Call me Captain Obvious, but after eight months, I got a huge pile of hair. Just know that the pile could have been one year but my mom visited and threw it out at four months. I was devastated. So was my mom, but for different reasons.

    I had grown rather attached to it. I even named it: Harry Klump.

    The pictures below do not do justice. But I have to admit that it started getting creepy after the sixth month because it would look like a hairpiece on the bathroom floor or some dead animal. That's when I decided that I may have to let it go.

    And before you judge me, I did take good care of Harry. I'd shampoo it once a week. Granted, I used my feet for this task, but still...

    Anyway, I've decided that it had to go. Mom's visiting again and we don't always appreciate the same things. One man's Harry is another woman's drain clog.

    Feel free to click on the image for a larger and more detailed view. You will appreciate its intricacies at a larger view. And by all means, make it your desktop wallpaper. Please. I insist.


    Monday, September 03, 2007

    It has finally happened.

    I recorded Siti Nurhaliza this morning. I am not sure if I am even allowed to make this statement. But screw it. I recorded Siti Nurhaliza this morning! I remembered she said "Hi". Everything else after that is a blur.

    Who wants to touch me?