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 Malay-language music became something that is old and outdated.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.
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!
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
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