This has been a terrific week of music! Music Matters is part of All That Matters, an annual affair where attendees hear from a Global line-up of key note speakers and connect with the leading players in the business. The performers and speakers this year include Steve Lillywhite, Slot Machine (Thailand), The Veronicas (Australia), Raisa (Indonesia), Bethany Mota(American Youtuber), Pentatonix (USA) and any more. There’s also the Music Matters Music Festival, a free festival featuring live music performances of some of the world’s best up-and-coming artists.
I always try to make it to Music Matters if I am in Singapore as I’ll always leave with a burst of new ideas and meeting new people.
A huge part of the Music Matters conferences focused on the rise of streaming, and live performances. As with every year, SGMUSO members were given complimentary access to the conferences and there’s a Music Matters Academy that invites festival organisers, digital music services and legendary music industry shakers and producers to share with local musicians and artists on how to up their game in terms of musicality, touring, taking their music outside of Singapore etc. I especially enjoyed Steve Lillywhite’s sharing session. It’s always a pleasure to hear the man speak as he mixes humour with thought provoking points with his extensive experience in the world of music production.
Pentatonix showing how they hone their sound to set them apart from everyone else.
The Music Matters Festival had a Singapore Showcase component and I was pleased to see a nice healthy turnout who came to support local artists. This is great as our local community of musicians need all the encouragement and support we can get for our music to be heard and to keep generating great music!
Chong Qing! I love 重庆小面！It’s a blend of spicy mala oil，a whole bunch of other stuff with noodles and you can top it off with beef and a fried egg that looks like this.
The moment I touched down at 1145pm. I told my driver, I want to eat 小面! He promptly obliged, circling around the airport area looking for a 小面 store. I ordered a bowl to go and he said “no no no…you can’t da bao that back, it won’t be nice! If you want to enjoy your 小面 you eat it here!” I said no laahhh, pai say laaaahhh. But he insisted to wait for me to finish it. What a cool guy!
The last time I had a conversation with the 好歌曲 guys in Beijing, they mentioned that NUTS, the first live house in Chong Qing was one of their favourite places to tour. So I had to check it out. Our venue and hotel this time was far from the town area. But that didn’t stop me to take the 1.5 hour taxi ride to NUTS, which was right smack in the city area.
It just so happened it was their 9 year anniversary when we got there. The quaint live house could house about a 100plus audience. What really impressed us was that that it had a really really good sound, instrument and lighting set up. I told the boss 老鬼 that their live sound rivals, if not surpasses some of the live houses I’ve been in the West!
The first band we caught was an indie folkish band with a slight rock slant, next up was a punk rock band with great catchy tunes (ala Green Day), next up was a Hardcore band ending up with a 9 piece reggae band. Other than the Reggae band, the rest were local Chong Qing bands. All of them had great catchy songs. I was most impressed with the audience who seemed to lap up everything. To them, there were no genres, just great music. What a great place to be!
And with that, we did our show the next day at the huge expo hall in the 重庆国际博览中心, had my fix of 小面 (3 days in a row =D ) and I’m back to Singapore for Music Matters!
Beijing is always fun to tour as there’s so much happening musically there. It’s also always a good time to catch up with friends and find out what’s happening there. A friend of mine recently opened up 筷子面, a chain of 重庆小面 stores all over Beijing and it was super delish! I got to have my fix of Sze Chuan food before hitting 重庆，our next stop.
On the local music front, a fellow musician friend filled me in on the live music scene in China. Currently, there is a music festival craze happening so there is a music festival happening every other week out there, As a result, indie bands have many avenues to perform and get their music heard. He shared that a relatively unknown newcomer band can get about 10000RMB per show (this performance fee doesn’t include travel accommodation expenses) with bigger and more established local bands commanding performance fees 200-300k RMB and up. Plus there are many live house venues all over China for them to tour so music is truly happening everywhere. These are exciting times and I think it’s so cool that they can perform their own brand of music, take it all over their huge country and be able to survive doing that. Talk about living the dream!
Meeting up with the folks in Beijing Gibson, it’s also interesting to learn how fast their instruments are penetrating the music community and how they are working with other brands to create events centred around music. Other than being a Gibson fan, I’m also happy to see music playing an important role in the ever fast growing China market.
And so we did our show at the in Beijing, as usual it’s to a full house crowd. As it’s Beijing, there were many 好歌曲 (Sing my song, a reality show based on songwriting which Xiaohan and I were previously involved in) alumni among the audience as most of them are based there. After the gig we had a good catch up and I’m happy to see all of them still working hard towards their dreams, with some of them already making it good in the indie band scene, touring every other week all around China.
As always, there’s a certain energy and inspiration that I draw from whenever I visit Beijing. It’s amazing to return and witness the fast pacing growth of music making in China. Actually there have been many Singaporeans already making waves in the music scene over there. With the recent success of Nathan as an example, I believe that Singaporeans can be part of these exciting times as after all, we have been exposed to Chinese culture our whole life. In order to do that, one must also have a clear vision, an action plan and most importantly, match up to the passion and drive that I see in the eyes of the super talented musicians I’ve met there. Meeting hard working, driven music warriors always inspire me to work even harder in the spirit of good music. Time to make some music…
It was 1996, and it was towards the end of my National Service. Just like many other guys then I didn’t know what I was going to do with my life. I’ve was doing gigs covering English pop rock here and there in various bands, mostly playing for free or getting around 15 dollars, if I’m lucky, just to get to the venue and back. It was all in the spirit of passion and fun. I’d never thought that making music could be a proper job for me.
I had a good friend named Benny who had been playing in different bands as well, covering Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Metallica etc so it was quite a surprise when one day he invited me to go check out one of his gigs playing in a 民歌餐厅 (Chinese live music venue) named 木吉他 at Tanjong Pagar.
The setting was just him and his vocalist named Georgi. Initially I was amused as I was so used to playing electric guitars with a band when it came to us band boys doing gigs. And here was Benny playing an acoustic guitar, performing mostly slow songs with Georgi singing Mandarin songs that I’ve never heard previously. But what was cool was that they’ll funk up some of the Mandarin songs and mix up some English covers. I remember Georgi doing a few Cranberries songs in Chinese (which introduced me to Faye Wong). At some point, Benny gestured me to get up on stage to jam with them and that ended up with me getting my first 民歌餐厅 gig!
Gigging there was fun as it was also because of that I started to play acoustic guitar. I was thrashing the guitar up, strumming it like a drum and interestingly got noticed because of that. Other venues started to approach us to play including 爱琴海 another 民歌餐厅 that still exists today,
where I remembered we were amongst the first performing there.
With that, the ‘cheena’ gig got fun, we hopped 2-3 venues per day, gigging 3-4 days a week and managed to take home 50-60 on a good night. Making money while having fun?! To me that was already a big deal.
As the 民歌餐厅 culture caught on, we played full houses to attentive audiences. As a result, Taiwanese and Hong Kong artists started to drop by to perform as part of their promotion and we were asked to accompany them. My most memorable one was playing with David Tan for a new comer from Taiwan who had a power house voice pictured below.
Thanks to June for all these super cool photos!
Little did I know that I would later enter the industry and compose a few songs for her including one of my better known ones named 人质!
Life works in mysterious ways, as that fateful jam at 木吉他 threw open the doors for me to be exposed to Mandarin music, introducing me to a community of friends and talented musicians who got along with no boundaries (I say that ashamedly as I barely spoke Mandarin then). It was a great time where we had fun while working hard, driven by our passion of music to improve ourselves to please the audience. It was that period of life where we were never tired doing what we loved, young, foolish and willing to try anything. Never did I expect that jam would lead to meeting and eventually working with all these artists. And of course, this opened my eyes to an actual music industry way bigger than I could ever imagine. Thank you 木吉他 for that! We sure rocked those times!
So why this sudden memory lane post? A few weeks back I was invited by June, part of the 木吉他 gang to meet up and hang out at Tien Yao’s gig with Jason and Allan at All about Eve. It was great fun! We caught up with what each of us were up to, joined the guys on stage for a jam and had a good laugh. I went back flooded with a insurgence of great memories.
I also imagined what if, I didn’t take up that gig then? Here’s a piece of advice to you, dear inspiring musician. Life is too short for ‘what ifs’, try everything you can. It is never too late. You never know what you gonna get just by trying!
Here are more pics of that era between 1996-1998. Warning : You might recognise some of these people =D
At the start of the year, I set myself a resolution that this year I should buck up and write more songs! Max Martin, whom I look up to, has been having world wide smashes from the Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears right up to Taylor Swift, Ellie Goulding, Adele and he’s still raging on. That inspired me to make that resolution and continue trying to chart hits for the Mandarin scene. So far, 2016 has led me to work on the title track for Hebe’s latest album and I’ve also had the honour of sharing a credit with 罗大佑 for 动力火车’s latest tour theme song so I think I’m on the right track! So I’m still writing and working on more unreleased productions to come.
Though the number of songs I write and produce are far more than the ones that are finally published and released, that has never discouraged me even after doing this for so long. The reason is simply because I enjoy it. I get excited even before I start creating!
Other than having a pure love of making music for others, here’s how I keep myself excited and focused before I approach a song or begin a music production.
1. Finding a direction
Sometimes it’s through the music direction that the record company sends me or sometimes it’s the artist who tells me he/she really loves a song or another artist and hopes to have a song in a similar style. With that lead, I’ll study, at times for weeks, just listening to that song or that album again and again before I even start on the song. It helps that I have an obsession with music =D Picking out hints that make the song work, it might be elements in the music arrangement, the way the melody flows or certain vocal stylings the singer uses. With a direction in mind, it’s easier to set a goal and at the same time, you won’t unknowingly keep writing something similar to your last work.
2. Staying in the mood
I get this question at times “So you don’t have a day job? What do you do everyday?” Everyday I’m listening to music, reading about music, learning, watching music etc. Even when I’m working on a production, a song or an arrangement, in between breaks, I put some music on, sometimes related, sometimes unrelated. I might even get out there to listen to a good band. As long as it’s good music that inspires me, it keeps me stay in the mood plus it gives me a push to try match the standard of the works I’m listening to. Good music is powerful, it evokes emotion out of you to throw you into a certain frame of mind. Listen to good stuff and you will be inclined and influenced to create good stuff as well.
3. Record EVERYTHING
My mobile phone has 1000s of voice notes. Before I even set up a microphone or start up my computer and studio, I will already have many ideas to draw from my phone. A riff, a melodic idea, a groove (yeah, I am not a beat boxer but I got my ways of “singing” drums =D ), sometimes just a vocal note to myself. Most of the time before I even start on a music arrangement, I know how it’s going to sound like from my audio sketches made beforehand. Hard disk memory is ever more affordable today so take advantage of it!
Yeah, that’s about it. No fancy burning candles or meditation sessions. If you like, you can share what you do before you start making music here as well!
It seems like every year we are in Shanghai, no complains here as Shanghai is cool! I have a few friends staying here and it’s always nice to hang as Shanghai is ever changing and a fun and vibrant city.
The Mercedes Arena is a super cool and impressive looking venue and it’s always fun to play here.
Actually we just did 2 back to back concerts with Wakin last year and this was the 3rd encore gig. To our surprise this year’s concert has an even better turn out! Completely sold out, we had audiences way up in ‘the hills’ on top and even right at the side of the stage, almost facing the back of the band. Wakin was very touched and the band performed full force, drawing from the energy of the crowd.
So now I’m back and starting on a very heartfelt production for an artist who’s also a good friend of mine. More on that later!
Recently, I had to change my car as my 10 years of COE was almost up. As I have a superfun family with the kid growing up, I had to let go my 2 door in exchange of a more spacious SUV. Comparing the price difference between a Japanese SUV and a Mercedes SUV (GLC), I decided to go for the Japanese option and invest the savings into sound instead! So here’s what I got with the price difference! Thanks to Swift Garage, Blizz Auto, SSL Asia and Audio Solution for the fair prices and great service!
The Jap car
For the SUV, I decided to get a Toyota Harrier Gs from the guys at Gavin and Ellson of Swift Garage and Blizz Auto who gave me a good deal coupled with prompt and hassle free service! Why the Gs? Because I noticed that there are quite a number of Harriers on the road so I decided to go for the Gs version which is of a more ‘hiao’ outlook =D The car is really spacious, a really nice smooth drive and most importantly, though bigger, this car is much more fuel efficient than my past few European cars!
The Sound Toys
A SSL Matrix 2 for the Neater Dump
When I entered the music industry, it was a time where studios were huge with large recording and mixing rooms with tape machines. Any respectable recording studio had a SSL (Solid State Logic) or equivalent giant analogue console controlling the set up. All my productions in the early 2000s were mixed on these large analogue consoles. Unfortunately, with the huge studio format slump, we had to mix mostly “in the box” (meaning mixes were done entirely in a computer using software). Though we still could get work done, whenever I get a chance to work with an engineer to mix on a large format console, there’s a magic in there that makes things sound bigger, more dynamic with more of a three dimensional image. SSL has always been creating innovative solutions for the ever changing music industry and I was a fan of their modular approach of breaking down their large formats to accomodate to small studio set ups while retaining their Super Analogue sound. I experienced that last year when I helped Leo Studio get outfitted with one. When it came time for my own studio, Malcolm and family of SSL Asia were very helpful allowing me to test run the Super Analogue sound by loaning me a SSL Sigma and the Bus compressor for my on going productions, one of those was my song 日常 by Hebe, mixed by Frank. The mix turned out great and I even had an affirmation of that from Bing Wang 王治平 老师!
That’s when I decided this was a timely chance for me to take the plunge and go for a Matrix 2. It combines the best of both worlds of preserving the analogue magic during mixdown and the convenience of digital audio workstations. But what I like most about it is that I can now patch my outboard gear internally within the Matrix like how I work in the box! Finally, of course, the sound. When Frank, my trusty engineer brother hooked it up for me and got it going, I listened to his previous mixes with eyes closed and didn’t believe this was happening in my studio!
The SSL is for my ‘work’ and so next up was fitting up my car!
Audio Frog GB speakers/subwoofer, Mosconi 100.4 Amps with Helix DSP
It all started 2 years ago when I decided to get myself a good turntable set up at home, then it led to a whole 5.1 set up which led up to Hi Res audio players and Beyerdynamic audiophile headphones. I started becoming infatuated with surrounding myself with great sound. Thanks to my friend Dave who hooked me up with Vincent from Audio Solutions who coincidentally is situated in the same building as FM Pop Music School! I decided to get Vincent to custom made panels for the new ride and I must say he did a great job! Spending quite a bit of time everyday in my car, now my job of surrounding myself with great sound is complete! Meanwhile, I still have balance left over from the savings! will be shopping around to order some more toys for the studio =D
Many friends from Singapore love to visit Taiwan because of their food. I’ve been coming here for the last 20 years mainly for work. Most of the time I’m in and out of studios and the only time off is when I get to eat. Last 2 days I was here rehearsing with Wakin 华健 for our upcoming Shanghai show when Sora and gang decided to drop by to 探班! As we only had one day to hang, I brought them along to my top 3 eating places whenever I’m here. I’m not much of a food blogger, so I’ll point them out to you and you can go experience it for yourself! So here they are. If I only I had 3 meals in Taipei.
Many people rave about the beef noodles in Taipei. Me? I love steak, but never been a big fan of beef noodles both in Sg and Taipei. But THIS beef noodles, takes the cake. The top grade beef melts in your mouth and the noodles are just nice. There is even a grade of beef noodles on the menu that costs 10 000 NTD!
There’s certain types of food in Taipei that I don’t normally eat in Sg or anywhere else, that includes vegetables and things 清单 (healthy stuff in general =D ) Veges taste great in Taipei and the ingredients at 自然風涮涮鍋 are so fresh that the taste doesn’t need to be masked in heavy soups. Being a hot pot fan, the prices here are more affordable than those at home. As it’s one person per pot, I can order one portion when I’m here alone. 自然風 rocks!
There’s actually 涼麵 shops all around Taipei, however 陳家涼麵 was one of the shops that I was brought to when I 1st came to Taipei and the place is still popular especially among supper goers as it’s open 24 hours. I find that Singaporeans are more receptive towards their more ‘gravy-ish’ cold noodles as opposed to some other shops that make them more dry.
So here you go. This is wher I’ll usually go If I only had 3 meals to Taipei! Check it out. Enjoy!
If you grew up in the 80s or 90s, you probably will have heard of the band U2. However I suspect most of the new generation might only know of U2 as that album that appeared in their IPhones. Recently, I bought their “U2 iNNOCENCE + eXPERIENCE Live in Paris” Blu Ray and was instantly reminded of how instrumental the band was in influencing so many important bands today as well as sculpting my melody and arrangement sense. So I thought I shall pick 10 songs out of their 13 album discography that heavily affected me in my music journey and share with those who are new to U2. Here we go!
1. Even Better than the Real Thing
The 1st time I was exposed to rock with machines (drum)
2 .Walk on
I was already in the music production scene then, and was very inspired by how Larry Mullen Jr, the drummer, could still churn a spin on the drum groove for a ballad.
It’s amazing the amount of melodic content that they can create in a one chord song.
To others it might be the “Bo Diddley” groove, but to me growing up, it was the “U2 Desire” groove.
5. With or Without you
This was the song that I kept hearing in jamming studios, jam bands and all kinds of school performances and band competitions. Because it had so much power in a very simple music arrangement.
The beauty of their songs is that though the melodies and music arrangements are simple, but it is really well thought out simplicity that sticks them to your head. It’s not easy to write a repetitious, mostly 2 word phrases in a chorus and rule the world.
7. Where the Streets have no name
This introduced me to the world of the creative use of the delay effect on guitars.
8. I will follow
You can be raw, you can sing a song that has about 3 notes in the chorus and you are poised to be the biggest band in the world.
9. Every Breaking Wave
From their latest album, this is one of the songs for me that grabs me the moment the melody in the first verse hits me.
During my short stint playing in clubs again, this is a song that we always enjoyed playing.
For sure there are many other U2 gems but these are the ones that touched me personally during my music journey. I’m sure you might have some others of your own, or if you haven’t really heard of U2, this might be a good time to check them out!
During our seminars, this is a question I usually pop before we begin, along with “What does a producer do?” and “what does a songwriter actually write?”. Usually I’ll get lame answers like…”A music arranger arranges music lor” or “A music producer produces music lor”.
Yeah yeah yeah, that’s true but there’s more. Many musicians including me didn’t know the actual responsibilities of these various roles in the music industry. But first, let me elaborate what a pop songwriter in the Mandarin music industry does.
In a song, there’s melody and there’s lyrics. What I write that ends up as a 曲(melody) credit in a song is a combination of notes (the la la la), rhythm (coupling a rhythm with the la la las) wrapped up in a harmony bed (a basic chord progression with a guitar or keyboard). A lyricist is the one that fits words to the la la las. And that’s what constitutes the pop song.
Using the core melody and lyric of the song, the role of the music arranger is to create a fitting music background and support it with the right combination of music instruments or vocal parts, deciding when each instrument plays or not, to allow the song to shine as a complete music piece.
Nowadays the playing field for music arrangement is well levelled with readily available music software in which some even throw in a band playing template loops and parts as well! If you have a Mac book air or an IPad, you might have doodled with Garageband before. And if you have done that before and found that your music arrangements just sounds like a huge mess, then that’s when you realise music arrangement is not just about throwing more than one instrument into a song and expecting it to work.
Things that a music arranger will consider includes, deciding what instruments to use and when, playing around with key changes, decide on a fitting music style, the tempo, the meter, the phrasing of the instrument lines, counter melodies, dynamics, accents, solos, embellishments, instrumental hooks, designing a good intro, interlude, tweaking the chord progression, finding the right tone for the instruments, understanding the limitations of each instrument etc. All these considerations are required to create a properly designed music arrangement with the aim of supporting the song and bring it to greater heights.
Here’s a link for an idea of how I create a basic music arrangement.
With all that being said, our next batch of music arrangement course for 2016 is starting soon! So If you’re really interested to take control and create your own music arrangements. Read on…
As a songwriter or a musician, we understand when you are starting out. Often you have no clue on how to begin creating an arrangement for the songs that you’ve composed, or how to even begin using a music making software.
Our music arrangement course will be beneficial to songwriters and musicians that would like to learn how to arrange songs using Garageband and Protools.
What you will learn in 10 months:
• Learn the concepts of music arrangement
• Gain awareness of the interaction between commonly used music instruments
• Understanding groove and harmony, the basic building blocks of music arrangement
• Building your own multi-instrument arrangements from scratch, track by track with guidance by our highly qualified and patient instructors
• Learn the basic concepts of polishing and mixing your tracks
Basic requirements of one of the following instruments:
• Drums, Bass, Guitar, Keyboard
What more can you expect from this course?
*Trainees will be awarded a “Certificate of Participation” (T&C applies)
Please visit http://fmmusic.com.sg/academy/#arrangement-course for more information.
Email your enquiries and interest to email@example.com.
First come First Serve Basis. Limited Seats only.
#fmpopmusicsch #fmmusicsg #writethesonginyou #musicarranger #songwriter #musician Jim Lim Huang Yr 黃韻仁