Last weekend, Xiaohan, Jim and me had an hour and a half sharing session where we spoke about our various experiences and roles in music production. The event was hosted by the Library@esplanade and those interested had to register. We were pleased to share with our full house turn out tips on how we do what we do.
As usual, I like to encourage those who are interested to move into music production, or music in general, to start right away. There’s too much procrastination at times when we want to move into something that’s out of the norm. However we never know what can achieve till we go full on into it.
the attendees included many aspiring lyricists of whom Xiaohan get them some tips on how to get ahead in this industry
And of course Jim wowed the crowd with his knowledge in vocals and it’s importance in the world of music production.
And then there was a roundtable Q&A. One question that resounded and was discussed for quite a while, was how can newcomers enter the music industry? With all the updates of the music industry not doing well it was understandable there will be concerns of those who hope to make this as an actual living.
1st of all, I’ve got to remind that making a living out of what you love is the ideal life of most, and hence you definitely have to work hard to stick out among the many hopefuls who have the same dream as you. 2nd of all, I think ‘making a living out of music’ is too general of a term that it might intimidate most. If you break it down to ‘making a living out of music education’, ‘making a living out of performing your own material and/or covers’, ‘making a living out of doing music arrangement’, ‘making a living out of live and/or recording studio sound engineer’, ‘making a living out of equipment rental’, ‘making a living out of a running music related events’, ‘making a living out of writing hit songs’, the list goes on and on…and zone in what exactly is it that you want, It might all become clearer and more possible to you.
All of these roles in the music industry have different rates of success compared to others, however those with the least rate of success doesn’t mean they are impossible, and some might be involved in more than one role to sustain a living. I think if one is interested, they should really look more specifically into their area of interest to decide if they are really up for it before they move into it. And of course, most importantly manage their expectations of going into that particular field and treasure the journey. If you still need a day job, by all means go ahead. If all else fails, at least you tried and you had a great time trying.
Afterall, this is what you love.
Another province another fun gig, other than that I didn’t have much impression of 合肥 as I had some production work to bring on the road with me so I didn’t have much time to explore the place. However I forgot to bring my guitar strap this time so had to go explore around our hotel area where there were some music shops and got myself this funky strap for 2 sg dollars (it was the only strap they had in the store)
I have quite a few friends who don’t have the stomach for spicy and oily food, but I live by it! =D Everytime I see anything to do with 麻辣 or 川菜 I know my meals are settled hahah. Here’s some pics of my usual meals on the road.
康师傅 eating place. This is my fav hang out place at the Guang Zhou airport while I transit.
Other than modern technology allowing me to bring my work wherever I go now, it also brought us FaceTime where I can make monkey faces at Lyla!
合肥’s arena as with many other arenas all over China was nice, new and huge. This time Wakin was actually having a bad case of running nose and flu, however that didn’t stop him from going full on out for the show. He didn’t give the ‘Oh I’m having flu today so please excuse me if I don’t perform well” excuse on stage that I see so many unexperienced performers do. I feel as an audience if I hear that, my enthusiasm for the show will be affected and won’t enjoy it as much. Better to just let your sincerity speak for itself. If the audience picks it up, they will appreciate it more than hearing the performer excuse himself even before the show has started.
In the end, it was a great show and I’m sure most of the audience didn’t even realise that he was having a nasal day.
Next stop…Home base. Singapore!!!!
On the subject of memories. I thought I’d share some of the more memorable songs/productions as my musical journey unravels.
Looking back, during the time as I was working on them, I was so busy focusing on getting the job done then that I didn’t realise
how amazing it was and how these precious opportunities would change the course of my career forever.
My 1st production case
This was around 1998-99, I was hanging around in my ex publishing house(Musset). No wait, actually I was staying in the office. As that time I didn’t have a recording set up as they were much more expensive then, so I sort of invited myself to stay in the office and slept on the sofa bed for about 2 years so I could write and record anytime I wanted. One day my boss Steven asked me, have you heard of this artist named Wen Zhang? I was like yeah, when I was in my teens, I remembered my auntie was a fan as he appeared regularly on our local TV variety shows. Steven said that Wen Zhang is hoping to do a comeback album, and looking for someone new to produce it. He thought of me and asked if I’m interested to handle it.
By that time I was already doing music arrangements for artists and had communicated with producers before. Though just like with arrangement before, I didn’t know exactly what producers are supposed to do, but of course I told Steven, “Sure! I’ll do it!”
Looking back, I realised back then there was this trait in me that allowed me to be thrown into situations or opportunities that I otherwise wouldn’t have been able to experience. Which was…
“When opportunity knocks. Even if not sure, just whack”
What’s the worst that can happen?
Now I’m not saying you can just grab any opportunity when you are completely clueless, the worst that can happen is you might never be asked to handle that task again. However I’ll readily admit that I learned a lot of things on the job back then as I thought that certain chances will not be there everyday. I also think we can never be truly ready. In the music industry, situations are almost always never the same so I much rather grab the chance first, ask around and study as much as I can before the case starts.
And so I met up with Wen Zhang and together with Steven, we discussed what is it he wanted in this album, what kind of songs he wanted, what kind of music direction he had in mind. It was to be a mix of covers and originals, in which the covers were to be re arranged (I think that established my footing of mangling with covers to give them a new life later on with Powerstation, 881, Turn you around (Voice of China) movie etc) For the originals, we went thru Musset’s catalogue to look for songs and selected the 10 songs he wanted. At that time, my arrangement style was mainly still ‘band sound’, so for the ballads we sourced for other arrangers to work with and viola, we had 10 song arrangements to enter the studio with!
At that time there was a recording studio in Malaysia called Synchrosound studio which we used regularly to record session musicians for our arrangements as they had great facilities and the rooms were huge and great sounding. Wen Zhang decided he wanted to do the music and vocals for his album there, so we flew up to KL where we stayed for almost 2 months. Recording the musicians was fun as always and when all the music backing was done, it was time to do the vocals.
Up till this point, I was doing things that I was used to, but recording vocals for an artist, this was a first for me. And especially with Wen Zhang being a veteran
artist with many albums under his belt, I knew I couldn’t just ‘whack’. Honestly, at that time, I didn’t even have much experience in that area so I was really quite freaked out. Thankfully, Peter Chong, the in house sound engineer (a very good mixing and tracking engineer to add) guided me and gave me many suggestions and tips on getting the best performance out of him. Afterwhich he shared with me tips on editing the vocals etc. So till today I still can remember and am grateful that he saved my ass or I would never have been able to pull it off! With the vocals and backup vocals done, Peter handled the mixing duties and the album was finished!
When the album 未完待續 was released, it did make an impression in the industry, selling more than a 100 000 copies shortly within it’s release. This was an impressive number given that mp3s already started to take it’s toll on album sales!
As I’m writing this, I’m in a 5 hour transit wait in Guangzhou for my connecting flight out to 合肥. Thankfully with modern day technology, I bring around a music arrangement set up along with me so I won’t waste time even when I’m on the road.
The song I’m working on right now is a mid tempo rocker and as I’m trying hard not to look like a crazy person head banging in Starbucks, I thought I’d also share
a tip about music production that might benefit some.
If you’re into creating music, I’d like to share the importance of imagining your song being played live while you’re producing it.
Though this seems like common sense, however I’d readily admit there were times in the past where I was concentrating more on the tones or overall musicality of the production more than imagining how it feels when I’m playing it live. As I got out there to do more and more gigs with various artists which included my own arrangements, I started being aware of the difference of between meticulously getting a good note perfect recording and an arrangement that looks and feels good to play in front of an audience to move them. I used to say being a recording musician and a performing musician might be two different animals but with playing live being such an important component of an artist survival nowadays, I’d say the modern day musician has to be a bit of both.
It’s beneficial to have some recording experience to understand the importance of tone and getting out there to perform gigs to know what makes audiences tick during a performance. Nowadays when I’m working on my productions or arrangements, I’m also imagining how the musicians will feel and look while they are on stage performing that particular part. Sometimes I might even jump and down in the studio while hearing a certain section of a mix, imaging I’m gonna be playing it live.
So I thought I’d like to share this, the next time you are going to lay down that guitar or piano part, other than checking how full the tone is, do play it back and imagine you are the musician presenting this arrangement in an arena.
Been clearing my spare room to make way for a home theatre room and been digging up old treasures. Some of which are museum material =D.
But I’d say other than a whole pile of old 小寒’s lyrics sent over by fax (anyway wanna see? =D hahaha, ask XH 1st), another most interesting discovery is that my old Mini Disc still works!!!?? Most of you guys might not even know of the Mini Disc’s existence as it was a short lived technology that I’d say, died together with record sales when the MP3 started gaining traction.
And what’s more interesting was that I dug out a pile of old MDs which included stuff that I recorded in the late 90s and early 2000s. Other than old song demoes that I wrote, the material included the unplugged sessions which I recorded for artists on 88.3FM for 辛晓琪，许茹芸，萬芳，柯以敏 all in perfect quality. That’s when I truly appreciate digital technology as the old cassette tapes I found were either mouldy (which I’m sure will not sound as clear even if I cleaned it up) or ended up in tangles.
I also realised I really wrote a lot of songs then, most of which didn’t end up as full songs but I think it was good practice as it led me to work towards being more aware of my strengths and weaknesses. I also realised that I was truly lucky to be able to given all those chances that I had. Looking back, though I was really raw, my mentors readily shared information with me, giving me advice and on of that giving me a chance to apply it on their productions.
This arrangement I did for 静茹 was around 1999-2000 when 大哥Jonathan Lee asked me to Taipei to work on this song in Taiwan with his musicians in the studio, which included a drummer named Ah Ming. I clearly remember after the drum recording he had to adjourn outside for a meeting with 大哥Jonathan Lee and the rest of his band to discuss about the album cover for his band Mayday whom he went on to create history with.
Listening to the arrangement now, man, I feel that it was really raw. However I understand now why it was still released (and even became a single).
That’s because pop music has always been created, written and performed by the dreams of young passionate artists. Feel, energy and heart is more important than polished technical pieces. And that’s why every once in a while, an act with a great song and raw energy like Nirvana, The White Stripes will come along and sweep the world off it’s feet.
And I’ve always felt there’s an abundance of raw upstarts right here in Singapore who have the potential to achieve greatness. That’s one of the main reasons why Xiaohan and I decided to set up our FM Pop Music School, to groom the next batch of music industry movers. Been busy with the renovation for our new campus! More updates then!
On the 8th and 9th of June 2015, FM Pop Music School held a 2 day Music Workshop at Ngee Ann Polytechnic. Together with Jin An, the 2 day Music Workshop was held to help students and staff without any music background to pick up basic songwriting skills to write a song for their HMS 10th Anniversary Songwriting competition.
On the last day, I was invited to share my experiences in songwriting and being in the music industry. Being curious to check out the new generation of songwriters. I reached there a little earlier to watch Jin An prepping them for their songwriting presentation and sit in to listen to their freshly composed songs.
After which I had my sharing session, where I commended the students for their efforts as I liked what I heard. I personally only started writing songs when I was 20 years old, so these students already had a very good headstart! I liked it that in the short span of time learning during our workshop, they all understood the goal of simplicity in writing pop songs.
I also related my experiences of hanging around Ngee Ann around the late 90s as I was always eager to do my own recordings and the Film Sound Video department (as it was named then) had a cool studio and nice equipment that I couldn’t afford. Nowadays, it’s so much more affordable to have your own set up and get decent sounds recorded in your bedroom.
All in all, it’s always inspiring to share with the new generation as I believe there’s much to draw and learn from their enthusiasm towards their passion. Thanks for the invite Ngee Ann Poly HMS! I had a great time!
The last time I came to 哈尔滨 (Harbin) was about 5 years ago, and we didn’t have much chance to check out the place. This time I managed to go paint the town red and it was cool!
Recommended by locals, we got in a cab and headed to 哈尔滨中央大街. There was much sights and sounds all around. I liked the fact that every few steps we took, we could see arts and music acts scattered across the street.
After always listening to my friends talking about 大众点评, an app similar to Singapre’s hungry go where. I decided to download it and thankfully I did was we found ourselves some really nice food! It was some 石盘鱼锅 or something, hidden in a carpark somewhere near the main entrance of 中央大街 and it was really delish!
Good times at the 而罗斯酒吧
And I got Lyla a Russian Doll which she absolutely loves!
For some unknown reason, we could see 川菜 restaurants every few minutes. I am a great fan of 川菜, especially 重庆小面, which is a nice thick, oily, salty, spicy, unhealthy noodles soup, so I ate this for 2 days =D However it doesn’t come close to the real road side goodness we got at 重庆 last time.
Another day, another arena…
Yeah, that’s the last show…for this month! 哈尔滨 is a nice place to chill, with nice weather at this time of year. Glad we had time to explore a little this time round!
Yes, we’ve toured most of China over the last 5 years, however for some of the provinces sometimes we really don’t have much impression of the place as it’s off the plane, to the hotel, off to the show and that’s it. 郑州 was one of these cases as I had my own work to do at the hotel so didn’t have much time to explore the place.
Here’s me dressed for the void deck, playing an arena =D
Hua Jian is always amused when he sees my legs spread out when I’m playing guitar, so he decided to join in the fun as well!
Though we didn’t get to experience much of 郑州. This show was special as we had 大哥Jonathan 李宗盛 over as a guest artist and it was fun as he cracked us up at the backstage with stories of his production days back when he just started. Listening to all that he has been through, I felt honoured to be part of his production team when I first started out.
During the show, he started his hit song 山丘 by himself, with one guitar and it was really cool watching the 10s of 1000s of people fall silent and listening to one man and his guitar.
Next stop, 哈尔滨!
I thought I should just post whereever I go on this tour so I’ll be able to look back on the places that I’ve been in China. Having toured with Hua Jian for 5 years, I’ve lost track of the places I’ve been in China. So this will be a nice reminder for me .
So we hit Shen Yang! It happens I have a friend that I’ve lost contact for more than 10 years living there, so I caught up with her and her husband and they brought me around for some 东北特色 food!
Apparently, their cucumbers look and taste quite different from ours…
One of these dumplings is equivalent to 6 of our dumplings added together!
After dinner, they brought me to Asia’s longest night market, it stretched a few km and was so long that you can see no end to it!
This was the stall that I was most fascinated with, and there were many stalls selling these!
And so the show began
I got my friends a pair of tickets and they were overjoyed! I could see her hubbie whipping out the phone to take videos every other song =D
And finally, my friends gave Lyla a nice belated bday gift, a cute helmet for her new scooter! Thank you auntie TWZ and hubby!
On the May 10 it was not just the day of the Love from the Stars Charity show, it was also Lyla’s second Bday!
We had a quick lunch party as I had to rush to the Resorts World for soundcheck, but it was stilll a nice small super fun gathering of family and friends.
Lyla sure is a lucky girl with loving brothers and sisters and some famous fans =D. A big thank you to our families and friends for helping us out and Sora + Ah Kan for the pics!
and some overgrown kid friends! =D
Here’s more pics from the party!
Lyla’s homemade delicious birthday cake!
And of course, what’s a 2nd birthday without cool pressies! To Lyla, even the boxes are fun!=D
hmm, is this a bath robe or is this a blanket, or is it just a flattened bear? =D
My fav pig!
Oh ho ho…I’m gonna have so much fun with this!