By LOUISA DEVADASON
The Malaysian English music scene has been growing in recent years with more diverse and creative acts performing at popular venues across the Klang Valley.
However, as music isn’t widely encouraged in Malaysia beyond formal learning, many lack the tools to navigate a career in the music industry. Due to a fundamental lack of infrastructure in this industry, many artistes are left struggling to figure out a lot by themselves.
To understand what it takes for a business to make it in this industry, Leaderonomics sat down with Breaking Music, a boutique record label and artiste management agency based in Kuala Lumpur.
The company includes: Isaac Ravi, 30, who handles artistes, marketing and brand relations; Andrew Yap, 34, who oversees business affairs; and finally, music producer The Chief, 27, who works directly with artistes to create the music.
The guys are members of popular local band, Paperplane Pursuit, and have also enjoyed their share of success overseas. They are currently working with artistes the likes of Talitha Tan, lost.spaces, and Crinkle Cut.
With experience to spare, the three of them shared their thoughts on how to take charge of your own music career and navigate the local industry.
How can musicians go the distance?
Getting noticed and staying ahead in the music business often poses the greatest challenge to many. The reality is that artistes need more than just talent.
“Endurance is the hardest part of working in the entertainment industry. You’re only doing well for as long as you are relevant to your audience.”
“Knowing the challenges ahead and being pragmatic about how you can overcome them will go a long way. Also, be flexible and adaptable because this is an industry that’s constantly shifting,” says Isaac.
“For artistes, it’s about setting their gaze towards the long-term vision rather than just looking to earn a quick buck or gain their 15 minutes of fame,” says The Chief. He adds:
There needs to be a sense of discipline, urgency, drive, and eagerness to learn from mistakes which fosters longevity.
Making music: The art of collaboration
While self-expression is personal, creating art that can be shared with others often requires collaboration – the meshing of more than one person’s creative vision. That’s where producers come in.
“Producers are like project managers in a company. An artiste comes to a producer to help facilitate and flesh out his or her ideas in an orderly and structured manner.”
“Most artistes have many ideas but it’s the producer who lays the groundwork for the final product. The preparation should be about learning to communicate your ideas and being ready to handle feedback,” says The Chief.
Being attuned to meaningful collaboration is key in the music industry both artistically as well as in business. While there’s no fixed way to collaborate, there are some things that are important.
The Chief believes that the productivity of a collaboration needs to be shouldered by both parties – saying, “The artiste or producer should explore the different perspectives from all parties and work towards finding common ground.”
According to Andrew, collaboration at its core creates conflicts:
The ability to iron out these conflicts makes for better strategy and a more consistent push in the same direction.
“Methods differ, so you also have to be open to the possibility of doing things differently – which basically means you need to leave your ego at the door, or at least most of it. Being able to do that means the collaborators spend more time creating and getting things done, instead of arguing. In my experience, a lot of the arguments eventually proved petty in hindsight,” Isaac adds.
Been there, done that: Learning from experience
As members of Paperplane Pursuit, Isaac, Andrew and The Chief have made music together, performed many gigs and collaborated with their share of artistes.
They got creative – troubleshooting and brainstorming their way through unexpected challenges, eventually making their way onto mainstream radio.
So, what has it all taught them?
“Success doesn’t come overnight. Fall in love with the process of creating and do it repeatedly. Practice, evaluate, and keep trying. I think one of the main lessons I’ve learnt from running a label is to ignore the noise and do what needs to be done,” The Chief says.
Andrew strongly believes that mentors and guidance are valuable.
“No artiste makes it alone. Get these basics right and you’ll go further.”
“Artistes generally don’t start off with an understanding of the business side of things. It takes time to make them realise the realities of the business. Balancing real world business savvy and artistic ideals takes time and patience.”
Learning the ropes and being vigilant is also crucial. Isaac advises:
Learn how the industry works for yourself before relying on anyone else and put in the time and work. Don’t expect to make music and become successful from that alone – there’s a lot to compete with.
“I’d say having a career in music can be a lot tougher in some ways than a desk job, so don’t be surprised if you’re going to have to work a lot harder than most to get somewhere in the industry. Ultimately, I believe that those who really want something, will find a way.
They believe that Malaysia isn’t lacking in talent or potential, but they know it’s a tough industry with harsh realities, where artistes and even labels tend to fade before they can realise their potential.
“It takes a lot of optimism and belief in the end goal to keep going,” says Isaac. “So, developing resilience, thicker skin and staying focused on the goal has been a key component in the last 10 years of being an artiste and running a label. Overcoming the challenges faced is half the fun!”
Prefer an e-mag reading experience? No problem! This article is also available in our 28 July 2018 digital issue, which you can access here.
Louisa is currently pursuing a Masters of Development Practice overseas, majoring in community development. She is an editorial associate and freelance writer with Leaderonomics. An extrovert who loves the outdoors; she thinks change is exciting and should be embraced. Chat with her by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.