“When was the last time you bought an album from a local artiste that blew your mind all the way through? It’s not that we don’t have the talent – I’ve seen so many local musicians and singers that can blow global pop stars out of the water with their virtuosity.” – unmodulatedblog.
The truth is, the local artistes who make it to an international level are far and few in between. And the ones who have definitely invested sweat, blood, and tears to get to where they are today. There’s a majority who struggle for years and still don’t get credit for all their hard work, and when they don’t, they kind of peter out and “disappear”.
Our fears/worries about the local music industry aren’t exactly unfounded because even legendary solo singer Dato’ Sheila Majid, Malaysia’s Queen of Jazz, once said that the Malaysian music industry doesn’t get the respect that it rightfully deserves and because of that, it may one day die.
The math is simple, really. Without talents, there’s no music, and without music, there will be no industry.
As such, we asked some of our buddies from the local music scene to share stories of their personal struggles while trying to pursue music in Malaysia. And they’ve graciously obliged (thanks guys!).
Here’s what they had to say:
No prizes for guessing what kind of music in which language generally appeals to the average Malaysian. English is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world and pretty much a universal language. And music, well, we always say that music is a universal language because it has the power to unite.
However, local artistes are still finding it quite a challenge to push English-language music to the Malaysian audience. “Due to the diverse cultures, languages, and music preferences of the majority Malaysian, it becomes a challenge for most artistes to make music that will be accepted by the masses,” Leonard Chua of An Honest Mistake explained.
To add on, music is promoted in a very language-specific way on radio stations i.e. English language music on English language channels, Malay language music on Malay language channels. You get the idea.
Good looking does not equal talented. Locally made does not equal bad. Unfortunately, a percentage of the Malaysian audience doesn’t share the same sentiment.
For example, there are a lot of Malaysian artistes who are talented, yet they struggle to get people to attend their shows. A rep from local band One Buck Short told us exclusively, “If you’re super good looking, but don’t really have talent, you could still make it in our industry. Basically if you’re considered a good looking person, then you can make a few bucks here. If you’re extremely good looking, you’ll make more. If you’re extremely good looking and can dance on stage, you’ll make even more. If you’re extremely good looking and you can sing and speak Malay, you’ll make even more. So on and so forth. Marketability. Our country values looks over talent. What a shame.”
“The problem also lies in the perception towards homegrown/Malaysian-made music. It has always been less positive simply because it’s a ‘local product’,” Leonard added.
It probably ties in with our #1 and #2 points, but support is key, and that is perhaps one of the biggest challenges that our local musicians face. In fact, it’s a real tough wall to break. This goes beyond building a strong social media following because even though a local musician has tens of thousands of followers on his/her social media platforms, it doesn’t mean that he/she will be able to command a huge crowd at shows.
“I was just speaking to a very talented musician friend of mine the other day. He has 18,000 followers on Instagram and his songs frequent our national radios often. But he confessed to me the other day, ‘I may have 18k followers, but none will come to my shows’,” a source from the music industry revealed.
Besides, social media followings are all very subjective and not enough for artistes to cast their net wider to promote themselves and their music to potential fans.
While we’re on the topic of support, let’s talk about platforms because it goes hand-in-hand. Once upon a time, there existed a radio show specifically targeted to promoting our local talents regardless of language. It was Fly FM’s “Campur Chart” in 2007, a one-hour slot on Sunday evenings.
Not only did the radio station help promote the work of Malaysian artistes in both the Malay and the English language, during its prime, “Campur Chart” went on to do shows that went beyond the airwaves such as the on-ground “Campur Chart Goes Live” events (a monthly Laundry Bar series in 2008) where local artistes e.g. Estrella, One Buck Short, Bittersweet, Kyoto Protocol, Pesawat, Love Me Butch, They Will Kill Us All, Broken Scar, just to name a few, were invited to perform. Fly FM even hosted “Campur Chart Goes Live” tours to other Malaysian states such as Ipoh, Penang, Malacca, and Johor.
Needless to say, it boded well with our Malaysian musicians and was highly regarded by the community but unfortunately, “Campur Chart” and its live shows ended in 2012. When it was axed, a major platform that provided huge reach for our talents was also axed.
The harsh truth in one word – money. Our local artistes, they may come with a chockfull of talent but not necessarily the same volume in finances. To record an album, aside from talent, you’d need instruments, people if you’re in a band, a producer, a studio – the bare basics for your very own masterpiece. “Funding a music project is never easy on the pocket. Although I was very fortunate to receive a lot of help from friends in the industry along the way, I worked a day job and spent all my money on my music,” revealed ex-John’s Mistress member and singer-songwriter Kevin Teh (Broken Scar).
As for how much it costs to put out an album, Leonard shared, “On average, Malaysian studios charge RM1,000 per track depending which studio you go to. So that’s inclusive of studio time and mixing. Then, the track needs to be sent for mastering (depending who you use) and then producing the hardcopy of the CD. Our last album cost about RM25,000, inclusive of printing 1000 copies of CD.”
Such is a real predicament of a chicken and egg situation – no money so no album, but without an album and therefore profit, there wouldn’t be monetary means for them to put themselves out there and release more music.
Not all hope is lost though!
Recently, Guinness Malaysia launched Amplify FM, an online platform that seeks to recognise and promote the hard work that our local talents put into making music. We’re talking about uninterrupted music from our homegrown Malaysia artistes 24/7 all day every day.
On top of providing a platform for artistes to push their music, Guinness’ Amplify Live Tour will also be returning in September with weekly shows in Ipoh, Penang, Johor, and the Klang Valley, before culminating in a 2-day celebration on 30th September and 1st October at Publika. The shows will feature our Malaysian talents and the best part is, they are admission-free!
The cherry on top is Guinness’ Amplify Academy, which includes workshops, seminars, performances from local acts, and a recording studio that will be giving 12 bands a chance to walk away with a professionally-produced recording. More information on Guinness Amplify FM can be found on their website or Facebook page.
It’s a start, and it may not sound like much to the average Malaysian, but this will go a long way for our local acts :)