How Pop Culture Failed Me But Led Me To The Science of A&R
I left the music industry in some form almost 2 years ago. For a kid who got in at 15, I was grateful I made it to 39. This writing is to help those who work in the business of music production or artist management understand what the exactly the f — — I learnt at pop school.
I am no Timbaland but I’ve spent 25 years of my life chasing beats, rhymes and melodies. I spent most of my career strategizing successes and failures. Like my peers, I used to aspire recognition. These days, things have changed.
Asia is a large marketplace but cultural fragmentation has hindered the quick proliferation of pop culture until the arrival of social media. It makes no sense for me to criticize a system that borne me. The music labels are as glamorous as they have always been and I know this cause they were my biggest clients and also competitors when trying to convince a new artist to roll with me. People are practical and how many bets have you made in your life that turned out real sweet for you?
In my industry, I am many different pseudonyms but it is not relevant in this writing because you probably do not know me. I just wish to share with you three things I learned from the music business.
1.Credits are functional. Namedropping is playground shit.
High School Musical was a big success and “Breaking Free” was a teenage anthem. But they were not my successes. I was the receiver of a generous gift from Disney but you don’t remember the Asian version of “Breaking Free” right? “Disney” however is like a blue Facebook verified tick on a resume. Be practical. Don’t kid yourself, you are not Max Martin.
In Greater China, if I told you I once produced a song for Hebe 田馥甄 and you were an average joe, you would think I’m poppin’ off. If you don’t know Hebe, just google and try to keep up. Truth is, I wrote a b-side on her first album which was somewhat a success. The album, not my song. I have by far the lowest views. In fact, the executive producer, a generous mentor to me, produced most of it and I just vocals but he gave me producing credits. He basically hooked me up with a credit I did not really deserve. I think I did it to be able to kick it with this “star” who I found very enchanting in real life. I was just crushin’. I however am not responsible for the success of the album or her career. I do not have that twisted.
Like most guys who were teenagers in the 90s, I learned quickly to ride or die. I learned as a teenager never to sit on the fence or play both sides. In fact, I’ve been so down for artist I have worked with throughout my now former career that I got to live a lot of those stories you hear about the music industry. The good and the bad.
My theory is simple : Stick with the artist till the artist does not want to stick with you anymore and learn to not take it personal as time goes.
If you are a record label boss, producer, manager, marketer, become friends with the person who is the artist first. If you can accept him/her , then you’ve succeeded in having a genuine relationship. It is healthy for both business and personal. The music business is not a bank , bro. It’s a marketplace of emotions that create stories that become songs.
Be genuine also means learning to let go because there is nothing healthier for an artist to grow and as an A&R or producer, that’s an ego cock-block. Check yourself on that.
Me and Kimberley are on a music-hiatus but we are mad cool. My homie’s got a career to chase and I got tons of science homework. What’s funny is out of everything recorded and filmed? Our last song together turned out to be our best collaboration ever.
3. Bet on the young guy.
This is an unlisted video that for some reason I forgot to set on private. What’s more important is the song. A beautiful slow jam from my former assistant Red Dragon who I am so proud of today. I watch peers get proteges and mentor them but me and Dragon ate lunch, talked history and science, made some music and ended early on most days for two years.
Producers are afraid to be irrelevant. Don’t ask me why I know. We hired assistants or proteges but how many of us really let them fly, even if it means kicking your ass at it. Tough to swallow but so necessary when you pull your career out 30 years and look back.
I told Dragon this song was beautiful in 2015. Julia recorded it last year and we had a video we kept unlisted cos we didn’t know what to do with it.
Dragon’s song was always beautiful. It was released last August and it was buried. Until the wonderful people of the internet chanced upon these songs through Google’s complex recommendation algorithms.
We were 20000 for like a year and we went 400000 views in just two weeks and Julia is still unknown.
I should not be writing this, I should be figuring this out.
The future of all of this is going to change everything so nothing matters.
Blockchains, the acceleration of human understanding of technology will level the playing fields again. This is another article on its own.
I hope I got you thinking. Here’s the jam, enjoy.