First of all, we would like to know a bit of your background story. How did you get involved in the music industry?
Oh, it went a long way back. I started learning the piano when I was 5 years old. At that time, I wasn’t interested at all as I was too young. But it all begins when I was 12 years old, I started playing some pop music and picked up the electone organ. At that time, I took part in some competitions and received some awards. This is also how I received my scholarship from the Yamaha School. However, when I turned 14, I decided to be a film composer instead after hearing some great film scores that touched my heart. If you ask me now, I would position myself as a film composer- This is what I do, I write music for films.
What did you do to embark on your journey after you decide to be a film composer at the age of 14?
Work hard like an apprentice! I continued my learning in Yamaha at that time with the goal to study music in America. I started working and studying at the same time as a professional pianist when I was 17. Then one day, I was introduced and offered to work for Polygram records in Singapore and thus this kick-started my journey in the music industry. At that time, I met with the late Teresa Teng when she was living in Singapore and had the opportunity to work alongside with her. Music is all about opportunities and grabbing them. I was fortunate and my hard work was paid off.
What made you want to continue this as a career?
I was offered a job at 18 to be a full-time Musician. I worked with one of the top bands in Singapore, playing with top musicians, like Richard Ortega, Tony Zee, Patrick Seet, Horus Wee etc. I was still working at Polygram Records at that time while serving my National Service. I then joined the Music and Drama Company and got the opportunity to do music arrangements for their Big Band. After I finished my NS, I decided to form a Jazz Fusion Band and In 1983, I went to Los Angeles and took up a Composing and Arranging Full time Program and in the end, majoring in Film Scoring.
It is the passion and inspiration that I had when I was young that pushes me on. I also had many opportunities to continue my passion. To be honest with you, I actually wanted to be an architect but there were no opportunities for me then. There were no chances for me to take up drawing and design courses. I love drawing buildings when I was young. Therefore, it is God’s will to provide me with all the chances to become the “architect” for music. Henceforth, with God’s blessings, my music path has been smooth.
What are some of your more significant projects?
Hmm apart from those 80s pop songs that you grew up listening to, I must say it has to be those movie projects which I had done. After years of experience, I started doing bigger projects. Counting my blessings, I got to do one of Taiwan’s biggest films- “The warriors of the Rainbow Seediq Bale” This is one of the biggest films ever made in Taiwan. I also did some international television commercials like VISA, SIA, Capital Land, Eva Air etc. Apart from all this, I also composed the music for this documentary film- “Beyond Beauty: Taiwan from Above”. This documentary film broke the Taiwan box office records for the largest opening during the weekend and the highest total gross box tickets for a Taiwan documentary. To add to its achievement, it also won the best documentary award at the 50th Golden Horse Awards and the 47th Houston International Film Festival Gold Remy Awards for being the best original music score.
What is the greatest challenge in your work?
The greatest challenge for me is “choosing what genre of music I want to do or I want to specialize in”. When I first started, I was doing pop music. It is a job that I didn’t choose but because of making a living.
It is the time when you had to follow your passion and for me, it is film scoring and that was the challenge. There wasn’t any film industry in Singapore at that time. I was blessed to be introduced to some foreign directors and producers.
In this business, you must be prepared and plan ahead to achieve your goals. I have been building up my personal demos and show reels all these years so that when it is time to showcase them, I am ready. The crucial part is that you must always be ready to present yourself to the potential clients. Awards are important as this will bring you more and bigger jobs.
What Audio-Technica equipment are you using and how are they working out for you?
I like the ATH-E70 a lot. The sound is very natural. Especially when I do recordings and conduct the orchestras. For the ATH-E70, I am able to use both sides of the earphones as it’s very clear and natural. In the past, I couldn’t do it with other earphones. I had to leave one side open to check intonation of the instruments.
On the headphones side, the ATH-R70x is very comfortable. Amongst all the headphones I have, this pair would be one of the most comfortable pairs I have owned.
How would you describe the music scene now compared to when you first started out?
Oh, tons of differences. Due to the influence of the internet, it is easy to post your music now. But the main issue would be copyright. It is easy to post your music online for free but anyone can manipulate your music and use them for free too.
To me, I will never do music for free. It’s my work and my profession and I should be respected for that. It is important for content creators to understand how to protect their works and ensure that they are properly compensated.
And in addition, due to the ease of using the internet, people are used to the lower quality audio and music as they are listening through lower resolution audio files like mp3 or streaming for convenience sake. Many people have lost the ability to appreciate quality music and sound and thus they also can’t tell the differences between High and Low-resolution audio nowadays.
However only in the cinemas, you can’t cheat. When the movies are being played back from quality speakers, the truth would be obvious. This is also why for film scoring, quality is much more important than anything else because you could hear all the details including unwanted noise from the Orchestras like the noise of the chairs, breathing, turning pages of the scores etc. Thus we are very careful with recordings and making sure the noise is kept to the minimal.
What advise do you have for budding musicians and composers?
The common mistakes that budding musicians or composers make is always thinking of big projects. Everybody wants to think big and take home the glory. But remember, you need to work on all kinds of projects big or small to gain experience and to build a good portfolio.
When you are new, film investors will never risk their investments hiring a rookie to handle their “important” movies. You need to have a good portfolio and experience to assure your investors that you are the one that can do the job.
Be patience young men and women, build the right network as connections are important. In order to prove yourself, you need to know the right people even before you can show them your portfolio. I hope this helps….
What are your plans currently and for the future?
Oh, that’s exciting… should I reveal it to Audio-Technica? Hahaha….
It has been my dream to set up a contemporary music college with the goal of raising the standard of music in Asia.