Where will Malaysia’s next big music star come from?

  • Music
  • Monday, 16 Sep 2019

Have you ever wondered how some of Malaysia’s biggest music artistes were discovered? Here are a few examples.

Sudirman got his big break when he won the Johan Bintang RTM competition in 1976. Datuk Seri Siti Nurhaliza also got her big break through a local singing competition show – Bintang HMI in 1995, when she was only 16 years old!

Sheila Majid was discovered after she performed at an event when she was 17, and asked to go for an audition in 1982.

Faizal Tahir was the runner-up of the first season of One In A Million in 2006, and has gone on to become one of the most respected artistes in the Malaysian music industry.

In the late 1990s, Malaysian Chinese artistes started making waves in Taiwan. This included Fish Leong and Penny Tai, who were both discovered at the Halo Songwriting Contest, and Michael Wong Guang Liang and Victor Wong Ping Guan, who used to be a singer-songwriting duo that had submitted a demo to Rock Records, who signed them on as artistes.

Sudirman got his big break after winning RTM's Johan Bintang RTM in 1976. - Filepic

There are many more successful Malaysian artistes we have not mentioned here, who have had various starting points in their careers.

But these days, we are seeing a slight change in the way musicians are discovered, thanks to the rise of social media and streaming platforms.

Take, for instance, Yuna, who started out uploading her music on MySpace, which caught the attention of a local indie-pop label.

Now based in the United States, Yuna has collaborated with the likes of Tyler, The Creator, Jay Park, and most famously, Usher, who was featured on her breakout single, Crush, which peaked at No.3 on the US Billboard Adult R&B chart.

Elizabeth Tan started her career through uploading videos of herself singing covers on YouTube, before making a breakthrough with her 2014 song Knock Knock.

Since then, she has gone on to release several hit singles and albums, and won the Best Female Artiste award at the 14th Anugerah Planet Muzik.

Other examples of Malaysian musicians who were discovered on the Internet (in one way or the other) are notoriously outspoken Namewee, hijab-wearing rapper Bunga, and singer-songwriter Priscilla Abby.

So does this mean that the Malaysian music industry is now looking to the Internet for new Malaysian artistes these days?

launch od Yuna X Christy Ng

Internet killed the radio star

According to Darren Choy, managing director of Warner Music Malaysia, the rise of social media and online platforms have certainly helped make it easier for labels to find talent.

Darren Choy, Managing director of Warner Music. Photo: The Star/Afique Yusoff
Darren Choy, Managing director of Warner Music. Photo: The Star/Afique Yusoff

“What’s happened is that there is more talent than ever to choose from these days.

“In the old days, we had to go out to scout for talents, or have people send in their tapes and CD demos,” Choy recalled. “We still talk to producers, songwriters and musicians all the time to see if they can point us to a potential talent.

“But now, with technology, especially social media, we have a new way of looking for talent. Whether it is YouTube or streaming platforms, there has been an emergence of many new talents.”

This has created a bigger pool of potential artistes to pick from. “Those days we would have, maybe, three potential talents we could have picked to develop. Nowadays, we can choose from a pool of, say, 100!

“The main problem now is whom out of those 100 talents do we pick. It’s a good problem to have, nonetheless!”

Fred Chong, founder and CEO of WebTV Asia, concurred that social media and digital media have changed the way labels and production houses look for new Malaysia artistes.

Priscilla Abby already had a strong fanbase on her social media channels even before WebTV signed her. Photo: WebTV Asia.

“We still have people going out to scout for talents, but these days, we tend to start from the pool of Internet talent first. The opportunity for both label and talent to connect with each other is much easier now,” he says.

“The pool of talent is also wider now, thanks to all the digital platforms out there. But at the same time, because there are so many people vying for attention, it is also harder to sift through all the noise and pinpoint that rare gem that would be able to make it as a professional artiste.”

In 2013, Chong founded WebTV Asia, a digital media company established to help promote Internet content creators and their work.

Chong is a music producer who discovered, among others, Namewee, Hong Kong-based Karen Kong, and most recently, Sarawak-born Priscilla Abby.

Changing roles

All the same, Choy reckons the role of the record label has not changed much, as it is not just discovering an artiste that matters, but also what you do after you discover him or her.

Malaysian female rapper Bunga had a strong social media presence before she signed on to Warner Music. - AP

“How do we bring the artiste to another level? That’s where the music label comes in,” he said, adding that there is less of a need to ‘package’ and market an artiste these days because many of them already have established their image and reputation through their social media audience.”

He added: “In the past, there was a lot of creation and packaging of artistes, and labels would depend a lot on traditional media to promote them. These days, there’s no need to do that because the way they appear on social media is who they are, so there is no need to change them too much.”

“It’s a digital revolution, but at the same time, artistes still need to rely on the A&R system if they want to go further,” Chong said, giving the example of Abby, who already had a strong fanbase when WebTV Asia signed her.

“When my team ‘discovered’ Priscilla, she already had a fanbase in Taiwan just from her YouTube alone! She has thousands of fans on Facebook and YouTube, and 60% of them are from Taiwan. That definitely made things easier,” he said.

“After we signed her, it was a matter of helping her further connect with her fans.

Chong is the founder and Group CEO of WebTV Asia. - WebTV Asia.

“We helped her build her YouTube channel further, connect her with the best songwriters, the best producers, image consultants, dance classes, brands – that’s our job now, as her label and management company.

“While many social media stars think they can do all that by themselves, personally, I think that a good artiste needs to focus on being the best artiste they can be, and let the label handle the rest.”

Another thing that has changed drastically is the means to bring Malaysian artistes overseas.

“Music has become borderless,” said Choy. “Now Malaysian music can travel beyond these shores easily. The great thing about streaming is, once the music is put out, it’s available all over the world. It’s given us a new way to market Malaysian music.”

Ultimately, while a record label can give a potential artiste the means and tools to make it big, Chong said it is down to the artistes themselves to work hard, no matter where they are.

Namewee is one of the artistes Chong discover and signed. - WebTV Asia.

“Namewee has made a name for himself in Taiwan these days, but he also had to work really hard for it,” Chong said.

“He used to make hundreds of his CD demos and ride around Taipei on his motorcycle, passing them out to record labels. And none of them ever came back. He just wasn’t ready then, and his songs were not good enough. But he kept going, and look where he is now.

“The point is, if you’re not good enough today, that doesn’t mean you won’t be in the future. If you want to be an artiste, you have to keep at it – keep writing, keep recording ... keep doing what you do, and put yourself out there. There are so many channels to do that now – YouTube, Facebook – don’t wait.

“If you’ve got the talent, someone will notice you.”

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