Malaysian senior turns passion for making vinyl sleeves into thriving business


Learning new skills is key to staying relevant and engaged, says Rusli. Photos: The Star/Samuel Ong

Eight years ago, music enthusiast Rusli Hashim was sifting through his old vinyl collection and realised some of the album covers of singers like P. Ramlee, Saloma and Kartina Dahari were damaged.

This led him to a creative solution – restoring and creating new covers.

“Back then, my daughter was a graphic (design) undergrad at Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) in Shah Alam, and I asked her to do the artwork, which I got printed,” says Rusli, 68, during an interview in Subang Jaya, Selangor, recently.

Rusli has hundreds of records in his collection.Rusli has hundreds of records in his collection.Little did the former advertising and marketing manager know that his foray into creating album covers was the beginning of a unique venture.

“Making record covers was never intended to be a business, but some of my newfound record-listening friends saw the covers and were impressed. Nobody else was doing it,” says the father of three.

“One of my friends from Singapore commissioned me to work on album covers of a few Malay rock bands like Search, Lefthanded and Sweet Charity. Soon, word just spread and I started receiving more and more orders.”

He is said to be the only Malaysian who makes new replacement record covers.

“I do it as a passion, appreciating good design and making people happy with the job done. It’s a small business, too tedious and doesn’t appeal to others, and people just leave me to ‘monopolise’ this business,” jokes Rusli, who was born in Rembau, Negri Sembilan.

Fix-it man

Rusli’s journey into the field of album cover restoration began with a deep-rooted love for music that dates back to the 1960s and 70s.

“I went through the vinyl era in my teenage years. My friends and I played records of groups like Santana, Deep Purple and Grand Funk Railroad and blues albums by Muddy Waters, Johnny Winter, and Freddie King.

“In those days, there weren’t compact discs. When compact discs came to the market in the 1980s, many people stopped listening to records.

“But fortunately, some music lovers kept vinyl for sentimental reasons and also because the covers were nice.

“It is very interesting that vinyl have made a comeback in the last few years. This is because people realise the analogue sound from records is much more superior.”

Rusli is not a graphic designer, but design is not alien to him as he worked in the advertising and marketing field for decades.Rusli is not a graphic designer, but design is not alien to him as he worked in the advertising and marketing field for decades.He admits that his background in advertising and marketing, combined with his knack for design, helped him with the process involved in creating album covers.

“I worked in the advertising and marketing field for decades. I was even an art promoter and art-book publisher at one time. I’m not a graphic designer, but design is not alien to me.

“So, for a person with the exposure that I had, I knew how to get the job done. The most challenging process of making covers is the preparation of the artwork. Finding picture references can be a big challenge as some of these images are over 50 years old. On top of that, most images require touching-up or photoshopping as the original photos can be of bad quality.”

His children help him with the artwork during weekends and he pays them for their assistance.

Rusli crafts two cover types. The first mirrors the original, serving as replacements for covers over 50 years old, damaged by moisture or silverfish, while the second sees him coming up with new designs, notably for gramophone records and Malay cassettes.

When it comes to recreating new album covers, he ensures each record cover has the artists’ name and photo, and the list of songs on the album. Each album cover is meticulously crafted to visually convey the album’s message. He collaborates with his children to explore themes, colour schemes, and typography choices, ensuring each design is a meaningful reflection of the music.

His dining table is his workstation where he creates his masterpieces. His must-have tools include a cutting mat, scissors, ruler, glue and utility knife.

'I am doing it because of my passion for art and it is an outlet for my creativity,' says Rusli.'I am doing it because of my passion for art and it is an outlet for my creativity,' says Rusli.

Over the years, Rusli has amassed over 7,000 artworks of Malay, English, Chinese, Hindi, and Tamil record covers. He prides himself on producing high-quality album covers.

The printing process requires professional equipment and, of course, expertise.

He compiles orders and sends them to the printer once a week. After printing, the final step involves manually folding and gluing the cover together. It takes him about an hour to complete one cover.

As a retiree, Rusli isn’t driven by profit in the running of his home business. He reckons that his prices are reasonable: RM20 for LP (long play 12-inch record covers) and RM10 for EP (extended play seven-inch record covers).

Rusli creates new designs, notably for gramophone records and Malay cassettes. Photo: Rusli HashimRusli creates new designs, notably for gramophone records and Malay cassettes. Photo: Rusli Hashim“I don’t make much. I am doing it because of my passion for art and it is an outlet for my creativity. I don’t promote (them). My happy and satisfied customers promote (them) for me. So it’s through word of mouth. I like to be mysterious. Like Japanese master sword makers or top songket weavers or keris makers. We just focus on our work and never think of promotion. That’s the hallmark of true craftsmen.”

He adds that one of his most memorable and challenging projects was creating covers for old gramophone records from the 1940s.

“It was quite a problem to get good photos of these old artistes. But I enjoyed it because I got to know more about these old artistes and their songs,” shares Rusli.

Adapting to the tech era

While some seniors opt for relaxation in retirement, the fatherly figure emphasises the value of staying engaged. He adds that seniors should keep active to maintain mental vitality, and ensure a fulfilling and purposeful twilight phase of life.

Although Rusli is almost 70, he continues to engage in various hobbies like furniture restoration and home repairs, besides working on new album covers.Although Rusli is almost 70, he continues to engage in various hobbies like furniture restoration and home repairs, besides working on new album covers.“Retirement is a dangerous word for me. I’m like those old-school folks from the 1950s who never retire. They work till their last breath.

“Although I’m close to 70, I continue to engage in various hobbies like furniture restoration, playing the keyboard and guitar, deep sea fishing, and home repairs,” says Rusli.

He holds dear to the “5F” principle (faith, family, friends, fitness and finances) in his pursuit of happiness. This principle, he says, should apply to everyone who seeks a balanced life.

“We should have faith in whatever our religion teaches us. We should strive for a happy family life. Friendship can only develop when there is common interest. Look for activities we enjoy where we can meet people.

“Fitness is equally important. Moderation is key to being healthy. Don’t take too much sugar, carbs or alcohol. Too much of anything is a recipe for disaster.

“It’s essential to be financially independent. It is easy to make money these days if we can follow the trend,” he says.

Age, he feels, is not a barrier if seniors want to pursue online ventures.

Rusli holds dear to the 5F principle (faith, family, friends, fitness and finances) for a balanced life.Rusli holds dear to the 5F principle (faith, family, friends, fitness and finances) for a balanced life.

“The next big thing is AI and we should not be left behind in this.”

His advice for seniors who are reluctant to embrace new technology is simple: “Just do it. The world is constantly changing, and learning new skills is key to staying relevant and engaged, regardless of age.

“As for the future, I don’t have a specific plan. I’m just keeping myself occupied by making record covers, selling vinyl records online, and helping my friend with marketing and promotions for his seafood restaurant in Bukit Kiara, Kuala Lumpur.

“I like to share knowledge. A lot of my customers are young adults and I do enjoy guiding them when they drop by my home studio.”


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