Even with its many troubles, both the government and local musicians believe that there is hope yet for the Malaysian music scene.
KUALA LUMPUR: There is a perception that the government doesn’t care about its creative industry, especially when it comes to music. Aside from the official support and patronage of a few well-known personalities, many local musicians feel that they’ve been left to fend for themselves.
Yet Pemandu (Performance Management & Delivery Unit) director Fadhlullah Suhaimi Abdul Malek said that while measures designed to help musicians were in place, few artistes knew about them.
“On the government side, we’ve not communicated enough. As Pemandu, we try to shout as much as we can, but the owner of this space will still be the Ministry (of Information, Communications and Culture),” Fadhlullah told FMT recently.
At the same time, it was implied that the local music forefront, represented by the Recording Industry Association of Malaysia (RIM), had done little in this way as well.
Fadhlullah, is a director with Pemandu’s Communication Content & Infrastructure-National Key Economic Area or better known as CCI-NKEA, and is skewed towards the creative industry.
Explaining, Fadhlullah said that the government had come up with a National Creative Industry Policy (DIKN), designed to address Malaysia’s artistic issues, and that Pemandu had a week-long lab session with music industry heads in January this year.
He said that a total of RM120 million had been allocated for the creative industry, with an unspecified amount for music.
In the meeting, Pemandu agreed to a matching-grant model wherein artistes could get funds for music videos, marketing and other expenses from the government, but they would have to go through RIM to access this money.
“The industry guys would know and decide what would sell. The industry needs to figure out what works and the government facilitates that,” he said.
Citing Korean superstar PSY’s Gangnam Style, Fadhlullah said that the easiest way for artistes to get attention was through music videos.
With the matching grant in place, he added that RIM set a target of 30 music videos by the third quarter, and 90 videos by the end of the year.
However, Fadhlullah said that by September’s end, not a single music video had been made.
“We’ve not been able to put that money to RIM because there’s no products to put our grant to,” he said, adding that the industry needed to help itself.
‘Understand what works’
He implied that this would not be easy, given Malaysia’s fragmented creative industry. Citing an example, he said that there were about 14 different associations in Malaysia’s film and TV industry alone.
At the same time, he advised artistes here to keep to their creative integrity, yet understand what worked and what didn’t if they wanted to be heard.
“Today you have Flo Rida, and it ain’t going to beat Beastie Boys, but hey it sells. If our practitioners don’t appreciate market economics, you’re going to be syiok sendiri (self-gratifying).
“[Heavy metal band] Kromok is a good example. I heard them, and they’re cool, but they didn’t break into the greater market, so it became a niche play,” he said.
It might appear that when it comes to music, Malaysia is in a mess. However, if there is one thing that musicians here have in common, it is their relentless determination.
He said that various bands and personalities such as Love Me Butch, Pop Shuvit and Mizz Nina have continued to push on in the face of many adversities.
“The industry is troubled, but I don’t think you need to be hand-held. If platforms don’t exist, then go create it. If nobody does it, then go do your own thing,” he said.
At the same time, Pop Shuvit’s Jedidiah Wong (better known as JD) said that established musicians, especially those who made their fortune overseas, needed to set an example and provide opportunities for other bands to follow.
“Malaysia is still young. We’ve got a long way to go. The only way is up and out, so we have to focus on transforming music into an export product,” he said.
Technology has enabled musicians to bypass expensive studios and recording labels, allowing them to reach their fans through Facebook and Twitter. YouTube also gives many here an opportunity to be discovered by agents, as Zee Avi and Yuna have found out.
There are also more avenues for music today. Dedicated music festivals such as Urbanscapes, Rock The World, MTV World Stage Live and national talent search competitions have been around.
It was also revealed by Pemandu that the once-Malay-dominated Anugerah Industri Muzik (AIM) -Malaysia’s national music awards- would also have Chinese and Tamil-language categories in the future.
“Funds are being provided for that. I’m not sure if they can pull it off this year, but as a project, it is there,” Fadhlullah said, smiling.
“Some of our local acts have really made it big, but when you look at their portfolio and how they managed to reach the position they’re in, you’ll see a lot of small gigs, clever street marketing and perseverance,” he said.
Media must be supportive
But there are some artistes who were “too lazy” with getting in touch with the media, relying purely on their own social networking efforts.
Local media, he said, also had to do more than focus on big personalities and give up-and-coming artistes a chance.
Nevertheless, Siva added that more musicians today were being recognised.
“Over the past year, independent musicians have been dominating the national music awards platforms, TV advertising campaigns and radio charts. So obviously something has gone right, and is getting better,” he said.
The public, according to local music supporter Tarrant Kwok, also had an important role to play.
“The whole foreign-is-better-than-local mindset has to go away if we are ever to escape apathy about the local scene, because there’s some really nice stuff out there. Just that people can’t be bothered to look for it,” he said.
The rise of a more vibrant national music scene, was a sentiment that local rapper Ahmad Abdul Rahman (better known as Altimet) agreed with.
“I’d say it’s getting better. There’s been a conscious effort on the artistes’ side to reach out, and for Malaysian music consumers to actively seek out more content,” he said.
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