I always get asked why our music industry is in such a bad state.
Everyone will always point to the familiar culprits: piracy, bad quality, lack of support – all the reasons we’ve heard many times before.
However, I think those reasons don’t address the core problem. The hard truth is this: We don’t have a regular supply of hits.
That’s it. That’s the reason. It’s not piracy, it’s not lack of support, it’s not “dumb” record companies and it’s certainly not “bad” Malaysian artists.
We JUST don’t have a regular supply of hits.
Any creative industry, like the music industry, is driven by hits. We see hit movies, we hear hit songs, we read best-sellers… everything is driven by hits.
The American and UK artists are capable of producing hits every day. If you live in Italy, France, Spain, Australia, Japan, you can also hear hits being born every day from the local music industry.
However, in Malaysia, local hits don’t happen every day. Or every week. It might happen once a month if we’re lucky. (Please note I’m talking about MASSIVE hits, the ones you can’t get out of your head.)
I don’t think it’s because of a lack of talent, because there is amazing raw talent in Malaysia. In fact, the quality of raw talent in Malaysia is just as good as I have heard anywhere else in the region.
What’s missing is the person I call “The Polisher”.
The Polisher is the guy who champions a raw talent, works with them and turns them into gold. The Polisher goes to the clubs, listens to demos, scours the internet and most importantly, BELIEVES in an artist that nobody has ever heard of yet.
The Polisher takes these artists, “polishes” their music and appeal to reach a level that can induce hysteria….yes…creating hits.
The Polisher convinces the record companies that his artist “is the next big thing”. The Polisher understands what the public wants and more importantly, what the public does not know they want yet.
George Martin “polished” The Beatles. Phil Ramone “polished” Billy Joel. Colonel Parker “polished” Elvis. The late Mike Bernie “polished” Sudirman.
Some of you are probably going, “Hey you mean like a Manager right? Or the A&R in the record company, the ones that go and sign artists?”
You are right. The Polisher could be any one of those roles and even a combination of those roles rolled up into one. The reason why I am hesitant to use the terms Manager or A&R is that these terms have been misused in Malaysia.
In Malaysia, an artist Manager is more like a personal assistant. And some record companies don’t even have A&Rs anymore, believing that anyone in the company can A&R, even though the majority of their staff specialises in promotions and distribution, not managing a creative talent.
That’s the problem. We have amazing raw talent and then we have some record companies whose main skill sets are promotions and distribution. There is no “Polisher” level in the process.
If you have raw talent on one end and then on the other end you have record companies that just takes whatever these raw talents produce and throw it into the market, you will end up with a shot-gun approach of getting hits. You just throw everything to the wall and hope something sticks.
When nothing sticks, because nothing has been “polished”, the record companies blame these raw artists for having no quality.
In Malaysia, an artist Manager is more like a personal assistant. And some record companies don’t even have A&Rs anymore
Artists and record companies, whether they admit it or not, need a “polisher”. The Polisher is the one who knows how to bring out the true potential of the artists so they have a better chance of survival when record companies throw them to the public.
That’s why I didn’t understand why A&R departments were slashed first when the industry faced hard times. I also don’t understand why artist managers behave more like personal assistants.
The record companies and the artists must choose A&Rs and managers that can lead the artists to music industry greatness, “polishers” that can turn an unseen gem into gold. This will then help build a foundation that will produce a regular supply of hits, which is what the industry badly needs to grow.
The problem is a “polisher” is one of the most misunderstood jobs in the world. There is no formal education to understand it, no trade magazines to read, no formal mentoring programme.
I do not deny that we have some hits around us. A handful of artists have managed to polish themselves, acting as A&R and Manager as well as being an artist. However as an industry, we can’t be sitting around hoping and waiting for artists like these to appear like magic. How can we build an industry based on hoping something good will come along?
We need to build a strong foundation so that even artists who do not know how to polish themselves will be able to generate a regular supply of hits.
We need The Polisher.
Ahmad Izham Omar is an award-winning music producer who occasionally runs music quizzes on his Twitter page @ahmadizhamomar