Many thanks for those who commented on my previous blogs. I actually thought after replying to everyone, I should delete the replies. Guess that was a wrong move. Blog is not e-mail, my bad. Why am I blogging this topic today? Please bear with me as this is pretty long but i think is important.
This all started when I was listening to a local radio chart countdown on Saturday afternoon. It was a good way to really get an update on what's popular in Hong Kong and I will do so every possible chance I get. As I was listening, I suddenly realize that each song that was played was really awful and sound monotonous. Yes, there are many new acts which is a good sign but none of them are
special'. Not bad singers but just bad songs. Also, you don't reallyfeel' they are singing with passion or soul. Technically great but emotionally weak. Song production is really similar from one to another. As my colleague would say, it always starts with C. Is this what Hong Kong Music is becoming? I ask myself that Hong kong is such a cosmopolitan country and a melting pot of various cultures but why musically we are so behind?
Why, I ask is this happening?
I really blame it on the guy who invented karaoke. Hong Kong is no longer a society that cherish uniqueness, adventure or curious for something new. Instead it's a society that longs for the same, similarity and safety. Everyone wants to be the next Jacky Cheung, Andy Lau, Sammi Cheng, Leo Ku or Eason Chan. No one really wants to be themselves anymore. I don't blame them cause when the craze started we all sang to the lyrics and watching the music videos of our idols lip synching and even think we are them for that 4 minutes. It was a fantastic experience and karaoke industry exploded. At one stage karaoke turnover was bigger than recorded music business in Asia!!!
All the unique and good HK artists nowadays in Hong Kong either grew up in International school or studied abroad. Eason grew up in UK. Khalil grew up in Hawaii. Nicholas and Edison from International schools and went abroad to further their studies. They all are exposed to so many different music genre and karaoke was not a dominat in their life.
2) COVER VERSION
After the karaoke boom started, the Hong Kong music business is thriving and stars are created almost weekly. But Record Company (that's what they are called at that time) faces a huge problem. There are not enough songs to feed the machine. Solution? Do cover versions of other people songs. It doesn't matter where it's from as long it's usable and is
karaoke-friendly". This term was so widely use it almost becoming a music industry term. Write akaraoke friendly' song!!!!! The good news is that Western or Japanese songs became huge hits as well by piggybacking on Cantonese versions of the songs. Anzen Tetai, Chage & Aska, Sandra, Pepsi & Shirley, Janet Jackson, Finzi Kontini (who you ask? they are the original singer of "Cha Cha Cha").
Suddenly it all stops when the broadcast authority said that they will no longer play cover version on radio to protect local musicians in particularly songwriters. But the supply of local good songs runs short of demand. Suddenly, second rated songs are OK's by A&R managers for singers to sing to continue feeding the machine.
Commercial Radio has always been the cutting edge of music on radio and I applaud them for all their work of moving the industry forward. They always seem to be cooler and trendier than the other stations even till now. I enjoyed Chi Chung "Quote Zone" a lot as my only source for Western Music when I first arrived in Hong Kong. However, suddenly there is a disconnect between domestic music and Western music. Kids starting to lose interest in western trends and with the above 2 factors still feature strongly, slowly the new generation starts to get stale and setting low standards on the musical needs. Radio starts to program "safe music" to satisfy commercial needs. Record companies also feeding what the consumer wants rather than taking them forward. TVB also did the same and before long the whole market grew stale. Year end awards no longer shows the same excitement compared to the days of Alan Tam, Anita Mui, Leslie Cheung or Jacky Cheung anymore. The media tried very hard but as music was not progressing they give the same award to the same artists singing the same songs. Ballads rule or should I say "karaoke friendly songs".
4) SONG WRITERS
Songwriters facing the same issue of whether to satisfy commercial needs or creative needs. I actually spoke to some publishing company executive about whether this is a problem songwriters is aware of and the answer is a resounding yes! I said, would it make a difference if they write in Mandarin and then change it later to Cantonese as Mandarin as a language seemed to create better melodies. I also ask whether producer is over producing songs because the melody is to difficult to differentiate and again the answer is a resounding yes! This needs to change.
With all the above factors, slowly and surely the Cantonese music scene has come to a standstill. New artists don't need to sing from the heart anymore. Good vocal technique is adequate. The rest of the process will be taken care of by uber producers and super record execs.
The problem with all this is that the world around us has moved on. Look at Taiwan who at one time was not respected by Hong Kong entertainment industry and has now overtaken us and create Big Regional Superstars. It used to be the HK Heavenly Kings but instead of Leon, Andy, Jacky & Aaron, there are now Jay Chou, Lee Hom, Show & David Tao. Sammi, Miriam & Kelly are now replaced by Jolin, Yanzi & Angela. The scariest thing is that some of the Taiwanese stars are now struggling to hold on as well. Taiwan Idol TV shows are upsetting the balance with the likes of Jam, Yoga and Aska (at least their "English" names are creative) doing really well regionally. Is this the start of the 3rd coming?
I think there is definitely an opportunity for a new generation of superstars to emerge? What will the new superstars do? Sing well, dance well, write songs, produce songs or all of the above? Will there be a chance for Hong Kong artist to shine? Will the HK music scene change for the better? I really think it's possible but the change cannot be done by me alone.
Aspiring singers need to expose themselves to various music cultures and infuse their own creativity and created something unique but accessible by `normal' people. Pushing the boundary step by step. If you are not comfortable with Cantonese then sing in Mandarin? It doesn't need to be a ballad. It can be a rap, rock, jazz, soul, funk, nu-metal as long as it's good and you like it and most comfortable with. Good news is that there is a superstar in every genre of music there is.
Music companies need to think of artist career and be more market & consumer aware. "Karaoke friendly songs" are no longer the in term. If a song is a hit, it will be a karaoke hit. Don't follow the market. lead them. I remember people sang to LMF karaoke and you will never see us telling MC Yan or Davy to write karaoke songs. They will just tell us to" F" ourselves. Sometimes artist needs time to grow and also understand their consumers.
Media needs to start educating the consumer that there is a whole wide world of music out there. Be adventurous with the playlist but don't send them to the orbit with your knowledge. They have lost all Western music sense and consumer needs time to get back into it. Instead of programming Sigur Ros, try Coldplay or Keane. Instead of Method Man, Music Soulchild or Kayshia Cole, try introducing them to Chris Brown, Usher and Rihanna. Internet and You Tube has been a revolution as well for us not relying on been force feed by media and allow an ordinary person to experience new music themselves.
I am proud my Hong Kong team has develop Hong Kong best hope in Khalil Fong as the best our chance for superstardom in the region. Why? He is multi talented, writes his own songs and the man/boy has got serious amount of "soul". Great family support and upbringing (don't drink, don't smoke) and most of all a totally "unique" package. I do hope that he is not the only one and people like Eason, Janice, Kay & Justin will all continue to develop into something
unique' andspecial' as well with their companies and rebuild the HK music scene into a dominant powerhouse again.
Common, let's hear it for the HK music scene. Write to me with your ideas. Maybe, the people in AnD will spearhead a new revolution?
The Passionate Music Man