8 Ways For You To Make It As A Musician In Malaysia

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15 August 2021

By Petra Music

From the lyrical yearning of P. Ramlee’s Getaran Jiwa to Yuna’s haunting cover of Nirvana’s “Come As You Are”, there’s no doubt that Malaysia has an absolutely amazing music scene.

But try tuning in to any local radio station and you’d probably be hard-pressed to find tunes from local English-language artists. While Malay-language artists do get pretty decent airplay, their audience is primarily limited to Malay radio stations.

Don’t get me wrong, I have a lot of love for foreign artists, but oftentimes, most Malaysian musicians are overlooked by the local audience here.


Photo by ‘KIN x Yuna’ via Variety.com

And when they do get recognized, it’s because they’ve made it big in a foreign country i.e. Zee Avi and Yuna. Which makes it all the more sad because Malaysia does indeed have an abundance of talented (but unappreciated) musicians and artists.

So the question is – does the fault lie with our local broadcast stations or the Malaysian music industry itself?

This lack of appreciation is why most homegrown Malaysian artists struggle to break into the mainstream. Fortunately, thanks to the power of technology, digital marketing, and a growing interest in local talents, Malaysian musicians may finally get their time in the spotlight.

And this is why we decided to sit down with some of Malaysia’s most talented musicians to get their take on making it big in our local scene, and this is what we got.

1. Set goals and start planning your career

Whatever you do in life, always remember that it’s important to have a plan… And this includes starting a career as a musician.

Being creative is well and good, but having a business plan goes a long way towards guaranteeing your success as a musician.

This is why the first thing you need to do is set some goals to give yourself a sense of direction and purpose.

Here are some of questions that every aspiring musician should asking himself/herself:

Once you’ve answered those questions, start setting up a series of goals that you can start working towards.

These goals can range from writing and recording new material, booking gigs, or establishing contact with music industry professionals in order to get mentoring/tutoring.

And once you’re ready, it’s time to start working towards those goals.

On a side note, the life of a musician can be difficult at times. So if you’re looking to make a go of it, you can also include saving money as a part of your plan to become a professional musician.

All too often, aspiring musicians make the mistake of diving in with two feet without having any goals or a plan. And as a result, they end up falling into an endless cycle of frustration and repetition.

While it’s perfectly understandable to want to focus entirely on performing, it takes more than that to make it as a career musician.

Remember: this is going to be a long-term career for you, so it’s important that you stay on track. Always keep your goals in mind and keep working towards them.

2. Perform live whenever you can

Photo by Wan San Yip via Unsplash

We’ve got good news and we’ve got bad news.

The bad news is that COVID-19 lockdowns have made it nearly impossible for Malaysian musicians to survive. Under COVID-19 SOPs, restaurants, pubs, and cafés are not allowed to pay musicians for their performances.

But activities such as “indoor and outdoor busking” are allowed which means that you’ll still be able to play music in public.

In fact, Persatuan Pemuzik Malaysia (PPM) was given the greenlight by the government to allow buskers to perform at selected vaccination centres (PPVs).

Sure it’s a far cry from headlining festivals or even just performing at a glitzy bar, but you’ve got to get started somewhere, right?

Superstars like Ed Sheeran, Passenger, and Tash Sultana all kickstarted their musical careers as buskers. Ed Sheeran in particular, spent more than 10 years busking on the streets of London and living rough before he made it big.

Let’s not forget that Malaysia also has her fair share of musicians who started out playing in pubs or busking. Jaqueline Victor, Talitha Tan, and Dasha Logan are perfect examples of stars who cut their teeth playing in venues like No Black Tie and Alexis.

This is why it’s vital that you perform for as many people as you can. It doesn’t matter if things start off rough – the important part is that you’re out there honing your craft.

Regularly playing for a live audience will make you a much better musician and will significantly improve your stage confidence. And besides that, you can get plenty of feedback from your performance and adjust your performance accordingly.

It’s probably going to take a while for the events industry to get back on its feet. And this is why musicians need to start making their presence felt online.

Instagram Live, Twitch, Youtube, or even Facebook allow you to stream your performances to a live audience, so that way you can get accustomed to playing for an audience.

So once things get back to normal, you’ll be polished and ready to wow your audience with your skills.

3. Find yourself a mentor

As you probably know, the road to becoming a professional musician and artist isn’t exactly an easy one and the journey can be challenging and even lonely at times.

Besides having to find your sound, you’ll have to network and set up gigs while writing music. And that can really take a toll on a person.

This is why it’s important that you have a circle of friends and family who you can lean on for support.

Maybe you’ve been suffering from writer’s block or you’ve come to a crossroads at your career and you’re unsure of yourself, regardless it really helps to have people to talk to.

Besides having a support system in place, you may also want to consider getting in touch with an experienced musician who can help you grow from a musician into an artist or maybe even a producer. Someone who understands the in’s and out’s of the industry and been through it all.

Of course, it’s not easy trying to track down someone who has the relevant experience and is a good listener.

And this is why organizations like PETRA Music may be able to lend you a hand. Helmed by the legendary Michael Veerapen, PETRA Music aims to gather all of Malaysia’s most talented artists under one roof.

Here, you’ll be able to get in touch with a group of highly creative and capable individuals from various professional backgrounds.

All who are dedicated to the advancement of the Malaysian music scene. From studio recording services to mentorship programmes, PETRA Music has it all.

4. Give yourself the chance to enjoy the creative process

Each and everyone of us has a different creative process and we all have our own ways of working. Understandably, this can get stressful even during the best of times when you’re striving for perfection.

Whether you’re suffering from a creative block or simply just trying to get over your own anxiety, know this: everyone moves at their own pace.

Yes, it can get frustrating when things don’t work out. But never forget that anger only serves to cloud your judgement and only slows things down. Putting pressure on yourself in an already bad situation will just make things worse.

And when that happens, it’s time to take a walk. Go outside, take a breather, and clear your mind.

Remind yourself that the creative process is a long road and it takes time to get it right.

When Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins wrote “Siamese Dream”, he admitted that he felt tremendous pressure to make the perfect album.

This caused him to turn into a control freak and tried to control every aspect of the creative result.

While Corgan was (and still is) something of a control freak, the pressure from “Siamese Dream” permanently soured the relationship between the bandmates and things would never be the same again.

The very same thing can happen during your own creative process. Which is why you need to always keep your emotions in check and never let yourself get too carried away.

Because the last thing you want is to earn a reputation as a musician who’s difficult to work with and that is the beginning of the end.

5. Reach out to your local indie scene

Malaysia has always had an amazing local indie scene.

Ask anyone who grew up between the late 1990s and early 2000s, and they’ll tell you how awesome gigs like Rock The World was with the likes of Butterfingers, Hujan, Seven Collar T-Shirt, Love Me Butch, Pop Shuvit, and Damn Dirty Apes.

Besides rock, Malaysia’s local hip-hop scene was quite the sight to behold with Too Phat, Poetic Ammo, and even 4U2C.

But all of that doesn’t mean that the indie scene today isn’t flourishing. Far from it actually, with a new generation of musicians like SonaOne, and Bunkface just to name a few.

Before COVID-19, Malaysia had a surprising number of event spaces with weekly performances and open mic nights.

For example, Merdekarya was a place where more than one aspiring indie artist made his/her mark. Meanwhile Russell’s KL offered up chill tones and soulful music in a comfortable lounge environment.

And if you were looking for a more casual space, outlets like Alexis Bistro, Tom, Dick, and Harry’s, and Jao Tim have all featured their fair share of great acts.

Finally, there’s The Bee, a pet-friendly bar which has hosted the likes of Masego and Phum Viphurit just to name a few.

As you can see, we Malaysians have a strong love for the independent music scene. Whether it’s because we’ve always rooted for the underdog or simply our love for music, who’s to say?

Regardless of your genre, if you have a passion for music and a desire to perform, chances are good that there’s a place for you to be heard.

Take any and all opportunities to get yourself noticed, you’ll be surprised to see how welcoming Malaysian fans truly are.

6. Invent your own style

As a musician or performing artist, it’s important that you develop your own original identity and distinct style.

Look, we know it’s been said a million times, but if you want to stand out from the crowd, you have to be original.

Take both MAYABAYU and Sonane for example.

Both are super talented musicians who’ve found success on the Malaysian circuit while openly wearing their influences on her sleeve. But what is it that makes them so different?

The answer is originality.

MAYABAYU infuses elements of Bornean culture with a fresh pop style for a totally unique sound. Meanwhile SonaOne brings together modern hip-hop and R&B influences and combines it with distinctive Malaysian lyrics.

The same concept applies for any aspiring musician looking to make it big. While most musicians got their start playing covers, you can only get so far on someone else’s sound. So why not make it your own?

Start by developing your own style based on your influences. It’s perfectly fine to be inspired by another artist, but don’t make the mistake of mimicking their style entirely.

What you should be doing instead is taking their sound and making it your own.

And that doesn’t mean you should let yourself be constrained by one genre only, rather, you want to keep expanding your horizons and be inspired by everything.

Take Hujan frontman Noh Salleh for example. While he and Hujan were known for their Strokes-esque sound in the early 2000s, Noh didn’t let himself be caged in.

Instead, he went solo and began experimenting with genres like jazz, soul, and even R&B to create his own sound.

7. Consider hiring a manager

Imagine trying to chase down promoters, book gigs, and handle all other administrative affairs while still having to write music and rehearse.

Sounds crazy doesn’t it?

Well, that’s the reality for any musician in Malaysia or any part of the world for that matter. Which is why you should consider hiring a music manager or agent.

Managers help you plan gigs and organize meetings with promoters leaving you free to focus on actually working on your craft.

A common misconception amongst most musicians is that managers are expensive where in reality, just about anyone can act as your manager.

In fact, most artists tend to hire relatives or close friends to act as their managers when they first start out.

But that doesn’t mean you should hire the first person that comes to mind. Instead, your manager should be someone who understands the music business and wants to see you succeed.

If you’re at an early stage of your career, you may want to work with a friend who’s a fan of music or already has a job in the music industry. That way, the both of you will be able to grow your careers together.

8. Make your music available

Given the current situation with COVID-19 it may be tricky to book gigs and live performances for the next few years, but that doesn’t mean that all hope is lost.

Platforms like Youtube, Soundcloud, Apple Music, and Spotify are a great way to get noticed by listeners. All you’ll need is to record a few tracks of your own and upload them to these sites.

Besides that, you can always reach out to playlist curators, bloggers, or even music directors who may want to use your music.

While some may argue that social media is now saturated with millions of artists, it is still a powerful tool that has helped artists like Yuna and Zee Avi break out into superstardom.

And don’t sweat it if funding’s a problem, because the Malaysian government offers grants for aspiring solo artists and bands of all genres looking to make it big.

Closing Thoughts

Being home to such a diverse community, it’s easy to see why Malaysia has such a rich local music scene.

So if you’re an aspiring musician, we at Petra Music would love to hear from you. From composers to music arrangers and sound engineers, we have everything you need to make it into the major leagues.

Just drop us an email of sample work and we’ll be more than happy to get back to you.

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