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Playing to a global beat
Tat's a global hitman
THE name Tat Tong might not immediately strike a chord with the average pop fan but chances are, the local songwriter-producer has written one or two (or more) of their favourite songs.
With 17 platinum records and over 50 Top 20 smashes - including more than 20 chart-toppers worldwide - to his name, the man is a hit machine.
The 34-year-old's best-known work is arguably Troye Sivan's 2014 smash Happy Little Pill which he co-wrote and co-produced for the Australian singer-actor. It has close to 30 million views on YouTube and shot to the top of the iTunes charts in the US and 66 countries.
That is just the tip of the iceberg; closer to home, Tong has also been producing and writing for Asian superstars such as JYJ, Junho of 2PM, Show Luo, Karen Mok, Vanness Wu and A*Mei over the last six years.
It doesn't end there because on the commercial side, he has worked on ad campaigns for PepsiCo Foods China; Coca-Cola Singapore, America and Spain; 7-Eleven Taiwan, Panasonic Hong Kong, as well as Asian high-street fashion giant Giordano.
The writing itch struck when he was halfway through serving his six-year bond with the Navy. "I was feeling a little bit restless and wrote some songs expressing my frustrations and put them up on local music forum Soft.com.sg," Tong recalls, "Within a day or two I got a reply from someone from Touch Publishing, a leading independent music publisher in Asia."
That opened his eyes to possibly pursing music as full-time career and he began penning tunes with musician friends such as Tay Kewei for fun.
As soon as his time with the Navy was up, he took the plunge and signed with Universal Music Publishing Group, which he remains with till today. "At that point, there were precious few opportunities within Singapore," he recalls, adding that even though he got to write for bigger acts such as Luo in Taiwan through Universal, it took years before he made a comfortable living.
Although classically trained in music, Tong learnt the production side of things through YouTube videos and even set up a studio in his dorm room (with blankets) while studying at Cornell University on a scholarship. "This introduction to the music industry readied me with production skills, sound engineering and the recording process, even if sometimes it was very DIY," he shares.
Tong now splits his time between Singapore and Los Angeles, where he met American Idol Season 10 finalist Jovany Javier. The duo make up creative team The Swaggernautz; while together with Declan Ee, a local DJ and co-founder of homegrown furniture firm Castlery, the trio perform as live dance act Trouze.
This allows Tong to work on all aspects of music as he notes: "A common mistake most musicians make is that they focus too much on their music; the business aspect is important to presenting your art to everyone."
He adds that spreading his wings overseas has also been vital to widening his network; if not, the opportunity to write for Sivan might not even have happened. "Los Angeles is the epicentre of the global music industry, and it is very important that we have a presence here in order to grab the best opportunities," he explains. "It's also great to be able to travel quickly to Mexico City from the US, as (there are a) significant number of Latin American projects right now."
At the same time, being in Singapore allows him to enjoy the best of both worlds as Asia, especially China and Korea, are fast-growing; and he even sees the potential of us emulating Sweden - which has produced international acts such as ABBA, Roxette and Aviici - despite its relatively small population.
"Swedish songwriters like Max Martin (who penned numerous hits for Britney Spears, Backstreet Boys, NSYNC and more) have been so influential in shaping the songs of American hit music - if they can do it, so can we!" he quips.
Tat Tong's works can be heard on @WeAreTheSwaggernautz on Facebook and www.trouze.com
Quiet voice heard around the world
By Sue-Ann Tan
LINYING might not be a household name here yet but the 22-year-old is already making a splash internationally. Just last week, she was featured on Billboard and her songs have been played at big American music festivals Coachella and Lollapalooza.
Not only that, in January, her self-penned single Sticky Leaves won a coveted place on Spotify's Global Viral 50 chart, sitting alongside classics such as the Beatles' All You Need is Love and Yesterday.
The track also appeared on Spotify's charts in the US and UK, earning her a mention on its "Spotlight on 2016" list of upcoming artists to watch out for.
Not bad at all for someone who only signed up for Noise Singapore's Music Mentorship Programme under National Arts Council two years ago.
She has since collaborated with European producers Felix Jaehn and Lost Frequencies; but her big break came when she got the call from French producer duo KRONO.
"They wanted me to write and sing for a dance track," Linying says. "That was when going into the music business could become a professional option for me."
Having just graduated from the National University of Singapore where she majored in History, Linying is glad she no longer has to juggle studies with her blooming music career.
"I had to miss classes and my professors were all emailing me," she recalls with a laugh. "Now that I have graduated, there is more clarity."
As a child, Linying used to upload videos of herself playing the piano and singing covers on YouTube. At the age of nine, she wrote her first song about "the world being a horrible place".
"I was very bored and didn't like to study," she laughs.
Linying admits to being slightly taken aback by how well Sticky Leaves - which she wrote to explore how people get through confusion and disillusionment - is performing on the global charts considering that it is an intensely personal track.
"This is my own song written from my own experiences... (and) it is about recognising that there is beauty in living even if we do not fully understand," she shares. "I always appreciated how music can bring memories and feelings back to me and now it is great that I can do the same for others."
Linying admits that the English music market in Singapore is still relatively small and undeveloped, unlike the markets in US and the UK that have been receptive to her music but feels things are changing with local artists such as The Sam Willows making it big at home.
She also opened for fellow homegrown singer-songwriter Gentle Bones at his sold-out show at the Esplanade in June.
Her folk-tinged brand of electronica is extremely popular now, which explains why her music has been able to reach out beyond Singapore but Linying says she dabbles in the genre for other reasons too.
"I started off listening to a lot of folksy music like Bon Iver and Dawn Golden but electronic music is a very liberating tool to use (because) it lets you create the sounds you hear in your head and has a lot of flexibility."
Her debut EP Paris 12 is slated for release in the second half of this year and the album's cover art, a distorted self-portrait, reflects the struggle to navigate her own conflicting and complex feelings.
The title track is inspired by her experiences living in the 12th arrondissement while on student exchange programme in Paris; and although she had "a really good time", her desire to return home was partly caused by the city's terrorist attacks last November, which occurred about 2km from her apartment.
In the meantime, Linying is working out how to perform the songs live as her singing tends to be quiet and intimate. "I have to change the music arrangement a little while keeping the soul of the piece," she says. "The best part of singing live is that I re-experience the way I felt when I wrote that particular line. When the audience can share this feeling with me, it's a really magical thing."
Hear Linying's music at: www.facebook.com/linyingmusic
Accidental pop star celebrates his roots
By Sue-Ann Tan
IF there are obstacles to entering the music business, Wil Tay has conquered them all.
Initially, the aspiring musician tried to approach music labels in Taiwan and China to record songs and break into the music industry. He was rejected for being "too short, too Westernised and not good-looking enough".
Now an internationally renowned singer-songwriter, 27-year-old Tay brushes off these early disappointments. "To each his own, I guess," he says with a laugh.
Unexpectedly, Tay's big break did not come from within the region, but from a stranger in Spain when he was on a family holiday.
It was the last day of his trip and he was singing along to his guitar in a park when a stranger approached him. Tay recalls: "I was feeling sad because I really enjoyed the culture of music and art in Spain so I wanted to prolong my trip."
The stranger linked Tay up with a music producer and a few days later he ended up making a music video, marking the launch of his music career. Tay stayed in Spain for the next year and a half, finding inspiration for his music through the expressiveness of Spanish culture.
"In Spain their music is very rhythmic. I was exposed to flamenco music so I incorporate that into my songwriting," he explains. "It is not just about melody and lyrics, but how the music adds motion to engage its listeners."
Thanks to that stranger in the park, Tay now has been invited to perform in cities such as New York and Vegas, and recently, back home for the Sing50 concert.
He is also managed by former American Idol judge Randy Jackson and his song What Are We Waiting For? shot to No 2 on the Swiss dance chart Top 100 and No 27 on Germany's Dance 50 chart.
Although he has been based in Spain and now in Los Angeles, Tay has not forgotten his roots. He still draws inspiration from Asian music as much as the Spanish and American styles that he has been exposed to.
"I grew up listening to Jay Chou," Tay reveals. "The way he writes is very lyrical, poetic and expressive and I want to do that with my writing too."
Tay had the opportunity to meet his childhood idol in Taiwan at the Golden Melody Awards in June last year. "It felt unreal to stand beside my favourite singer," he recounts.
Another surreal moment of Tay's career was when he was approached by Randy Jackson as he was in a Los Angeles studio making another music video. Over coffee, Jackson asked Tay for his purpose in making music.
"I told him that I wanted to make people emotional and smile when they can connect to my song," Tay says, "And he told me I had the right attitude and said he wanted to manage me."
Tay now aims to grow the local music industry, especially with the networks that he has cultivated overseas. "In the past few years, I have seen local acts emerging that are very impressive," he notes. "Hopefully I can open up room for them in the US and there can be a mutual exchange of music, ideas and culture."
Hear Wil Tay's music at: http://wilentertain.com/