How many bands from the Positive Tone era in the ‘90s and the indie boom of the ‘00s are still household names today? You can name mainstays like OAG and Hujan, but those two decades had a far longer list of bands – most relegated to playing random one-off reunion shows to those old enough to have owned the Boys & Girls 1+1=3 compilation back then. The ‘10s is no different – Kuala Lumpur’s “hipster wave” of bands, often influenced by electronic and dance music, sprouted like mushrooms overnight before disappearing, with only SoundCloud as proof of their existence. Duo Pastel Lite seems to have avoided this pitfall that’s befallen many of their peers – and lead singer Eff Hakim might just have the answer as to why they’re still around alive and kicking with debut full-length album Balada in tow.
So you want to be in a band in KL? You’ve seen a bunch of Hujan/Butterfingers/OAG/[name of your favourite successful local band here]’s video clips and you thought to yourself, “Pfftt, if they can do it, so can I! It must be easy making a successful band in tiny Kuala Lumpur!”
It’s not. It was hard then. It is harder today. And even though it’s 2017 – nearing 2018 to boot – it will continue to be harder on us all. Because, well, we’re in KL. But of course, it doesn’t have to be. It should only be as complicated as you’re willing to let it be. It doesn’t need to be life threateningly difficult. And I have just the tips for you to keep your band afloat, happy, and surviving. Because we all know that just keeping your band alive can be daunting at times.
You’re probably wondering, “Um… who are you to tell me how to live my band life? Why Should I listen to you?!”
Well, little did you know that I am the lead singer of a local band/duo Pastel Lite (okay, you probably do know), and although we were notorious for paving the hipster wave in KL thanks to JUICE Malaysia, we’ve been around for five years; toured, played major local festivals, been abroad, released music, and up until recently, we were an indie band. We were very much as indie as the word suggested, totally self-funded and self-sustaining, a.k.a. WE USED OUR OWN MONEY AND DID OUR OWN THING.
That may not seem like much to you, but with our overall not-so-great music environment here, my experiences might be vital information to you.
So without further ado, here are some important tips on how to be a successful band in KL according to me, Eff Hakim, in no particular order and with viewer discretion advised because it’s about to get real. Keep in mind, these are based off of my experiences and they worked for me. But with music, the phrase “one size fits all” does not apply. So, don’t sue me if your band didn’t win the local battle of the band contest or whatever it is you plan to do with your music. Also, I narrowed them to six – because I’m lazy.
#1 – Make music for the sake of making music
Number one, this might sound like a no brainer to some but I can’t stress how important this is; MAKE MUSIC FOR THE SAKE OF MAKING MUSIC. I know it’s tempting to start a band because it sounds like the cool thing to do, or that it comes across as a sure way to get laid. But in all seriousness, please make music with the actual intent of making music. Because if fame, money and whatever stupid shallow excuse you’re thinking of are the only reasons for you to be in a band, well, honey, you’re going to feel demotivated fairly quickly because in KL, you won’t really get what you want, at least not overnight. And with all that wasted energy focused on your social skills/flirting, wouldn’t it be better if you spent them on something much more productive like, I don’t know, your music playing skills? Your production quality? Or your actual music? Don’t get me wrong, sometimes fame triumphs over actual talent, but in the long run, especially if you want to go much further than just playing at a café in KL, your music and the work you put into your music matter the most.
#2 – Know your shit
Which goes to tip #2, KNOW YOUR SHIT. Research and practice make the band goes around. Yes, I just made that up. But it is so true. Back when I first started, I was an idiot. The kind of idiot who uses a ringtone editing software to mix my music because I didn’t know what DAWs were. But that idiot decided to go to audio school. Partly because tuition fee was fairly affordable but also because I wanted to learn how to make my music production quality better. Of course, with the internet nowadays you don’t really need to go to school. But you definitely need to be aggressive with your research and practice. Learn your stuff, keep yourself up to date with things, keep finding new information, and then practise what you learnt. And rinse and repeat. Rinse and repeat.
#3 – Don’t be afraid to be stupid
That said, if you aren’t as sharp or just plain stupid in general, don’t feel discouraged. Which leads to tip #3, DON’T BE AFRAID TO BE STUPID. Actually admit that you need a little help. Ask around. Learn from your peers – from anyone really. Trust me, this tip is crucial because there were so many times I was met with incidents where it would be so much cooler to not tell people I was stupid and risk my entire music sounding like shit just because I wanted to continue my façade of genius bedroom producer. It’s so much easier to pretend to be a genius than to actually work on being one (I know we’re bound by the law of genetics here) but the point is just to ask questions. It’s okay to be stupid. Everybody’s stupid.
#4 – Make friends with your bandmate(s)
This should be obvious; MAKE FRIENDS WITH YOUR BANDMATE. So you finally found your sound; it sounds good and you’re getting more shows. Things are great. What could possibly go wrong? Well, what if I told you that your bandmate secretly hates your guts? Well, I don’t really know that but it could be true. Have you ever asked him how he feels about you? Have you ever had a real conversation with him besides yelling at him every time he got off tempo during practice? Have you ever asked him if he likes The Beatles or The Rolling Stones or if he were just more of a Beach Boys kinda guy? Do you even know his real name? If the answers to most of these questions are no, then you guys need to talk. Communication is key in a band. Not just instructional communication, but also the hearty in-depth ones too. Make sure that you guys are on the same page just so that World War III between you guys can be prevented. Because let me tell you, having beef with your bandmate while you’re packed in a tiny van filled with equipment whilst not having enough sleep and about to go to a soundcheck at 9am is not a pretty sight to see.
#5 – Work on your people issue
Tip #5, WORK ON YOUR PEOPLE ISSUE. Kuala Lumpur is a small city. So small in fact that everybody knows everybody here. And I mean everybody. While it’s easy to dismiss people now that your band is kind of popular, know that it’s because of these people that your band is popular in the first place. Friends, fans, haters, and strangers alike, whether their involvement were indirect or not, you need to treat everyone with the same amount of respect you want for yourself. You’re not that special, so don’t be a jerk. There are a lot of other bands waiting in line to take your place. Plus, news spread faster than wild fire here. So be nice. Also, keep in mind we live in a multiracial, tiny country, try to steer clear from tricky political agenda while you’re at it. It’s true when they say that music unites us but what they didn’t tell you, however, is that political, racist, and prejudice music don’t. In fact, it divides us even further apart. So try not to start a war. But with that said, don’t be too caught up with the whole people liking you thing. They should like your music first and it should be in your best interest to keep it that way.
#6 – Be prepared to lose some if not all of your money
Off to my final tip. Well, this one’s more of a warning really. BE PREPARED TO LOSE SOME IF NOT ALL OF YOUR MONEY. If anybody tells you that making music is free, they are either filthy rich or desperate buskers down the street whom would still expect tips from you after playing their music anyway. To be honest, it is expensive to be in a band. Depending on your genre, the intended production quality, and currency rate, you will be spending quite a lot from here onwards regardless. Fenders don’t grow on trees (although they were once trees), recording equipment are rarely on sale, and most of the things you want will probably need to be shipped from overseas. Don’t even get me started on the other expenses like studio practice sessions, recording, gas money/van rentals for show trips, clothing, and even food. And if that’s not enough, if you’re an adult, you probably have other expenses that probably need the money more. But it’s not that bad, it’s just a matter of money management and working extra hours. Heck, I don’t even have a 9-to-5 job at times but I did freelance a lot. And during desperate times, I did have to get a family loan. But it’s all good when your band makes it, trust me. That one time I got to play at a festival in Singapore and took pictures with FKA twigs finally got my family off my back regarding how much money I owed them. Sure, they didn’t know who FKA twigs was, but she looked famous and it seemed like I made it. My point is, the general solution to the whole money issue is to hustle more, save up or get loved ones or anyone willing to fund your band for when things get desperate. And if your music is great, the latter should not be too difficult to achieve.
These are my top six tips on having a band in KL. Some universal and some only comply to being in KL. But if I could turn back time and do this band thing all over again, I kind of wish someone told me these. Because then it wouldn’t take me five years to figure this whole thing out and be very worn out on the fifth year. But good things happen with perseverance, and if you want to take anything from this article, take this; being in a band in KL is hard, but don’t give up.
Listen to the duo’s full-length debut Balada below: