Roger Wang is famous in Sabah and across the region as a finger-style guitarist, singer, song writer, sound engineer, music producer and more. Find out more about what he has to say about his work and the music scene in Sabah in the latest interview by Team ILoveSabah.
What is your role in RAM Production?
I am the owner and founder of RAM Production which I started about 14 years ago. We have been in Damai since 1999. It used to be a bit bigger. We had retail area, more classrooms and jamming area. In 2007 we scaled back to concentrate more in studio side and music productions. We have Sabah Institute of Arts students coming here to study music technology. People can still rent the studio for jamming and stuffs.
You have so many roles in music scene: guitarist, singer, song writer, sound engineer and producer. Which one do you love best?
If I have to choose one to do, it would be here in RAM Production, creating things in studio. I can’t be performing everyday. Once in a while it’s good to go out to perform. I still like to do that. When you perform live it’s about the energy. When in studio, you have the time to create something from scratch. I will always love music. I will always love technology. So when there is a chance for those two to combine, which happens in the studio, that’s what I enjoy the most.
You have been in the industry for 10+ years, what have you seen about the change of technology?
When i started out, we were using tapes. Slowly we were moving into digital without much computers. Then in early 2000, desktop computers start becoming more powerful and reliable. It has shrink everything down, making things more affordable. Producing quality works in a home studio is possible nowadays. For musicians or artists who want to create music, computer has made things easier for them. The tools are easier and more accessible now. There are also more distribution channels now. The internet has helped and killed the music industry as we know it. It is changing it. When was the last time we all bought a CD? But still, we listen to music all the time. The bright side is that it helps encourage the exposure of a variety of music. It grows the interest on music. But for the industry as a business, it is going through a tough change because people are accessing music in many different ways now. They are still figuring out a way to balance it out. Musicians need a cost to produce quality music. They can’t make music for free. But people will always make music, and people will always listen to music. Maybe last time the balance is not very good, a few big players controlled the market. 20 years ago I don’t even have a chance to enter the industry like I do now. The industry is still changing and evolving. We have not settled down to anything yet.
We see that you are doing a lot of collaborations recently. There is even an oboist in your upcoming concert. What kind of directions are you going into for collaborations?
I have been playing a lot of different kind of music, with a lot of people. I want to keep that movement and be open for collaborations.The Roger Wang And Friends Concert is something that I have been doing on and off. I want to give musicians in Sabah a platform to play in concert. They might have played in functions, clubs but to put them in a concert is another thing. This year’s lineups are Sabahan musicians who are very good. It’s an opportunity to highlight them. Definitely there will be a lot of collaborations coming.
A lot of Sabahan musicians are coming up recently. Is the music trend really picking up here?
When I was growing up the trend of music is not as strong as dancing. Only in 90’s then the alternative music has generated more interest in music. A lot of young musicians started playing in bands. Then a lot of music colleges started producing musicians. More opportunities are available now. It’s something that I am happy to see it happening. 10 years ago it was more quiet. And for the last 5 years the scene is happening. A lot of good young musicians coming in for full time to play a variety of different styles of music: jazz, pop, hip-hop. Now with a lot of music festivals, especially the KK Jazz Fest, the market has given them opportunities to perform. Hopefully we will get to a stage where not just a lot of talents coming into the scene but also the opportunities for them to make a living.
Any advice for inspired young musicians?
Put in a lot of hard work. It is not like the MTV glamour that you see. You need to know what you are getting into. Be prepared for a lot of sacrifices, and be realistic about it. It’s not easy, but of course the reward is good. For my case, I can’t imagine myself doing other things. I have gone through music college but only about 20% of us are still doing music. Maybe it’s too hard for them, or the heart is not there anymore. Maybe they have better things to do, or they are just not good enough. Because unlike other professions, in music there is no average. You can be an average accountant and still have a job. But an average musician can’t stay in the business. Nobody wants to hire a below-average musician. You want to be good, either good or great. You need to always push yourself to stay in the market. If you are in it just to make money without being good or famous, it won’t last long.
Do you advise local talents to start small here in Sabah or go elsewhere to try?
You should start small in Sabah. If you can’t build a base at home, it doesn’t make it easier elsewhere. There are a lot of opportunities at New York, Shanghai, KL and other major cities, but there are a lot more people there too fighting for the same thing. Invest more time and efforts. Don’t expect supports because you are local artist. It’s very easy to get the words out about a concert comparing to 10 years ago. Back then you only have flyers and newspaper to help you promote a concert. Now you have website, YouTube, Facebook and a lot more tools that don’t cost a lot. It’s just how you gonna make use of it. Don’t expect an overnight kind of result. You have to build your fan base. Starting a band is like starting a company. People don’t like to think that way but it is really that way. Your music is your product. Your band leader is the CEO. You have to manage it like a company. Those groups that last and have some kind of success are those who can manage themselves well. Because you are a brand. So it’s not impossible for anyone. You just have to put in the hard work.
Is the market attitude changing? The public acceptance improving?
It has improved much. When I was starting out, the double-standard attitude of “I must support Sabahan” versus “Can Sabahan really be this good?” was worse. People were thinking: “they are good but they are just locals”. There were not a lot of supporters. When I went to KL, people would think: “they are from Sabah, but hey who are they?”. Sometimes there is this double-standard, but you just have to work hard to convince people. So let your product to open the door. When a lot of Sabahan are doing well out there, that changes people’s perception. They start to believe in Sabahan. It is not that bad anymore.
What next for you in 2014? More song writing?
I’m producing a new artist, Gee Mojina. It’s been a long time since I signed up an artist. We worked on 2 singles. As for song writing, I’m not that consistent. I don’t write very often like a normal song writer. I write only when there’s a reason to do it. Mostly I just write for myself. I will definitely do another solo album. But when you are doing a lot of works for others to pay the bills, you tend to drag your own projects. We are doing Jazz Festival, and hopefully we can do more festivals of different kinds. Now I have a concert coming, trying a new venue at Sabah Art Gallery (SAG). The concept is different, so I’m quite excited about that. Sometimes a hall inspires you in a certain way. Last year we did a concert with Mia Palencia, a nice 700-seater. But I always wanted to try a smaller venue, where the interaction with audiences is better. So when we go to SAG, I was kinda happy with the condition there as a concert venue. It’s an art gallery so we call it Colours for our upcoming concert. It will be the first musical event there.
What are your favourite concert venues in Sabah?
Sabah Theology Hall. It is big but it doesn’t feel big and so far away. The good design has helped on that aspect. The sound is good. Though it’s hard to get there and parking is an issue. I think the JKKN auditorium is good too, and it’s smaller. It’s good for us at small venue, that we can do a few small shows instead of a big one. The problem here is that there is not enough small concert hall where we can hold a small concert of less than 100 people. Not everyone can sell out a concert hall of 500. So we have to start small from somewhere but the problem is that there is no such offering in Sabah.
What do you love about Sabah?
I love so many things about Sabah, that’s why I am here. People always ask: “what are you doing here? You should be at somewhere else!”. When I finished my study, I wanted to come back. I will always like home. Sabah is home to me. I feel I belong to here. I feel a real connection at the place I grew up. That’s the way I feel happy. To make music with a happy feel. Besides the food, slower life, and Sabah roads being not too jammed, the vibes you get from the people here are different too. The main thing is still because it’s my home. I grew up here, I feel most inspired here, and I can be myself here.
Find out more about Roger Wang at www.rogerwang.net