Suiko Takahara of The Venopian Solitude. Image by Urbanscapes.

It’s probably a safe bet to say, most Malaysians have at least one friend or relative, who is a remarkably talented musician.

Yet, despite the many standing ovations at their live shows and countless virtual “thumbs ups”, it seems as if we’ve hardly, if ever, heard them on the radio.

This phenomenon appears to be commonplace especially in the English music scene. Why?

Is there a conspiracy behind the local radio business that purposefully and selectively airs omputih pop songs on repeat while shunning our native performers?

Eksentrika attempts to lay bare the facts and dispel the myths in a three part series, which include interviews with seasoned radio announcers and our local musicians.

In Part 1 of this series, we explore 5 oft-repeated urban legends and hope to shed light on it with inside information by Astro radio’s  Hitz DJ, Basil Joseph and Traxx fm’s Julio Michael “Jubz” Singho of the Music Blast Off show.

Myth #1: Malaysia’s English radio stations are not interested to play Malaysian-made songs. 

Left: The Filters in action. Image by Luqman Al-hakim. Right: Coebar Abel of Glass is in his zone during a recent gig. Image by Glass.

Basil, who has been hosting the Malaysian English Top 10 a.k.a Met10  for over a year out of the show’s decade-long existence, asserts that this is simply not true.

As a long-time proponent of homegrown music, he says he is constantly looking out to feature outstanding Malaysian musicians on his show.

“I am always doing homework to discover talents that are already making a ripple online on the various music streaming platforms and social media. The radio station also frequently receive song submissions via email and we make it a point to listen and give each due evaluation,” Basil explains.

Songs that meet the radio station’s quality and taste requirement often get inserted into the daily rotation playlists, which are not confined to Basil’s hour-long Met1o. He says, on average, Hitz plays between 10 and 12 songs by homegrown artists monthly.

At RTM-owned Traxx fm, Julio says whether a local song gets air-time on radio largely depends on the DJ curating the tracks.

“Some DJs prefer majority or even all international music, it really depends on the objectives they have for their respective segments.

“In my Saturday Music Blast Off segment, I try my level best to play Malaysian English music, old and new. I don’t like to segregate the songs into a ‘Malaysian hour’ as I believe our local talents deserve more than that,” says Julio.

Myth #2 Malaysian musicians are not talented enough for radio.

Endee Ahmad miraculously healed himself from paralysis thanks to music. Image credit Ian Tai

Basil says the advent of the digital music scene has uncovered many gifted individuals and bands who are already drawing mass audiences through music platforms such as Spotify, Soundcloud and Deezer.

“These are the likes of LunadiraKuizz and Bil Musa…I believe Lunadira has a track that has been streamed to more than 900,000 listeners…and that’s just one song.”

He adds that over the past 10 years, he had personally observed a tremendous improvement in the quality of local acts, many of whom have been played on Hitz.

Julio also passionately believes in the Malaysian music quality, which he also views as comparable to the prowess of  international acts.

“I truly believe our standards of musicality, song composition and song writing is on par if not better than international artists.

“We have the soul, we have the feel and the technicalities to match,” says Julio.

The bassist for local rock and roll band, Blister added that fellow performers should strive to overcome any hang ups to approach radio stations with song material.

Feedback and well-meaning criticism, he says, can serve to hone musical aptitudes to greater heights.

He urges up and coming musicians to hold on to their inner confidence and be prepared to grow their skills and talent.

“I believe a musical gift is its own higher purpose. Never undermine or underestimate the power you wield with music.”

Myth #3 Reputed record labels pay big money for radios to play their represented artists on loop

Battle Bloom is yet another band making waves in the local music scene. Image by Battle Bloom.

Basil sniggered at this one before proceeding to expose how a radio station operates when it comes to making money and playing songs.

There is an apparent science to explain why we sometimes hear the same songs over and over on the radio.

Every song on the rotation is tagged with a favourability rating based on listener surveys usually conducted by market research institutes the likes of Growth from Knowledge, GfK Global and Nielsen.

Traditionally, these surveys involve phone calls to listeners, who are asked to hear tunes and share feedback on whether they enjoyed a particular tune or not.

The research also attaches audience demographic, such as age, occupation, gender and the preferred time slot they are likely to be tuning into a radio station.

Eksentrika cross-checked this to be in line with a news report on radio listenership from May last year. The GFK study showed that breakfast shows usually target work-going adults between 20 and 39 years, and account for up to 2.9 million listeners.

On the other hand, weekday night shows from 8pm to midnight, were more popular with some 8.7 million listeners between 10 and 29 years.

Basil also shared that ultimately a radio station earns revenue from advertisement slots, similar to traditional print media.

“We do get some endorsement from record labels, that’s how we sometimes get internationally acclaimed stars to share a shout out or speak to our DJs on the phone.

“These are all part and parcel of our efforts to increase our listenership and gain advertising clients,” he says.

Myth #4 Malaysian English music are subject to impossibly stringent criteria.

Eksentrika learnt that the exact requirements for a song to score radio play are not clearly defined across the different stations, which fell into different categories such as “adult contemporary” (Mix FM), easy listening & adult complementary (Lite FM)  or “talkshow” (BFM).

Basil says Hitz is defined as a Top 40, which plays the latest pop hits all day and caters to the young and contemporary crowd.

“Some bands try to emulate Led Zeppelin’s early recordings, which include static sounds to portray a ‘raw’ feel. This won’t necessarily be considered fit to play for a station that plays Top 40 Hits for example.

It’s like offering chocolate to a bunch of vanilla fans.”

Stating sound quality to be a foremost prerequisite, he recommends investing in professional mastering to ensure integrity of the final output. He added that he had seen many talented Malaysian performers suffer from skimping on this aspect.

“When I say that the quality of a song needs work, it’s because I’ve seen the band perform live and I can tell when the quality that translates into a recording is not their best offering.”

Julio adds that at Traxx, the lyrics are also evaluated based on a content code prescribed by  Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission’s (MCMC). According to a 2005 news report, this code was relaxed to allow radio stations the flexibility of  deciding their own programming and choice of songs.

Myth #5 It’s extremely difficult to get a Malaysian English song on the radio. 

Yayasan Sime Darby Arts Festival have been showcasing local talents. Image by Yayasan Sime Darby Arts Festival.

Basil strongly believes, this myth is largely prevalent among circles who have done little, if at all, in attempts to get connected with stations.

The Met10 DJ said song submissions to Hitz rarely get overlooked as even the station’s CEO, Jake Abdullah regularly forwards emails of local acts for potential showcase on the Met10.

You know how old ladies think it’s hard to get American Visa? Well it’s kinda like that situation; where you just hear what people say and don’t do anything about it.” – Basil

Basil further affirms that it’s as easy as making a deliberate effort to connect with radio station executives for a content pitch, as some successful bands have done to have their music played on radio.

“We’ve had some bands even discover my personal email and although I don’t know how they came by it, we still review their material.”

In the interest underscoring their intent to support homegrown music, both DJs are sharing their email contact to receive track submissions. To be on the  Hitz Met10 show, title your email as “Song Submission” and send to Basil@fgs.ninjaYou can also Whatsapp: +60 19-449 6194. For Traxx fm, send your material to singho.julio@gmail.com

This subject is far from closed and it’s only fair that we provide a perspective from the musicians themselves. Read what they have to say:

From money to connections, here’s why good Malaysian music is not on air

If you’re involved in the local music scene and wish to be part of this discussion, drop us an email at editors@eksentrika.com or comment below! 

Hey guys, this was an enjoyable read. I want more content such as this in my inbox.