[EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW] Tat Tong Of T2 Productions

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HypnoticAsia interviewed producer Tat Tong who has seventeen platinum records, forty top 20 hits, and  fourteen number 1 hits worldwide!

Tat Tong has produced, arranged and written music for famous artists in Asia including: Show Luo, Junho of 2PM, Vanness Wu, Christian Bautista, Karen Mok, as well as, A*Mei. He has also produced for ad campaigns including Coca-Cola, Pepsi Co Foods, Giordano, Panasonic and even 7-Eleven, all in Asia.

The producer also signed to Universal Music Publishing group and is now one half of the writing/producing team The Swaggernautz.

Through this interview, we learn more about how he got started in music and what led him to sign with Universal Music Publishing Group.

Check out his interview below!

1. When did you begin to show interest in the music scene?

Tat Tong: My parents started sending me to piano lessons at Yamaha Music School in Singapore at 5 years of age, which then ballooned into piano, electronic organ (Electone), and composition lessons from when I was 9 years old!  I guess you could say I’ve had an affinity for music from the start, and I was lucky that my family was financially able to support the development of my talent.

2. Who or what inspired you to become a songwriter, producer, and engineer?

Tat Tong: I’d trace my interest in writing music from the start of my enrollment in Yamaha’s special composition course, under the nurturing of my then-teacher Mr Kian-Boon Yeo.  The second domino in the series occurred when I was in Last Call, an a cappella group at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY – we were trying to produce an album with some big-name a cappella producers, and ran out of money, so I had to step in and finish up some tunes.  I taught myself to engineer and produce music from videos and forums on the Internet.  All this being said, though, I’d never thought of making this my career until much later.

3. How did T2 Productions begin?

Tat Tong: After my first attempts at a cappella production were nominated for awards in the 2004 Contemporary A Cappella Recording Awards, my confidence was bolstered, and I started producing music for fun for other a cappella groups in the United States under this moniker.  However, upon graduation from Cornell, I had to return to Singapore to serve in the Navy – and T2 Productions in its current, mainstream-oriented form only came to fruition after I left the Singapore Navy in 2011.

4. What is your music process? Do you prefer writing on your own or co-writing? Do you already have an artist in mind when you begin?

Tat Tong: For the earlier phase of my career in Asia, I mostly wrote (melodies) on my own – in the Chinese pop market, labels take demos purely for the melody, and then hire lyricists to complete the song. These days, I work extensively in the US market where co-writing lyrics and melody simultaneously is very much the custom, and so I’ve adapted to that, forming The Swaggernautz, a songwriting team with American Idol finalist Jovany Javier.  I think both ways of working have their pros and cons, and I still do enjoy working alone from time to time, even if I eventually end up bringing the idea to fruition with a co-writer.

The business aspect of songwriting is as important to me as the creative and musical aspects, and so these days I try to be as strategic as possible when writing – which involves knowing who is looking for what, and tailoring my output to that.

5. Which artist would you like to work with that you haven’t already?

Tat Tong: One side-effect of working so much on different genres of music is that my own preferences have become very diluted – I’m extremely objective now when it comes to music, and so I don’t have any one answer to this question. 🙂  At the same time, having just entered the US and Korean markets a couple years ago, there is a whole universe of artists out there that I’d love to work with!

6. From your fourteen #1 hits, which would you say is your favorite and why?

Tat Tong: Again – it’s hard for me to name favorites given how diluted my preferences are these days.  Every #1 has a cool story behind it – one of them actually went from zero (no song even written) to radio in 48 hours!  But that’s a tale for another time. 🙂

7. How would you describe your music to someone who has never heard it?

Tat Tong: Eclectic, spanning all genres, but always including a musical/artistic streak (at least that’s what I’ve been told!)

8. Is there a difference when producing music for artists in Asia compared to artists elsewhere?

Tat Tong: Yes and no – with globalization and the pervasive Internet, musical trends in many areas are converging.  That being said, every market (even within Asia) has its own unique style, stemming from cultural differences which affect what listeners want out of their music.  Also, broadly speaking, the big Western music markets (the United States, United Kingdom, and Sweden) are for now the trendsetters, producing new concepts and sounds which then percolate to the rest of the world (including Asia) over a number of years.  So, the key is to understand each market’s context and where listeners are at before developing content for it.

9. Also, is there a difference when producing music for artists compared to producing for ad campaigns?

Tat Tong: This is another yes and no answer.  I’ve had songs translate immediately to ads with no tweaking on my end required (for example, “The City is In Love” by Show Luo, which was featured in 7-Eleven Taiwan and PepsiCo Foods China campaigns).  I’ve also worked on ad music involving an endless number of drafts and demands from the bottom to the top of the hierarchy of the ad agency/client.  So, again, it depends. 😉

10. If you could give advice to an aspiring producer and songwriter, what would it be?

Tat Tong: Sorry to be a party pooper, but if you want to make a living doing this, the odds are very much against you – one sobering statistic from BMI is that only 3% of their songwriters will ever see any money from their music, and only 1% make enough from it to be full-time musicians.  At the same time, the music industry is going through a massive transition right now, the traditional business model is dead, and sales are in freefall – which means we as creatives have to work ever harder just to make the same amount of money.  On a more positive note, if you still want to go ahead despite the terrible odds and industry issues, it is an intensely fulfilling and intrinsically satisfying job – I can’t wait to get to work every day, even on weekends!

11. Finally, what can we expect to see from T2 Productions in the near future?

Tat Tong: Our global expansion plans are well underway and starting to bear fruit – with a Canadian iTunes #1 hit (We Are The Brave by Rebel Coast) and a Germany iTunes #7 hit (Lightswitch by Shaun Bate and Sam Walkertone) in the last few months, and more than a dozen songs due to be released on major labels in the United States, Korea, Spain, and Australia.  My songwriting partnership The Swaggernautz with Jovany Javier is hitting its stride, and we’re writing some of the best songs of our careers right now, working with established hitmakers in the United States, Europe, and Asia.  It can get personally overwhelming at times, but my priority is to ride this wave of momentum as far as I can go, while putting in place the best team of people I can to ensure that this success can be sustained over the long term.  Closer to home (Singapore), I’m also talking with various governmental and private agencies on how to strengthen our local music scene and increase its export appeal.  When all is said and done, I stand on the shoulders of the giants before me, and I can only hope that my unprecedented forays (for a Singaporean) into the global music market, and the lessons I’ve learned doing it, can be a source of inspiration for Singaporean musicians and artists alike.

Fun Questions:

1. Since we saw that you produced for both Pepsi Co. and Coca-Cola; Pepsi or Coke?

Tat Tong: Been trying to cut down on my sugar intake for health reasons – so neither. 🙂

2. Favorite Asian pop artist

Tat Tong: Khalil Fong

3. The celebrity I would like to meet is

Tat Tong: Justin Timberlake

4. What types of songs are on your playlist right now

Tat Tong: I generally don’t listen to too much music outside of work – whatever’s on the radio, I guess. 🙂

5. Favorite movie or drama

Tat Tong: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (giving my age away!)

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