Starting your own company is tough, even more so when you’re in the tough-to-break-into music industry. As I grow older, I find myself developing more and more respect for people who go off the ‘normal’ trodden path, and who are entrepreneurial in spirit. Singaporean Jason Jaydos Chong, a man of many talents – songwriter, audio engineer and music producer, embodies this. Armed with a major passion of music, Jason recently started his own company called Ammobox Productions with his partner, DJ Tinc. I wanted to understand Jason’s journey of how he started, going back to him as a teenager.
The first thing I found very refreshing was that upon graduating from his O Levels, Jason decided to go for polytechnic instead of Junior College (JC). For those of you who aren’t Singaporean, the JC route is seen as the more prestigious route where the ‘smart’ kids go, while the polytechnic route is not as desirable. It’s similar to the Malaysian way of looking at students in the science stream as smarter than their counterparts in the arts stream.
“Even back then, I kind of knew that I wanted to go to Poly and not to JC even though it was seen as better. I had spoken to a lot of my older friends who shared their experience in JC or Poly, and when I did my comparison of the two, I realized I didn’t want to go to JC because I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to start earlier and just get into what I wanted to do.”
I personally relate very much to this, as I studied in the arts stream when I was younger. There is such a strong stigma attached to being in the arts stream in Malaysia, which I find very ridiculous. I think if you know what you want to do, there’s absolutely no shame in going for the path you want, even if everyone else thinks you’re making a stupid choice.
After graduating from Poly with a diploma of Interactive Media Design, Jason started spending copious amounts of time in the audio room. He’d lock himself in, fiddling with knobs, experimenting and exploring to his heart’s content.
“I was pretty familiar with the systems, and when my friends were lost during their projects, they would call me and ask me to help in the audio room. So I worked a lot on the music and audio stuff on film projects that my friends did. Back then, we didn’t have an audio course, and we had to figure out how to get audio into our films and submit them for our projects. I was one of the few guys who could put everything together and get it done. My lecturer saw it, and then asked me to consider a career in audio engineering.”
Jason managed to get a scholarship to Australia to study for three years, and that’s where he met a music veteran who took him under his wing.
“I got a chance to hang out with these guys with over 20 years of experience in the music industry, and I was definitely going to jump on it.”
“When I was in Australia, I bumped into my lecturer who used to play rock music. His band was called Roxus and they were really big in the late 80s and early 90s, and they opened for bands like Poison and Bon Jovi when they were touring. They actually had a record deal in LA! It was pretty cool. One day, after hearing my music project in class, he came to me and said, “Hey Jase, do you want to work together with me and create music together?” And I said, “Sure, why not!” I got a chance to hang out with these guys with over 20 years of experience in the music industry, and I was definitely going to jump on it. He had a couple of girls who he used to work with, and he formed us together in a team. We started writing songs and producing. I learned to write for people, in an environment where you write songs to fit a particular direction for a project. At that time, it didn’t occur to me that I’d be writing for other people. There are different aspects to song writing, either you write for people or you write for yourself. So that’s where it began!”
As a songwriter, where does he draw his inspirations from?
“Back then, it was based on a lot of my own life experiences. I had a few experiences that weren’t very pleasant. I told myself, if I were to write it into a song, how would it sound like? What lyrics would I write, and what type of music or arrangement would I do that would be able to convey the emotion or experience I was feeling at that time? That was my inspiration when I started writing for myself.
But, when I got into writing for other people, it became more like, “OK! We have a song request. We’re looking for this type of song in this genre,” and then everything changed.”
What does his songwriting routine look like? Being a songwriter demands a lot of creative juices, which don’t necessarily come on command.
“I really like doing stuff when it’s dark, quiet and no one’s around. During those times, those are the moments I think I’m most creative.”
“It’s more like a practice, a discipline, this whole process of just grinding through a rut.”
“With creative stuff, a lot of people sometimes wait to get inspired or to find that magic moment. I myself go through that process, and I realized that a lot of times I would go for a long period of time, sometimes for days or weeks, without doing anything and feeling uninspired. That really got to me. In some ways, it would annoy me because I was wasting a lot of time, so I told myself to just force myself to do it. It’s more like a practice, a discipline, this whole process of just grinding through a rut. You go through a process, and you just do it. If something happens, something happens. If not, I’m still quite satisfied that I did something today, and it’s better than just sitting around and not doing anything. That’s how I do it.”
Professionally, what’s the hardest thing he has to deal with?
“Rejection. I’ve sent a lot of my music to a lot of people, but the thing with music industry professionals is that if they don’t like it, they’re probably never going to reply you. You’ll never see an email that says, “Oh, I really like your stuff but we’re not going to do it.” You’re just going to get silence. Or, you get people who would go, “Oh, that’s really nice. Could you write me more stuff?” And then you don’t hear from them for 2 years. It happens in the industry. They won’t tell that you’re not that good or give feedback on how to improve your work; they just ignore you, which I think is worse. I think that’s the hardest thing to deal with, trying to make a name for yourself and break in the industry.”
While rejection was the hardest thing Jason suffered professionally, the most painful experience of his life was losing his father to cancer.
“I thought of the times when I was mean to him, or when I wasn’t very nice.”
“He went for chemotherapy, and it was okay for a few months. He seemed to be recovering. And then suddenly there was a massive relapse and within a year, he was gone. It happened before I left for Australia, and I was really busy with work, trying to get everything sorted before moving. That was my biggest regret, not spending enough time with him.
My dad was a quiet person, a typical Asian dad. My memory of him when I was growing up would be him coming back from work, and going, “Here’s food.” The next day, he would go to work, and it would be the same thing every day. We’d have the occasional chit-chat at dinner, but he was just a really quiet guy and he worked really, really hard. The hardest thing for me was not being able to tell him how much I appreciate what he’s done for me. Even though my dad was a very quiet guy, he probably would have hoped his kids spent more time with him and spoke more to him. Losing him and realizing what I should have done was really hard. But it’s too late now, because you can’t turn back time. I thought of the times when I was mean to him, or when I wasn’t very nice. I shouldn’t have done that. I realized that people won’t be around you forever. It’s a fact of life. We all have a ticking time clock in our bodies, and one day, sooner or later, you will die. It’s only a matter of when.”
Losing a parent, or any loved one, for that matter, is heart-wrenching. How did he get through it?
“I was quite sad for a period of time. Growing up, people called me a ‘happy-go-lucky’ person, and I usually moved on quickly from situations in life. I realized I was wallowing in my sorrow and it wasn’t the best place to be in for a long time. But my dad is a really rational guy, and that’s one of the things I picked up from him. He always spoke with reason and was a very logical kind of guy. I told myself that he’s gone, and no matter what reason or excuse I give myself, he wasn’t coming back. If I didn’t move on in life, I’d be stuck forever. So the reasoning and logic helped push me forward in life.”
Jason definitely propelled forward in life, what with scoring a scholarship to Australia and now starting his very own company. I wanted to know what his future goals were.
“My ideal life would be sitting in a nicely designed studio writing my own music. If I had the money and no constraints, I would build a really nice space for me to work in. I would travel more. I wish I had money to hop on a plane and fly somewhere else, because I really like experiencing different cultures, soaking it up and learning what other people’s lives are like. I feel like I need to look outwards and see what’s happening in the world! It enriches my life, and would help me in my music as well. I love meeting different people and listening to their life experiences. Everyone grows up differently, so I want to meet them and understand their culture.
I guess, right now, I’m trying to make a name for myself. In this aspect of the music industry, I’m more of a background person. Artists are people who are in front where everybody can see. I feel like I’ve made a step forward, but I haven’t actually made it yet. I’m doing what I enjoy, and I’m really thankful I’ve recently signed on to a local publisher who is really nice to me, and are providing me lots of opportunities. The only thing holding me back right now is time to keep up with all their requests. Hopefully in due time, I’m going to get better and things will pick up!”
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