[Update 8/2/17]: Beat The System is still continuing to beat all systems! Earlier this year they realised their first ever music video to their song “Be Your Own”.
Since its release last month, the video has already gotten 200,000 plus views, that’s more than all views on our YouTube channel combined! (Shameless promo 😛 )
And to add the icing on the cake, they were featured on a billboard in the center of Times Square, New York City (as you can see in our featured image above)!
But if you’re here and you’ve never heard of this band before, don’t worry and read on, because just a few months back, we managed to score an exclusive interview with 2 members of Beat The System where they shared their journey with us.
Some of us may be well acquainted with our local English music scene, some of us less so. Many of us at CILISOS fall under the “less so” category. So recently when a Malaysian band reached out to us and asked if we would like to interview them, we had our reservations…..
But what made us consider it was the fact that they were a Malaysian band, but based in the USA. If like that, why not la right?
And so we spoke to Gerald Sellan (drummer) and Adrian Puan (songwriter) from “Beat The System”, a band that started off in Malaysia before managing to secure a deal with a record company based in New York.Which record label you ask? Well, Beat The System is under Monster Hits Records, which is owned by Diana Meltzer, the same woman who discovered bands like Evanescence and Creed!! (She was the person who discovered them (A&R). So just to clarify, she technically wasn’t their manager, but she would have overseen their recording processes.)
And they shared with us their story of how they managed to beat the system to get to where they are today. But first things first….
How da heck did a small Malaysian band get noticed by an American music producer anyway?
Well the story actually begins when Gerald was 15, and listening to Creed in a cyber cafe.
“I just wanted to know who discovered them, and her name (Diana Meltzer) came out. And I remember I was like “Oh God, she has to be the one to discover us!”” – Gerald, Beat The System’s band leader, in an interview with CILISOS
But it would be many, many years later before they actually met. Gerald tells us that he worked as an engineer for many years while pursuing his music career. Beat The System was actually formed in 2005 by Stewart, the guitarist of the band, and Gerald’s brother, and Gerald himself joined the band as a drummer the following year.
And they would perform as a band in KL for the next 7-8 years until 2012 when Gerald decided to email Diana Meltzer with a sample of their music. And to his surprise, Diana actually called him on the phone all the way from the US!!
I was like “Hello, who is this?”, because it was a foreign number, and she was like “Diana, here”, and I was like “Diana who?” and when she said Diana Meltzer, I was like “OH MY GOD!!” – Gerald
This eventually led to a long process of discussions between the band and Diana Meltzer. But if they were good enough for a US music producer, how come they tak laku in Malaysia?
They played in hundreds of gigs in Malaysia, but didn’t really get anywhere
“We were playing gigs and it came to a point when I realised this wasn’t going to go anywhere. So I told my band we were going to stop playing at gigs. We were wasting our time, money, and resources.” – Gerald
He even added that in some gigs, the audience consisted mostly of the bands that were going to perform for that show! But that wasn’t the only problem. He added that the English music scene in Malaysia itself was a difficult place to be in.
The music scene is so small. When they have certain contacts or opportunities, they wouldn’t want to share.
Malaysian musician sure go to heaven because every show is a charity show! – Gerald
And it’s not like they were not making it in Malaysia because they were bad. In 2012, their song “Shine” (together with Jaclyn Victor) won best song at the Vima Awards (an Asian independent music award show).
But it came to naught. So they moved on to writing songs instead. It was not long after that that Diana Meltzer decided to come live with them in Malaysia for a month.
Even then, it wasn’t going to be easy for them.
Their music didn’t change, but it had to evolve
Even after establishing contact with Diana, the band had to make some very crucial decisions. Aside from being told that they had to get rid of some band members if they were serious about making it in the US, they had find a balance between sticking true to their style, and making music that matched what the audience wanted.
“You have to be smart to have your style, and fuse it together with what’s out there so you can have the best of both worlds. There’s no point you write music and people don’t like it. You can’t blame them!
If people like fried rice, and you give them kuey teow, they’re not going to like it!” – Gerald
He gives an example of a time when some US producers who worked with them told them that they wanted to revamp everything that they were doing. Gerald says that Beat The System had been a rap-rock kind of band for a long time before they met Diana. And when these producers asked them to change their style, they realised they would have to go “way out of their comfort zone”.
But after taking a while to contemplate, they eventually decided to try these changes.
Thankfully they managed to keep their instruments, but with that they also added a lot of “fun elements”. It wasn’t easy or comfortable, but it was all worth it when they saw the final product.
“It was like going through puberty all over again!” – Adrian
Of course that is also aside from deciding to have a female lead singer in the form of May Leigh (who is American), who was introduced to them by Diana.
And all that eventually led to the release of their first single, “Be Your Own“.
And you can’t blame them for dreaming big after all they’ve done.
“For us, it’s always been about making it big in the US. We want to win Grammy awards, we want play alongside people like Adele and Taylor Swift.” – Adrian
But that’s just their journey. Could this happen to other bands as well? Well, they believe something needs to change first.
Malaysian musicians should stop promo-ing their music to friends!!! 😯
Okay chill, you can still promote your music to your friends. But what they do mean is that Malaysian musicians shouldn’t be taking the word of family and friends on whether their music is good.
“What musicians back home (Malaysia) do is they create something and they let their father, their mother, their sister, their friend, listen. Of course your friends are not going to be very objective in their opinion. You have to find people in the labels, the radios, who know what is going on. Let them listen and let them judge.” – Adrian
Gerald tells us that while he was still in Malaysia, bands aren’t very open to criticism. They would ask for opinions but get upset when they receive criticism. Sometimes, they would even criticise the audience.
“I sincerely believe musicians have to let go of their ego. That’s the only thing. With that gone, a lot of other issues will be fixed by itself. The only thing that is actually stopping them from getting to the next level is themselves. They are their own greatest enemy.” – Gerald
They acknowledge it’s not easy and they themselves took years to be able to instill that in their band. They admit that not everyone will agree with them, but this has led them to where they are today. And it doesn’t seem like they’re doing too badly now aren’t they?
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