The name Chan Kwong Wing may not be familiar but many people in Hong Kong will have heard the pop song "Proud of You" by Joey Yung and seen the movie Infernal Affairs. Mr Chan, though behind the scenes, was the person responsible for the music in both cases.
Since starting in the music industry in 1989, he has become a famous composer, arranger and producer. With his work in pop music as well as on film scores, he has won more than fifty awards for his contribution to the industry. Commercial Radio also designated him one of the top ten composers of the 90s.
Four years ago, Mr Chan established his own studio, shifting his focus to the production of advertising jingles and film scores, which, he believes, can let him better integrate music with visual images.
Despite his many significant achievements, Mr Chan says he is no different from anyone else, except for his great fondness for music. "While everyone eats, sleeps and breathes every day, I cannot eat, sleep or breathe without my beloved music." It is his strong interest in music that has led to his success.
I cannot eat, sleep or breathe without my beloved music
It is the job of a producer to be in charge of everything recorded for an album, Mr Chan says. He has to discuss with the marketing team of a music publishing company how they wish to develop an artist in terms of imaging, and the related music requirements. The producer must fully understand the character of the artist, and then source or create the appropriate songs by working with composers, arrangers, musicians and lyricists. Besides, the producer has to ensure the artist gives the best possible performance by creating the right mood in the recording studio.
According to Mr Chan, there is an emerging trend for a producer to be responsible for a single or several songs instead of the entire album. This mix-and-match approach may help create chemistry among different producers and bring about better results.
Mr Chan points out, though, that this can be difficult for a producer who has worked with the same artist for a long time. He adds that the tight schedules in Hong Kong, which may allow only three to four months for production of a new release, cause even greater difficulties.
On the other hand, the process of music production remains the most enjoyable part of a producer's work. "The satisfaction comes from your success in getting the right things for the artist," he says.
Of the numerous artists Mr Chan has worked with, Ekin Cheng is the one that has the longest standing professional relationship with him. He was the producer of all Cheng's albums in the 90s, and the two have worked together for more than a decade.
"We are already good friends and know each other very well. As a result, I can create personalised music for him, with the songs reflecting his thinking at any particular period."
Mr Chan started his career in the music industry as both an artist and production assistant. He joined BMG after winning second prize in a pop music contest with his band Fundamental, in which he played a pivotal role in composing and music arrangement. The band was formed when he was still a 16-year-old student.
Although the work of a production assistant is more about coordination and scheduling, it allows a person to learn every facet of music production.
"It is an essential part of a producer's training," says Mr Chan. "He can only learn by experience."
For those keen on music, Mr Chan suggests they should grasp every opportunity to show off their work, whether it is by taking part in music contests or sending demos to publishing companies. "The point is to let others know your talents," he says.
It is not necessary for a producer to be a composer or arranger, but understanding the basic theory of music is important, explains Mr Chan. Formal training in music is not a must, he says.
"Although a music degree may help, there is a gap between the formal training in classical music and the requirements of pop music." It is more important for a producer to have good market sense.
A producer has to be patient in gathering opinions and coordinating with different parties during the production process. He also needs to be a perfectionist as he is ultimately responsible for the quality of the album.
Foreseeing a downturn in the record industry, which is threatened by the piracy problem, Mr Chan now focuses more on the production of advertising jingles and film scores. He serves as a composer for Click Music, his own studio. It is his target to continue his creative work, while fostering new composers and helping his own business to grow.
There is increasing business from mainland China for the production of advertising jingles, Mr Chan says. Although he himself has set up an office in Shanghai, he finds it is not absolutely necessary to establish a local presence to serve mainland clients. Customers are prepared to fly to Hong Kong and they can communicate, even to the extent of listening to demos, through the Internet. There is no significant difference between the music requirements of Hong Kong and mainland customers, since the projects are mainly for international brands. Instead of looking for localised music, they tend to search for something different from Hong Kong production houses, he says.