Monthly Archives: November 2010

Bye Bye My Loves

This week I let go of my Nintendo DS Lite and Wii. The separation pangs were unbearable. As I was packing the consoles to post them to their new owners, I hesitated a few times and had to psyched myself up to go through with the deal. I haven’t played both consoles even once throughout 2010 and now that they are moving on, I miss them the minute the sales were concluded and I was overcame by a huge urge to suddenly play this game and that game and this game and that game.

People talk about buyer’s remorse. What about seller’s remorse?

Huuuuu……. (that’s me, crying).

Bye bye my loves. I hope your new owners will love and enjoy you as much as I did when you were mine.

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Puisi Akhir Musim Bunga

When you read this, please listen to this piece as its accompaniment.Little Flowers... by nzks ( AKHIR MUSIM BUNGA
by Tuan Faridah Syed Abdullah

Musim bunga ini telah tiba
ke hujungnya. Seri alam pun
Memudar bersama keringnya
kelopak-kelopak segar
alam ini bakal sepi lagi
seperti aku yang bakal kau tinggalkan
siangpun akan kabur lagi mencari
pasti – musim manakah Tuhan akan mempertemukan
kita kembali?
Dalam sepi dan kabur akhir musim
puisi ini kutulis. Bersamaan itu
wajahmu memenuhi ruang ingatanku
Ya, puisi ini kutulis
Kutulis untukmu yang jauh
dengan payah
seperti musim bunga yang bakal berakhir ini
kita juga bakal jadi dewasa
bersama hukum alam itu.



This spring has come to
its end. The beauty of the land now
fades with the drying of
fresh petals
The world is going to be lonely once again
just like me whom you’re about to leave
The days pass in a blur looking for
certainty – which season will God bring us
together again?
In the loneliness and bleary at the end of the season
I wrote this. Simultaneously
your face fills up my memory
Yes, I wrote this
I wrote this for you who are far away
with much difficulty
Like this spring that is about to end
We, too, will have to grow up and move on
Just like that law of nature.


(p/s: please pardon the basic Eng translation. It doesn’t do justice to the original Bahasa Malaysia version. If anyone can provide a better one, please do.)

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The List of 36 Things

Bucket List word cloud #1

Image by mccmicb via Flickr

I have never made this list my entire life. You know, the list. THE list. THIS list?

So why now? Birthday’s coming up and I thought I’d give people something to talk about. Kind of my man-bucket list, if you think about it.

(And, I already did my bucket list and shopping lists: here, here, here, here and here, and travel wishlist; and I gave them a thought and couldn’t find new things to add in any of these lists, yet.)

So the list of 36 things, one for each year:

  1. Kind to waiters.
  2. Eating is a hobby, not for sustenance.
  3. Thinks it is cool that I am fanatical about video games like I am a 13-year old boy.
  4. Doesn’t attempt to make the bed if he is not the make-the-bed kinda guy. Domestic and housekeeping skills are overrated.
  5. Finds my sisters amusing. Siblings, not breasts.
  6. Finds the other (not siblings this time) sisters spectacular.
  7. When I talk or laugh too loud, instead of shush-ing me, tries one-upping me.
  8. Believes differences about religion, politics, sexual preferences, familial obligations and how to spend money should be respected (even when on opposite camps; no no ESPECIALLY when on opposite camps), not debated.
  9. Not keen on PDAs, but touches me discreetly only, and ONLY WHEN, no one is looking. When caught, feigns feeling faint.
  10. Asks me to model my shoes instead of asking how many pairs does a girl need in her lifetime? (Who knows? No one has ever been able to answer that question).
  11. Tells me I look great in any outfit I wear without a single umm whatsoever.
  12. Pretends to be asleep when I creep out of bed into the dark living room to play my guitar at 3 in the morning, then tiptoes and sits quietly in a corner to observe.
  13. Texts me to ask how I am, not where I am or what I am doing.
  14. When I want cupcakes, gets me cupcakes. And the RIGHT kind of cupcakes (Wondermilk, Bijoux or Delicious. Others are not the right kind).
  15. Takes pride in my work instead of competing with it.
  16. Japan is a shared fascination (or in my case, obsession).
  17. Throws me and my trainers out of the door when I attempt to lie my way out of running.
  18. Enjoys music and gets why I need to have the odd 11,000 songs in my MP3 player at all times.
  19. This blog is not unnerving, it’s documenting memories.
  20. Loses track of time on purpose when we are together doing nothing in particular just so the moment can stretch a bit longer.
  21. Practices voluntary non-interference  with a side of macaroons or Royce chocolates when it comes to me and my girlfriends coz nothing comes between me and my girlfriends.
  22. Must like House MD. Period.
  23. Buys me things that I like just because. Even if the color pink is a seriously dangerous allergen that can kill on-sight. (And I like a lot of things and pink things.)
  24. When buying my coffee, automatically orders the skinny version without asking (bonus point if he remembers the coffee jelly when it is coffee jelly season).
  25. Rain is a blessing, not nuisance.
  26. Worries about my inability to sleep but refrains from nagging.
  27. Torn jeans are cool, not rags.
  28. Makes no big deal if I am not into his things (football, fishing, collecting stamps, whatever).
  29. Makes no big deal about my guy friends. They tend to cluster  and fester in and around my apartment every now and then.
  30. Knows how to change lightbulbs, repair door locks, jumpstart a car  and open jars (the only exceptions to #4). Bonus points for the know-how to fix clogged drains, noisy ceiling fans and female adult who is sick with the cold and only wants to eat Uncle Lim’s Fish Porridge and nothing else.
  31. Favourite shape is curvy.
  32. Takes my fear of spiders, toads and caterpillars very seriously.
  33. Traveling is fun. Even if it means we’re 20,000 miles apart most of the time.
  34. Has 4-5 perfectly working spare mobile phones tucked in a drawer somewhere, you know, just in case I lose mine and need one in a pinch.
  35. May not think he is funny but gets Peter Chao’s sick humor.
  36. Easy-going but can put rude, obnoxious people in their places without raising voice or finger.

Happy birthday to me. Here, have a cupcake.

Tiffany Cupcake

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Power Doesn’t Corrupt; It Reveals

Chairs and Coffee by Murielle (

So. Popular or right?

The word “No” is feared a little too much, I think.

I hope whenever I need to say it, I’d say it.

Excerpt of article:

LBJ biographer Robert Caro observed that power doesn’t corrupt; it reveals. Research by UC Berkeley psychology Professor Serena Chen suggests that people who are naturally selfish grow even more selfish if they attain power, while people who are naturally selfless and giving become more so with power.

Roderick Kramer, professor of organizational behavior at Stanford has studied the biographies of hundreds of powerful people. He notes the flip side of power — that the lowering of inhibitions frees the powerful to shake up organizations, fearlessly challenge the status quo, do the right thing regardless of unpopularity, and follow a more daring vision. This orientation is exponentially enhanced by the fact that others react differently, more deferentially, to powerful people. Henry Kissinger discerned that power is “the ultimate aphrodisiac.”

The point, Kramer would argue, is not just that power reveals but also that it changes people. Such transformation explains why so many powerful people, imbued with talent, luck and leadership skills, tumble in flames like Icarus. The only way to truly harness power is first to understand what it does to you — in other words, the consequences of lowered inhibitions.

So what is required to remain uncorrupted — to handle power with grace?

The experts say that to remain grounded, it takes a deliberate effort, a sense of humor about yourself and a willingness to become more, not less, reflective.

“Nearly all men can stand adversity,” said Abraham Lincoln, “but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”


Read the full article here:

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Cupcakes Aren’t Food, They’re Pop Culture

Since I am on a self-imposed fun-things ban (which includes sweet treats of all kinds), I look at pictures of cupcakes all day.

See the full gallery here and weep with me:  Cupcake Art theBERRY.

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Everybody Lies..And Stuff

A basic truth that is universally very difficult to accept, eloquently phrased by Dr. Gregory House.

The following artwork(s) is not mine, where possible I have attributed it back to its originator or the original website where it is taken from. Click on individual thumbnails for a larger image.

So without further ado, by popular demand.


If you like more House MD wallpapers, may I recommend visiting:

Hope you find what you’re looking for.



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Birthday Girl by Haruki Murakami

“Birthday Girl” is a short story written by Haruki Murakami. It appeared in Harper’s Magazine in July 2003, as well as in “Birthday Stories” -  a collection of short stories personally selected and introduced by Murakami.

I first referenced this story in a blogpost called What Would You Wish For last April, after a short but important and necessary trip to Singapore. I have been looking for the online version to share in here since.

Here’s the story, on the birthday of the girl in the story, November 17. The story was told when she was (at least) 30. That makes her in my age bracket.

Just that unlike her, my wish had come true. And I wish I wished for something else.

You know what they say. Careful what you wish for.

Happy Birthday, November babies, all of us.

(For downloadable pdf version, click here:  Birthday Girl by Haruki Murakami)

Ladies Sharing Birthday Cupcake by Silke Leffler


She waited on tables as usual that day, her twentieth birthday. She always worked on Fridays, but if things had gone according to plan that particular Friday, she would have had the night off. The other part-time girl had agreed to switch shifts with her as a matter of course: being screamed at by an angry chef while lugging pumpkin gnocchi and seafood fritto to customers’ tables was not a normal way to spend one’s twentieth birthday. But the other girl had aggravated a cold and gone to bed with unstoppable diarrhea and a fever of 104, so she ended up working after all on short notice.

She found herself trying to comfort the sick girl, who had called to apologize. “Don’t worry about it,” she said. “I wasn’t going to do anything special anyway, even if it is my twentieth birthday.”

And in fact she was not all that disappointed. One reason was the terrible argument she had had a few days earlier with the boyfriend who was supposed to be with her that night. They had been going together since high school, and the argument had started from nothing much. But it had taken an unexpected turn for the worse until it became a long and bitter shouting match–one bad enough, she was pretty sure, to have snapped their long-standing ties once and for all. Something inside her had turned rock-hard and died. He had not called her since the blowup, and she was not about to call him.

Her workplace was one of the better-known Italian restaurants in the tony Roppongi district of Tokyo. It had been in business since the late sixties, and, although its cuisine was hardly leading edge, its high reputation was fully justified. It had many repeat customers, and they were never disappointed. The dining room had a calm, relaxed atmosphere without a hint of pushiness. Rather than a young crowd, the restaurant drew an older clientele that included some famous stage people and writers.

The two full-time waiters worked six days a week. She and the other part time waitress were students who took turns working three clays each. In addition there was one floor manager and, at the register, a skinny middle-aged woman who supposedly had been there since the restaurant opened–literally sitting in the one place, it seemed, like some gloomy old character from Little Dorrit. She had exactly two functions: to accept payment from the guests and to answer the phone. She spoke only when necessary and always wore the same black dress. There was something cold and hard about her: if you set her afloat on the nighttime sea, she could probably sink any boat that happened to ram her.

The floor manager was perhaps in his late forties. Tall and broad-shouldered, his build suggested that he had been a sportsman in his youth, but excess flesh was now beginning to accumulate on his belly and chin. His short, stiff hair was thinning at the crown, and a special aging-bachelor smell clung to him–like newsprint that had been stored for a while in a drawer with cough drops. She had a bachelor uncle who smelled like that.

The manager always wore a black suit, white shirt, and bow tie–not a snap-on bow tie but the real thing, tied by hand. It was a point of pride for him that he could tie it perfectly without looking in the mirror. His job consisted in checking the arrival and departure of guests, keeping the reservation situation in mind, knowing the names of regular customers, greeting them with a smile, lending a respectful ear to any customers’ complaints, giving expert advice on wines, and overseeing the work of the waiters and waitresses. He performed his duties adroitly day after day. It was also his special task to deliver dinner to the room of the restaurant’s owner.

“The owner had his own room on the sixth floor of the same building where the restaurant was,” she said.

“An apartment or office or something.”

Somehow she and I had gotten onto the subject of our twentieth birthdays–what sort of day it had been for each of us. Most people remember the day they turned twenty. Hers had happened more than ten years earlier.

“He never, ever showed his face in the restaurant, though. The only one who saw him was the manager. It was strictly his job to deliver the owner’s dinner to him. None of the other employees knew what he looked like.”

“So, basically, the owner was getting home delivery from his own restaurant.”

“Right,” she said. “Every night at eight the manager had to bring dinner to the owner’s room. It was the restaurant’s busiest time, so having the manager disappear just then was always a problem for us, but there was no way around it because that was the way it had always been done. They’d load the dinner onto one of those carts that hotels use for room service, the manager would push it onto the elevator wearing a respectful look on his face, and fifteen minutes later he’d come back empty-handed. Then, an hour later, he’d go up again and bring down the cart with empty plates and glasses. Like clockwork, every day. I thought it was really weird the first time I saw it happen. It was like some kind of religious ritual, you know? After a while I got used to it, though, and never gave it another thought.”

The owner always had chicken. The recipe and the vegetable sides were a little different every day, but the main dish was always chicken. A young chef once told her that he had tried sending up the same exact roast chicken every day for a week just to see what would happen, but there was never any complaint. Of course, a chef wants to try different ways of preparing things, and each new chef would challenge himself with every technique for chicken that he could think of. They’d make elegant sauces, they’d try chickens from different suppliers, but none of their efforts had any effect: they might just as well have been throwing pebbles into an empty cave. Every one of them gave up and sent the owner some really standard chicken dish every day. That’s all that was ever asked of them.

Work started out as usual on her twentieth birthday, November 17. It had been raining on and off since the afternoon, and pouring since early evening. At five o’clock the manager gathered the employees together to explain the day’s specials. Servers were required to memorize them word for word and not use crib sheets: veal Milanese, pasta topped with sardines and cabbage, chestnut mousse. Sometimes the manager would take the part of a customer and test them with questions. Then came the employees’ meal: waiters in this restaurant were not going to have growling stomachs as they stood there taking customers’ orders!

The restaurant opened its doors at six o’clock, but guests were slow to arrive because of the downpour, and several reservations were simply canceled. Women didn’t want their dresses ruined by the rain. The manager walked around tight-lipped, and the waiters killed time polishing the salt and pepper shakers or chatting with the chef about cooking. She surveyed the dining room with its single couple at a table and listened to the harpsichord music flowing discreetly from ceiling speakers. A deep smell of late-autumn rain worked its way into the restaurant.

It was after seven-thirty when the manager started feeling sick. He stumbled over to a chair and sat there for a while pressing his stomach, as if he had suddenly been shot. A greasy sweat clung to his forehead. “I think I’d better go to the hospital,” he muttered. For him to have medical problems was a most unusual occurrence: he had never missed a day since he started working in this restaurant more than ten years earlier. It was another point of pride for him that he had never been out with illness or injury, but his painful grimace made it clear that he was in very bad shape.

She stepped outside with an umbrella and hailed a cab. One of the waiters held the manager steady and climbed into the car with him to take him to a nearby hospital. Before ducking into the cab, the manager said to her hoarsely, “I want you to take a dinner up to room 604 at eight o’clock. All you have to do is ring the bell, say, ‘Your dinner is here,’ and leave it.”

“That’s room 604, right?” she said.

“At eight o’clock,” he repeated. “On the dot.” He grimaced again, climbed in, and the taxi took him away. The rain showed no signs of letting up after the manager was gone, and customers arrived at long intervals. No more than one or two tables were occupied at a time, so if the manager and one waiter had to be absent, this was a good time for it to happen. Things could get so busy that it was not unusual for even the full staff to have trouble coping.

When the owner’s meal was ready at eight o’clock, she pushed the room-service cart onto the elevator and rode up to the sixth floor. It was the standard meal for him: a half bottle of red wine with the cork loosened, a thermal pot of coffee, a chicken entree with steamed vegetables, dinner rolls, and butter. The heavy aroma of cooked chicken quickly filled the little elevator. It mingled with the smell of rain. Water droplets dotted the floor of the elevator, suggesting that someone with a wet umbrella had recently been

She pushed the cart down the corridor, bringing it to a stop in front of the door marked “604.” She double-checked her memory: 604. That was it. She cleared her throat and pressed the button by the door. There was no answer. She stood in place for a good twenty seconds. Just as she was thinking of pressing the bell again, the door opened inward and a skinny old man appeared. He was shorter than she was, by some four or five inches. He had on a dark suit and a necktie. Against his white shirt, the tie stood out distinctly with its brownish-yellow coloring like withered leaves. He made a very clean impression, his clothes perfectly pressed, his white hair smoothed down: he looked as though he were about to go out for the night to some sort of gathering. The deep wrinkles that creased his brow made her think of deep ravines in an aerial photograph.

“Your dinner, sir,” she said in a husky voice, then quietly cleared her throat again. Her voice grew husky whenever she was tense.


“Yes, sir. The manager suddenly took sick. I had to take his place today. Your meal, sir.”

“Oh, I see,” the old man said, almost as if talking to himself, his hand still perched on the doorknob.

“Took sick, eh? You don’t say.”

“His stomach started to hurt him all of a sudden. He went to the hospital. He thinks he might have appendicitis.”

“Oh, that’s not good,” the old man said, running his fingers along the wrinkles of his forehead. “Not good at all.”

She cleared her throat again. “Shall I bring your meal in, sir?” she asked.

“Ah yes, of course,” the old man said. “Yes, of course, if you wish. That’s fine with me.”

If I wish? she thought. What a strange way to put it. What am I supposed to wish?

The old man opened the door the rest of the way, and she wheeled the cart inside. The floor was covered in short gray carpeting with no area for removing shoes. The first room was a large study, as though the apartment were more a workplace than a residence. The window looked out on Tokyo Tower nearby, its steel skeleton outlined in lights. A large desk stood by the window, and beside the desk was a compact sofa and love seat. The old man pointed to the plastic laminate coffee table in front of the sofa. She arranged his meal on the table: white napkin and silverware, coffeepot and cup, wine and wineglass, bread and butter, and the plate of chicken and vegetables.

“If you would be kind enough to set the dishes in the hall as usual, sir, I’ll come to get them in an hour.” Her words seemed to snap him out of an appreciative contemplation of his dinner. “Oh, yes, of course. I’ll put them in the hall. On the cart. In an hour. If you wish.”

Yes, she replied inwardly, for the moment that is exactly what I wish. “Is there anything else I can do for you, sir?”

“No, I don’t think so,” he said after a moment’s consideration. He was wearing black shoes that had been polished to a high sheen. They were small and chic. He’s a stylish dresser, she thought. And he stands very straight for his age.

“Well, then, sir, I’ll be getting back to work.”

“No, wait just a moment,” he said.


“Do you think it might be possible for you to give me five minutes of your time, miss? I have something I’d like to say to you.”

He was so polite in his request that it made her blush. “I … think it should be all right,” she said. “I mean, if it’s really just five minutes.” He was her employer, after all. He was paying her by the hour. It was not a question of her giving or his taking her time. And this old man did not look like a person who would do anything bad to her.

“By the way, how old are you?” the old man asked, standing by the table with arms folded and looking directly into her eyes.

“I’m twenty now,” she said.

“Twenty now,” he repeated, narrowing his eyes as if peering through some kind of crack. “Twenty now.

As of when?”

“Well, I just turned twenty,” she said. After a moment’s hesitation, she added, “Today is my birthday, sir.”

“I see,” he said, rubbing his chin as if this explained a great deal. “Today, is it? Today is your twentieth birthday?”

She nodded silently.

“Your life in this world began exactly twenty years ago today.”

“Yes, sir,” she said, “that is true.”

“I see, I see,” he said. “That’s wonderful. Well, then, happy birthday.”

“Thank you very much,” she said, and then it dawned on her that this was the very first time all day that anyone had wished her a happy birthday. Of course, if her parents had called from Oita, she might find a message from them on her answering machine when she got home after work.

“Well, well, this is certainly a cause for celebration,” he said. “How about a little toast? We can drink this red wine.”

“Thank you, sir, but I couldn’t. I’m working now.”

“Oh, what’s the harm in a little sip? No one’s going to blame you if I say it’s all right. Just a token drink for celebration.”

The old man slipped the cork from the bottle and dribbled a little wine into his glass for her. Then he took an ordinary drinking glass from a glass-doored cabinet and poured some wine for himself.

“Happy birthday,” he said. “May you live a rich and fruitful life, and may there be nothing to cast dark shadows on it.”

They clinked glasses.

May there be nothing to cast dark shadows on it: she silently repeated his remark to herself. Why had he chosen such unusual words for her birthday wish?

“Your twentieth birthday comes only once in a lifetime, miss. It’s an irreplaceable day.”

“Yes, sir, I know,” she said, taking one cautious sip of wine.

“And here, on your special day, you have taken the trouble to deliver my dinner to me like a kindhearted fairy.”

“Just doing my job, sir.”

“But still,” the old man said with a few quick shakes of the head. “But still, lovely young miss.”

The old man sat down in the leather chair by his desk and motioned her to the sofa. She lowered herself gingerly onto the edge of the sofa, with the wineglass in her hand. Knees aligned, she tugged at her skirt, clearing her throat again. She saw raindrops tracing lines down the windowpane. The room was strangely quiet.

“Today just happens to be your twentieth birthday, and on top of that you have brought me this wonderful warm meal,” the old man said, as if reconfirming the situation. Then he set his glass on the desktop with a little thump. “This has to be some kind of special convergence, don’t you think?”
Not quite convinced, she managed a nod.

“Which is why,” he said, touching the knot of his withered-leaf-colored necktie, “I feel it is important for me to give you a birthday present. A special birthday calls for a special commemorative gift.”

Flustered, she shook her head and said, “No, please, sir, don’t give it a second thought. All I did was bring your meal the way they ordered me to.”

The old man raised both hands, palms toward her. “No, miss, don’t you give it a second thought. The kind of ‘present’ I have in mind is not something tangible, not something with a price tag. To put it simply”–he placed his hands on the desk and took one long, slow breath–”what I would like to do for a lovely young fairy such as you is to grant a wish you might have, to make your wish come true. Anything. Anything at all that you wish for–assuming that you do have such a wish.”

“A wish?” she asked, her throat dry.

“Something you would like to have happen, miss. If you have a wish–one wish, I’ll make it come true. That is the kind of birthday present I can give you. But you had better think about it very carefully, because I can give you only one.” He raised one finger into the air. “Just one. You can’t change your mind afterward and take it back.”

She was at a loss for words. One wish? Whipped by the wind, raindrops tapped unevenly at the windowpane. As long as she remained silent, the old man looked into her eyes, saying nothing. Time marked its irregular pulse in her ears.

“I have to wish for something, and it will be granted?”

Instead of answering her question, the old man–hands still side-by-side on the desk–just smiled. He did it in the most natural and amiable way.

“Do you have a wish, miss–or not?” he asked gently.

“This really did happen,” she said, looking straight at me. “I’m not making it up.”

“Of course not,” I said. She was not the sort of person to invent some goofy story out of thin air. “So … did you make a wish?”

She went on looking at me for a while, then released a tiny sigh. “Don’t get me wrong,” she said. “I wasn’t taking him 100 percent seriously myself. I mean, at twenty you’re not exactly living in a fairy-tale world anymore. If this was his idea of a joke, though, I had to hand it to him for coming up with it on the spot.

He was a dapper old fellow with a twinkle in his eye, so I decided to play along with him. It was my twentieth birthday, after all: I figured I ought to have something not so ordinary happen to me that day. It wasn’t a question of believing or not believing.”

I nodded without saying anything.

“You can understand how I felt, I’m sure. My twentieth birthday was coming to an end with nothing special happening, nobody wishing me a happy birthday, and all I’m doing is carrying tortellini with anchovy sauce to people’s tables.”

I nodded again. “Don’t worry,” I said. “I understand.”

“So I made a wish.”

The old man kept his gaze fixed on her, saying nothing, hands still on the desk. Also on the desk were several thick folders that might have been account books, plus writing implements, a calendar, and a lamp with a green shade. Lying among them, his small hands looked like another set of desktop furnishings.

The rain continued to beat against the glass, the lights of Tokyo Tower filtering through the shattered drops.

The wrinkles on the old man’s forehead deepened slightly. “That is your wish?”

“Yes,” she said. “That is my wish.”

“A bit unusual for a girl your age,” he said. “I was expecting something different.”

“If it’s no good, I’ll wish for something else,” she said, clearing her throat. “I don’t mind. I’ll think of something else.”

“No no,” the old man said, raising his hands and waving them like flags. “There’s nothing wrong with it, not at all. It’s just a little surprising, miss. Don’t you have something else? Like, say, you want to be prettier, or smarter, or rich? You’re okay with not wishing for something like that–something an ordinary girl would ask for?”

She took some moments to search for the right words. The old man just waited, saying nothing, his hands at rest together on the desk again.

“Of course I’d like to be prettier or smarter or rich. But I really can’t imagine what would happen to me if any of those things came true. They might be more than I could handle. I still don’t really know what life is all about. I don’t know how it works.”

“I see,” the old man said, intertwining his fingers and separating them again. “I see.”

“So, is my wish okay?”

“Of course,” he said. “Of course. It’s no trouble at all for me.”

The old man suddenly fixed his eyes on a spot in the air. The wrinkles of his forehead deepened: they might have been the wrinkles of his brain itself as it concentrated on his thoughts. He seemed to be staring at something–perhaps all-but-invisible bits of down–floating in the air. He opened his arms wide, lifted himself slightly from his chair, and whipped his palms together with a dry smack. Settling in the chair again, he slowly ran his fingertips along the wrinkles of his brow as if to soften them, and then turned to her with a gentle smile.

“That did it,” he said. “Your wish has been granted.”


“Yes, it was no trouble at all. Your wish has been granted, lovely miss. Happy birthday. You may go back to work now. Don’t worry, I’ll put the cart in the hall.”

She took the elevator down to the restaurant. Empty-handed now, she felt almost disturbingly light, as though she were walking on some kind of mysterious fluff.

“Are you okay? You look spaced out,” the younger waiter said to her.

She gave him an ambiguous smile and shook her head. “Oh, really? No, I’m fine.”

“Tell me about the owner. What’s he like?”

“I dunno, I didn’t get a very good look at him,” she said, cutting the conversation short.

An hour later she went to bring the cart down. It was out in the hall, utensils in place. She lifted the lid to find the chicken and vegetables gone. The wine bottle and coffee carafe were empty. The door to room 604 stood there closed and expressionless. She stared at it for a time, feeling as though it might open at any moment, but it did not open. She brought the cart down on the elevator and wheeled it in to the dishwasher. The chef looked at the plate, empty as always, and nodded blankly.

“I never saw the owner again,” she said. “Not once. The manager turned out to have had just an ordinary stomachache and went back to delivering the owner’s meal again himself the next day. I quit the job after New Year’s, and I’ve never been back to the place. I don’t know, I just felt it was better not to go near there, kind of like a premonition.”

She toyed with a paper coaster, thinking her own thoughts. “Sometimes I get the feeling that everything that happened to me on my twentieth birthday was some kind of illusion. It’s as though something happened to make me think that things happened that never really happened. But I know for sure that they did happen. I can still bring back vivid images of every piece of furniture and every knickknack in room 604. What happened to me in there really happened, and it had an important meaning for me too.”

The two of us kept silent for a time, drinking our drinks and thinking our separate thoughts.

“Do you mind if I ask you one thing?” I asked. “Or, more precisely, two things.”

“Go right ahead,” she said. “I imagine you’re going to ask me what I wished for that time. That’s the first thing you’ll want to know.”

“But it looks as though you don’t want to talk about that.”

“Does it?”

I nodded.

She put the coaster down and narrowed her eyes as though staring at something off in the distance.

“You’re not supposed to tell anybody what you wished for, you know.”

“I’m not going to try to drag it out of you,” I said. “I would like to know whether or not it came true, though. And also–whatever the wish itself might have been–whether or not you later came to regret what it was you chose to wish for. Were you ever sorry you didn’t wish for something else?”

“The answer to the first question is yes and also no. I still have a lot of living left to do, probably. I haven’t seen how things are going to work out to the end.”

“So it was a wish that takes time to come true?”

“You could say that. Time is going to play an important role.”

“Like in cooking certain dishes?”

She nodded.

I thought about that for a moment, but the only thing that came to mind was the image of a gigantic pie cooking slowly in an oven at low heat.

“And the answer to my second question?”

“What was that again?”

“Whether you ever regretted having chosen what you wished for.”

A few moments of silence followed. The eyes she turned on me seemed to lack any depth. The desiccated shadow of a smile flickered at the corners of her mouth, giving me a kind of hushed sense of resignation.

“I’m married now,” she said. “To a CPA three years older than me. And I have two children, a boy and a girl. We have an Irish setter. I drive an Audi, and I play tennis with my girlfriends twice a week. That’s the life I’m living now.”

“Sounds pretty good to me,” I said.

“Even if the Audi’s bumper has two dents?”

“Hey, bumpers are made for denting.”

“That could be a great bumper sticker,” she said. “‘Bumpers are for denting.’”

I looked at her mouth when she said that.

“What I’m trying to tell you is this,” she said more softly, scratching an earlobe. It was a beautifully shaped earlobe. “No matter what they wish for, no matter how far they go, people can never be anything but themselves. That’s all.”

“There’s another good bumper sticker,” I said. “‘No matter how far they go, people can never be anything but themselves.’”

She laughed aloud, with a real show of pleasure, and the shadow was gone.

She rested her elbow on the bar and looked at me. “Tell me,” she said. “What would you have wished for if you had been in my position?”

“On the night of my twentieth birthday, you mean?”


I took some time to think about that, but I couldn’t come up with a single wish.

“I can’t think of anything,” I confessed. “I’m too far away now from my twentieth birthday.”

“You really can’t think of anything?”

I nodded.

“Not one thing?”

“Not one thing.”

She looked into my eyes again–straight in–and said, “That’s because you’ve already made your wish.”


COPYRIGHT 2003 Harper’s Magazine Foundation in association with The Gale Group and LookSmart.

COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group

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The Part You Throw Away

Tom Waits by Adrian Boots (

This man’s name is Tom Waits. You think you have never heard of him but you have. It was Tom Waits that you heard in the Shrek 2 scene when King Harold went to The Poison Apple Bar to contract Puss In Boots to finish off Shrek. Yes, the one with Captain Hook on the piano.

“I like my towwwwwn, with a little drop of poisonnnnnnn….”.

The dirty, gravelly voice that’s more painful than Dolores Umbridge‘s Blood Quill punishment? Yeah. Correct. That was Tom Waits.

His songs make me feel like I am watching a carnival  through a looking glass- a combination of hideousness and beautiful mystery, both maddening and intoxicating at the same time. I can’t look away.

Doesn’t matter.

This is “The Part You Throw Away“. It is raining outside. I like to think that this coincidence is not a coincidence.

You dance real slow
You wreck it down
You walk away, then you
Turn around

What did that old blonde gal say?
That is the part…
You throw away

Then ask yourself: which part did you throw away?

Makes you feel like your heart’s been stabbed a little, no?

(No, I didn’t cry this time)

Come on. Click play. You know you want to.

(get the Guitar Tab courtesy of, or download the pdf version here)

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Rockstar Manual: State of the Music Industry

US music market shares, according to Nielsen S...

Image via Wikipedia

Update: For 2011 Music Industry Statistics, please go here.


*this originally appeared as a note in fb on September 22, 2010*

For some reason the past week I have been bombarded by questions and opinions about the state of the music industry – what’s right with it, what’s wrong with it, what needs changing, what needs enforcements etc.

These are all arguments that I have heard before and I agree with all of them. What I don’t agree is with the diagnosis that:

  1. The current music industry is full of crap, dreary dross; and
  2. That capitalism is to be blamed for this state.

I don’t think so. I think the problem that needs the most urgent attention is the product itself. Marketing, media support, even governmental and legislative support is just that – support. We need to have a product that the masses want, first and foremost, then only we can figure out the rest.

Please allow me to share my side of the story, so that we can better understand and appreciate the dynamics of the market and see how we can improve it so that more people can get a slice of the pie.

Firstly, the state of music industry has always been robust, it has never been in a decline. It is probably a lot more robust today than it was 10 years ago. What has declined is physical CD sales in comparison with other formats. Digital, mobile and live experiences such as concerts and festivals have seen super insane growth.

People are consuming more music than ever. Time, distance, language, ethnicity, religion, genre, logistics etc are no longer major deterrents in getting your music out there in the marketplace. Ease of travel and availability of low cost carriers and budget hotels as well as the rise of social networking that allows you to find new friends in foreign places also mean going to a concert anywhere in the world is not such of an impossibility anymore. Music, and its related experiences, is no longer an elitist product – it is now accessible and readily available to anyone anywhere as long as they are willing to part money for it.

In quick numbers, comparison between 2006 and 2011 revenues for worldwide music sales:

  1. Digital: USD2.9 bil to USD14.8bil
  2. Mobile: USD1.0 bil to USD7.3 bil
  3. Physical: USD1.9 bil to USD5.7 bil
  4. Concert tix: USD8.2 bil to USD12.1 bil

These numbers are DESPITE the fact that 95% of the tracks on digital platform is “stolen music” i.e. music tracks that are downloaded without payment to the artist or the music company that produced them whether via direct downloads or P2P. Imagine that. Only 5% are purchased legally, yet this 5% still amounts to a sizable USD14.8bil.

Now, that stupid, dreary dross that you hate so much? The ones that you think are  inferior to what you produce? That same stupid, dreary dross (after this will be known as “SDD”) are the ones that are generating these numbers.

So, your next question will be why, right? Why theirs? Why not mine? Simple. The SDD are produced based on what the masses want.

Globally, 63% of adults (between the ages of 17-34) say they are  passionate about music. Generally there are three suggested consumer ‘segments’:

  1. ‘Chameleons’ (who readily ‘blend in’) are more inclined to listen to music as long as it makes them fit in and current
  2. ‘Experiential’ music consumers who have an eclectic, diverse music taste.
  3. Defenders’ who are committed to particular artists and are more inclined to illustrate this through self expression

At the drawing board, when the discussion of an album or a single takes place, we actually ask: which SDD should we produce today to appease the masses’ need for music that “defines” them? We debate hotly over to how we want the end product to look and sound like and which market segment it will appeal to. We debate over artistic consideration versus financial implications – how much money do we need to make out of this and how much money we can afford to spend; and what are the trade-offs? How much do we pander and bend to accommodate the consumers’ preference versus the artiste’s preference?

You want to innovate? This is where you innovate. It is not the movers and shaker’s duty to revolutionize the industry. It is your duty, the person who creates the product.

Music is stripped down to its most basic definition – a product to sell to the masses, instead of its more romantic definition of self-expression and soul-redeeming tool. The basic principles of creating a product applies:

  1. It has appeal.
  2. It sufficiently differs itself from other products already in the marketplace.
  3. It can be produced at an affordable and competitive price.

So it doesn’t matter if you want to sing rock’n roll or nordic heavy metal in whatever language. What we ask are these questions:

  1. Does it appeal to the right market?
  2. Does it have a unique signature, an identity?
  3. Can we produce this without breaking the bank?
  4. What are the combinations of best studio, best sessionist, best producer, best mixer, best PR people etc that we can buy with the kind of money that we have at our disposal?
  5. Can we then sell this product to make some profit to put food on the table?

It doesn’t matter if you hate all these marketing stuff and feel like a sellout and that it stifles your creativity. The fact is even if you reach into your own pocket to record your own music, if you have any intention whatsoever to make some money out of it as opposed to it just being a self-expression, you still need to take these things into consideration. They are real concerns, real laws of the market dynamics, real factors in getting you the money from the consumers’ wallet.

I completely agree that there is always a demand for all sorts of products, all sorts of music. But the size of the market it caters to is also different from one to the other. You want to appeal to the masses, you release something that the masses will lap up. If you say the masses are not your target market anyway and you will not sink to their level, then don’t.

What I don’t appreciate is the consumers being belittled and called stupid or lacking in taste when they dismiss you and refuse to give you their money; or when media owners don’t put your song on heavy rotation (psst… media owners are subjected to the same market dynamics. Yes, even MTV).  As a marketeer, I take offense when my customers are insulted.  It was your choice too, you know. It all starts with the product that you are willing (or unwilling) to put out there. Otherwise you are just another music brat (or music snob, take your pick) who feels you are entitled to the consumers’ money without making the appropriate effort to give them what they want. Just because you have what you think is a good and winning product doesn’t make it so, a lot of other people have to think so too. And when I say a lot, I mean millions of other people.

Now, to the second point. Us capitalists. About USD5 billion a year is invested in artists by record companies worldwide. Around 30% of revenues are spent on artist development and marketing, this includes an estimated 16% that is spent on artist and repertoire work (A&R), a proportion that significantly exceeds the proportionate research and development (R&D) expenditure of virtually ALL other industries. Historical evidence in the past 20 years shows that an average of USD1 million is required to break a new artist in major markets.

I am not saying capitalists are not greedy money grubbers. But if we are going to risk that much money on your product, we’d better be damn sure that the SDDs will embrace it or we will not be able to get a paycheck by the end of the month. It is not easy to set trends, to persuade people about what’s cool and what’s not. It will be doubly hard if we have a product that only appeals to a very small slice of the market share because its marketing and promotion requires the same amount of money and effort for products that could yield us millions. In this unfair cruel world, millions trumps eclecticism.

Growth-Share Matrix. Source: The Boston Consulting Group

I assure you 80% of the time I will not be able to release a record that I personally like. Hardly 20% of the time either. The portfolio and priority is always about the cash cows and the stars; and to see if anything can be done to fix the problem child. The dogs? We kick them out, even if we personally believe in them and really REALLY like them.

So at the very least, aim to get your music in the problem child category so that I can fight for you. And here’s a little secret. I am in the 2% bracket. Yeah. Even my bosses were surprised. The super elite is accidentally hired to sell products to the low-life masses. But it is not about what I like, is it? Not about my musical taste. There’s a lot of people like me in the industry. We fight and look out for the underdogs. But give me something that I can work with. Don’t force your stubbornness and musical self-righteousness on us and then curse us when your music doesn’t sell.

These are not observations. These are the cold hard facts. This is not even an argument. This is me sharing with you the view from this side of the metaphorical mountain. My challenges. My issues. What I have to deal with on a daily basis. What I have to walk into that meeting room and defend. What we capitalists do is merely to provide a way for the product to reach the marketplace and make the masses aware of its availability. Yes we are the “pushers” but we will not push anything that the market doesn’t demand, no one dares to take that kind of financial risk. Maybe someday someone will, but today I am not that someone. If the creator of the product decides not to abide by these market principles, don’t be angry at the industry or its movers and shakers or the media or the government or the music consumers or the God of rock’n roll who is now paying too much attention to Lady Gaga, Eminem and Justin Bieber. Yes the market doesn’t work in your favour. So? Shit happens. But did you do all that you can to make the market work in your favour at the first place?

Again yes, of course there are other external, intangible considerations like luck, looks and charisma. The good news is, when you have the money to back you up, you can manufacture your own luck, looks and charisma. Of course there are misfits, those lucky bastards who defy the laws and go completely against the grain yet become both a commercial and critical success. Unfortunately for me, I haven’t came across one yet myself. So I will operate under the laws and rules that I am given which dictates that I take extremely calculated risks; exceptions are made when exceptional products come my way. Guess what, that’s not my department, that’s yours. I can go completely radical and crazy in my marketing efforts, but in product development? I am your most frigid, puritanical, risk-averse traditionalist.

My question now is this: how will you, the creator, the artist, the musician react to this truth now that you know about it?  Do you have a product that is demanded by the masses? Are you willing to modify it so that it does? How far are you willing to bend? What is the the tolerable amount of artistic licence that you will give up in exchange for commercial success?

Remember this: if you have a product that the masses don’t want, that you are unwilling to modify to make it desirable to the masses; please don’t become angry and self-entitled when you don’t get the adulation and love that you think you deserve and become bitter and jaded about the industry when music consumers reject your product and decide to buy something else. Grow up. I have to, so do you. Everyone does.

If we want to change the industry, we have to change it from the inside and it starts with the people who creates the content. You. The rest of us is just playing a supporting role, we are dictated by what the market wants. It is true, our hands are tied. But yours are not. You’re the messiah. Not us.

What are you going to do about it?

And yes, feel free to disagree. Peace out.



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Rockstar Manual: Understanding Your Contract


Image by Olivander via Flickr

In a flash:

  1. Lawyer up. It is a good investment. At the least, get someone who knows law to go through the contract and explain it to you before you sign on the dotted line.
  2. Pay attention to all numbers that appear in the contract.
  3. If in doubt, ask; and if unhappy, negotiate.

Click here for the downloadable pdf version of  Rockstar Manual_ Understanding_Your_Contract

Side note:

Sorry took me a while to continue this series. If you decide to go the conventional route and sign with a record label, the contract that you are signing is probably the most important document for the rest of your career. Because of the radically changing nature of music industry these days, you may be required to sign different contracts with different companies. For instance, you may sign one with the record company, another with the distributor, then another for online content and another for online music stores etc.

As I will not be able to cover all forms of contracts, we will use the generic recording deal contract for this piece. The aim is to give you a general understanding of what you are signing for, and how the monies (both revenue and expenses) accumulated from this venture is distributed.

One last thing before we go into the details. If you are self-signed, I suggest that you still sign a proper contract between yourself and the company that you form as your record label. There is a lot of pros to separating yourself the business owner and yourself the rockstar into two entities. For instance, if the are any problems or lawsuits, the company would be liable, but not you (depending on how you set up the company). Especially if you are in a band, having this piece of paper will help with managing the money that you receive from your works and gigs.



Rule number one: Get yourself a lawyer. If you don’t have the money, find a friend who understands the law and can help explain what the contract is all about. Don’t take this advice lightly.

A lot of artistes are screwed because they did not know what they are agreeing to when they sign on the dotted line. I am not saying that recording companies are unscrupulous and will screw you. All I am saying is get smart and make an effort to know your rights. That way, you will know your limitations, what you are entitled for and most importantly if deal is beneficial to you (good) or if it is lopsided (bad).

There are a lot of things covered in a contract. I am no lawyer but I will try to explain it to you in a layman’s language.

A. What is  a contract?

A contract is basically a legal document that binds you and the recording company in a working relationship. It’s something like an appointment letter.

B. Who will it involve?

In a contract there are two (or more parties) involved. You will be known as “Artiste”, and the recording company will be known as “Company”. Here’s an example of a contract and we will go one by one to understand what it means. Bear in mind that not all contracts are the same but this will at least give you a general idea of what to expect.

C. Term of Appointment

Term of appointment means the contract period, or how long you will “work” for the recording company. It usually comes with an option period. That means, after your initial period is over, the recording company will asses you and will offer to extend the contract for the length of the option period. If you suck, they can elect not to extend it. It’s as simple as that.

Example of clause:

The term of this agreement shall be for an initial period of One (1) year followed with a Three (3) consecutive separate options to extend for further periods of One (1) year each upon the same terms and conditions applicable to the initial period.

D. Obligations of the Artiste

This will cover your duties, of what is expected of you during the duration of the contract, Master recordings =  album. The contract will determine how many albums you must make, usually one album a year.

Example of clause:

During the initial option period, Artiste shall record for Company One (1) master recordings. At the election of the Company, which election may be made, if at all, at any time prior to the expiration of the Term, Artiste shall record for the Company additional masters the numbers of which shall be selected by Company.

E. Obligations of the Company

This is the part that confuses most artistes.

As a standard procedure, a recording company (after this I will only refer to it as “RC”) will pay you a certain amount of money to start you off. This is called advances. The amount depends on how much faith they have in you.

You can negotiate the amount if you feel what they are offering you are not enough. Before you get too excited and ask for an exorbitant amount – remember this: the amount will be deducted from your future earnings.

So the bigger the amount you get now, the less you will get in the future. when the royalty monies come in. Simply put,  if you get RM20,000 now, this RM20,000 will be deducted from your royalty payment when your album sales start rolling. So it is not really the recording company’s money, it is YOUR money from the future.

Rule of the thumb is that whenever you see the word advances or recoupable take special attention because these are the things that the RC will provide to you now and will deduct from your earnings later.

Example of clause:

Company shall pay to Artiste, upon execution of this Agreement and prior to the recording of masters by the Artiste, the following sums which shall be advances and recoupable by Company out of all royalties becoming payable to Artiste pursuant to this agreement that is to say the sum of  RMXXX.XX

Company shall be responsible for and shall pay all recording costs incurred in the production of masters to this Agreement, marketing, distribution and other exploitation costs. Recording costs shall include but not limited to the followings: – Production Fees, Co-producers Fees,  Musicians’ Fees, Studio Hours, Travel Expenses, F & B Expenses, Miscellaneous Expenses, Final Mix,  Mixing Engineers Fees, Mastering, Materials/Tapes – Masters, DATS, etc

So, if you get a recording deal worth RM50,000 it doesn’t mean you will get your hands on a cash sum of RM50,000. It simply means a sum of RM50,000 is allocated to the above, part of it may be given to you as an advance recoupable for your future earnings. It will also determine the kind of marketing, musicians, producers etc that you can hire because you only have this sum to play around with. In other words, you may want to work with Quincy Jones but you don’t have the money for it.

As you can see, there’s a lot of costs involved in producing an reasonably quality product. However, please remember that the figures above are just hypothetical. Discuss with your producer and A&R manager about this further so that you understand what you are getting into.

F. What about royalties?

There are many ways you can make money. But the one that your RC is interested in is how many albums you can sell. Your royalty will be paid based on this. The more you sell, the more money you will get.

How MUCH you will get depends on the figure agreed in the contract. The last time I reviewed a contract, the standard rate for a new artiste is 8%. There are also other types of royalties. If you write your own materials, you are entitled to a copyright royalty. For this particular kind, you need to be registered with a publishing company.

Which brings me to another interesting point. Some RC insists that any materials that you write belong to the company. That means they will hold the copyright. Personally I think this is crap. If you write the song, you should hold the copyright. Remember when Ning Baizura changed companies from Sony to BMG and she is disallowed from singing any of the songs that she recorded with Sony? That is because Sony holds the copyright, hence they OWN the songs. They can actually bar you from singing or using any materials that you’ve recorded previously if they want to. For copyright matters I strongly suggest you get a lawyer to advise you properly.

Royalty payments from the sales of your album are usually done once every 3 months. Copyright royalties are paid once a year.

Do remember that when your royalty is tabulated, there are certain amount that will be deducted: remember those advances that I mentioned earlier?

I have had people coming to me and complaining that they have been cheated and that despite their recording company collecting a fat royalty cheque, they get nothing. When I asked to see their contract and the royalty payment statements, it was apparent that they were unaware of the deductible advances. It is very easy to get swept away with the lifestyle – you want this hotel, that kind of car, this meal etc – you need to know if all these are expenses or advances. In one contract that I reviewed, the accommodation expenses were included as part of recoupable advances and this rockstar actually requested for a fancy condominium at a posh part of town, not realizing that THIS was where all his future royalty payments went to. READ AND UNDERSTAND THE CONTRACT, PEOPLE!

Another thing, when the recording is done they will ask you to do promotional stunts all around the country. These are usually unpaid activities and it will take a lot of your time. In fact sometimes you may even have to pay for the expenses yourself (like hotel and F&B) if they are not covered in your promotional activity expenses. Musicians always complain to me that they do this and that but never get paid for it. You need to learn to distinguish between promotional activities and actual gigs. Which brings me to the next point.

G. Can I just hire someone to manage me?

Yes you can. I absolutely agree that is a good idea to hire a manager. Basically a manager is your agent. He will do your marketing, get you dinner shows etc. Whenever you appoint a manager, you will have certain financial obligations to fulfil. Pointers:

  1. Firstly, agree on the scope. What is this manager supposed to do? Is there a minimum “sales target” for him to achieve every month? After all, managers get paid when you get paid so the tow of you should sit down and agree on a monthly target.
  2. If you are going to pay him a fixed amount of money every month – draw up an appointment letter.
  3. If you are going to give him a percentage of your income from the shows or deals that he gets you – draw up a contract and commission structure.
  4. Appoint someone who really knows what he is doing. You may be tempted to appoint your sister or brother to manage your career but unless they are familiar with the scene, forget it. A manager should have all the contacts, get you shows, negotiate for the best payment and recording deals; you get the picture. A good manager can ensure that your coffer will not run out because you are his income. If you do well, he will do well too.
  5. It’s not a hands-off deal. You need to be involved. Do not ever let your manager run the show totally. Always make an effort to get to know what is happening. Your manager is actually an extension of yourself, and he is entitled to act on your behalf so please know what he is doing. If your manager is rude to the press for instance, it will reflect badly on you. If the manager ask you to do a show that clashes with certain priorities, make your voice heard. You are both working for each other so be respectful and come to a working arrangement that will benefit you both.

H. But I am a musician, why do I need to know all this?

You need to know because even if you hire a business manager to take care of business for you, you are ultimately responsible for your finances and your career. Certain things or gigs need permits, licences; taxes need to be paid, sometimes you need to put up a bank bond. You don’t have to know everything, but think of yourself as the CEO of your music career – you need to know enough to know that things are heading in the right or wrong direction.

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