By Hans Ebert
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How long is a ball of string? It’s always something going through my head when around experienced creative types with proven track records and being challenged to think differently. Come up with ideas. It forces one to be at the top of their game. It’s not the time to play a hand with Jack high and pray to hell it’s high enough.

It happened last weekend in Sentosa at a Think Tank session comprising a couple of people in music, a few from technology, others in marketing aka “social media”, and sports and sponsorship marketing and management. No HR people needed. No need for those who have a new idea every nanu second and hope something sticks.

It was an eclectic group of friends and former colleagues from different industries who get together twice a year to continue what we call the “Ideas Stock Exchange”. To see where we are. Where we’re each heading and how we might be able to join up to make all the pieces fit. Bring everything together. But differently. And by being brutally honest with each other. Politeness is for pretentious cocktail party.

It’s about how to avoid the dangers of insilular and fragmented thinking that never lead anywhere. It’s kinda like attending an AA Session, but without trudging up steps, reading from Bill’s Big Book and “sharing”. It’s about writing one’s own book. Or rewriting it so you don’t become a dullard. Ever tried working with dullards?

By now, we know each well enough to be mindful of personal “time management” and how not to waste time going over old puddles. That’s the problem with most meetings. Meetings, where everyone leaves thinking so much has been accomplished. Next steps? Where? There’s not even a Contact Report or written brief with objectives, target market and objectives. It’s all like that horrible Bon Jovi Big Hair Band anthem called “Living On A Prayer”. Nothing ever leads anywhere.

Don Draper could accomplish more staring into a glass of whiskey. Often that’s the only brainstorming one needs. But planned “brainstorming”? With no spontaneity?

To exercise the thinking at these “Ideas Stock Exchange”‘sessions is a game played as teams always during lunch breaks called What If.

It’s to force one to think differently. To get away from clichés. Something started decades ago when someone asked, What if Steven Spielberg ran McDonald’s? Or the great Jim Henson. What would they do differently?

This time around, it was, What If Steve Jobs or Bowie or Prince created Spotify? What if Bowie ran ALL of social media with a hand picked team? What if Jack Ma ran a racing club?

Yeah, the Jack Ma who’s been “outed” for being a member of the Chinese Communist Party. Haven’t we got over Chairman Mao and The Long March? Jack Ma is Alibaba. He said “Open Sesame” and made things happen. And knew when to “retire”. Someone like a Jack Ma doesn’t retire. They take time out to recharge.

Back in Hong Kong and at the HKJC venue Adrenaline, it was a Happy Wednesday night. After a meandering lunch with someone, there was the urge to just go home and chill out. But having asked a young Hong Kong born singer songwriter named Thomas Ngai to drop by and perform a few songs, it wouldn’t have been good to bail. He was great at Adrenaline.

Thomas was back home in Hong Kong after a couple of years at university and determined to make it in music. I’d heard his demos of originals around three years earlier and knew he had the talent. The problem is Hong Kong. Hardly a Mecca for creativity, especially when it comes to music. There’s just nothing of note happening. It’s just the way it is. Music is not a priority. Most producing it are, er, not very good. And certainly not young.

Some blame this void on a lack of venues. The problem has always been a lack of mentors. Those who could have been mentors were busy feathering their own nests. It’s still going on. Brazenly. And not just in what’s left of the music industry. Gluttony is rampant.

As for this whiny mantra about lack of venues, where’s the local talent- good local talent- to attract audiences if there were to be a hundred new venues?

It’s still the usual suspects and formulaic Canto-Pop love ballads sung by fifty and sixtysomething fat cat Canto Pop “idols”.

It’s tedious in every which way. But if one of these “idols” and with a string of hits to their names, it’s part of a million dollar money making machine built around humongous concert tours, especially in Mainland China, and Chinatowns around the world.

With Bollywood and Hollywood coming to Mainland China and various investor groups happy to pay the piper, actress Scarlett Johansson has over a billion fans. Imagine if they knew she sings. Bollywood actors have won over fans and investors.

Those who only blog about showing up to watch touring nostalgia acts in America better get out more and smell the dim sum- if they really wanna see what’s happening. It’s something one can’t stream. You’ve gotta dive into it. Headfirst.

Nothing will happen without presenting who you are and what you have to offer. Today. Not what you might have done decades ago. And with who really did what having been lost along the way. Funny thing about ideas. And how many take ownership of them.

As for the tiny music scene in Hong Kong, it plods along. No one is happy that it’s lagging behind Singapore and Malaysia, Mumbai, Jakarta, Shenzhen and other provinces in Mainland China. But what’s the answer? Very probably to move away from those holding you back.

Some may disagree, but the annual Clockenflap festival came and went this month with barely a mention. Perhaps too self indulgent a bill- though, personally, any festival that includes David Byrne is not to be missed.

Hong Kong is a place where inspiration is in short supply. Where being around negativity- and mediocrity- can lead you down some very dark alleyways. Even Lou Reed, Nick Cave and Mahler wouldn’t want to venture down these side trips.

As for Thomas Ngai, he has the potential to go very far. But a young Hong Kong Chinese guy singing his originals in English? It’s fine as a very very small side gig. But going Mandarin can lead anywhere.

Forget Canto-pop unless owning all Rights to a clever song that’s part of a big sync deal. It’s gotta have immediate impact. None of this streaming uphill nonsense where no one knows who you are.

No DJ as there was on radio and who’s there to introduce you and make you stand out from all the clutter? Plus Canto Pop is the domain of those fifty and sixtysomething “idols”- the ones with the huge back catalogue of hits. To concert promoters and sponsors, these scream out massive concert tours.

Staying “just” with music, the time is perfect to come out of Left Field with something different- in Mandarin. And with some important add-ons.

These add-ons must be kept under lock and key and with a very sharp legal brain who’s part of the team. Someone who really understands Rights Issues. None of this second guessing. This is where many a deal have forced many to fold. They were royally screwed.

Add the word royalties into that mix of being screwed.

Those acts, mainly from Beijing and Taiwan who once had so much potential a few years ago have lost valuable time. Why? Terrible management coupled with being in the hands of those with poor A&R skills. These artists’ time have come and gone.

Next career stop: The Voice China. And where will this lead? But the more one hears what’s coming out of, especially from Taiwan by new young talent, and what’s NOT coming out of Mainland China, What If comes into play along with a whole heap of inspiration and passion. It brings to mind why we chose taking this creative path. And those who inspired us with their multi media work.

What’s needed is the right team. Not old school music executives still only about the money. Not those waiting in the wings with nothing to offer but still wanting a free ride on the gravy train.

There’ve been too many of those in every industry. It’s time to cut the ties that bind and create your own destiny. Play by your rules. Be nobody’s performing monkey. Don’t not buying into bullshit. Don’t offer discounts.

Realise that without investors, you can’t be seen as the only bank in town. Be confident enough to walk away from the table if the numbers don’t add up.

What if?

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