Champion of music talent

Champion of music talent
Leonard Soosay, music producer and owner of Snakeweed Studios.

When he was a teenager, music producer and studio owner Leonard Soosay had a crush on a Catholic Junior College (CJC) student, so he would hang around the canteen of the school in Whitley Road, hoping to meet her, never mind the fact that he was from another school, Temasek Junior College in Bedok.

He did not get the girl but some of her schoolmates were sizing him up.

They went on to form local synth-pop group Breaking Glass.

Soosay recalls the story with glee as it was this band that led to his life-long involvement with the home-grown independent music scene and his status as one of its prime movers.

He says: "To blend in, I even contemplated buying a CJC uniform. But these guys were checking me out instead and, when we got talking, we discovered that we were all into Depeche Mode and we all played keyboards. So we decided to form a band and go jamming."

Soosay, now 48, has not been part of any band since he left Breaking Glass to study overseas in the late 1980s, but over the years, he has grown to become a crucial member of the rising home- grown indie music scene.

As a producer, owner and knob twiddler at music studio Snakeweed Studios, he has done studio and audio work for more than 500 local acts in the last 17 years.

More importantly, he is responsible for elevating the scene to a more sophisticated level by crafting world-class recordings for such bands as Electrico and The Great Spy Experiment, and helping them score radio hits as well as high-profile gigs at music festivals overseas.

He has also done remixes for global artists such as David Bowie, Kylie Minogue and the late Beatle John Lennon, and has composed many of the ringtones found in Nokia mobile phones sold worldwide from 2000 to 2005.

Soosay is also dedicated to nurturing the next generation of music talents. He is the co-founder of Thunder Rock School, a music school where local musicians teach 100 music students at two branches in Thomson and Katong.

He is one of the mentors for budding bands in the Esplanade's Baybeats music festival, which took place over the weekend, an annual affair regarded as the most prominent live platform today for local alternative bands.

Esplanade programmer Cecilia Chow says: "Leonard Soosay is one of Singapore's best in terms of music production and he has extensive knowledge about touring.

"He has been integral in the success of many Singapore bands. We believe an opportunity to learn from and be mentored by him will be invaluable to a young band."

Soosay was one of the first judges the Esplanade enlisted when it started the audition process for the Baybeats Budding initiative in 2007.

His transition from musician in Breaking Glass, which had a strong following among female junior college students and was a hot favourite at their house parties back in the late 1980s, to a behind-the- scenes, sound engineering guru took place when he went to Toronto, Canada, for further studies after national service.

He says: "Studying in the United States was too expensive and I didn't know much about studying in Australia. So I looked at the world map and saw that Toronto was the furthest country from Singapore that my parents could afford to send me to study."

To please his parents - his Indian father taught in a secondary school while his Chinese mother is a housewife - he enrolled in an economics degree course at the city's York University.

His passion, however, was still in music and, three years into his degree, he dropped out to study music production at Toronto's Harris Institute For The Arts.

"If I had finished my economics degree, I would probably have gone into the finance industry and done some nine- to-five office job and I didn't want that."

Upon graduating with a diploma in music production, he decided to stay on in Toronto but could not find work in the music industry because of the recession at the time.

He became, in his own words, "an aimless bum", working odd jobs from waiting tables in a pool hall to being a helper in a doughnut shop in the day.

By night, he would head down to jamming studios around Toronto and record local amateur bands with a basic four-track recorder.

A 1996 television documentary on the development of the personal computer in the United States, titled Triumph Of The Nerds, convinced him to pack his bags and return to Singapore.

"It was that part about Steve Jobs barging into the Pepsi offices and saying to the vice-president, 'Are you going to spend the rest of your life bottling carbonated water or are you going to come join me change the world?'

"That line got me to jump off the sofa. I was in no position to change the world but it made me want to do something to make a difference to society."

The best way to do it was to use his music production skills to help young talents in the Singapore music scene.

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