Write-up: CEO Series 23 – Adrian Lim, CEO of Sony Music Entertainment
Writing credits: Chen Chow Yeoh
He started his venture into music industry when he was 18 years old. So, he is now close to 20 years in the business, with his age at 37 years old.
He started in the retail business for 4 years, and then he went into Warner Music for 11 years, before at Sony Music for 5 years.
His business is always very much misunderstood, as people would have linked Warner Music with Warner Brothers, and Sony Music with Vaio etc.
Sony Music often worked from behind the scene, and the artists are always the one who got the limelight. People who got into music shop, end up looking for CDs of artists, and not the company that represented them.
Music is always around us, from karaoke, to even back then, when people copied songs from cassettes to cassettes.
Adrian used to buy cassettes from pasar malam, and then he had a catalogue, and when his friends wanted to do parties, he would produce cassettes for them. That was back in his schooling days.
Copyright act started in 1988. After that, copying songs was no longer legal.
Since then, Adrian wanted to respect the law, and then he started to buy original cassettes, and he also wanted to support the industry.
He started to work at pizza shop, where his first week, was washing plate, before he started to get permission to cut fruits. He didn’t want to do this work for long.
One day, he went to Jaya supermarket, and he was hired to work at a cassette shop (Horizon) there on the spot. He only had lunch at 4pm that day, but that was his most satisfying lunch, as he found his calling in the music industry.
His pay then was RM1.50 per hour, and it was lower than RM1.80 per hour at the pizza shop. After some time, he was offered RM550 per month as a full time staff.
Adrian tried to apply for Warner, BMG and EMI, but ended up no response yet.
In retail, he learned how to talk to clients. As he was new, he was assigned to do classical music. No one else wanted to do those kind of music. After that, he was assigned to do jazz music.
Adrian’s principle is that if one wants to go to the next level, one has to really do more stuff. So, he challenged himself to try out new stuff and gain more experience.
Adrian developed a great skill on how to recommend songs to get people to buy cassettes. So, soon he got promoted to be overall buyer. So, he would be able to look at customers, as they came in, and then he could recommend them to the right cassette, that they would like.
When Adrian’s mother asked him what he was still doing, he would say selling cassettes, and she would felt that he was not developing himself, since he still sold cassette. However, his father, especially being a music lover, loved that Adrian is a buyer for music.
Then, he went on to develop himself in the Malay songs, and then eventually into Chinese songs. So, he could sell for all kinds of songs.
He was usually on leave on Monday, and on his off day, he would be doing research on what was the latest songs. He would be listening to musics, and then learned the top ranked hit songs, as well as asking his friends on what was the latest music. He wanted to make sure that he knew all the new songs.
He shared on his interesting example, where customers came in knowing only a little part of the artist’s name or the song’s name or album’s name. Some customers would come in saying that they wanted tape, when asked whether they wanted cassette or CD. To them, tape was what they would want.
So, it took some experience to learn what the customers wanted.
Adrian learned how to attract crowd, for example type of songs that need to be played, to attract attention. Adrian talked about people’s mindset, where people perceived a certain industry is not as glamorous. But if one worked himself/herself up, then he/she would have a great future in it. If want to be successful in anything, never be afraid to do more and learn more. Then, one would learn to develop oneself.
As Adrian wanted to learn to do things more challenging, he went on to start doing retails in selling binding machine and laminator, and covered Shah Alam and Klang. When he started doing his job, he was able to sell the laminator very well. And eventually, he got promoted to Petaling Jaya and Subang Jaya.
One day, his friend told him that Warner Music would like to hire a sales representative. During the interview, he was able to name the artists in Warner Music, and that impressed them a lot.
His second round interview was with Mark Lankester, and his third round was supposed to be with Tony Fernandes. However, Tony Fernandes told Mark that Adrian seems to be a very suitable guy, so don’t need to do more interview, but just hire him.
So, he went into Warner Music. Started with radio and then eventually moved around to do promotion. Tony Fernandes was the one who promoted him back then.
Adrian went in to compile a good mix of songs, and then he did strategic marketing. He went on Regional Marketing Manager in Hong Kong for one year, and then he went on to be Senior Marketing Manager and then eventually be Marketing Director.
Adrian talked about loyalty, and also took about 45% pay cut to come back from Hong Kong to Malaysia. He talked also about when he moved from sales to promotion, he took pay cut, as he would no longer be getting commission.
Adrian’s wife preferred that he stayed on in Hong Kong, but Adrian felt that his calling was back home.
Two and a half years later, he got a call from Sony BMG, when there was a merger. He eventually got the job as the Managing Director.
Adrian’s advice is to be very influential in the field, and to have one’s name to be always come up, when people talked about the industry. During the interview, Adrian told the Regional President that he knew nothing, except music. Adrian was very open during the interview, and shared on how he saw the set-up of the company. The interviewer then was expecting a much more “senior” guy, so Adrian just had to be more serious and seen as a suitable candidate to be managing director. So, he left Marketing Director from Warner Music to join Sony BMG as Managing Director.
Adrian’s advice is not to save work, but always to finish up the work, and get it done immediately. One never knew what interesting work would come up the next day.
Adrian has always been asked on what is his secret of success. He felt that it is very important to really learn and know the stuff.
It is very important to “cross over”, where one is able to be adaptable and learn new stuff, and cross sell things to different segment.
Adrian learned how to understand the market, and how to go beyond the core fans, so that there would be greater demand. For example, how to get those English-speaking Chinese to buy tracks for Lee Hom.
He shared on how he turned around the “Dr. Bombay” song, where he sold 120,000 CDs, when he hit the younger crowd and mass, with the wordings of “Kakuta”, instead of “Calcutta”.
It is very important to educate the market and create the awareness. He would learn what the public identify the artists/songs/albums, as they might not be really knowing the actual name of it. So, if one can be master of it, then there would be a lot of potential.
Adrian shared that those who are very successful in YouTube, may not necessarily make it big in the actual album.
In terms of whether YouTube would be a competition to his business, he felt that it is not necessary. Sometimes, YouTube could help him to unearth talents, although not all would work when in actual audition.
Adrian also shared about the antics of some artists, like some want to have beer on stage, or want to meet the make-up artist at midnight etc.
Adrian shared on one of his experiences with Aaron Kwok, when he offered to order Coke for him, but he refused, even though the drink was to be delivered to his room in room service. He was the Pepsi promoter. He shared on how professional Aaron Kwok was, when he endorsed the brand.
Adrian shared once where the artist needed a recording of the football match, but somehow the recording didn’t work out. So, the artist wanted to cancel the press conference and concert, but luckily Tony Fernandes managed to sort it out with the artist.
Adrian shared on the understanding that his wife had, as he had to go club hoppings to promote his music, and also sometimes, when he went for dinner with his wife, he would go out to his car to bring a CD, to get the restaurant changed the songs, if they didn’t play the songs from him. That was his dedication to his job.
Adrian shared on the importance of organizing things and making sure that things are in control. Adrian also shared that it is important to be able to do what one’s boss is doing, so that if the boss is promoted or headhunted, one is ready to take over the job.
Adrian shared that if one makes mistake, one has to admit the mistakes and take responsibility to it. Learn from it and improve from it. If one can really know everything about the industry, then it would be convincing to others.
Adrian shared that loyalty is very important, and also always made sure that he learns one thing a day. When he shared lessons learned with others, people would appreciate what he has gone through.
Adrian also shared that it is important to learn how to write good minutes.
Adrian shared that learning how to handle a team is very difficult. So, if one can learn how to handle people, then one can go very far. Human beings have so many character, so it is very important to learn how to handle people.
One has to be flexible to learn how to deal with different type of people. Might need different style to deal with younger people, or with older people. Learn how to manage upwards and downwards.
It would be important to really learn everything. Adrian used to read about every section in newspaper, to really equip himself with all sorts of knowledge. Adrian stressed a lot about reading. It could be reading from the internet. This would ensure that when people talk to him, he is able to talk comfortably to people.
One can’t demand respect from others. One has to learn to earn the respect from people. Adrian wanted a good team, and be a team player.
When Adrian hired people, he stressed a lot into looking at their co-curricular activities.
Adrian highlighted that there are plenty of jobs in the music industry, so there are a lot of stuff one can work on.
Malaysians have a lot of talent, where we can learn to go far. In Malaysia, it is very unique, where we can relate to all sorts of music. We would buy Hindi, Middle Eastern music, Korean music etc. Malaysians can accept others’ music easily, but our own music did face a lot of challenges to go out.
Malaysians are well exposed to all sorts of music, so in this music, people can go very far.
Today, there are more ways to monetize the music. In weddings, in radio etc, people do pay for the public performance royalty. If everyone starts to pay for music, then it would be growing a lot.
There is an enforcement team from MACP and PPM, who went around to collect public performance royalty and it is a non-profit agency, which would then distribute the collections to the companies, by using 60% air-time played and 40% market share.
Today, people are interested to see performers live, so Sony Music would work concert organizer to bring in performers, and cover the coverage from radio and other promotion.
For Sony Music globally, itunes is their number one revenue generator, much higher than even Walmarts.
Adrian shared that Sony Music needed to educate the people about paying a little more for music, and get Sony Music to get bundled into other products, like in Sony Ericsson or Blue-Rays. Sony Music would also work with other players, like Panasonic.
When being asked on his actual reason of leaving Warner Music, he shared that he wanted to challenge himself to go far. It was a tough decision. Adrian shared that when he went into Sony BMG, he didn’t bring in new people, but retained the team, and respected others first.
So, at that time, Sony merged with BMG, and he was from Warner music, but he managed to get everything work well, by earning their respect.
Adrian shared that passion in the job is the most important thing, and one would go far in life with that.
Above are the live blogging that I made from Nikko Hotel, where Adrian Lim shared. If anyone caught any typo or wrong information, do let me know. I will rectify it. Thanks for reading.