2021 was quite the year for LambC. In April, the multifaceted artist released his first full-length album, titled I’ll see you when I see you, a colourful pop-tinged record that bristled with charming, occasionally witty lyrics, and sticky melodies. Songs like “Jelly” were effortless earworms, whilst the likes of “When my Heart breaks” showed a keen sense of artistic development.
Yet, as much of a milestone one may consider such a thing, there’s one more thing that LambC has done which, going forward, can completely change the course of his career. He went independent. It can be a daunting prospect for many, dealing with everything by oneself, but it was something the singer-songwriter and genuine jack of all trades were ready for.
Ahead of this change, we spoke to LambC about his ambitions, reasoning for this switch, and more.
Recently you’ve made the decision to go independent, what drove that for you?
First of all, I think I grew up very independently even in just like my teen life because I had to make sure I earned money because my parents weren’t rich at all. So when I first came to Korea I started off as an independent artist, and that was a time when I actually enjoyed being a musician the most.
Korea is a foreign country for me because I grew up all my life in Malaysia and the States, so I love that way of producing music, making music, releasing it. And then I got into the label [Happy Robot Records]. I did like it; I mean if I loved it, I probably would have signed another deal with them, but I figured that I just didn’t have enough freedom to make my own decisions. Or I wanted the freedom to make sure I was responsible for the failures or the success of my doings, because most of the time if you’re in a label you’re not a single person.
You’re that whole group, and if you’ve released an album and it goes bad then the whole responsibility isn’t just you, it’s the whole team. And so for me, taking that responsibility on myself feels much more comfortable than making it the whole team’s failure or success. So yeah, making my own decisions, taking responsibility for that decision and also just, if you’re in a label, you can’t just do whatever you want.
Although my company were very free in terms of ‘oh you can do whatever music you want, we’re not gonna touch your music, we’re just here to help’ for me to release a certain piece of music it had to go through a lot of processes. It was like ‘oh I have to show it to my manager first, and then the manager will show it to his director, and then the director will go to the producer’ and everything had a step process, and it got delayed a lot.
So whatever music you heard, EP-wise or single-wise or album-wise, that got pushed at least a few months just because of that whole process. And for me, that was a big problem and downside personally. So I just decided ‘you know what, I learned a lot, maybe it’s time to move on again, I just want to make music that makes me happy at the right time at the right place, so why not go independent?’
And is this independence something you believe is here to stay? You’ve tried the record label, you’ve tried doing it on your own, so is this now a permanent decision?
Well I did think about this for a pretty long time. I would say, if there ever comes a day when someone comes to me and presents to me a very good record deal, and I can make my own terms and what I actually want in a record deal, then maybe yes (I’ll consider).
But as of right now, I feel like the world has changed a lot in terms of, now individuals have more power and more knowledge to actually make it without a record deal. So I feel like that’s going to be bigger in Korea. I know there are cultural differences and there are a lot of differences, especially in the States and in Korea, but in the States there are so many successful independent artists that are out there, who know what to do and what information to look for.
And it’s become the new norm, but in Korea people still have the thought process of ‘oh in order for me to be successful I need to be in a record label’. But I feel like that tide is slowly going to change and I feel like I can be helpful to other independent musicians as well if I did take that route. And I think I’ll be more than qualified to tell them ‘I’ve been independent, and I’ve been in a record deal.
Now I’m back independent, here’s why.’ And so, being in a record label is fun, it’s definitely got its perks but you don’t have the freedom. It’s very restrictive in terms of what you can do, what you can say, what you can actually showcase people, but I feel like nowadays the trend is being honest, being straightforward, and that’s what people want to see in your artistry. Not just in Korea, but in general.
Has this rise in independence, because it does feel like you see it a lot now with acts even with the status of Epik High, then inspired you in any way to think ‘oh actually, I was right the first time to be independent’?
Well, I don’t know if I’ve ever said this anywhere, but the first time the record label, Happy Robot, reached out to me, I said no. I told them that I don’t want to be in a record deal because I know how bad it is and I know if I get stuck into a bad deal then I’m probably going to waste a lot of my years, but then they came back to me the second or third time, and by that time I was struggling financially.
I had to pay everything out of my own pocket and so I felt like that was the limit that I had for my success, so I made a promise to myself that if I do get the contract, I’ll look at it thoroughly and I’ll make sure I’ll learn from this, good or bad, and then try to move forward from there.
But then, I feel like once you’ve been into a record label, only then you’ll know how your current music system works. Because Korea has its own music culture and system and I feel like the reason why, and you gave a really good example of Epik High, and I know people who work with Epik High and they went through hell.
They went through hell and they’ve went through a lot of different managements, and I feel like now they’re in a place where they have enough knowledge and power to make sure nobody is actually messing with them, and by being independent artists, they can actually make more revenue, have more freedom to make better decisions, and nobody is forcing them to do anything.
So I feel like they strive to be a happier group, if you know what I mean, without the boundaries of having a label. And for me that was the whole point too like, going back independent I wanted to be happier; not to say being in a record deal was horrible, not at all, but just yeah, I feel like there will be a shift in tide for Korean independent musicians for sure. It’s just that there’s not enough data and not enough information in the Korean culture as much as in the States, but we’ll figure something out.
You’ve mentioned the word freedom a couple of times. When you think of your own independence is freedom the key idea around that?
I think for me, personally, yes. But I know a lot of artists who actually might benefit more from having a record deal or being involved in a label. I feel like it’s a personality trait. I’m the type of person who likes to plan, who likes to do a lot of the creative process, and I like to work.
I can stay at home and work all day. I don’t need to go out of my house. For some people that works, and for some people they need guidance, they need a certain type of plan from higher-ups. And if that works, great, but just personally I felt like I could do a better job if I did it alone on my terms and my time stamp, so yeah freedom was a big thing.
And to loop back to the point you made about delays, is it now a case that fans of your work can track a more realistic timeline of progress for you, because you can now release music whenever you want?
I don’t know if every artist would relate to this, but for me personally, if I wrote a song today, I would want to release it within the next two months because it still lingers with me and has that very raw connection. But if I wrote a song today, and I planned to release it two months later, but then it got delayed for some other reasons, after seven or eight months I might not feel as good to release the music that I once thought was appropriate.
So I feel like that was the biggest problem for me because I’ve actually had to throw out a lot of songs, just because I didn’t feel like this was at a good moment in time for me to release this music, and I think it’s something that I had to internally struggle with.
To then extend that, “Real Love,” the song that accompanied this independence, was written a while back, so I guess is this new path an opportunity for you to resurrect old songs that have been cast aside?
For sure. I think for “Real Love,” because I just previously mentioned that I hated when my songs got delayed, I released that because I wanted to break my own shell and be like ‘you know what, maybe this song is ok. Maybe this song isn’t as bad as I think it is, maybe I just need to be a little uncomfortable and try to just release it and see what happens.’
And I’m glad I did because it’s something that I haven’t done in my musical career, I haven’t released a very old song, so it was something that I needed to do. But after that song, I’m pretty sure it’ll all be new singles and newly written songs.
In that case then, did the song itself take on a new meaning when you re-released it?
Definitely. The first time I wrote that song, it was really about wanting to find real love, and I wasn’t dating at that point. So I would meet people and it was very plastic, very non-genuine, all for looks and show. And I got tired of that, and wrote that song “Real Love.”
But when I re-released it, it was more of like ‘ok let’s go back to my roots, what did I love to do as a person?’ and like I said before, all I wanted to do is be happy when writing my own music, and so when I released it, I kind of told myself ‘you do you, just do what makes you happy from now on, don’t think about financials, numbers or fame, just whatever you feel right about, just do it’ so I’ve been doing that for the past six months. And I can genuinely say that I’m very very healthy, mentally and physically, healthiest I’ve ever been I think.
You mentioned your health was a part of being in a record label, which some describe as being part of a machine, is there a real risk of burnout and a loss of comfort for a trade-off of financial gain?
I feel like I didn’t lose any self-esteem. I actually have a lot of pride in what I do, and I try my best to make sure whoever works with me feels a sense of pride and feels a sense of worthiness to their work, although it’s my work my team is working for. When you’re in a label, you’re not the only thing the label has to think about.
You’re not the only artist within the company, you’re not the only person, you’re not the only musician to care about. So basically, I think this is true to a lot of Korean labels, is let’s say if you have multiple artists in your label, and a particular artist releases a song, most of the staff and the workforce will be made to do work for that particular artist on that particular month, so when that happens basically you’re left unattended to, and that brings you to them not getting back to your messages or replying to your musical needs, or the delay of a music video shoot or even marketing.
And so a lot of those unwanted events definitely burns you out, especially as a person who likes planning things on a deadline and being like ‘ok so I did all of this, I kept to my deadline, so here are your share of works’ and if they do it then it’s fine, but it if they don’t do it then there’s a hundred other reasons why they couldn’t do it due to other things they had to attend to.
But I honestly don’t blame any of them because my staff in particular, they were the most hardworking people that I’ve met and so I don’t want to blame them, it’s just label policies and label systems that sometimes don’t work out the way you plan.
Reflecting generally on this year, on the surface it looks like it’s been quite the year, with a full-length album and now then your independence. To loop back to that album, what was the feeling around that when it first came out?
That was my first ever album, so I was pretty excited. A lot of work went into making that album, obviously (laughs), but then once it came out, I feel like it didn’t matter anymore. The first time I released my songs I was nervous, like super nervous.
I thought everyone was going to listen to it and give feedback but it turns out nothing much (laughs). After a couple of releases, that kind of nervous feeling died down, and then when I released this album, it was non-existent. I didn’t feel anything. I didn’t feel happy, or sad, or any emotions at all. Just the emotion of ‘ah I finally got it done’.
And that was the reason why, one of the reasons why, I felt very demotivated. Because I’ve worked so hard for this album, and that’s when I reflected on my own mind, my state, and the whole part of me going independent was also very heavily influenced by what I’ve done within the company, like releasing singles, EPs, albums, what it did to me mentally, and I figured that I wasn’t in a mentally healthy space at that time, so I wanted to fix that.
And I climbed up the ladder and fixed everything one by one, small, big, and eventually got to this point. So yeah, pretty happy now.
To compare that quickly, was there some emotion put back into the release of “Real Love?”
Definitely better. I think I’ve released a good amount of songs now, so I won’t sit here and say ‘oh it was the most relieving or the best feeling I’ve ever had’, because that’s not the case, but I did feel like it was definitely the start of a new adventure, and I was very thrilled, and excited to release my next single, which I’ve already uploaded on my distributor, so that’s going to come out soon, next month (it’s out now), so I’m excited for that.
But I wasn’t excited before, like now I’m excited, but previously I was like ‘oh this is work’ and I didn’t want it to feel like it was work, and so it’s all good (laughs).
What does the creative process look like now you’re independent? Has it changed at all?
I think the creative process isn’t that different, but now that I have more time on my hands, I don’t need to be physically somewhere else. Like I definitely write more songs these days, and basically I stay at home, all day.
I don’t go out, I just cook at home, play with my cat, write songs, look at some cool plug-ins and new gears… so the creative process is still the same but with a lot more freedom and time to do more work.
So I’ve been enjoying it a lot. I’ve bought some new gears too which helped me write better songs, in my opinion anyway. So yeah, it’s fun.
And now that you are in this space where you are free to do whatever, is there an overriding ambition you have, or is it a case of taking each day as it comes?
I like planning, so I did plan a lot ahead when I became independent. One of them (plans) was that I actually made a label. I partnered up with a friend and so we made a label. Haven’t really publicly announced the label yet because we’re still under construction with how we want to run this company.
As of right now, me and my band are the only artists under that label, so I made deals with distributors that I want to work, both in Korea and overseas, so I got those contracts done, and also doing some live engineering gigs which was something that I really wanted to do.
And I have a lot of things planned out, just seeing the right moment when to do things, and definitely want to be doing a lot more collaboration works with other artists, so I’m making some tracks to hopefully be pitching to the artists soon.
In a more instant context, is there anything, in particular, you want to achieve in 2022?
I do have my own personal goals, I don’t know if it’s good enough to be of reality, but I’ve set my own goals of trying to, by the end of 2022, have my Spotify monthly listeners go to a million (laughs). Cause my plan was to release songs whenever I want, as frequently as I want, so maybe on some months like two songs will come out, some songs one, but even a song a month is pretty compelling these days. So I guess if I put in enough work that might happen, but only personal goals at the moment.
With independence though, is there a pressure that you have to build your own brand, because you almost have to be everywhere these days?
Well, brand is such a vague, voodoo word for me [laughs]. I had to self analyse myself a bit, and I felt like the way I interacted with my fans and my listeners was actually just doing good music, because there are very different artists out there.
Like there are artists that are very visually appealing, or they have the whole package of like talent and everything and what they’re wearing fashion-wise, that can even speak as their branding, but for me I’m just a kid who just likes to do music. Not really into fashion more into gears, don’t like talking to people too much.
Like I don’t like giving instructions or being that whole kind of entrepreneur type of ‘oh you should do this, you should do that’ kinda thing, and so I figured my type of brand would be just to make good music as frequently as possible. And so I don’t really have the pressure as I did if I were to be in a label as now if I was to fail miserably, I’d just fail by myself [laughs] which is better than failing as a team. So no, no pressure, just good vibes.
If you are the type of person who lets the music speak for itself in a way more genuine though, rather than creating a persona?
Yeah, that is very true. I just feel like I didn’t wanna make people look at me and give them the impression of a LambC that is not true. And so the reason why I’m not a very outgoing person on social media and everything is because I’m an introvert, and I’m still finding ways to how an introvert can actually make a good brand and be a good social influencer if you will.
Still figuring that out, but definitely nowadays music alone doesn’t cut it, and the reason why I made a label was because I wanted to help independent musicians out as someone who actually went through every process of what it takes to be a musician in Korea, and so if I could be that kind of mentor figure for some of the Korean musicians, and a lot of people reach out to me because they know I have more information and more knowledge about how the industry works in Korea.
Like even just now, my friend called me and asked me a lot of things music and music business-related, and I was like ‘oh yeah yeah here’s this and here’s this’ and he was like ‘you’re the only person I can literally talk to who knows all of this information’ and so he was thanking me, and so I do this on a daily basis whenever I meet musicians.
Whenever I talk to them they kinda go back and then they text me back just thanking me for just sharing valuable free information which could save months of their lives, maybe years to someone. I just want to make sure people like me get better results in life, financially and musically, because a lot of artists are getting screwed left, right and centre here in Korea. I’m sure the States is the same as well.
Now you’re independent, do you feel you can look more towards the worldwide market too, if there is ever that ambition or desire?
An interesting fact about me and my fanbase is that I have more worldwide fans than I do in Korea, which is really weird for a Korean artist and when I first went into the label, I told them, because I knew my data and I knew my statistics that I was more streamed outside than in Korea, ‘oh I want to be an international artist, I don’t want to be just big in Korea, I want to be big on the web’ and they were like ‘oh, ok’ (laughs).
And then we tried a lot of different things, but I feel like I didn’t fully trust how I was marketed per se, and so I had to study marketing from, and I knew a little bit about it because I actually graduated from a college where it required me to do some music business and music marketing stuff, but then times changed so fast and all of that was really nonexistent, so I had to really relearn how to market myself and so definitely looking forward to marketing myself as an artist because normally as an artist you just want to be making music and just releasing it and let the other people do whatever promotion and marketing.
But I find it very interesting that I can actually market my own music now and also decide on where it should be marketed and to who it should be marketed. I find it very interesting.
Nowadays then, do you feel that fans have become a bit wiser to things going on in labels and in the music industry, and that they almost buy the independent approach more because it’s a bit more authentic?
Well, I’m an artist so I wouldn’t really know how they would feel because I can’t even know which songs they would like the most. Like one day I’m like ‘oh this song is amazing everyone will love it’ and I release it and they’re like ‘meh’ but then I write a song and I’m like ‘this song is alright’ and then I release it and they’re like ‘oh my god this is the best song ever’ and I wouldn’t know what they would think, I would just assume that being independent does make an artist look more honest because they’re not tied to any contract, they’re not tied to anything.
They can say whatever they want as an independent artist and there are no repercussions to it, so yeah even in Korea idols nowadays, back in the day I know that they were not allowed to say certain things or certain words, but nowadays they actually loosened that way of dealing with the media and so they’re more straightforward, they’re more truthful because that’s a way of engaging with their true fans and all.
But I do agree that independent artists definitely have a stronger appeal when it comes to honesty and yeah I think it shows in the music as well because you’re the only one who can make the decisions of whether you want to do it a certain way or release it a certain way, so definitely a plus for those wanting to go through the route.
To pick up on your earlier comment about artists getting screwed over, do you think there almost needs to be one big trailblazer to kind of show that it can be done successfully, and that anyone who wants to go this route, can?
That is my big picture [laughs], that is my end goal. I’m sure there are going to be bumpy roads during my adventure of trying to make sure that artists get paid what they deserve and artists understand what it means to be in a contract or what they need to do as a musician just not on the artistic side but also on the music business side of things.
And I know the Korean music industry will give me a lot of stick if I decide to go against them, because it is a very small country and I’ve been having a lot of dramas lately with the whole not getting paid, the whole copyright societies, publishing societies and everything.
They’re still working on things like, for example, I’ve never received a cheque for my writers share of the publishing side of things, ever, in five years, five/six years, and I had to find that out and I had to tell them ‘look there’s something wrong, I never got paid’ and they kinda went through their books and they were like ‘oh sorry you weren’t in any of the data’ and I was like ‘why is that? I did everything that was required for me to hand over the license’ but then I feel like if I start bashing out things that is not working out in Korea, I feel there is going to be a serious downside just on my part just because I’m no one as of yet, and I plan to do that once I gain more traction and trust and recognition from the general public just to say that ‘ok now I think it’s time to say what’s wrong with the Korean industry’ but for now it’s just me trying to educate my fellow peers and my fellow musicians, try to guide them and try to make sure that they don’t get screwed over. It’s going to be a very long ride.
In that regard, if say a 20-year-old musician came up to you and said they had an offer to join a record label, what would be the advice you’d give them?
First of all I would tell them to get a good lawyer, and make sure you know the exact details of your contract because, surprisingly enough, they don’t know what is in that contract. Like that was the most mind-blowing thing ever.
I would say 90% of artists don’t know what they’re actually getting into, and so I would tell them ‘oh this is what it is and what the contract is actually saying’ and they’ll be like ‘huh, what!?’ [laughs] and so I would tell anyone who is in their 20s, coming up to me and asking for advice to first get a good lawyer, second if you do sign a contract make sure you don’t lose your masters, and third, make sure you do everything right or exceed what is within the contract so that when the time comes ‘look I’ve done my best, I’ve abided by every single contract stipulation that you approached me with’.
Don’t let them get the better of you is my third advice, and the fourth would be, well if someone came to you with a record deal and sees the potential in you, I think you will succeed even without a record label. And I would say which means you’re getting the bigger pie, which means you should do that, but that’s just me