Last New Year’s Eve, for the first time in eight years, Jonathan Chua did not have to work. He and the rest of the members of The Sam Willows, arguably Singapore’s most successful pop band, would usually be performing at a countdown event. With the band, including Sandra Riley Tang and siblings Benjamin and Narelle Kheng, announcing their indefinite hiatus last year, he finally got to let his hair down. So he jetted off to Las Vegas to watch superstars including Canadian rapper Drake perform at a countdown bash.
“There isn’t a dramatic reason. We just wanted to take time to grow as individuals,” says the Sony-represented Chua, who released his first solo single Ready for Ya last July. His album is slated to launch by mid-year. “Now, it is easier to do our own thing and that is fun.”
For this driven 29-year-old, however, who founded his business, Zendyll, at the peak of the band’s fame in 2015, fun has evolved to take on a different meaning. Initially, he wanted a studio where he could jam without getting bogged down by administrative matters. He soon discovered he could commercialise his passion project by creating music for companies. Zendyll has since composed scores for Golden Village, Mastercard, Adidas, Unilever and Lego, and worked with Changi Airport.
Now, though, he has a dual mission in growing the Zendyll Music Agency – the music solutions agency that has become a production house, recording studio and record label rolled into one. His goal is to promote regional musicians, many of whom he met during his time with the band. He shared that the South-east Asian market has been lucrative for American record labels – and usually at the expense of Asean artistes, in terms of exposure.
“My aim is to come together with other small, independent music companies to help artistes expand into other markets in the region,” he says. On the cards are collaborations with Asean musicians, songwriters and producers on live gigs and studio recordings. He points out that Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand have established music scenes, with popular performers, including Afghansyah Reza, Joe Flizzow and DaBoyWay. The language difference isn’t a barrier, he adds, citing K-pop boy band BTS’ global appeal.
On the home front, he is devoted to solidifying Zendyll’s presence. With a business partner, he estimates he has invested about $250,000, and expanded the premises in Balestier to accommodate the growing number of young musicians – the second core of his goal – who discovered Zendyll through word-of-mouth.
He says: “It is about using my experience from The Sam Willows and having a voice to represent them. As the industry grows, indirectly, I’d benefit too. So giving back to the next generation has always been the purpose and goal.
“Sometimes I play the role of big brother. I hire and pay them upfront for songwriting sessions. It is about providing them with opportunity and some grow to get a bit of traction.” For instance, a 22-year-old mentee, singer-songwriter Yao, has been getting bookings for shows.
Last month, he hosted personal hero Apple CEO Tim Cook at Zendyll. He says: “The most successful CEOs don’t have a narrow view. They have a willingness to constantly understand other people and solve social issues.”
With Chua aspiring to these ideals, it looks like he’s taking steps towards becoming South-east Asia’s next music mogul.
01 PERSONAL HOTSPOT
Kuala Lumpur is like my Vegas. My wife (TV host Amanda Chaang) is from KL and she introduced me to the party scene. I like Circa, Saro and Vault.
02 TOOL TO RELAX
I play a lot of games, that’s how I destress. I play Call of Duty and Mobile Legends, and I have a Nintendo Switch that I carry with me every day.
03 FAVOURITE BOOK
Narconomics by Tom Wainwright is about how to run a drug cartel. I know it is a taboo topic but if it were a legal business, they actually have a fantastic model.