Visionary is a strong word. If often conjures images of those with abilities to see into the future or those who impact the entire planet in some way. Without a doubt, the word is grandiose. Steve Jobs is the most modern example of this. It’s important to understand that the way in which Jobs excelled were his ideas, not the actual process of implementing those ideas. He was able to conceive of something that we would want before we even knew that we wanted it. It is this very concept that Adrian Puan shares with the former CEO of Apple Inc. This comparison makes Puan uncomfortable when it is mentioned but the fact is that the strength of both men in their chosen field is having the vision of greater things. Adrian Puan is a Malaysian songwriter; one who is unlike almost any songwriter you have ever heard of before. Steve Jobs had the foresight to understand how he would change everyday life for most people; one wonders if he understood that he would change the approach to songwriting that Puan is pioneering. To understand what is happening with Adrian Puan’s career is to understand how technology is increasingly changing human life. Rather than replacing the career paths of people, technology is working in tandem with it to increase the possibilities. Adrian’s story is an exciting glimpse into the symbiotic relationship that we share with machines.
Adrian is a songwriter. His career is a bit of a dichotomy. To begin with, Adrian doesn’t play any musical instruments. I don’t mean to say that he is not accomplished on any musical instruments. In fact, he does not play anything at all on a musical instrument. He doesn’t read music. He’s not a hobbyist who picks up an acoustic guitar around the campfire. He literally does not play a single note on any conventional instrument. The word conventional is paramount in this conversation because Puan uses his iPhone as an instrument. It is mostly utilized as a high tech recorder and it allows him immediate access and recall to his musical ideas, much in the same way that a pianist might sit down and work out an idea in their head and then write it down on staff paper. Purists scoff at this title for Puan. He acknowledges that some consider his unusual approach as unorthodox, even sometimes invalid. Before agreeing with them you might want to consider the notable achievements he has attained.
Although Adrian is not a band member of the Malaysian band Beat The System, the group asked him to move to the US with them as a part of the writing and recording process for their first major American recording. Puan has a five year history with the band with a large fan base and has been recognized with many awards in their homeland. With success topping the charts (with multiple weeks at the number one), Beat The System(BTS)’s recognitions since Adrian’s involvement include; Asian Voice Independent Music Awards – “Shine” won Song of the Year, Best Collaboration, & Best Genre Bender. In the same year, “Shine” won Song of the Year, Best Collaboration, and was nominated for best Vocalist at the Asian Bite My Music Global Awards. In 2013, BTS won Best Rock Song for “Hero” at the Asian Bite My Music Awards. The primary songwriting team in BTS is Gerald Sellan (bandleader, drummer) and Adrian. It was Sellan who first approached Puan about writing for BTS. “Shine” was a song which partnered BTS with Malaysian Idol winner Jaclyn Victor. When Gerald was having difficulty with the lyrics for the tune, he approached Adrian for assistance. The BTS bandleader was so pleased with Puan’s contribution that he again approached him in 2013 when he was composing “Hero.” The result of the songwriting partnership resulted in two of BTS’s most successful hits. Whatever the reason, Sellan recognized the power of the chemistry the two writers created and approached Adrian to be an exclusive writer for his band. Gerald confirms, “Adrian’s songwriting is exactly the direction that Beat The System is going for. His lyrics are deep and heartfelt while his melodies are undeniable. He is one of the main reasons that American labels became aware of us and interested in signing us. I don’t think there is any way we would have gotten here without his contributions.”
Adrian’s assistance to BTS and the proof of his talent are most clearly depicted in the band’s signing with Monster Hits Music by (A&R and CEO) Diana Meltzer. Meltzer is known for signing Grammy award-winning band Creed, Evanescence, Alter Bridge, Seether, Drowning Pool, and many others. Diana travelled to Malaysia to meet and work with the band after being convinced by ten songs the band recorded in hopes of interesting her. Gerald Sellan turned to Puan to compose half of these songs. The first of the songs that Puan wrote to convince Meltzer was “Last Lullaby.” Both Sellan and Meltzer confirm that the song was so strong that it was a deal sealer. “Last Lullaby” will appear on the soon to be released American debut by BTS. Adrian reveals, “The song is a love song but not the typical one. There are so many love songs about romantic love but a love song can be about the love you share in a family. I think one of my strengths is that I don’t approach every song lyrically or melodically as everyone else does. While others might consider my approach to songwriting a weakness; it has turned out to be my greatest strength. My songs are different because I don’t approach them like 99% of the writers out there.”
Adrian has experienced his share of resistance to his process. Both back home and in the US he has heard from musicians who consider his approach invalid. These opinions are overshadowed by the awards his compositions have achieved as well as the overwhelming recognition of music industry professionals both in Malaysia and the US. Mokhtza Ahmad (Head of A&R Warner Music Malaysia) states, “Working with Adrian was a great experience. The attitude and work ethic with which he approaches his craft has placed him in the top professionals here.” Diana Meltzer echoes this sentiment stating, “I’ve seen so many different approaches to songwriting in this industry. When you have it, you just have it. Adrian definitely has it.” So the next time you see or hear of someone like Adrian Puan doing something highly unusual in their approach, you might want to consider the fact that they are not only breaking the rules; they are pioneering a modern approach.