Making it as a musician in such a competitive industry is not easy. Not only does it take an innate and original talent, but also true determination and confidence. Guitarist Stewart Sellan of the band Beat The System knows this better than most. Starting out in the Malaysian music industry before moving to New York, Sellan had to overcome frustration, politics, and changes to be where he is today.
“Music scenes in Malaysia are very limited for upcoming or new bands unless they are signed under a label or well connected,” described Sellan. “Being a newly formed band, Beat The System had a tough time to get performance slots in any major gigs as most organizers would prefer established bands due to the tickets sales revenue.”
This situation forced Sellan and Beat The System to perform in many Battle of the Bands talent shows in order to gain recognition among the event organizers and to establish a name for the band itself. This helped to see the existing standards of other bands and helped Sellan to improve and be competitive subsequently always being among the top three finalist in any Battle of the Bands.
“This also opened doors for us to perform in most college events, public events and music festivals held throughout Malaysia. The downside was not all events were paying gigs,” he said.
This was something he had understood the focus was to gain a fan base which could help in future album sales.
“Throughout the years, Beat The System was able to establish a decent amount of fans and be recognized as a top performing band in the local scene,” said Sellan.
At the time, Sellan was working a 9-5 job and wanted nothing more than to achieve his dreams. Now, he recognizes what it truly takes to make it big.
“Individually every bandmate should be able to master the basics of their instruments very well. You should be able to decide on the band’s direction such as to be a club band, cover band or performance band. Every bandmate should be able to agree as one on the band’s genre as this will help in song writing, sound designing process,” he explained. “When a band has decided to take their journey from hobby to business, a proper structure with goals and plans are required such as a band leader to guide the band, setting dates for releasing a demo or full length album, and setting a scheduled band rehearsal in order to improve the bandmates chemistry and skills.”
Sellan, a self-taught guitar player, also believes punctuality and sufficient solo practice before any rehearsal is very important.
“This shows personal commitment and respect or appreciation for the other bandmates,” he said.
Being successful, according to Sellan, also means making sacrifices. Financially, you have to look at starting a band as starting any other business, which will lead to personal expenses until you get your feet on the ground. Not all the gigs pay at the beginning and you have to hand out free CDs, but that is how you build a fan base to get into paying gigs. However, Sellan says you also have to sacrifice your ego to make it big in a band.
“You have to constantly be learning to know what new challenges and processes the band needs to overcome,” said Sellan.
You also have to sacrifice time. Sellan says he practices 4-5 hours a day just on his own.
This true commitment is recognized by those in the industry. Owner of Monster hits and an American music industry executive, Diana Meltzer was impressed with Sellan from the beginning.
“Stewart’s a serious guitar player being that he gets right down to work whenever it is asked of him. Working with him is simple and straightforward, he understands his role very well and is always open to suggestions when it comes to his guitar playing,” she said.
Sellan’s ability to know he has to constantly learn and be humble sets him apart from others. He formed the band Beat The System and ensured these morals were part of each member. He also knows that you have to constantly be adapting. The band has gone through lineup changes and moved across the world. They had to get into as many places as possible when first beginning, like Battle of the Bands contests, reality TV shows, gigs at local clubs and bars, music festivals, college events, and charity performances. As their fan base grew, they began to send demo CDs of the band and constantly keep in touch with the labels respective personnel for updates.
Sellan had to learn the business of the music industry on the marketing and promotional strategy for an effective way to promote the band. He had to keep in constant contact with key people who have influence in the industry, and utilize all available platforms to promote songs.
It is extremely hard work, but Sellan had a dream from the first moment he picked up a guitar and decided he would teach himself how to play. Through his sheer determination, raw talent, and business savvy, Beat The System has become a band with a large following and an anticipated new album.