On the Record with Poco Productions

In January this year, YST students and alumni Lo Sheng Hong (NUS Mechanical Engineering ’18, YST Second Major in RAS), Aw Wei Zheng, Leon Teo, Sulwyn Lok, Daniel Tan, Eugene Koo (all BMus Year 4, RAS) and Emilea Teo (BMus Year 3, RAS) set up their own audio company, Poco Productions.

Between setting up the company, working in projects such as 11 year old award-winning Chloe Chua’s violin recital (28 March), the Orchestra of Music Makers performance of Bernstein’s Mass (2 June), the Voyage Festival (22-26 August) and the Red Dot Baroque’s public debut concert at the Esplanade (28 August); and juggling studies (as well as graduation for one!), it’s been a whirlwind of activity for the team of seven.

We caught up with Sulwyn, Sheng Hong and Wei Zheng (from left, pictured below) from the team on what’s been going on.

Why Poco, and what does it do?

Poco aims to promote the arts by harnessing technology; as a young company, we are beginning with a focus on concert recording (both audio and video). 

We saw a gap in this market, because while larger professional arts organisations often have their own resident or overseas engineers who capture their concerts, many arts groups do not have in-house expertise and need to engage freelance videographers. However, not many freelance videographers specialise in concert recordings – services for wedding shoots or corporate videos are much more common, and it can be tough to find concert recording services if you do not have personal contacts you can consult.

Today, social media and online platforms make it easy to discover music performances – but they also make it even more important to capture them with good recordings, so that they can be shared with wider audiences and bigger stages. There is so much going on in Singapore’s music scene, even at a student level – each school alone already has at least five to six performing arts co-curricular activity groups! We want to help a wider pool of performing groups capture their work and bring it onto the world stage.

We chose the name Poco to represent us as a little and humble team, that hopefully goes to achieve great impacts! 

How do you work as a team of seven? What are each of your roles?

Sheng Hong drives a lot of our administration and strategic direction, and Wei Zheng is technical director contributing his experience in live sound and events. Leon is our production specialist with his expertise in studio recording and mixing; Daniel is recording director. Eugene is marketing director, Emilea is artistic director and oversees branding, and Sulwyn contributes his experience as a composer.

When it comes to a livestream (like at the Sounding Now Festival earlier this year), it’s all hands on deck! At the concert, Daniel, Emilea, Sheng Hong and Eugene each operated a camera in the room to capture the performances, while Leon handled audio. Wei Zheng served as overall director, giving instructions to camera operators and deciding which camera feed went into the livestream at any point in time to capture the experience as fully as possible. Sulwyn served as the score reader, analysing the score and updating Wei Zheng on the upcoming musical features to be emphasised.

What challenges have you faced, and how has YST supported you?

Juggling work and studies was definitely a big challenge! None of us had business backgrounds, so we were learning how to create a company from scratch, from administrative processes to marketing and branding. Communication is also an ongoing challenge – with a seven-person team, it’s even more important to keep everyone in the loop. 

YST has truly offered us a great deal of support. Through the YST community, we are grateful to be connected to several important projects which have helped us get started as a company. We’re also thankful for the advice we received from Vice Dean (Professional Integration) Assoc Prof Chan Tze Law, Head of Audio Arts & Sciences Zhou Xiaodong, and Lecturer in Audio Arts & Sciences Gao Yang. Prof Chan would ask us critical business-related questions about our market research and business plans, that made us think more deeply and better define our approach. Xiaodong and Gao Yang also gave us a lot of advice based on their extensive experience in the industry, which we are more than grateful for.

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What are your hopes and plans for Poco?

We are currently focused on concert recording as a start, but eventually hope to expand in other areas.

One arm that we are keen to develop is Poco Originals, where we create a repository of original compositions and professional arrangements that music CCA groups in Singapore schools can access. This is especially important for ensembles for which arrangements are not widely available.

For example, movie soundtracks are a popular repertoire choice for music groups, especially in schools. When a new movie is released, big publishing companies usually have sheet music for its soundtrack which is usually available within two weeks, that musicians can buy to perform. But for less-common ensembles, such as those for Chinese instruments, harmonica or guitar, there aren’t as many publishers and professional arrangers providing new material. As such, these groups can be stuck with old repertoire for years, resulting in students, instructors and audiences not being as engaged as they could be.

We want to create a repository where schools can easily find scores for professional arrangements, and also access published works by local composers. We are currently doing market research with school conductors and teachers to understand how we can best serve this need.

We are also keen to extend our work into live sound as well as education! Apart from working with musicians for concert recordings, we are currently also collaborating with theatre groups in musical productions. Members of our team have been hard at work developing course materials and conducting trial lessons on what we do at various schools and organisations. Eugene, Sulwyn and Leon are currently helping facilitate the YST module MUA3271 (Acoustics and Sound Production for Performers) as well, sharing their knowledge in acoustics, recording and video. There’s lots happening; stay tuned!