Saturday, September 22, 2012

How To Start A Business

“Looking for independent, confident individual willing to take on the world single-handedly. Any age, any gender, no experience required. Must be very motivated, strict yet flexible, outspoken yet reserved, and above all willing to work without pay at your own expense for several months at the bare minimum. Job scope vague and must be able to juggle accounts, human resource, sales, public relations, personal life and have money left over to repeat routine over and over again.”
I admit that it is a rather off-putting ad which wouldn’t receive any calls – but while it isn’t the world’s greatest job advert, that’s really what it is when you run your own business.  Undoubtedly one of the manliest ways to make a living, rest assured this isn’t for the faint of heart (and faint of work)!

Registering A Company
It is possible to operate a business without a company, address and/or venue, such as a home-operated business. But having a company to put it all under makes accounts and cashflow much easier to manage as it isn’t mixed up under your personal savings account. To do this you need to pay a visit to the Malaysian Registrar of Companies (Suruhanjaya Syarikat Malaysia) to pick a name and legally register it.
There are generally two types of companies that can be registered; a private limited company (Sendirian Berhad) and a sole proprietorship (commonly - and wrongly, I believe - known as an “enterprise”), both with advantages and disadvantages. A Sendirian Berhad company is a properly licensed legal entity, with paid-up capital and subdivision of shares among the owners. As a separate legal entity, the company’s debts are separated from the owners’ debts – which means the company is only liable to pay back a maximum value of paid-up capital should it fall into debt, therefore protecting personal assets of the owner. As a sole proprietorship/partnership, the name and company is basically an extension of the owners and any liabilities are borne by the owners’ personal assets directly - and should the owner pass away the business is no longer valid unless in the case of a partnership (under the impression that the partner(s) survives).
On the other hand, starting up a sole proprietorship is much simpler and economical – the registration cost , which is basically all you need to own the name, would cost you only RM95 should you do it yourself, which I would highly recommend to get familiar with the system. There are no tax audits (all done in-house), no company secretary to sign legal documents, no resolutions or AGMs (annual general meetings) to call for and as such, a vast majority of businesses out there are sole proprietorships. Bear in mind that this requires a lot of trust should other partners be involved as there is no law and/or legal agreement regarding shares and ownership – the form only lists down the name of the partners and nothing more!

Naming Your Company
Yes, it’s just a name, that’s true but there are certain words that cannot be used as a company name unless under specific orders from a government body supporting it. For example, the word “King” is disallowed as it is associated with royalty – a good example is why the parent company of Sushi King in Malaysia is called “Sushi Kin Sdn Bhd”, intentionally missing the letter “g” at the end. Any name associated with a political party is also disallowed – which means “UMNO Photo Printing” and “Nasi Kandar Pakatan Rakyat “ are out of the picture. Anything to do with the corporate definition of securities (“Securities Trading”, “Stock Market”, “Bursa Saham”) are also unusable so check with the Registrar before you go about designing that logo and font that took weeks to perfect only to find out that the name cannot be used.
Another issue with a name, this time for practicalities’ sake – is that one must be able to spell and write down the company name with ease. The name “Max Karl Ernst Ludwig Planck Sandwiches”, as interesting and memorable a tribute to the great physicist as it may seem, is a nightmare for our local Malaysians to spell and write down. All someone has to do is to miss a letter in it for a cheque to bounce, taking up precious time and throwing a wrench in your banking movement. But say you like the name “Max Karl Ernst Ludwig Planck Sandwiches” and want to keep it (you must really REALLY like this name) it is always possible to trademark it and run it under a parent company, as with the case of Sushi King.

Actually Running The Company
Hundreds upon thousands of books and articles have been written with regards to running a business, and like this article, there are hundreds of thousands more to come. While the basics of running a business remain (i.e. proper balancing of cashflow, profit vs loss, stock checking, etc) each business is unique; methods that may work for others might not work for you and vice versa. It’s all about experimenting and taking a risk – but above all, the one word that should always be in the mind of a businessman is consistency. Consistent opening hours, consistent stocks and products, consistent salesmen and consistent operating hours will result in consistent cashflow and income. Consistent headaches as well, mind you but it’s all part and parcel of the game.
There you have it! In a nutshell, this is how most businesses start up; in upcoming articles I hope to write about more business strategies and out-of-the box thinking for company growth and capital gain.

Now if you’ll excuse me, an attorney from the Max Planck Foundation is here to see me...!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Menteri Belia & Sukan bermain Saxophone bersama Eizaz Azhar

Hi guys! Eizaz here with a new tale for all of you - this was definitely one of the more interesting stories I have to tell throughout my teaching career. As a teacher, I encounter students from all walks of life; from the race car driver and stuntman, to factory workers, doctors and the vice CEO of a bank - and today I have one such interesting story to share! I taught the Malaysian Minister of Youth & Sports, Dato' Sri Shabery Cheek to play the saxophone, along with some photos. Together with this is a tutorial for beginner players and is basically how I start off every student. Due to the honorable Minister's extremely busy schedule I was only able to run through a one-hour crash course with him and somehow he caught up as you will see at the end of this article!

Back to basics; I usually start off teaching students how to assemble the saxophone and its parts. I cover the reed, mouthpiece, ligature, neck and strap as well as proper positioning of the hands and fingers. I would suggest students to start off with the alto saxophone first, which is arguably the least resistant saxophone to begin learning on as compared with the soprano which requires a firm, well-trained embouchure and the tenor/baritone which are larger and more cumbersome to move around and balance.

Next I will usually go cover the topic of breathing and breath support by having the student play just the neck and mouthpiece with the reed attached. This allows me to correct any improper positions in embouchure as well as to get the student blowing smoothly and in a consistent manner. I will also go through basic breathing exercises to induce the use of the diaphragm muscle which must be trained to support the lungs in order to attain a consistent flow of air.

Once the student gets the hang of blowing the neck and mouthpiece, I will introduce the entire instrument and proper finger positioning. Neck strap position is of great importance and the student must be able to let the horn's weight rest completely on the strap instead of supporting it with the thumb.

Getting closer to the end of the crash course; playing the first few notes and a scale on the saxophone. I will introduce the notes B, A and G as well as the proper finger positioning for the keys. In the rare case the student learns quickly I proceed to the D major scale and introduction of the octave key.

Once the student is comfortable with the weight and position of the saxophone, he/she can then freely move around and look cool while at it! It is important to be able to move without feeling restricted and treat the instrument as an extension of your body. Smile and look good!

This is the end result of our crash course! Dato' Sri Shabery Cheek was able to play a scale and proved himself to be a very quick learner and student of the instrument - trust me, to pick up a new instrument isn't easy even for seasoned musicians. We hope that the Minister of Youth & Sports will serve as an inspiration for the younger generation and that if he can do it, they can too!

Malaysia Boleh!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Beginner Guitar Guide by Eizaz Azhar

Being Manly 101: Playing a Manly Instrument - Guitar
Let’s face it; one time or another, there will be a moment in which your Guitar Hero skills won’t cut it anymore. Be it a housewarming party or a bar with a live band, it is inevitable that you will have to call upon your musical skills and play a guitar – like it or hate it, the instrument is here to stay so put down that controller and we’ll have you strumming something by the end of this article which will guide you from start to end; purchasing your first guitar to brands and chords and songs... And yes, it does get you the attention of the girls (as with everything else in the Manly 101 series).

#1: Buying A Guitar
This is a very important part of the article as most people have no idea where to start when they get around to purchasing their first instrument. To begin, there a few types of guitars out there, namely acoustic, classical, electric and bass. Arguably the most popular guitar out there, this article will focus on the acoustic guitar due to its low price and ability to be heard in almost any situation (although the techniques mentioned here remain the same regardless of guitar type). Putting aside that beat-up old heap of junk that resembles an extinct Grecian instrument – sans the value - on your flatmate’s couch, I would recommend getting your own instrument at one point or another. In this way, not only will you get familiar with your instrument, but it will also be available for you to play at any moment to practice, or strum a few chords.
As far as brands are concerned, as of recent the variety of brands on the market are nothing short of overwhelming. Some famous brands are Taylor, Martin, Yamaha, Gibson and Fender but expect them to cost a bomb, especially if they’re made in Europe, Japan or the USA! Anyway, everything is fair game from RM150 to RM15,000 – it all depends on how much your budget is for an instrument. My suggestion as a teacher is to get a relatively inexpensive guitar, but not to the extent that it compromises touch (the way it responds to your fingers) and ease of playing; I would personally set a budget of around RM300-500 for a serious beginner instrument.
Don’t get too hung up on brands as around this price range, all guitars – even the branded ones are mass-produced in China, so there really isn’t much to be picky about (which means a few barely noticable dings and knocks, imperfect finishes, etc are inevitable). Bear in mind that within this range, branded guitars will usually cost more, but will not necessarily be better than an unbranded guitar at the same price. Listen to the sound of the guitar; hold it; feel how it handles in your hands. And don’t have an unrealistic expectation of a RM300 guitar to look, feel and play like something ten times its price – you get what you pay for!

#2: Playing The Guitar
Now that you have a guitar, let’s learn the basics. You can play it standing or sitting down; if you stand you will need a guitar strap to sling it around your shoulder. You can see my position, both standing and sitting in these photos.

As you can see, when I sit down with the guitar I balance it on my leg which is crossed over. This enables me to balance the guitar and even with my hands off, it will stay in its position. As for the standing position, I generally have the guitar higher than usual – the closer it is to your chest, the easier it will be to handle and play. No I don’t understand how you can play the guitar as low as Green Day and not suffer from back problems...!

Anyway, we are going to learn three positions on the guitar fretboard, called chords in this article; G, C and D. Hopefully this makes sense to you.

These are the finger positions for the chords above, which can be used to play many, many songs. The black dots represent your fingers on the guitar, while the hollow dots refer to open strings (no fingers touching), and no symbol means the string is not played. We take for example, the song “Wonderful Tonight” by Eric Clapton; it starts with a G, D, C, D that repeats throughout the song with minimal changes. I can’t possibly elaborate everything all at once and it wouldn’t make sense anyway, so here’s a video that I made to help you out. This video is basically a guide to the guitar and its parts, to augment this article – it should get you up and playing in no time! Yes this was made a long time ago – no comments on the hairstyle please...

#3: Performing On Stage
Being on stage isn’t as simple as it sounds like. It’s a lot of pressure and everyone has their eyes on you – but part of being manly is taking up the challenge! Being on stage is a whole different thing altogether; it takes a lot of practice, knowing your stuff and more than anything else, preparation. Practice a song until you can get it right, by memory, and get it into your system. Meaning you can pull it off at any moment, on any other guitar, upon any number of an audience. It’s a real test of nerves and confidence, but the goal of playing an instrument is to ultimately to share your music and be appreciated by others. Just for laughs – and I did get some – this is a video of me busking by the roadside in China before I got chased away by the military police.

Above all, please remember that it’s just music; the world won’t end if you play a wrong note or make a mistake. Nobody dies – you aren’t piloting a commercial airliner for heaven’s sake! Go out there, have fun and play your heart out. Enjoy the moment and bask in the glory – do it well and you’re the man of the moment!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Hello everyone! Eizaz here, and this is the end result of all our hard work over the past couple of months. Everything is finally complete; all teaching rooms, offices, stage, jamming studio and recording studio all under one roof. I'll allow the pictures to do the talking!

The Mama Treble Clef board of directors and the new premises. Finally we have a photo - it's about time!

This is the interior of the store, our selection of electric guitars, amplifiers and keyboards, From Fender to Ibanez, Gibson and ESP, we've got them all!

Our bass selection encompasses entry-level basses from RM400 to professional-grade instruments costing thousands of dollars. Our in-house repairman and luthier ensures quality control throughout.

The higher range of guitars and basses go here. We carry American Stratocasters, Mexican Stratocasters, Music Man, Japanese Ibanez Prestige and the new Ibanez Premium range. We've also got a selection of Taylor acoustic guitars so check them out!

This is the new recording studio and a wicked, kicking set of drums and cymbals. We will lease the studio out for practice at RM50 per hour, and recording rates from RM100 per hour, including mixing and some minor engineering. Full miking for the drumkit and a killer room to boot!

This is a photo of yours truly at his drumkit. I've been playing for years and years on the same Tama drumkit before we moved here and I finally have a proper drumkit with proper cymbals, pedals and hardware. There is much to add on to the kit, like a cowbell and percussion but after years of waiting I finally have something proper! For comparison's sake this is what the drumkit (and player) looked like around 4 years back.

More photos of us in the studio.

And this is a photo of my partners and their lovely daughter. We've gone through so much in the past few years and I am very grateful to have met them along the way. Through thick and thin (man, when it was thin, it was THIN) we've somehow managed to reach the next level of development together. There's more to come from the team so stay tuned and please drop by - you are all invited for the grand opening!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Jack Thammarat Live Clinic, Presented by Mama Treble Clef Studio in co-operation with Yamaha Malaysia

By Eizaz Azhar

What a day it was! On the 11th of November, 2011 - 11/11/11 (an interesting date as well), the guitar virtuoso and YouTube superstar Jack Thammarat, winner of Guitar Idol 2009, came all the way from Thailand to do a guitar clinic for our students and regular customers.

We basically set up the stage, sound system, mixers and amps and drums and lights and everything you can imagine in the span of two days. Here are some of the interesting equipment I had to set up on the day;

You see, Jack is a newly-crowned Laney artist so all the amplifiers on the day were Laney amps. Jack's personal amp is the new Ironheart; it's a 300W monster tube amp with incredible tone and warmth. Each amplifier was miced up using a condenser mic directed at the speaker.

For the gig I used a hybrid drum kit ala Akira Jimbo style; it's basically a DTX520 combined with real cymbals and my favourite Pearl steel snare drum from the late 90s. I used the DTX for the kick and toms, mixed together and lined out into the mixer (my trusty Iron Cobra Power Glide pedals are also visible) whereas the snare and cymbals were miced up. All in all I got apretty good sound - but alas the overheads weren't plugged in for the gig and I lost my cymbal sounds! Oh well.

This was the stage setup for the day; I'm running everything through a Yamaha MG24FX mixer and a smaller cheap power mixer on the left for the stage monitors. Each channel is I/O-ed into a Roland UA-101 audio interface for mixing with Cubase. I usually mix digitally so I can save the settings and edit them easily. The house system is powered by two 1200W power amplifiers and a Behringer EQ (set to flat - didn't have time to balance everything), a crossover and a compressor. (P.S. everything here you can purchase from Mama Treble Clef Studio - call 03-95432201 and we can help you set up a stage and sound system and balance it as well.)

The bass amp was DI-ed (direct inject) to the mixer and we had 4 stage monitors. The house system was run through a set of EV 15' speakers and 18' subwoofers - I was quite pleased with the sound overall!

Guitar virtuoso Jack Thammarat gives a live clinic on the stage of Mama Treble Clef Studio. Held on the 11th of November 2011, Jack runs through some of his pieces in this video series and even jams with our in-house teacher's band at the end! It was an awesome show, with a full house of over 120 people and everyone had their photo and guitars autographed by Jack. We hope to have him here again!

Guitar: Jack Thammarat
Guitar 2: Lee Onn
Guitar 3: Mustaffa "Tapok" Ramly
Bass: Tengku Dinkhalish
Drums: Eizaz Azhar
Sound Engineer: Eizaz Azhar

Thammarat (born December 25, 1979) is a guitarist from Thailand. Best known as the winner of Guitar Idol 2009 competition. He has acknowledged the influence of many guitarists including Pop the Sun, Prart, Joe Satriani, John Petrucci, David Gilmour, Alex Lifeson, Steve Vai, Eric Johnson, Steve Lukather, Gary Moore, Scott Henderson, Robben Ford, Frank Gambale, Greg Howe and more.

Finally everything comes together, and this is the result. Jack's videos are below - do enjoy the show!

Monday, September 26, 2011

By Eizaz Azhar

Hi guys! Most of you may know me as a teacher in the music store Mama Treble Clef Studio and in-house musician (technician/admin guy/IT department/repairman/brute strength lifting dude/the guy you turn to when everything goes wrong and want things fixed in the shortest time possible without prior notice) among other things. I've been given the task of chronicling events that will be going on for the next good month or two. So here I am, writing this on my (infamous red-flamed decorated Toshiba Qosmio that weighs 7kg) notebook in a new, empty lot that we will be moving in shortly. Thing is, we've been talking about moving and all for quite some time now as some of my students might be able to attest to, and it's finally coming around. This, however exciting and fun it may seem - and actually is, I assure you - poses a bit of an issue to some members of the team (okay only two), particularly Ray Lee (right) and myself.

A bit about the company background; we started out as a small, miniature lot with practically 3 guitars, 2 pianos and around 50 students back in 2005-2006. Back then it was much simpler; a 300 square foot room that we basically furnished and renovated ourselves. A few years later we came up with the recording studio which we also furnished on our own, and the current 3 conjoined lots which, yes, we did ourselves. One reason was due to our budget (read; lack thereof) and simply because we didn't have much to do around the tiny store anyway, and also picked up a bunch of skills - mainly dangerous, tiring and monotonous - like installing partitions, wiring the ceiling and lighting, as well as sitting in an enclosed room with cancerous toxic fumes.

And now we're moving for a third and possibly final time to this monster of a venue, enough to house all divisions of the shop, inclusive of a recording studio, performance stage, showroom, cafe and music classes (natural disaster relief spot, emergency gathering area - who knows what else, really).

So anyway, we've had some experience in renovating and doing things on our own as you can see, but this is a whole different experience. It's a different thing furnishing a 400 square foot venue versus a 13,000 square foot venue. First of all, the cost involved is much larger, and there are some things you just can't do without spending half a year trying to pry open (i.e. the air-cond ventilation ducts which are drawn from the shopping complex's mains). Then there's the issue of decorating the space, purchasing enough stock to fill it up so that it doesn't look like the North/South Korea demilitarized zone, and finding reliable staff that show up on time and disappear when required (as opposed to random times and the worst possible moments where you feel like strangling the nearest form of intelligent life not unlike a Phua Chu Kang script).

To Be Continued....

Friday, August 19, 2011

Solo Piano Performance by Siang Xi

Our in-house teacher Siang Xi, member of the fusion group JUNK plays his own composition in our studio, as a demonstration of pop piano playing. Enjoy!