Music producer Terrence Ma on BTS songwriters’ camp and working with two generations of idols

31-year old Terrence Ma works with rising star Ian Chan from Mirror as well as Leon Lai, who has long held the accolade of being one of Hong Kong’s “Four Heavenly Kings” since the 80s. Between the old and young generations, Ma flip flops his role to best represent singers of different eras. He talks to #legend about working with cross-era artists and coming into his own

Hong Kong is seeing a tentative revival of its music entertainment scene with the likes of the 12-member boy band group Mirror who debuted in 2018. When hit songs make the chart, producers behind the newest music sensations are often overlooked. 

For Terrence Ma who often locks himself up in his music studio apart from times spent DJ-ing, work had been his main focus. He is the founder of his own music production company, Blue Moon Productions. And though he is still relatively young, he has already worked with some of Hong Kong’s most celebrated artists. 

When East meets West

Ma spent his high school and university years in the United States. It exposed him to a range of musical cultures unlike any he’s experienced in Hong Kong. “You get to hear what people listen to over there,” he says. “As a kid, I listened to a lot of Western music, but those were more mainstream – what you see on the charts. I wouldn’t know how to listen to indie bands [in Hong Kong]. When I went to the US, I discovered that there were a lot of really amazing indie bands. As well as classic rock and jam bands, such as Grateful Dead – they were very, very popular.” 

It opened Ma’s eyes to the beauty of improvisation by said jam bands. “Sometimes, they would have songs that are 20 minutes long,” he remembers. “It just goes on and on forever. Everyone has their solo. It’s a very free-flow type of style.” 

In order to pursue a career in music production, the songwriter-to-be supplemented his training by joining writing camps. One of which ran in South Korea instructed by Finnish songwriters some of whom have written for famous Korean acts like BTS, Twice, NCT and Red Velvet.

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“Leon [Lai] he’s very clear on things,” Ma says. “He’s done music for so long that he knows what he wants. He’s also surprisingly very willing to try new things and hear out my opinion. But then on certain things, he’ll have his experience of how to do things and in those instances, all you can do is be like ‘teach me!’.”

On the flip side, he also works with the younger generation of artists – such as Ian Chan from Mirror. The boy band member is looking at releasing his own solos. “Ian wants to do many things. He wants to be really involved in the production and is curious about the whole process. Of course, I have to share my opinion and experience about the direction of the songs we are working on and he is very involved. In this case, he would try to start something and I help him refine it.” 

“When you work with artists who have reached a certain level of fame, you can gauge their attitude to work and their processes. I actually found that with the really big names, they really care about the details,” says Ma. “It doesn’t matter how many revisions it takes. They’ll just do it. They always think about how to make it better, and so that is something that I can also perfect within me. But it is always about how far you take the perfection.” 

“There is always the 80/20 rule. It takes 20 per cent of the time to get 80 per cent done. And then, 80 per cent of the time to get that remaining 20 per cent. That’s the most painful,” he laughs. 

Coming into his own

Photo: Terrence Ma

“I have been locking myself up for a long time,” Ma shares. “It was like that for many years, six, seven years, really just kept working nonstop. That’s why this summer I’ve been kind of trying to do more outdoor activities by joining a workout group,” he says.  

“Mainly it’s helping me relax and also just because I don’t want to, you know, give up too much of that anymore. I guess I want to be more active, because I feel like in my 20s I gave up a lot of activities, just to work, though I don’t regret it.”  

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