To be a composer is to lead an extraordinary life, says veteran pop music composer and producer Ronald Ng Lok-shing, who founded the Baron School of Music in Central to teach budding songwriters how to become a professional.
'The industry is very competitive. You either improve or you will fall behind,' says Ng. 'How can I write so many songs? It's because I have relinquished many other things in my life.'
For example, while most people go to bed early, Ng stays up late to compose. When his friends go out for dinner, he continues to work. Ng says it's a matter of choice - choosing to follow one's dreams or to be ordinary.
'To be a composer, or an artist, means to be an extraordinary person,' he says. 'You are creating work for ordinary people to enjoy. So if you comply whenever people ask you to play mahjong or going to the movies, following the daily routine of others, you can't become extraordinary.'
Ng started playing the trumpet and piano in primary school. As a secondary student, he attended a programme at the Academy for Performing Arts and joined the Hong Kong Youth Symphony Orchestra. He was also a choir member at his school, Diocesan Boys' School, and played in the school orchestra. 'I knew I was not going to be a top student and my strength was in music,' says Ng, who developed an interest in pop music in his late secondary school days. He later went to the Berklee College of Music in Boston.
Ng says his favourite composer then was Anthony Lun Wing-leung. 'I think he's a legend,' he says. 'He is an all-round musician. He can sing, compose and arrange songs as well as produce concerts. He also has a strong background in classical music. He's the one who inspired me to follow this path.'
So Ng was excited when, in 1999, about three years after he joined the local music industry, that Lun asked him to be musical director of his concert tour of Japan.
'He was actually giving me a chance to learn. There's no way I could be his music director,' says Ng, adding that the experience taught him to be always at his very best.
'When I returned to Hong Kong, nobody knew who I was. I had to seize every chance to prove myself, and then gradually established myself via each opportunity.'
Ng's credits include writing a wide variety of hit songs for the likes of Twins, Nicholas Tse, Jacky Cheung and Eason Chan. Yet Ng was not content with his success and was disappointed by the fact that Hong Kong lacked an institution dedicated to pop music. Inspired by the slump in the local music industry, Ng in 2006 founded the Baron School of Music, which provides recording facilities and takes an integrated approach to classical and pop music training.
Tutors include Canto-pop professionals such as lyricist Lin Xi, composer Peter Kam Pui-tat and Ng himself.
'Countries such as the US, Korea and Japan have similar institutions for their pop music or entertainment industry,' Ng says.
'We want to popularise pop music education in Hong Kong, otherwise the situation will be a vicious cycle. If your product is not up to standard, how can you expect people to buy from you?'