A music career was not something that Salwa Abdullah thought her son, who scored straight As in his SPM examination, would venture into.
After all, he did not learn music from a young age, only picking up an instrument when he was 15.
However, Muhammad Khairul Aiman Mohd Radzi was not only determined to play bass guitar, he went on to study at Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts in the United States.
The former head prefect of SMK Sultan Abdul Samad, Petaling Jaya also made it into the Dean’s list for eight consecutive semesters, graduating summa cum laude in 2015.
Since then, he has been living in New York City where he is currently a bass player, musical director and arranger.
To date, Khairul Aiman has produced three albums including Heart Strings for Jack Young released Jan 1 this year. He also co-produced EPs for The Saturators and THINK, which will be released within the next few months. He also produced singles for Josh Sanburn and Chris Lee, which are available on SoundCloud.
The 23-year-old musician has also had the chance to work with a few industry veterans, namely Joseph Barnes, a master percussionist who has played for legends such as The Isley Brothers, Carlos Santana and Aretha Franklin.
“I’ve learned a lot from him about managing and directing bands,” said Khairul Aiman, via email.
“Then there’s Chris Loftlin, the bass player and musical director for Brian McKnight, whose advice has been invaluable to me when it comes to being a versatile and professional bass player,” he added.
Khairul Aiman has also worked with Enrique Gonzalez Muller, a Latin Grammy Award-winning producer and recording engineer who has worked with Metallica and Dave Matthews Band, and also Chris Taylor, an American singer-songwriter.
For helping him in his career, Khairul Aiman gives credit to Malaysia’s Edvard Lee and Rozhan Razman.
“They have been living and working in the US as professional musicians for over a decade and have been sort of mentors and big brothers to me. Their advice is invaluable and has helped me tremendously,” he said.
Khairul Aiman has done freelance work for artists in various genres, from pop/rock (Young) to hip-hop (Nigeria’s Ayodele Alli) as well as classical orchestra (Orchestra Amadeus, which raises money for charities by putting on concerts around the city).
Assuming the role of musical director and arranger requires a certain level of responsibility and maturity.
“As the musical director, you have to be aware of everyone’s part, how they relate to each other and ensure those parts work well in a live setting. It also lets me know that the artiste trusts my judgements and decisions. I’ve put in a lot of time into studying live arrangements and performances and that has paid off,” he explained.
As a musical director, Khairul Aiman’s job is to also come up with arrangements for each song in the set as well as structure the show in a way that makes sense musically.
What is most challenging about working as a musician in a big city like New York?
“The main challenge I face is getting noticed. In this city, if no one knows you exist, no one is going to call you for gigs. It’s that simple. That’s why I always make an effort to go out to shows and jam sessions and meet new people to expand my network. And I’m happy to say that it’s going well.
“Other than that, sounding unique is also something that you must strive for. Artists in this city are on the cutting edge of modern music and everyone is looking to churn out something new. As a professional musician, one must be ready to adapt to the changing sounds and be able to make it his or her own,” he said.
Khairul Aiman’s goal and aspiration is pretty simple – to be a successful full time bass player.
“By successful, I mean that I want to be able to live comfortably playing music I love with people I respect. And further down the road, I wish to share everything I’ve learned with aspiring musicians who truly want to traverse this career path.”
Having lived in New York for a couple of years, what Khairul Aiman likes best about it is the amount of love and appreciation the people have for music and the arts.
“As an artiste, being around like-minded people is always comforting. In New York, I’m always able to find someone who is willing to collaborate and experiment with music out of genuine interest and love for the art. It keeps my thoughts and creativity flowing. My mind rarely feels stagnant and I am constantly inspired,” he enthused.
An artiste he looks up to is Tigran Hamasyan.
“He is an incredible pianist and composer who fuses contemporary jazz and Armenian folk music. He does it in a way that it sounds so natural that it inspires me to dig deeper in terms of fusing musical genres and styles,” he said.
Back home, he keeps in touch with his former music teacher Jerry Ventura of revered club band The Flacons and Aseana Percussion Unit, whom he is grateful to for putting him on the right path.
“Whenever I return to Malaysia, Uncle Jerry is the first person I see the day after I arrive. He is the person that made all this possible by showing me what music is. Whenever we meet, he still gives me pointers, which I can only get from someone as seasoned as he is. He inspired me during our first lesson and has never ceased to do so,” shared Khairul Aiman.