As one of the most recognisable names in the music industry, Wendy Ong has keen eyes when it comes to selecting a roster of emerging artists and bringing them to stardom all over the world. She was appointed as President of TaP Management and TaP Records in 2019, in which she oversees all U.S.-related management and label activities for a diverse roster of artists, including Lana Del Rey, Dua Lipa, Ellie Goulding and Hailee Steinfeld.
Hailing from Singapore and now living in L.A., Wendy’s experiences spanned from Arista Records to Interscope to Roc Nation, the last of which was founded by Jay-Z in 2008. After several years working with many artists, a list of which includes Alicia Keys, Christina Aguilera, Foo Fighters, Rihanna, Mariah Carey and Shakira, she switched gears completely and worked at the Metropolitan Opera, where she was responsible for marketing. Her keen interest in marketing later brought her to EMI Records, where she worked as head of classical music, despite having no background in the genre. Wendy is remarkably shaped by her extensive experiences in working with artists of varied backgrounds, making her one of a kind.
When it comes to selecting artists, Wendy told Tatler Indonesia that she’s always looking for originality, where she and her team can add value to the artist’s career and help them shape and realise their vision. With such a heartful approach and deep understanding, it’s no wonder that she’s now a preeminent modern music executive.
We recently spoke to her to learn more about how she got to where she is today, her love for music and passion in nurturing young artists.
As the president of TaP Management and TaP Records, what does a workday look like for you?
My day starts very early. I get up at 5 in the morning every day to get my workout, walk my dog and meditate. It’s great because TaP headquarters are based in London, so it actually helps that I like starting my day really early. In between lots of emails, phone calls and zoom meetings, I am trying to keep a little break for myself during the afternoon and go to bed at 9 p.m. to recharge, otherwise I wouldn’t be getting enough sleep.
I try to stick to my routine, which has been possible because of Covid, but before that, I was always travelling to London or New York a lot. At first, when the lockdown happened, I was quite happy because I like being home surrounded by trees, flowers and beautiful scenery from the hills and now I kind of miss getting on the plane, which I didn’t think I would say.
During this pandemic, a lot of important events and concerts are cancelled. How does this affect the business and what kind of innovations do you have to come up with to overcome these challenges?
As far as how it affected our business, the biggest one is touring because we had a lot of tours for our artists that were already announced and some of the tickets were already on sale. Just a few to mention, Dua Lipa was about to start the global tour for her second album “Future Nostalgia” and Dermot Kennedy was going to do this incredible American tour and play at iconic venues like Red Rocks in Colorado. Ellie Goulding came back after five years with a brand new album and a brand new tour. It was quite devastating, not only for someone like me but to those who work in the music industry whose job is to hold and manage the concerts and touring. On a different scale, there are a lot of performances that we normally do for TV and we had to really think of how we could make such special virtual performances. I think with Dua, in particular, she was the first one of our artists that requires us to work really hard, so we can keep her spirit [virtually] and deliver something fun and creative. So far we have been able to experiment with pay-per-view Livestream concerts like what Dermot Kennedy and Ellie Goulding had done for their virtual concerts from London. I don’t know if that’s what we are headed to, but in the meantime, until we can get people back into concerts, we are trying to do our best and try to deliver really amazing performances for someone like you and me who would want to pay the ticket. We have more to come with this kind of pay-per-view type of Livestream concerts.
When it comes to selecting young artists, what key things do you look for? What kind of artists fit your criteria?
If you look at artists that we represent on TaP, I think the first thing you would notice is that we have a lot of female artists. We started with Lana Del Rey and eventually, she set the bar pretty high because Ben and Ed, the founders of TaP, obviously did an amazing job over the years. Lana’s career is unlike any other artist because she really stays true to herself and to the essence of who she is as an artist. So, I think because of that, more female artists are getting drawn to TaP. We take on artists when we think we can add value to their career and help them shape their version of who they want to be.
What’s the difference between working with young and emerging artists compared to established artists?
I have been lucky to have experienced working with established artists a few times in my career and I think the difference is money, because the bigger you get the more work is involved. It’s hard when you are a new artist to get a TV performance, but when you are a bigger artist, you need to have all the budget in place. So, it’s fulfilling in two different ways and not one is better than the other. Speaking from my experience, I really love working with new artists because it feels wonderful being able to help someone realise their dreams. When you really believe in the artist and the music that they are making, it’s so exciting that you are responsible to help more people around the world discover that too. And then you see this artist grow and they become prolific and successful and it’s the best feeling in the world, especially when you become a part of it. In TaP, we treat everybody equally with the utmost respect.
Having background experiences working in Arista Records to Interscope to Roc Nation and Metropolitan Opera, how does it help you in managing artists of different genres?
You have to be a chameleon. I am always the same person inside, but I have to adapt. I can’t be the same person when I talk to classic artists or rappers, and the lesson that I learned was to read the rule. Just see what’s happening and adapt yourself. Communication is also important in getting our work done. As a woman from Asia going to America and having to really figure out how to fit in, but also remaining distinctive, was such a challenge. So, being able to adapt was a very important skill.
This year you are participating in All That Matters 2020 conference as one of the speakers. In your opinion, how can this event contribute to the success of the music industry?
I am originally from Singapore and left the country in 1999 before the conference existed. At that time, I had no choice, but to listen to the radio to learn as much as I could. During this personal journey, I also realised that to be young and to work in music, whether on the creative side or the business side, there were very few options to learn and the opportunities to work in the industry were quite limited. So, this conference is fantastic because not only that it gives developing artists the platform to be discovered and perform in front of a global audience, decision-makers and very intelligent people in the music, entertainment, and gaming industry now, it’s also great for the stakeholder like myself to become fully immersed in the music, culture, and business in the Asia Pacific. Otherwise, I think it’s so easy for us to just focus on major markets like the U.S., U.K., Germany, Australia, and Japan. But I am from Singapore, so for me, it’s personal. I want to be more involved in what happens where my home is and I want to do more as much as they would let me help with the process.
In your opinion, what’s the next big challenge for the industry’s long-term future?
Right now, it might be difficult to answer because there are so many unknowns that we are going through. My hope is that touring would be back next year. I don’t know what they will look like because there will still be social distancing and masks involved to some extent, but I think the future of the industry is still trying to maintain that face-to-face human experience. I also think that technology has allowed us to experience music live and has closed the gap between artists and their fans around the globe. On the other hand, the human experience is also necessary to keep the love and passion going. That’s what music is. It’s a business, but it’s very personal, so we need to make sure that we continue to find ways for everyone, both artists and the fans, to be able to enjoy it together in person.
What’s next for TaP management? Any exciting projects coming up?
Right now, we are hoping to collaborate with more artists and managers outside of TaP, but until then it’s more live concerts where we are experimenting with pay-per-view live stream shows. We are also very passionate about doing things to help the industry as a whole. Before the lockdown happened, we were about to start music education in schools in the U.K. and Bangkok and bring it to different countries around the world. We are also big advocates for mental health in particular and we have been raising money to help mental health efforts, especially in the music industry. On top of that, we are actually looking to expand TaP. Right now we are in New York, London, L.A., Berlin, Sydney and I think if everything goes well according to plan, we would love to open up in Paris and maybe in Asia. I hope that we can get that whole project back on track soon.
What are some tips you can share with those who want to follow your career?
It’s important to go overseas. Travelling is important to open up your vision of the world even if it’s only for vacation. It also helps enrich your knowledge of how things are in different cultures and languages. So, I advise those who want to succeed, whatever industries that they’re in, they should get a passport and see a little bit more than their corner of the world.
If you wish to know more about All That Matters 2020 and Wendy Ong, please visit the official website here.