Music Producer Kelvin Avon: ‘Yes, I’m A Very Stubborn Guy’ Part 3
Entrepreneur Kelvin Avon a.k.a. Afreex is a platinum record selling music producer, songwriter and mix engineer. He divides his time between London and Hong Kong. Originally from Zambia, he made name working with artists such as P. Diddy and Erykah Badu. Kelvin's production company Chewatribe put together the UK's biggest collaboration album Union Black which won an Urban Music Award for Best Compilation. Currently he's very busy running his company MoFo Music.
This is the third and last part of our interview with Kelvin. Check out part one here. At the end of part two Kelvin told us that when he figured out how he wanted to position himself business wise he really found his way as an entrepreneur. He and his wife moved from London to Hong Kong (her native stomping grounds) and Kelvin met his current business partner Jun Kung with whom he started MoFo Music. Jun plays a big part in MoFo's uprising as a company, and Kelvin learned that owning the content is key to success in the music business.
Chili Sauce Succes
MoFo Music is very successful. How come?
"I think because we do stuff different. We're very passionate about what we do and we have a very high quality standard for what we produce. Everything that comes out of MoFo Music is of the highest quality and that's something that was lacking over here. High quality music production was something they didn't learn in the greater China region. Recording and mixing standards were low. The people here didn't really understand how important it is to make a song speak to everyone, even someone who doesn't know your language."
"I also think we used and integrated the American model very well with MoFo music. In my opinion the Americans -and the British for that matter- have a very well developed sense for quality production and staying ahead of the competition. Not only in music. Look at Apple's iPhone for example. When that thing came out, it was like nothing else. I was made of the highest quality materials. It was more advanced than any other phone at the moment. And Apple as a company was doing stuff that others weren't doing. We like to use that as inspiration. I'm not saying that we're Apple, but I think in terms of mentality we are. We're always trying to stay a step ahead. We always want to be the ones who do something new. That way when people are copying us or do what we did last year, it doesn't matter. We're already doing something else. What they're focussing on is old news for us."
And it's paying off. In the last five years Kelvin produced almost three hundred songs in total with MoFo Music. They've worked with independent artists, and at the moment they've got their own artists who are developing very successful as well. ,,Our own talents are already starting to make us money. I think that's a direct result of the very high sort of... eeuhm, quality control system my business partner and I use. Yes quality control system, I guess that's the word. As a result the album we've just finished is now number one in the charts. We've had quite a few number one albums over here. And we've had a huge amount of number one singles. I can't even count them."
"Did I already mention we've got our own chili sauce with MoFo Music?"
Haha, not yet, but I've heard some good stories about this chili sauce. What's up with it?
"Well it was actually inspired by my business partner Jun. He said, 'you know here in Hong Kong, when you finish working with a client you give a little present. Like some chocolates, maybe a bottle of whiskey'. I didn't know about that, but I really liked the idea. I only thought those kind of gifts were a bit too cliché. But Jun and I both like chili sauce a lot, so we came up with the idea of giving that instead. And while we're at it, why not just start making our own chili sauce? So we did. Well, kind of actually. We licensed chili sauce from a company here, put our own branding on it and repacked it in this really cool brown paper casing. That way we had our own very personal gift for people we work with. And it's good for promo as well. We already started giving the saus out as a little thank you to people. And they just love it. The chili sauce is really, really tasty. On top of that they like the packaging. It turns out to be a lovely product, so now we're going to sell it. Why not? As a matter of fact, we've actually got some partners who want to take it overseas for us. It's quite bizarre how something that was intended as a promotional tool ended up earning us money."
Doesn't that also demonstrate how to be successful as an entrepreneur? Don't think everything through too much all the time, but go with the flow and sometimes it just happens.
"Yes I think so. When you overthink it too much, you're always going to focus on the negative side of it. And that'll probably stop you from doing it. I think part of being an entrepreneur and being successful is being a little bit impulsive, going with your gut and making it happen. And when you go for it, give it all you've got."
Listen to the whole interview with Kelvin here:
Never Ending Itch
So if I may summarize. To be successful as an entrepreneur you have to give it a hundred percent. You have to go with the flow. Don't be scared. Just do it and be massively productive?
"Yes, massively productive."
How do you stay so productive. Where does that inner drive come from?
"One thing, my dad. He's a self-made man. A real working class guy. He came from a very poor background. He left school when he was only fifteen so he could work and look after his parents who had no money. He eventually became successful and he did very well for himself. I've always admired that in him. This was something I've looked at and said, wow. He went from literally being an account clerk at sixteen years old to being a financial director at one of the biggest government departments here in Hong Kong."
"So I always look at it like well, OK. I want to take the next step. If he can do that and he provided me with the life I had, I can now take it further. Not that I want to outdo my dad. I just want to be able to do the same jump as he did, but with the platform he gave me. He's very supportive, my dad. Of me, and of my music. He has always been the one who was there when I'd be a bit down or when I had problems. My dad was the one who'd always say 'don't let it get to you Kelvin. Pick up. Get up and go.' That's always been very motivational for me."
Making him a big role model for you as well?
"A huge role model. Yeah, very much so. I want to show him that I appreciate and understand what he did for me and use that knowledge in my own way. We have very different personalities. I mean, he's not entrepreneurial in that sense. He's a bit more steady and safe. I think it's also something of the times. He's older. The entrepreneurial thing was not really a big thing back then. There were very few people doing it. This was back in the sixties. But my dad encourages me to be who I am. He will say things like 'How you are is what you're supposed to be and it's what has made you successful, so keep doing it.'"
"And it's true. He knows what drives me. I can't sit still. I hate being unproductive. When I get to the end of the day. I'm like 'what have I done? Nothing.' I hate that. I absolutely hate it. I just think what a waste of a day. And being productive doesn't have to mean work you know. Even if I've gone out and played with my daughter and helped her to ride a bike. I feel like I've done something productive that day. It can be anything. Otherwise, it'll drive me insane. I can't sit still. Even on holidays, I get itchy feet. The first couple of days, I'm loving it. I will sit back and relax. But within a couple of days, I'll get new ideas, and I'll want to do something productive again."
A never ending itch?
"Yeah. And it goes pretty far. Like for example when my wife has to start complaining because I'm texting under the dinner table again. Like something to my business partner. It's very hard to switch off. I guess that's it. I can't switch it off. I always have a lot of ideas."
Is it non-stop?
"Yes. When I'm positive and I've got an idea, I have to do it. I can't count the times I'd come home, sit down with my wife, chat and then go 'Oh god, I've got to go back to the studio. I've got an idea.' I'll go back to the studio and be there for another four, five hours. I try not to do this as much now with the kids, but I still can't help myself."
Multi talented MoFo Music artist Tien is the first to connect the East with the West.
The Next Episode
You are a very diverse music producer. You've worked all over the world with a lot of very talented people. And you've started several successful companies. What's next?
"Oh, good question. For me right now, the focus is on our artist Tien. I will give you a little insight into what we see in her and why we decided to focus on her so much. The one thing that I think the world has not had yet and people have not tried yet is a truly East meets West artist. An artist that is both successful in the West, the East and Greater China or Southeast Asia. A lot of people have tried to find and create such an artist, but they haven't succeeded yet. And now we've got Tien. She sings and speaks Mandarin and English fluently. She's got a phenomenal voice and she's a beautiful girl. My thing is, and I keep telling people, I want to make the first successful East meets West artist. And I do think we've got her to be honest. We have got quite some stuff planned ahead with her."
"Once we've completed the project with Tien, I'm not sure what I'm going to do. I haven't thought that far ahead really. I probably would be interested in finding out a way to help monetize music again. When I first started in the music business I caught the end of the era where there were huge amounts of money made with cd's. Then it really tanked because of the streaming thing and everything, especially the revenues, got so much smaller."
"So now it's time for new developments. Maybe I'll help find a tech solution that can monetize music easier again. I have one thing in the pipeline, I'm not going to tell you what it is exactly. We're going to experiment on some stuff together with another company here in Hong Kong that's connected to Google on the research and development side of it. It has a lot of potential to be a new way for artists to make money in the music business. I have my fingers crossed. We'll see.."