"You just have to knock on doors." How Alex Oh found opportunities around the world
Photos provided by Alex Oh
Alex Oh is one of the leading Singapore film composers. Alex has scored 23 feature films in China, the United States, Singapore and Australia, scoring movies such as 1965, Taxi! Taxi!, My Dog Dou Dou, Bait 3D and Rule No. 1, among others. He received 'Top Local Soundtrack' award at the 22nd COMPASS (Composers and Authors Society of Singapore) 2017 awards presentation and twice nominated for Music Composition in 2017 Apollo Awards and Best Original Music Score in 2004 Asian Television Awards. Alex holds a Masters in Arts: Scoring for Film and Visual Media (DIT Conservatory of Music and Drama in partnership with Pulse College in Dublin, Ireland) learning from leading Hollywood composers like Christopher Young, Conrad Pope and Gary Schyman.

Initially a pianist with classical training, Alex decided to become a music producer when he was 15. After graduating from a music production school and working in the field, the young musician, being 26 at the time, started his own production company. "I wanted to do more music for TV commercials, because [they] tend to have a faster turnover rate [that] takes up a few weeks of my time," he explains. "You need to write 30 - 90 seconds of music maximum."
Like with all plans, things took a different turn: that same year, in 2001, a local music supervisor asked Oh to arrange an opening segment for his movie. The same person came two years later and asked whether Alex was interested in writing music for a TV series. "I did one more TV series shortly [with him] before the director decided to make a feature film… that's how my first film started," the composer says. So, at 28 years old, he realized he wanted to switch his career path to film scoring.

Having no prior formal education in music composition, Alex turned to books. Although the information was scarce compared to today, it was enough to teach him the basics. "In 2016, I decided that this is as much as I can go with my self-studying, I really need someone to teach or mentor me," he shares. Back then, Oh had a friend who just finished a joint program at DIT and Pulse College and recommended Alex to do the same. It checked all the boxes — it was a short, one-year course where he would be taught by working Hollywood composers.
"I thought: 'That's not bad!' I'm glad I did it, [as] a lot of my questions were answered."
Since he has been working as a composer for a decade, a big bulk of the composer's questions were technical. How do you give your music more fluidity on the digital audio workstation without the use of the metronome? That's when he found out about streamers, which allow the music to breathe and sound less mechanical. At the same time, Alex has been longing to hear more about Hollywood and what it's really like. "Of course I read about it, but it's different from actually asking the person," he laughs. It turned out to be not that different from what he was already used to, the main distinction being that Hollywood is bigger and churns out more films.

Getting a chance to work in Los Angeles, another big contrast Alex noticed is that in Western countries, they value the composers more. "In Asian countries, they tend to be a little more micromanaging," the composer says. "I'd say that [while] one is willing to listen to the composer and see if their idea works, the other just shuts you off completely." In Singapore, there's also, in his words, a limit of what film scoring can do. There aren't a lot of possibilities to hire an orchestra because the budget of local films is usually not grand, making it nearly impossible to invite more than 15 musicians.
While LA is saturated with aspiring composers and getting an opportunity may be arduous, it's still achievable. "Perhaps it's easier to get a project in LA than in Singapore because there are a lot more projects than people actually believe," Alex notes. "There are more options in bigger countries." However, in order to land an offer, you have to look for those opportunities. There's no other way to do it.
"If you're looking for an opportunity, it will come to you, but it may not be in the form that you expect."
Oh knows this how it feels: at the very start of his film scoring career, he was approached by an acquaintance asking him to write music for a National Geographic documentary about cyberwars. The composer agreed without hesitation, although he didn't know anything about composing for film. "I kind of [knew] what to do and I [thought] that I can do it, so I said yes," he smiles. When he actually did it, it was much harder — Logic was in version 4 and slow, the technologies were lacking, exporting music took forever and there weren't a lot of samples. Still, this was an opportunity.

Alex has been looking for opportunities all over the world. Traveling to Shanghai for what was supposed to be a holiday ended up turning into a four-year stay. "I remember the first night I was flipping through the channels and I realized there were so many," he tells me. Looking at yet another one of them, an idea came to him: if there is a plethora of channels, there are even more commercials. If there are a lot of TV commercials, people need just as many composers to do that.

The musician immediately got in touch with his Singaporean friends that were working in advertising in China. They couldn't approve of Oh's decision more, saying that if he wanted to do music for TV commercials, this was the place. That same year, the composer managed to get eight commercials from scratch. "You just have to go and knock on doors," Alex says once more. "There's no other way to do it."
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