Singaporean music arranger Lenny Wee makes good in Hollywood
Lucky breaks and hard work helped Lenny Wee become music arranger to the stars
The name Lenny Wee might not ring a bell among many Singaporeans.
But in Los Angeles, the Singapore-born music arranger, composer and orchestrator is a shining star in the music industry, with a sterling resume to his name.
Reality singing competition American Idol, the annual star-studded Grammy Awards and talk show The Tonight Show With Jay Leno are just some of the popular productions with his name on them.
He has also worked with plenty of A-list superstars, from legendary singer Aretha Franklin to pop stars Katy Perry and Christina Aguilera.
Wee, 31, was namechecked by local jazz maestro Jeremy Monteiro in a recent Facebook post, in which Monteiro urged local musicians to stay humble but have confidence and conviction in their work.
When asked about his thoughts on the post, Wee told The New Paper in a telephone interview yesterday from Melbourne, where he is on holiday: "I'm sure Jeremy (Monteiro) was speaking based on his experience. I believe it can be overcome and people can be proud of their work.
"It's Asian culture to be more reserved in presenting their work and not be boastful, but I don't think it applies to everybody, for sure."
The Berklee College of Music graduate, who majored in both music production and engineering as well as contemporary writing and production, moved to Los Angeles in 2009 soon after he graduated.
By a stroke of good luck, a former professor told him about a job opening as an office manager at American Idol music director Rickey Minor's office.
"While on the job, I was already offering my input on song arrangements that I felt didn't sound right. From there, they saw I had the chops.
"Another time, when the main person was not around during a rehearsal, they looked to me so I stepped up. My career has been a bunch of happy accidents happening," he said.
It led him to a job as an arranger and orchestrator for American Idol Season 8 in which Kris Allen won and Adam Lambert was the runner-up.
According to Wee, his "Singaporean mentality" definitely helped him be better at his job.
"Coming from Singapore, it was always 'go, go, go!'. I would always work hard, sometimes I would stay up all night working on an arrangement.
"I learnt to not say no to anything. I guess they started seeing me as someone who had the ability to do what they needed, fast and efficiently," said the former Anglo-Chinese Junior College student.
Wee, who was also involved in American Idol Seasons 9, 13 and 14, went on to work on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno for four years, the Grammy Awards for three consecutive years, The Voice Season 7, The Ellen DeGeneres Show and many more.
After six years in the industry, it is hard to be star-struck, he admitted.
"I remember, in the beginning, I was speechless when I met Natalie Cole (a US singer and daughter of legendary singer Nat King Cole) at a UNCF An Evening of Stars 2009: Tribute to Lionel Richie show. She is one of my favourite singers and her father is such an iconic musician."
Since then, he has met "too many to name", including US President Barack Obama in person - several times.
He described Jennifer Lopez as "the sweetest person and so hardworking", Miley Cyrus as "down-to-earth" and Quincy Jones as "attentive and fluent in Mandarin".
For now, Wee remains busy in Los Angeles with a schedule so packed he "hardly has time for a social life... or dating".
But he is open to doing projects back home.
"If the right opportunity comes at the right time, I am definitely open to it," he said.
"We have a lot of local talents working overseas, but they don't have to be on the front lines. Because he (Wee) is not a performer or singer... that may be one reason we have yet to hear about him."
- Local musician Randolf Arriola
"I haven't heard of Lenny Wee, but it is awesome knowing that there is a Singaporean out there who is behind so many famous works and productions."
- The Oddfellows' frontman Patrick Chng
Lenny's star-studded portfolio
Since he graduated from the Berklee College of Music in 2008, Singaporean music arranger-orchestrator Lenny Wee has worked on many notable television and live productions, including:
- American Idol Season 8, 9, 13 and 14
- The Voice Season 7 (2014)
- Clive Davis Pre-Grammy Gala (2010-2014)
- American Music Awards (2008 and 2012)
- Billboard Music Awards (2012)
- The Ellen DeGeneres Show (2011)
- The Tonight Show With Jay Leno (2010-2014)
- Carrie Underwood: An All-Star Holiday Special (2009)
- Jennifer Hudson: I'll Be Home for Christmas (2009)
- 50th, 51st and 52nd Grammy Awards (2008-2010)
Monteiro: Be proud of local music
In a Facebook post on Monday, Singapore jazz veteran Jeremy Monteiro urged local musicians to "stand by (their original composition) and perform it with conviction and confidence" while developing a "thick skin to accept critique and just keep doing it".
He based it on his own experience as a home-grown artist, adding that he has been guilty of feeling a "mix of shyness, humility maybe, unsureness almost like an apology in advance" when performing original work both here and overseas.
Monteiro, 55, compares this against a sense of "conviction and respect, sometimes reverence" when performing music by international composers and lyricists.
When contacted yesterday, Monteiro said we should be proud of the soaring standards of home-grown music.
"It has gone up in stretches and reached the highest level of acceptance in the music industry in the world.
"Even coming from me, someone who has been in the industry for many years, when asked to play my own composition on an international stage, I used to doubt if it is good enough," said Monteiro, who wants to share this "newfound confidence" with musicians in Singapore.
In his post, Monteiro mentions several Singaporean musicians to take note of, including Lenny Wee, singer-songwriter Charlie Lim and indie band The Sam Willows.
Some local musicians that TNP spoke to agreed with Monteiro's comment.
Said veteran composer Dick Lee, 58: "It is probably because most of these musicians are not really confident in songwriting.
"Perhaps, they also lack exposure and platforms to showcase their original songs and compositions, because usually the Singapore audience is not really interested in locally-produced music."
Musician Randolf Arriola, 49, added: "This is a common thing in Singapore because of our culture. It is not about the quality of their compositions and works, it is the Singapore audience who is not ready.
"Even though the music pieces written by local composers and musicians may be good, the audience is still more oriented towards popular music, which is usually written and produced by international artistes and musicians."
The Oddfellows' frontman Patrick Chng, 47, disagreed.
"The local songwriters and composers I have come across seemed pretty confident of the songs they have written."