1959 x SHENTONISTA: His Own Rhythm

Eldad, founder of Decibel Studios. Eldad wears a t-shirt designed by Temasek Clothings, and patches by Pew Pew Patches.

Where most of us struggle to keep a hold of our 9-to-5 jobs, Eldad works around the clock—quite literally. As the co-founder of both a jamming studio that’s open 24/7, and a tech distribution company, rest is rarely on Eldad’s schedule. It’s a necessary step in order for him to work towards the future he envisions, he tells us, and perhaps it’s his unique upbringing that has shaped this worldview. The son of missionary parents, Eldad left Singapore at the age of seven, and grew up in Soroti, a six-hour drive from the capital of Uganda, East Africa. Hardship is clearly no stranger to Eldad, and his challenging present is the foundation he’s building on to ensure his even more ambitious future. In the feature below, he shares more about the waves he hopes to create with his plans, and how he keeps pressing on to carve out his own space in a deafening world.

Tell us about why and how you set up Decibel Studios.
I’m a musician myself—I play the drum and the bass—and Kenneth, my business partner, and I started the studio because we wanted to provide a place that is convenient, centrally located, and open 24/7 for jammers. Sometimes after a night out, we’d want to jam but there wouldn’t be anywhere for us to go (laughs), which is why we opened Decibel Studios.

Another reason was that I didn’t want to work to further someone else’s wealth. Setting up my own business gives me a sense of freedom and independence I wouldn’t experience if I were working under someone else.

What do you hope to achieve with Decibel Studios, and what are your plans for the future?
I hope to create an ecosystem within the music industry: currently, we have a music school and a talent management agency, we do equipment rental for events, and we’re also planning to start a web talk show and go into e-commerce. Eventually, our ambition is for Decibel Studios to be associated with anything music-related.

Beyond that, my eventual goal is to start up my own humanitarian organisation. What I’ve found out through all my volunteer work is that short-term volunteering is more beneficial for the volunteers than for the people they’re supposed to help. It’s not sustainable, because there’s no meaningful continuity. In the future, I want to set up organisations in different countries where I can find out their needs, train the locals on how to tackle these issues, and then create a sustainable framework which they can carry on without external guidance. Decibel Studios will hopefully become a source of passive income, and I’m using it as foundation to learn skills that will prepare me to achieve my future goals.

What’s your fondest memory about music while growing up?
My first interaction with music was actually in Uganda—they had these traditional drums made of goat skin, and I remember playing them with other children. I didn’t explore music too much in Singapore till I was 16, when my friends wanted to join a music competition and needed a drummer. I eventually met my business partner when I started playing in church, and that’s how Decibel Studios started.

You started up your own business at a relatively young age—was there any criticism or backlash you faced during the process?
My parents were supportive of the idea—their only policy is that whatever I do in life, I should be happy, and I shouldn’t hurt other people in the process. They encourage me to do what makes me happy, but also remind me that I’m the one who has to deal with the consequences. Their approach gave me independence but also instilled a sense of responsibility in me.

You run a rehearsal studio, rent out equipment, and also run a tech gadget distribution company —what are some challenges you face when juggling different jobs and roles?
I try to keep everything running concurrently, so that nothing sneaks up on me. It requires some sacrifices, of course—there are times when I need to cancel on plans, but it’s all about trying to maintain a sense of balance. Burn out is also a very real problem—I think it’s important to be able to take a step back and relax. When we first started the business, we only slept for about three or four hours most nights for a four-month stretch, and that experience taught me the importance of stepping away.

My business partner and I both didn’t have any experience running our own venture, so we had to learn a lot of things the hard way. There were many hidden costs we didn’t plan for or weren’t aware of, and we had to deal with it as they came.

What are some common misconceptions people have about what you do?
Everyone assumes I have a lot of money (laughs). It’s not true—I mostly have fixed assets which cannot be liquified at the moment. People also underestimate the amount of discipline it takes. I’m always tempted to sleep in until 1PM or go out until late at night but you have to know where to draw the line. I’m always on the job—the studio runs 24 hours, so if there are any issues that crop up at 3AM, I still have to go down to fix it.

It’s also not a stable source of income: the maintenance fees differ from month to month. Sometimes we might have to replace damaged equipment, or bring in new instruments, so a lot of the money we earn actually goes right back into the business. You have to get used to the sense of delayed gratification—being aware that you have to suffer now in order to enjoy later.

What does a typical day/week look like for you?
It depends largely on the type of projects we’re working on in that week. Usually I come down to studio to do some maintenance work or to teach drumming lessons. I’ll go through the finances, update the accounts, and make sure everything is in order. These days, because we’re focusing on the upcoming talk show, I’ll usually spend some time to write the script or do some research. When we have events or equipment rentals, I personally go down to set it up. On event days, tear down can be quite late so we usually end around 3 or 4AM.

I also handle matters on the tech distribution company’s side—we run it remotely, but it’s still pretty new so we’re not as busy yet. Once things are in full swing, we expect we’d probably be attending quite a few networking events, trainings to learn about new products, and going on-site to supervise the installation of the products.

You’ve traveled and lived in various places while growing up—what’s something distinct about Singapore that makes it home?
The culture shock is always the most difficult part, because the pace of life is very different. In Soroti, you’d hear stories of children dying because their families couldn’t afford medicine that cost 10c. There was no proper electricity or water supply, so we used to collect water in the mornings from the river. Coming back to Singapore, there was a sense of gratefulness to be Singaporean, and also the realisation that Singaporeans might be quite spoilt (laughs). It’s a safe place to live, with facilities that are easily accessible.

As young people are stepping in to continue the Singapore story, what are some hopes you have for the future?
We’ve been moving towards a more positive direction, and becoming a more progressive society that’s not so insular. I hope the Singaporean identity can continue to develop more—there’s a lot of talk about how there’s no identifiable Singapore culture, but I don’t think that’s the case. We’re a young country, and it’s still in progress.

If you could bring about one change within our current society, what would it be?
As a society, need to be open to having difficult conversations, because it gives people a chance to change their views or perceptions. Rather than overreacting on issues, we need to understand everyone’s point of view, and work to improve from there.

What’s a Singaporean value that you feel you can identify with, and why?
Meritocracy. I don’t come from a very affluent background and I think I’ve seen the value in working hard to ensure your own wealth and success.

 

To you, personally, what does it mean to be Singaporean?
Generally, the perception people have of Singaporeans is their efficiency or hard work, but I think the essence is in being able to outshine the competition. Being Singaporean means being a cut above the rest on the global stage.

Eldad wears a t-shirt designed by Temasek Clothings, and patches by Pew Pew Patches. Stand a chance to win these items for yourself—find out how you can take part in the giveaway at www.sg/1959. Contest ends 31st December 2019.

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