by Tisha Leung
When 38 year-old Toby Record revealed that as the Executive Director of CRC Jianian Inc., he had access to the Chinese governmentâ€™s largest body of recorded historical and contemporary music, I was impressed—to say the least. Then he told me that rap producer Oh No laid some beats over a Chinese Peking Opera tune for the video game, Grand Theft Auto. So, how did Record, who grew up in Highland Park, NJ jamming to power pop and punk bands like The Jam, Husker Du, The Replacements, Ramones and Gang of Four, end up with Tibetan music and Chinese ballads? Read on.
What do you do?
I'm Executive Director of CRC Jianian Inc., a joint venture partnership between Los Angeles-based consultancy firm Global Entertainment Media (GEM) and China Record Corporation (CRC), the Chinese government's oldest and largest record company. We have the exclusive worldwide rights (outside of China) to publish and distribute CRC's historical catalog, featuring the largest collection of traditional Chinese instrumentals on Earth. We also have a wide variety of Mongolian, Tibetan, Jazz, Pop, Punk, Metal and the entire Peking Opera collection.
What music groups did you listen to growing up?
Growing up I listened to everything. My parents had thousands of records, so I went from Mozart to KISS to Scott Joplin to Zappa to G.G. Allin.
And from there, China came calling?
I got the job on the strength of my musical upbringing, my music supervision career and my keen understanding of world politics and international publishing. To have an opportunity to combine my passion (music) with my other two interests (politics and diplomacy) is serendipity.
What is it about Chinese music that excites you?
For me, the best way to form cultural bridges is through music and I have found immense similarities between Chinese music and music from around the world. For example, Mongolian music shares an uncanny bond with Celtic music. Shanghai Jazz is reminiscent of a Carl Starling meets Edith Piaf flavor (only in Mandarin instead of French). "Dance of The Yao People" is a hugely famous melody on the Mainland and reminds me of romantic Italian Mandolin music.
Do you see a lot of opportunity in integrating Chinese music on a global scale?
Integrating China on a global scale is inevitable. There are over 100 million Chinese living in countries around the world, with 90% of that population residing in metropolitan areas. From an economic and strategic standpoint, it makes sense to make available the world's largest body of recorded Chinese music. Many major companies have taken notice and I've secured placements of our music in HBO's "Flight of The Conchords," NBC's "30 Rock," and numerous feature films.
Conversely, China is also hungry for Western music, the problem is that they don’t know the difference between Barry Manilow and Sonic Youth. This provides a golden opportunity for the West to open up the doors to China and integrate like never before.
I was specifically intrigued by your work with rap artists, who are interested in incorporating Chinese music. What made them interested in Chinese music?
As far as Chinese music and rap, it’s a match made in heaven. I think Wu Tang Clan already proved that. The difference now is that I have the actual catalog of authentic Chinese music to sample from. This has never been made available to hip hop producers before, not even RZA. I compiled a selection of traditional sounds including a Peking Opera tune, some Tibetan, the Guzheng instrument for “Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars.” Ivan Pavlovich of Rockstar Games had producer Oh No make beats using the Chinese music. When the dust settled, I got seven of our titles into the game, including the theme song and remix (featuring Ghostface from Wu Tang and Doom rapping over my samples). It was quite a coup for me as it was the first tangible proof of the blending of cultures working according to my vision.
How can people listen or purchase music from your catalog?
They can listen to select tracks on our website, as well as purchase from select online distributors. Take a listen to the theme song and remix for Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars or pick it up on iTunes.
What big names in L.A. are into what you’re doing?
As far as other artists or producers in Los Angeles using my catalog for remixing? Ancient Chinese secret…