Imaging Malaysia and Astro’s female Production Powerhouse – Meet Balqis…

I am so thrilled to have Balqis and the team on. We met each other in KL earlier this month and I was stunned having the opportunity interviewing a primarily female team and a female lead producer. I loved spending time with her and learning more about Malay culture, radio and how is imaging does there. Here is some background on Balqis and her team:
I’ve been working in Astro Radio for 7 years now. Started as an intern (late 2011) and came back as a commercial production engineer in July 2012. From there, I moved around to other stations for both Eng and Malay networks and have produced for stations like Mix, Lite (2012-2014), Zayan, Era and Hitz (current).
The production team in Astro Radio consists of 17 production engineers, 14 in Pen Malaysia and 3 in East Malaysia which includes station and commercial production engineers. Out of 17 engineers, 7 of us are girls! There’s Sameera (main engineer for Era and Zayan), Sarah (Hitz junior engineer), Hannah (Mix and Lite), Rachel (Melody), Pui Yin (Go Xuan), Elina (Sarawak office – Hitz, Era and My) and myself (leading the team and juggling between Era and Hitz).
The stations I mainly work on are Era and Hitz. Era is a malay language station and is Malaysia’s number 1 station with a listenership of 6.5 million. Both these stations are current hit radio (CHR) format in their own languages. 
Enter Balqis:

  1. What DAW system are you using and why? 

The whole team uses Pro Tools, because there’s so many things you can do with it. We do radio promos, imaging, etc. as well as music recordings and the occasional video post pro. So it’s versatile and most of us find it easy to navigate.

  1. What are your favorite plugINs?

Balqis: Serato Pitch n Time! Love it, it’s like a best friend. I rely on it a lot to produce my promos and imaging if I want to beat match, find the BPM of a song, play around with the pitch variables to colour my VOs. I use the pitch shift to correct vocals too in song recordings. Another fav is the H-Delay because I feel like it’s the easiest to use, and best for promos/imaging, especially if you want your VOs to match the beat and play around with the note values.

Sameera:I use a lot of Waves Doubler to colour my VO. There are quite a few presets in there that I use often. One being Slap Happy to emphasise certain words or phrases. For music production I love the Waves Super Taps plug-in for delay effects. It’s just really fun to play around with especially for Hip Hop productions. Serrato Pitch and Time Pro 2.0. is also an essential plug in for me. I like playing around with vocal chops and sampling so that really comes in handy.

  1. What is the difference imaging a Malay radio channel vs an international Hit Music Channel?

Balqis: The flow of production and energy level is pretty much the same on Era and Hitz, since they’re both CHR stations. However, for Era, there are times when there are way more ballads to work with in the imaging compared to Hitz, which is always more pop/urban. There seems to be more hip hop playing on Era too lately so I guess we can say that the genre of music differs slightly for both stations.

Sameera: Malay language scripts tend to be quite long because of the structure of the language so we always have to find ways to make it interesting and not sound draggy.

  1. How is it to work for such a big company as ASTRO?

Pressure to perform! We are the leading broadcaster in Malaysia, so that keeps us on our toes at all times – it’s both stressful and exciting at the same time. But because Astro Radio is big, we have so many stations (11 FM stations in total) it gives us room for growth. We shuffle to other stations so it’s a continuous learning process and keeps things interesting. Perks are good too!

  1. What is your advantage being a female in a male dominated job?

Balqis: It really doesn’t feel like it here in Astro Radio because almost half of the team are girls!But I do feel girls are more detailed in production. We don’t overlook the little things and we can still do it at the speed of any guy engineers!

Sameera: The element of surprise. From my experience, I guess people are generally not used to a female engineer. So quite often I am underestimated from time to time. Another advantage would also be people don’t find us that intimidating! Newer artists or vocal talents tend to be more comfortable and seem to trust us and open up more which speeds up the process. But ultimately I believe audio has no gender and it really just depends on the individual.

  1. How does a typical day look ?

We start our day with breakfast production, which includes editing for rewinds and podcast. That usually takes up the whole morning. The afternoons are mostly for content editing (for segments that go on air the next day on breakfast), then there are the station and client promos. After we’re done with all the client or contest promos, we’ll produce station images and power intros if there are any song changes. Chart show editing is done on a weekly basis, usually recorded midweek and produced before the weekend.

  1. What is the best advice you ever gotten?

Balqis: This one stuck on me since the very first few days I started in radio –  “make sure you count your bars correctly”  and “cut the waves clean”.  I kept to that and it’s made all my promos sound tight and flow right. Thank you Mitch and Kev!

Sameera: In the famous words of Kendrick Lamar. Sit down. Be humble. 

My parents always reiterate to never think you are the best at something because in a way it can limit your learning growth. You can always learn from anyone and anywhere and strive to be even better. The learning never stops. Even when new engineers come in, I creep on their work and you can always learn something new. Whether it be audio or even a more efficient way to work.

  1. Who influenced you the most? Have there been any role models?

Balqis: In radio production, it’s definitely my former boss, Kevin Isitor a.k.a. Skeletor. He taught me a lot about radio imaging and his style of production strongly influences mine. He thought me how to use the Serato Pitch n Time and because of that, I know how to beat mix and produce mashups! The other seniors engineers at that time also played an important role. I came into radio not knowing anything about radio production and they gave me a lot of guidance.

Sameera: My environment and the people around me influence me the most. From what to do and even what not to do! Take the best around you and apply it and learn from the bad. I think in radio it’s a good thing to be fluid. In terms of role models, there are many! My elder sister played a huge role in fostering my interest in Audio. She did her post grad at NYU Steinhardt majoring in Music Technology and I just remembered being in awe when she took me for a studio tour. At work, I look up to a lot of the senior engineers that came before me. I came into the company without any formal audio background, I just messed about on any free audio programs I could get my hands on and they were instrumental in showing me the in’s and out’s of radio and production.

  1. From where and  how do you get creative input?

Balqis: Listening to music helps. The arrangement of a song, vocal processing (especially in EDM tracks) and beats really help to give me ideas for imaging. I check out what other imaging producers are doing too on Soundcloud and Youtube if I feel like my work is starting to get too “templated”

Sameera: Listening to music too! At the end of the day, I just pick some random playlist on Spotify and listen carefully to how each song is structured and produced. For technique, I go to Soundcloud. It’s great to listen to production from all over the world and you get to pick up some neat tricks and techniques.

Find an excerpt of their work here: 
DBOYZ Teaser (prod. by Sameera)
Kickoff JOHARA (prod. by Sameera)




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