Graduating from the Nanyang Business School with First Class Honours in 2006, James Pang was set for a bright future. Being in the Dean's List thrice and awarded the Accenture Gold Medal for graduating top of his business cohort, it was no surprise that James easily secured a job with accounting firm Deloitte.
What was unexpected was his resignation after eight months.
James had decided to follow his passion to pursue a career in music by setting up his own drumming school, My Drum School (MDS). From a private studio with just two drums and 10 students, MDS has grown into an established school that has attracted more than 2,600 students within a short span of eight years. With eight national awards under its belt, James finally earned the recognition he yearned for, especially from his mother.
James did not do so well academically when he was younger, so when the late-bloomer excelled in varsity, his mother hoped he would go on to have a successful career in a relevant field. Initially, she was skeptical about James's venture as she felt that he was giving up a stable job with a decent salary.
"Why did you do that as you do not need a degree to start a business?" James remembers his mother saying.
Having a different philosophy, James successfully persuaded his mother to let him set up a small studio in her HDB flat to test the waters. He persevered and proved that he could be successful even if he chose a different path. When asked about his experience at NBS, James says that business school actually equipped him with the skills to be an entrepreneur.
"It taught me how to think critically to acquire new knowledge and skills even in areas that I’m unfamiliar with."
James shares that when he set up his company, he had to have an in-depth understanding of certain local policies like how to establish his own trademark and safety regulations for his centre. He had to learn these from scratch.
Generating buzz was another issue. James started out with the traditional method of distributing flyers, but his first batch of 1,000 flyers only garnered one phone call enquiring about his rates. He later realised that online and social media marketing are more effective. Using what he learnt in Business IT, James did up his own website, which boosted his recruitment efforts significantly.
In addition to business skills, James' passion for music is also vital to his success. Having played the keyboard since the tender age of four, James later developed an interest for musical instruments ranging from the organ to the clarinet before finally deciding to hone his skills in drumming.
He has since acquired accreditation from the LA Music Academy and Australian & New Zealand Cultural Arts, and played at various events in Singapore, Australia and America.
His most memorable performance was during the 2015 Jubilee Day of Prayer at the Singapore Sports Hub. James played a set of 11 songs to a crowd of 51,000, including President Tony Tan and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. He has also conducted music clinics and conferences in Malaysia and Thailand, and judged the local DrumZout competition.
James strongly believes in quality teaching. His tutelage under professional drummer Blair Sherrill (student of renowned drummer Dennis Chambers) inspired him in his drumming journey when he was 16. Like his mentor, James also aspires to be an influential teacher who can create more interest in music through his school.
Today, MDS provides drumming lessons for all ages, catering to various needs. James usually tries to find out the demands in the market and strengths of his teachers before sending them for relevant trainings. His school does not only conduct lessons for individuals but also does school and corporate bonding sessions.
Some of his teachers have also been sent on courses to understand how to teach students with special needs. James recalls the time when his young autistic student succeeded in playing a song after practicing for more than 100 lessons over two years.
"His mother was in tears and that really touched something in my heart as I knew that I had made a difference in their lives. It also challenged me not to label people with special needs as not being able to play music.”
Today, MDS continues to expand, with a presence of four schools already. It was awarded the "Top 10 Fastest Growing Corporation" in 2013 by Promising SME 500 and was voted "Best in Drumming" by Parents World Magazine in 2015. Recently, James also opened another music school, My Keyboard School.
James insists that he has no secret recipe for success. "It is really just hard work, passion, having a vision and committing to it. All entrepreneurs start out trying to solve a problem and the problem I solved was the lack of quality drum education here."
And despite owning a recognised music institution, he remains humble and asks for feedback from his students regularly to find out how he can improve the lessons.
He believes that while it is important to gather information about the market, it is more important to know more about oneself. On that note, James adds that "not everyone is made to be a businessman" and we should find out our own strengths and purpose in life.
"Look at your own life, don’t try to copy someone else’s because everyone's journey is different."
By Goh Kit Meng