By SGN | 4 Dec 2020
Beneath all the glitz and glamour, the tight-knit U.S. music industry can be extremely difficult to break into – especially for an Asian female new to the country. Wendy Ong did it. And now, she is the President of the team at TaP Music, managing the biggest stars in the industry, such as Dua Lipa and Ellie Goulding. She shares that the best career advice came from her parents in Singapore.
You landed your first job in the U.S. with legendary music mogul Clive Davis. What advice would you like to share with aspiring career achievers through that experience?
I hustled and knocked on doors, asked for meetings until I landed that job at Arista working for Clive. But once I started working, I wish that I had reached out to more people, rather than trying to figure it all out on my own. I made it harder for myself, I felt that I had to learn everything and do everything on my own. Part of it I guess was dealing with Imposter Syndrome, my inner voice said “I don’t belong here, do I really know what I am doing, everyone is going to find out I’m failing”. This was all driven by fear and insecurity of course, also being new to America and being intimidated by the music industry at large. I don’t do that anymore. I have changed my inner dialogue. Now, I’m much more open to asking for help and love to collaborate with others. I look to the people on my team and listen to their feedback.
Being an Asian female in Hollywood, what are the challenges you faced that were not necessarily within your control? How did you overcome these challenges?
It was more NYC from 1999 to 2013 after which I moved to LA which has become the creative center for music. For many years I felt overlooked and became convinced my career had plateaued. I worked hard but saw others bypass me for bigger and better roles. This could have happened to anyone of course but a lot of this boiled down to self-confidence and putting myself forward for new opportunities. I felt I may have had a disadvantage not being American and being a woman in what is still a white male dominated industry.
My career trajectory is unusual in that I moved around a lot – not only did I move around different countries and cities but also companies. If I had stayed in the same place, I am sure you would not be reading about me now. I was also very nervous to speak up in meetings and was often interrupted. To overcome these challenges, I really honed my craft and prepped much more to develop a strong voice and opinion.
What’s the best advice you’ve received in the course of your career in the music industry? Who was it from?
I thought long and hard about this question. Whilst I have met and worked with some wonderful and charismatic people, it is really my parents, Betsy Wong and Vince Ong, who have supported me and been by my side despite being thousands of miles away. They were very skeptical of my career choice at the beginning but were always unwavering in their love. My parents instilled in me strong emotional intelligence, empathy, and a great love for the arts.
A few years ago, when things were not going well for me, I almost accepted a job back in Singapore. I thought my parents would welcome me back with open arms, but they thought it was a big mistake, one I would regret. They encouraged me to be more open to different types of job opportunities even the ones where I felt unqualified for and the ones that I felt were somewhat beneath me.
This was a turning point in my career when I went to work at the Met Opera and from there, I became the Head of Classical Music at the very prestigious EMI Music. I did both of these jobs without a strong background in opera/classical music. I surprised myself and took on the challenge. Not only did I love it, but I also had a blast opening up my world and learning so much.
Through your work, you have met many talented and famous people. Who did you enjoy working with most, and why?
I’ve been very lucky to go along for the ride with artists like Dua Lipa and Sam Smith as they became the biggest superstars in the world. It’s very gratifying to work with a new artist, to join them on their journey as they become famous and their music is heard everywhere. I get to know them as real people, see them through ups and downs not just through the lens of social media. With Sam Smith, I fought hard to have him signed to Capitol US by tracking him down at his first ever show in America at the Mercury Lounge in NYC.
Now that I have crossed over from the Label to the Management side, it’s very different, much more personal, and I feel even more invested in the vision and success of my artists. Dua is a unicorn artist – she has the biggest heart and is so kind and generous to everyone around her. Seeing her grow from strength to strength and bursting with creativity is such a joy, she is a real inspiration. Ellie Goulding is another Tap artist that I care about very much, she has such an indomitable spirit and is so talented as a singer, writer, musician, athlete and environmentalist that it really moves me and pushes me to do better.
How do you stay connected to family in Singapore?
It has been years since my family have lived close to each other. I love going home to Singapore and try to do that every two years. At one point I was in NYC, my sister Jill in Shanghai, my sister Carol in Melbourne, my brother Jerome in Jakarta and my parents in Singapore – that was tough for getting together for Chinese New Year LOL.
Fast forward to present day and it’s a lot easier with technology, and prior to the pandemic – frequent flyer miles! Since March of this year when the world went into lockdown, we all get together on Zoom to catch up. We also have a very active WhatsApp group and trade photos, funny stories and recipes. We also try to have in-person reunions every year. Last year the whole family came to stay with me in LA and I hope next year we can rendezvous in Melbourne. It’s my parents’ 50th anniversary and I hope to mark that special occasion together.