I meet Samuel Seow in his law offices at Tower Fifteen on Hoe Chiang Road in Singapore’s financial district and on reaching the 26th floor, a panoramic view greets me.
Looking out I spy rows upon rows of mechanical cranes unloading container ships at both Keppel and Tanjong Pagar Terminals and further out, the island of Sentosa — it is a scene reflecting the unstoppable progress of the city state, and in many ways the cinematic horizon mirrors the far-reaching vision of my interviewee for the day.
This was an office I had come to before, but for a different reason and a good story for another day. It wasn't to meet the head honcho as I am about to this time, but rather to register my screenplay — a little known fact about what this law firm does for the community, supporting the Screenwriters Association (Singapore). For a small fee, I was able to seal my writing in the Asian Script Repository as proof of my original writing.
But back to the purpose of my current visit.
Founded in 2005, Samuel Seow Law Corporation had built its reputation through years of hard work specialising in the performing arts industry, oftentimes contributing pro bono to causes and budding projects, culminating in its conferment as "Distinguished Patron of the Arts" for the third year in a row by the National Arts Council. Through Samuel Seow’s leadership, the firm was also responsible for drafting the key legal paperwork that secured the arrangements for reality television shows like The Contender, the sculptures that stand outside ION Orchard to the Voyage de la Vie production at Resorts World Sentosa.
Entertaining had come to Samuel early in his youth, winning his first talent show at seven, and singing his way to victory at the National Talentime competition in 1991, besting a then little-known runner-up who would later come to define his legal career.
3-time Best Female Vocalist Golden Melody Award-winning Singaporean singer-songwriter Tanya Chua, who placed second in that singing competition of years gone by, would go on to further a highly successful career in Chinese pop, and the two would only cross paths in 2008 when she approached Samuel for legal representation in her dispute with her record label. It was only then the two recognised each other from 17 years ago.
On his journey from being a winning singer in his teenage years, to a lawyer focusing on the performing arts scene, Samuel recounts: "At the time, I really wanted to go into singing. I went to the Army immediately after Talentime, so the momentum (of the victory) stopped. And after that, I went to law school. When I first came out into the industry, I was looking at ways to carve out a niche for myself. Irene Ang at that time was starting out FLY Entertainment. I cold-called FLY and asked if they wanted a lawyer onboard."
We ended up doing legal work for a low retainer fee and that was how I go into the entertainment industry."
"From that time till today, we continue to sponsor non-profit projects in the arts or creative fields and provide legal expertise for free. We've been getting the Distinguished Patron of the Arts for 4 years now, for our donations of more than S$300,000 for 3 years consecutively. I take that as a matter of pride."
Samuel then touches on the fateful reunion with performing artiste Tanya Chua, "In 2008, Tanya needed to bring a law suit to her music publishers. For an artiste to sue her publishers for all the rights to her songs back is a dramatic thing, because it’s never happened (in Singapore) before. In the old hierarchy of how things are done here, however big of a name you are, you 'are but a performer'. We took on that job, and lost in the High Court but won in the Court of Appeal."
"With that win, today in the Courts, there now exists a precedence where an entertainer can fight someone bigger than them. In fact, I too went up against a Senior Counsel - the equivalent of a Queen’s Counsel in the British Courts - and won."
He sits up with pride as he recounts the appeal decision he won for his client, helping her win back control of 140 of songs she had written.
When you change the landscape like that, when you didn’t really intend to, when you were trying to build a name for yourself, you feel like you have achieved something."
The enthusiasm continues when he talks about how he started BEAM Artistes in 2010.
"We started having a lot of artistes coming to us, for their legal work. Today we represent Kit Chan, Olivia Ong, Joi Chua — a lot of these performers are our clients because of the work we did for Tanya. We have celebrities coming to us also to have us take care of their (image) rights as well."
Paul Foster, Keagan Kang and Miss Malaysia Universe 2003, Ms Elaine Daly are some of the household names that were form the first line-up of artistes in the new management agency. Since then, the bullpen has increased considerably and we find out that new partners and promotions have taken shape over the last few months.
"I set up BEAM Artistes and my first artiste was Paul Foster. Today, Paul is a director, and takes care of our relations with production companies whilst Utt takes care of our artistes."
Uttsada ("Utt") Panichkul who has done exemplary work as host/emcee at events held in Singapore to Bangkok, has a wealth of experience from his tenure as a VJ at MTV Asia, and in recent times has produced television shows in Thailand, as well as a celebrity judge in the upcoming The Face reality-TV competition. The coming together of a joint-effort first initiated back in 2010 between BEAM Artistes and Utt’s seven9five agency is set to change the landscape of talent management and content production in Singapore and the region, with a new project already currently underway.
"We took up Manhunt for last few years but this year we are experimenting in Malaysia with our own pageant concept called ‘Most Wanted Man’. If it works in Malaysia, we will look to bring it to Singapore next."
Another proud achievement from running the talent management agency has to be the success of actor/model Shane Pow, whose "meteoric" rise to celebritydom belies years of patient grooming and mentorship by Samuel.
"Shane came from competing in Manhunt Singapore back in 2011, today we position him rather differently. He’s taken on premium brands like Lab Series skincare."
We also try to bring our artists to the cable channels where they have more noticeability regionally."
On the changing media landscape with new media, he adds "There is a shift of power from popular media to 'viral' (new) media. The people who go ‘viral’ online are very different from the 'popular' personalities in traditional media. Young people don’t watch TV necessarily these days. I am working with Michelle Chong and others to come up with a new project that will challenge these boundaries of virality and popularity."
On where he sees BEAM Artistes in the next few years, Samuel reveals with optimism, "I want BEAM to be an artist management company where everyone we manage works, and gets a good income, and becomes someone whom others aspire to become."
I feel pride when I see my artists finding success. I find meaning in life from these achievements."
It is a surprise then, with Samuel juggling managing partner, entrepreneur and dealmaker duties that he is able to maintain a good skincare regimen. The lawyer, who does not betray his age of 41 years old with his youthful outlook, attributes it to a long association with luxury skincare label LA MER.
"I’ve always looked at LA MER (as a product) and aspired towards (buying) it. To be honest, good products for hard to come by."
The Crème de la Mer is very very good for me. You can't tell now but I had a lot of pimples when I was young."
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