An Asian-American in the Music Business: Interview with Ryan Buendia (Part 1)

In addition to being a music producer working for of the Black Eyed Peas, Ryan Buendia is an artist and performer in his own right. As a DJ and turntablist, he has performed in various parts of the world. He has created albums on his own and as part of the Fingerbangerz crew, with whom he produced music for the Jabbawockeez. He is also my nephew, and I am proud to see how he has persevered to become a successful engineer and artist. In this first part of a two part profile of this Asian-American in the recording business, I ask him questions about his experiences working behind the scenes in the music business.

How did you you get into Sound Engineering?

Ryan Buendia: Well right after high school in 2000, I decided to make music my career. Instead of going to a 4 year college, I decided to take the Sound Arts program at Ex’pression Center for New Media, in Emeryville, CA. At the age of 18, I really didn’t even know what an engineer was. I just knew I wanted to learn how to use all the equipment in a professional recording studio. I was driven to learn this and apply it to my own music.

What are the some of the difficulties of being Asian American in the music business?

Ryan Buendia: There are so many avenues in the music business, so avenues are difficult than others. If you’re an Asian American getting into Engineering, it not so bad because technology in music has conformed from analog to digital. Most Asian Americans are pretty computer savvy, so that definitely helps. But for an Asian American recording artist, the chances are pretty slim here in the U.S. So far, out of the millions of Asian recording artists out there, we only have one mainstream, globally accepted, Grammy Award Winner, and that’s Apl de Ap.

I recall you telling a story about a rapper asking you if you were Chinese or Japanese?  Tell us about that story.

Ryan Buendia:  When I first started working in the music industry, I had to work with these rappers out of the South for a whole month straight. They weren’t used to seeing an Asian guy in the studio, so they used to call me “Chopsticks” as a nickname. At the time, I was very offended by this nickname, and thought they were racist. But as I got older, I realized that they were just ignorant. They really meant no harm, they actually thought it was a great nickname for me. hahaha

How did you first connect with Apl?

Ryan Buendia: I connect with Apl back in 2004. I was working at a famous recording studio called “Encore Studios.” By this time, my music was circulating a lot around the music industry. One day a friend of mine came to the studio and introduced me to the Manager of the Black Eyed Peas, Polo Molina. He really liked my music alot and hooked me up with Apl. The rest is history.

Did you ever think as a kid that you would be traveling between the US and Asia on business?

Ryan Buendia: I never thought any of this as a kid. The dream even as a kid felt very far fetched. It goes to show you how much you really have to believe in yourself and not other’s belief of yourself.

Where in Asia have you travelled with APL?

Ryan Buendia: Since 2004, I’ve been going to Philippines with Apl every Christmas to give gifts and money back to the poor. We also tour around Philippines and do gigs. I’ve also Djed in Taiwan by myself.

How many tracks do you have on the upcoming Black Eyed Peas CD?

Ryan Buendia: Well, I have 3 songs total. One song titled “Showdown” on the original Album pressing. And two more songs on the deluxe edition Album that they are doing exclusively with Target. Those songs are titled “Don’t Bring Me Down” and “Mare”. I’m really proud of my work on this album because I produced the entire beat on all three tracks, and have been working the last 9 years to reach this point in my career. I feel really blessed and humbled by the experience.

What’s it like working with APL?  Any particular stories that exemplify what that is like?

Ryan Buendia: Working with Apl is fun. We do work long hours, maybe 12-14 hours a day depending on which project. But sometimes we’ll go to the nightclub and have a drink. Most might say that’s not work, but we’re actually studying what the people react to in clubs and it really shows on this next Black Eyed Peas Album. But trust me, after working all day, then going to a club until 2am, then going back to the studio to work until 6am, only to find out you have to start work again in a couple of hours is very draining.

Any stories about working with, Fergie, or Taboo that are noteworthy (and that you could tell without getting into any trouble)?

Ryan Buendia: Working with Will is amazing. Whenever I’m around him, I’m a sponge. I remember almost everything he has said about music. He’s a true genius. I remember him saying in 2005 that the Internet is going to take over the Music Industry, and that there’s not going to be a physical record store anymore. He explained how the only physical stores that are gonna be selling albums are places like Walmart, and he was right.

When is the Black Eyed Peas CD coming out?

Ryan Buendia: June 9th, 2009

Are you going to be in any more music videos?  I saw you getting out of the Jeepney in Bebot Bep [7:02].

Ryan Buendia: I’m not sure, I doubt it. I prefer to be behind the scenes. I’d love to be on more albums than videos.

Why aren’t you going to your cousins’ basketball games when you are up this way?

Ryan Buendia: Unfortunately, my time is spread very thin when I come home. I usually only stay for a weekend and end up working in the studio with the Fingerbangerz.

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About Jeff

Jeff lives in Silicon Valley, and attempts to juggle marriage, fatherhood, computer systems research, running, and writing.
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