Self-taught Super Producer NVM Shares The Music In His Mind

If you know Suboi’s “Đời”, you should know its producer NVM too. Four years into his thrilling career, NVM, or Nguyen Ha Hai Nam, has added singing to his artist armoury. Here, he picks ten tracks that have influenced his personality and path so far.

NVM’s CV is already long. Besides Suboi’s “Đời” he produced another of her tracks, “Công” – her “anthem for young Vietnamese women”. Then there’s his work with the rap crew 95G on tracks like  “Trên Người Tao Có 1 Lá”, “Up” and “Con Rồng Cháu Tiên”. And he collaborated with Wean Le on the OST for the 2018 movie “Bá Vương Học Đường”. The “Bá Vương Học Đường” project drew HBO’s attention. And the channel chose his track “Làm Thêm” that features Wowy and SMO to feature on their TV drama series Here and Now. But he’s still not satisfied. “My new project will be completely different to what I’ve done before,” he promises. 

But the producer’s most formative year happened back in 2014. It was “a year when trap blew up here”. The bass-heavy music that had its roots in the States in the early 2000s appeared everywhere. “That year was a big influence on me,” NVM nods. And you can hear its influence in many of his tracks.

But incredibly, the producer hasn’t attended formal music school. “The Internet has been my greatest teacher because I have never been able to attend formal schools or music courses,” NVM explains softly. So, besides his online education, we wondered which ten tracks have influenced Nguyen Ha Hai Nam. This is the latest in The Dot Magazine’s Guest Mix series

Producer and now singer, NVM, or Nguyen Ha Hai Nam.

Did you family back you music career from the beginning?

No, not at all. I still clearly remember the early days when I committed to pursuing my passion. My mum was strongly opposed to my career path. Things have eased since, although I still haven’t received much praise for my work – and we love and respect each other. 

What does music mean to you?

Music’s the only thing I’ve ever tried that I’ve really been good at. When I was a child, whenever I heard music playing – no matter what kind of music – I tried to work out where the sounds were coming from. What kind of instrument was making it. Breaking it down and putting it back together again. I always had this innate connection to sound. 

So, for me, there wasn’t even a choice to make. I was always going to make this my life. And I still consider it the smartest decision I’ve ever made.

What was the first time you remember experiencing music?

I remember asking my dad to buy me an acoustic guitar. My grandmother sat me down and told me a story I’d never heard about my dad – one I’ll never forget. 

She told me that my dad used to be the best musician in the area. When he was a teenager, my grandfather gave my dad a motorbike…and he sold it to buy an electric guitar to be in a band. He loved music that much. But there was no money in it, no career, no future – just illusions and delusions of youth.

So, when he knew I wanted a guitar too, I knew he was going through two extremes of emotion – proud and worried. I felt very apprehensive too once I heard this story. But I got the guitar and began to play….

“I remember the days when it [music] was pure passion, and those days were beautiful.”

Where and when do you listen to music?

Music plays a special role in my life…as you might expect. To a degree, it’s become work. I remember the days when it was pure passion, and those days were beautiful.

I still choose music to listen to that matches the mood I’m in, or the scene I’m in, or if I need some melody to complete me. It might be a spontaneous choice to enhance my feelings. 

Most of the time now, I value the moments when I don’t have music flooding my senses. That’s how I preserve my ears for my career. 

NVM got an internship with Phuc Bo’s PB Nation which led, indirectly, to his collaboration with Suboi.

What has been your most memorable moment so far?

It’s still my entry into the music industry. I was a university student with zero industry exposure. I got an internship with Phuc Bo’s PB Nation and there, I picked up so many useful things. I also participated in music events with the PB Nation crew, meeting artists I’d only previously seen on TV. 

One specific memory stands out. 

I was with a group of interns in a room when I heard a female voice outside. Someone told me it was Suboi. I was pretty shy back then, and regrettably I didn’t dare go out and meet her. Soon after, I heard she was looking for a beat. But she couldn’t find the right one. I had an idea immediately. It was the first time I felt a burning passion for a project. I guess you know the rest of the story. We made “Đời”, the first major milestone in my music career. 

Another indelible memory happened at that time – something far more shocking and sadder.  The pressure of the industry let my mentor, DJ and Producer VEMT to take his life with depression. Without VEMT there would never have been an NVM. I owe him everything. 

How has your taste in music changed since those early days?

My early taste was pretty conservative – smooth RnB and melancholy ballads. Experiences lead to self-discovery. And music tastes change. 

I started to get into faster-paced, more energizing music like rap, hip hop…trap, future bass, house, through to more old-school genres like funk, rock, and disco. 

These days I care less about categories and classifications. If it makes me feel good, I don’t care about its genre. 

What kind of music is underrated? And which kind is overrated?

Each person’s preferences are unique and valuable – music tastes can’t be right or wrong.

Obviously, ballads are hugely popular in Vietnam. The fast way to get immediate recognition is to produce a hit ballad. Hip hop has taken over too. Some people don’t even seem to be aware that there are different genres of music – at least not ones worth exploring. I’m not firing shots, that’s just my observation. 

You have one song to make someone love music. What do you play them?

That’s too hard. If you force me to choose? I’ll go with a song that made me cry while I was producing it. It’s Justatee’s “She Neva Knows”. Lots of people got to know me through this song. Lots more told me it touched their hearts. I’ll never take for granted the power that music has to bring out strong emotions in people. 

“I’d play Bruno Mars’ ‘Versace’ at my wedding when the dance floor starts.”

Which song would you play at your wedding and which would you like to play at your funeral?

I’d play Bruno Mars’ “Versace” at my wedding when the dance floor starts. I gives me this deep emotional vibration based on such a beautiful love story. The song has this classic ‘90s sound too – it’s a classic that will stand the test of time. 

And at my funeral? I guess I’ll have to leave it to my family to decide.

Can you describe this mix you’ve put together for us?

It’s a mix that will take you on a journey to every corner of my mind. After listening, you’ll probably have a much better understanding about my personality.  

Where should we listen to this mix? Why?

Close your eyes. Then it’s all about the music…

And can you tell us about the ten songs you’ve chosen?

We start with Adele’s “When We Were Young”. This song has a great melody and even greater lyrics. Its mood takes us back to the feeling of falling in love – when love seems so pure and innocent. Although the prevailing mood is kind of melancholy, there’s a mixture of emotions which brings memories flooding back of people we’ve loved (and maybe lost) too.

Next, is one of the songs that connected me to The Weeknd. It’s called “The Hills”. The arrangement is great. Technically, with its superior mixing and mastering, this song is next level. It’s the standard I want to reach in my career. 

Then we change the vibe with a Vietnamese song by Phuong Uyen, “Mẹ Yêu”. I listen to this a lot when I’m missing my mum, or when I’ve upset her in some way. Basically, any time I’m feeling emotional, this is what I play. 

We can’t be sad forever. “Best Part” by Daniel Caesar ft. H.E.R is an immediate pick-me-up. These lyrics and melodies are perfect for dating, the soundtrack to falling in love. I chose it because I will sing it to the love of my life…once I’ve found it. 

Next is a beautiful song by Maroon 5, “Beautiful Goodbye”. Perfect when we throw something away, like a relationship. It’s comforting to listen to this track during those times. And it’s not only good for romantic breakups, but it can apply to friendships, colleagues, and familial relationships too.

I really like Travis Scott. I like his story, and his career has parallels to mine. He started as a producer too and became a rapper – who’s now recognised around the world. “Butterfly Effect” really makes me respect him as an artist. It’s so confident. And clear in its melodic and lyrical intention. The line “For this life, I cannot change…” gives me goosebumps. 

Next is the legendary “Billie Jean” by Michael Jackson. This song expresses all the best things about music. Everything here is so high-class, so ahead of the time and Jackson’s peers. 

The song’s simplicity comes from so many complicated things. 

After that is Son Tung – MTP – an artist that means a lot to me. “Hãy Trao Cho Anh” which features Snoop Dogg was released at I time I had a real creative struggle. It renewed my faith and my enthusiasm. Also, it was produced by a brother in the industry, someone who’s taught me so much about mixing tracks, Onionn. 

Now, we travel to Korea, the land of kimchi, for TAEYANG’s “Eyes, Nose, Lips”. TAEYANG is the kind of singer I want to become. We stay in Korea to end the mix with BewhY’s “GOTTASADAE”. BewhY is a pioneer in hip hop using the platform to talk about religion – I’m a Christian too and I find him to be an inspiration. His productions are so well-conceived. And every one is great….

Photos by Nam Tran Duy and Khooa Nguyen. Edited by David Kaye.

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