Face to Face with Thai hip-hop sensation SARAN
For the 4th episode of Believe's Face to Face interview series, we’re flying to Thailand to meet SARAN, one of the new leading figures of the Thai hip-hop scene.
SARAN might still be very young – he’ll turn 18 in 2023 - but he’s already one of hottest and most popular rappers of the burgeoning Thai hip-hop scene. He started making music when he was only 12 years old and has perfected his rapping skills over the years. His hard work finally paid off: in 2020, at only 15, SARAN won Thailand’s most famous rap competition “The Rapper”. SARAN was also nominated Hip-Hop Artist of the year at the RIN AWARDS 2021. He first started working with Believe in 2021, before joining bYOND, Believe’s Thai hip-hop imprint, at its creation in 2022.
His lyrical and flow mastery, his ease in dealing with different types of instrumentals and even musical genres give him a very personal style, which has allowed him to stand out and conquer the interest of a fanbase that is growing day by day. In 2021, SARAN was the 4th most streamed artist on YouTube in Thailand. In 2022, he became the 3rd most streamed artist on YouTube with 655 million views in a year, while his YouTube channel hit the 1 billion views milestone.
Several of SARAN’s video clips and vizualizers have several million views: this is the case of "Chan Yang Yu" (I'm Still Here) with The Bests (41 million views) or “Academy” with his colleagues P6ICK and BlackHeart (35 million views). His record remains the video of his track "Luem Thab Mai Wai", in duet with Maimhon, views over 105 million times.
Through the questions asked by Dechathorn Bamrungmuang, Marketing Project Manager for Believe AS Thailand, but also a veteran rapper of the Thai hip-hop scene, Saran discusses his rapidly unfolding career and his relentless work pace, gives his opinion on the local scene and tells us about his future plans.
Dechathorn “Hock” Bamrungmuang: Hello SARAN! Could you please introduce yourself for those who might not yet know who you are?
SARAN: Hello, I am SARAN. I’m 17 years old. I’m the winner of “The Rapper Thailand.” contest and, and I am currently working with Believe and bYOND.
Hock: In a previous interview we had together, you talked about the importance you give to Believe’s team. What does working with our team bring you? Could you explain in which ways having a team to support you is important?
SARAN: The fact that I have a team supporting me, that bYOND is supporting me, it has really made things comfortable in many ways. It really facilitates the production side of things. I just have to send my songs, then the team comes and we film the video together. Marketing, promotion, and everything is taken care of. If I wasn’t with Believe or bYOND, I wouldn’t be able to do any of that.
Creating a song and having to promote it by myself, that’s not something I’m familiar with. Now, since I’ve been with bYOND, I only focus on creating songs. I create songs and send them to bYOND for promotion. It feels much more comfortable that way.
Hock: Since we started our collaboration in July 2021, in what ways do you think you have improved your life?
SARAN: In many ways, I think. But mostly it's my work, my songs. Whether it’s the production and the new connections made. I grew up in many ways, and it's all thanks to Believe.
Hock: Many people might not know how hard you work. What is your work process when it comes to recording your songs, promoting your old songs and preparing new songs for release? How do you plan? What is your strategy?
SARAN: Because I toured a lot this past year, for the whole year in fact, every month was really packed. So I’d try to find a day to go to the studio and record 3 to 4 songs in a row. Some would be freestyles, for some I just had some notes while others were fully written. I’d collect them, then I’d do a round to select those that I would send over.
If I wasn’t touring, I’d be making more songs. But since I’ve been touring these days there haven’t been that many songs. In 2021, I released a total of almost 200 songs, featurings included. But in 2002, with the tour, I went from 200 songs to around 30 songs. Which is significantly less. It’s mainly because I’ve been so busy. And sometimes, at the end of a tour, I would lose my voice. So, it’s important to manage time for yourself!
Hock: When the number of your releases decreased, what was your strategy to stay in the top charts?
SARAN: Well, if I’m making fewer songs, they need to be more popular. Looking back, I released 200 songs that year; and only around 30 songs were hits. And this year, I released 30 songs as well. But it was only 1 or 2 songs who became huge hits. So I know I’m still in the game.
Hock: You’re trying to focus more on each song, so that they have more weight when it comes to distribution and promotion?
SARAN: Yes, that’s right! There can be fewer songs, as long as I pick the work with the greatest quality. So, even if it means releasing only one or two songs, I think that’s okay.
Hock: We see that your old songs are also making a comeback. How do you communicate to your new fans so that they listen to your old songs as well?
SARAN: I think that my new songs need to be good first! For example, someone who doesn’t know me yet listens to my new song: if the song is good then he or she will want to hear more of my work!
I also try to change the covers of videos of my older songs, I update them, so they look more like the one of the new songs. I make them more attractive, more interesting.
Hock: This is also linked to the fact that we have a partnership with Spotify, where we have campaigns. And there is this tool called “Spotify Discovery”, that help suggest your old songs to users. How do you feel about benefiting from that?
SARAN: I feel that if I wasn’t with Believe, I would not have access to that. Because I don’t know anything about these algorithms, how they identify what kind of music different people like to listen to, and how they put our songs in people’s playlist. It’s something I’m not familiar with at all. But when Believe does it for me, I feel it’s great that I’m getting that access.
Hock: Like most Thais, many of your fans like to watch Youtube. It’s also your main source of income and where you’re growing the most. How do you feel about having reached billions of views?
SARAN: I was kind of shocked. I didn’t think it would be so many. Because, as I told you, all I do is make music. I work, I work, I work. I have a role and that’s what I do. That’s all I do. And when suddenly one day, it gets so big. I feel so happy. It’s great!
Hock: In 2021, there was a report on total YouTube views, you ranked 4th amongst all Thai artists. What was your feeling then? And what are your expectations for the upcoming 2022 charts? How are you feeling it?
SARAN: Honestly, just coming 4th in Thailand, that was really beyond my expectations. To be next to an artist like Monkhaen, next to big names like ILLSLICK and YOUNGOHM, that was really beyond my expectations. And to be fair, for 2022 I’m not hoping for anything specific. I already feel happy to have had my name up high on the charts once.
Hock: I’ve learned that you’re going to study abroad in England.
SARAN: Yes, I’m going there to learn English.
Hock: Do you think it will impact your work? Making you release less music, or impact your creative process?
SARAN: I think it will be better actually. Because I won’t be touring. I won’t have to travel around Thailand. I won’t have to deal with voice loss.
I’ll have time with myself, my computer, my mic. I think I will be creating more music. And I will only have classes for 3 hours during the day, I will have plenty of free time I will need to fill. I won’t even be able to go to pubs because I’m not 18 yet, right? So, I’ll just probably be recording songs in my apartment.
Hock: And if there are delays in producing or releasing new music videos what is your strategy for retaining views on your channel?
SARAN: I think that social media is really wide nowadays. There are many apps that can be used to stay present online during times when you don't have releases, whether it’s Tiktok, YouTube Shorts or Instagram or any other app like that. I’m on all of them.
Hock: So, the idea is to produce content to connect with your audience continuously?
SARAN: Yes, so that I don’t disappear and stay in the trend.
Hock: Is it important not to disappear? Can you explain why is it important to have fresh content so that people see that you’re still here?
SARAN: I think it matters for the people who want to stay in the game. Some people don’t really care whether they stay or disappear, whether people will listen to them or not. They just make music and chill. But I’m not like that. I’m someone who needs to be on the move and in the spotlight. I’ll try to push on every front. Release songs, release clips. Everything to stay in people’s feeds. If I’m in the feeds, it means that you see my face once a week, and you won’t forget me.
But imagine, if three months go by and people don’t see me, they don’t see a new song, a new clip or anything about me. I disappear. People will move on. I’m sure of that.
Hock: Do you think this has to do with your generation as well? Since you’re a Gen Z kid.
SARAN: I think partly, yes. There are new people popping up every day. It’s a very competitive world. So, if you don’t do that part, if you’re not present out there, then you have to let someone take care of that for you. That’s what I think.
Hock: To follow up on the last question, on the fact you have to post regularly on social media, how do you find balance between being SARAN and being your own promotional voice?
SARAN: Personally, I feel that Believe’s team really get my vibe. They get how I do things. When they post my songs, or when they post on Instagram or anywhere. I really feel like it’s me. Like it’s kind of crazy how well they know me.
Hock: You think they communicate in a way that still feels like it’s you?
SARAN: Yes, exactly.
Hock: Now let’s talk about the Thai hip-hop music industry. How do you view its evolution over the last 2 or 3 years?
SARAN: You know, I’ve been making music since I was 12. So, it’s been 5-6 years. I feel like it’s still a new generation, but it's been a long way from when I started.
Now hip-hop is mainstream in Thailand. And I feel that people, in Thailand and abroad, realize how big Thai hip-hop is right now. Since so many companies have come and launched new labels, right? These past three years, hip-hop has flourished in Thailand like never before. Older generations are still doing it, younger generations are getting into it.
Also, social media gave us access to rappers and artists from abroad. I think that’s why hip-hop has grown so big in Thailand.
Hock: How do you look back to the year you first competed in the second season of “The Rapper”? Back then you hadn’t started to produce that many songs.
SARAN: I had no idea back then that I could earn this much money. I just went on the show because I wanted to compete. I didn’t think it would become my career, and something that allows me to take care of my whole family.
Hock: I’m curious to know, what did your family think when you told them that music was going to be your profession? That hip-hop music, rap music was going to be your livelihood.
SARAN: Initially, they didn’t believe in it. Like, my dad is in the military, so my parents wanted me to go into the military too.
Whatever I would say or do wouldn’t convince them, until I got selected to compete in “The Rapper” and won the competition. Then I met Believe, who helped give me more stability. My parents saw I had resources, that I could take care of myself and that I could stand on my own. So they are okay with it now.
Hock: Throughout your journey, from “The Rapper” to today, making songs with massive audience, how important do you think your role in the Thai hip-hop scene is?
SARAN: Well, whether it’s big or small, I play a role. Because I really run the hip-hop scene. When people weren’t releasing any songs, I was still out here. Those who follow me know that during the COVID period, when no one was releasing any songs, when no one was going out, that was a time I chose to leave the house and release songs. I think I’m someone who has been keeping the Thai hip-hop industry running since I was a kid.
Hock: There are a lot of young people following you. Have you ever talked to them? How do you feel about them seeing you as their idol?
SARAN: I feel very happy. I really get them., because when I was a kid, I was just like them, I also had my own idols, older rappers like Diamond MQT
Hock: Why do you see him as your idol? I’m curious to know, because you’re both close in age
SARAN: Precisely because we’re close in age, I think. Just like me, he started making music as a kid, and became successful very young. So, I really kind of love him. Also, there was this one concert I went to and he played live so well! I've been loving Diamond MQT and following his work for 5 years now.
Hock: You said that you play a role in driving the hip-hop scene forward, in helping it grow. From our side, the bYOND and Believe Artist Services side, how do you think we can help push things here?
SARAN: I think bYOND has a big role to play in hip-hop. There are many talented kids doing hip-hop but who have no funds to do anything. That’s where bYOND comes in. You come and help these kids market their songs so that more people get to know them. So, I think there is a lot that bYOND can do for the Thai hip-hop industry.
Hock: In my experience, many artists come to bYOND saying that SARAN recommended us. When you tell others about our work, which do you say about bYOND and Believe that makes them want to join us?
SARAN: Most of the times, I tell them about what I do, the way I work, what I receive from bYOND, whether it’s about financial support, marketing, management. Everything about me and bYOND. I tell them everything.
Not as a businessperson but as someone who’s been through it, as someone who’s faced problems in between contracts. I tell it like I would tell it to a friend. So those who hear it from me tend to feel it must make things easier.
Hock: You’ve been making music for many years, and I’d like to ask you about your goals. How do you see this year, the next year and your future?
SARAN: For this year, I’ve decided to move abroad to learn English. I want to write songs in English. And my plan for the future is to make international songs, not just Thai songs. I want to be an international artist. That is the goal I have set for myself.
Hock: Why do you want to get into the international market?
SARAN: Because it’s wide. So much wider and different than Thailand. So many languages and cultures. I have the feeling that no matter where I go, if I can speak other languages, or if I have English songs, international songs, it will help me connect with people more easily.
Hock: How many years do you think it will take you to get to that point?
SARAN: Two years, that’s all I need. Give me one year to learn English, then the year after I’ll start to write. And once I master that, I’m heading straight to the top.
Hock: We’re looking forward to it!
SARAN: We’ll make it happen!
Hock: Last questions. Can you tell us about the next songs you have been working on? In which direction are you thinking of going? How many songs are you planning to release in 2023?
SARAN: If there is no other work, nothing else, my goal is to release at least 40 songs this year. The first thing that will grow is production. You might have noticed, my music production has been getting better every year, and I want to make it even better.
Regarding the style of songs, I don’t limit myself. I’ll do whatever I want to do. And I invite you to follow my work and see how far I’ll go. Let’s go and let’s grow together!
Hock: We’re looking forward to seeing that and being there with you. Thank you for today!
SARAN: Yes! Goodbye and see you soon!