They sold their home, quit their jobs, for the dream of making videos of God in the ordinary
by Christine Leow // January 29, 2021, 11:29 am
PixelMusica, with singer/songwriter Corinne May (centre), sets out to produce photography and videos that pursue the truth, goodness and beauty of God. All photos courtesy of PixelMusica.
He sold his house. His wife stopped being a stay-home mum and pitched in to help. His family learnt to live simply. All to support his fledgling company.
But when Adrian Tee, 50, registered PixelMusica in 2010, he did not have a firm idea of what he wanted to do. All he knew was that he wanted “something to do with music and photography because they are my interests”.
“We believe in creating life-giving works grounded in truth, goodness and beauty to serve our clients.”
He was still working a full-time job in sales and marketing at a tech MNC then. So, he only got as far as creating a logo for the company. Then for two years, the business lay dormant.
Today, PixelMusica is a creative media production company with a difference.
Like many production companies, it offers the usual slew of services – photography, videography, sound, design, web development, UX/UI and branding. But unlike many in the market, PixelMusica’s heart beats to a different rhythm.
Explained Tee: “Ours is a community-based business model. They have the freedom of freelancers but the infrastructure and support of employees.
“We believe in creating life-giving works grounded in truth, goodness and beauty to serve our clients.”
Doesn’t every production company?
“With each project, I always ask: How do we bring light into the work? Is it true, is it good, is it beautiful?
“Because if we follow the ultimate truth, it will lead to God. Ultimate good leads to God. Ultimate beauty leads to God. So, everything we do is driven by these three guidelines.”
A heart to help
Right from the start, PixelMusica was going to be a company with a lot of heart. What eventually launched the business was Tee’s desire to help a struggling young photographer.
Actively involved in his church’s youth ministry, Tee discovered that one of the youths had been working as an assistant wedding photographer for paltry pay.
“He was working full-time and drawing S$400 a month. He was very happy but I felt that he could do better for himself.”
“If we follow the ultimate truth, it will lead to God.”
Tee bought the young man photography gear, extended him an interest-free loan and passed him some contacts so he could strike out on his own.
“The moment I found him, he found another photographer, also a youth I knew. Then I met a filmmaker who had graduated from university.
“They started calling friends. And, lo and behold, we had a community of six or seven creatives. That was how it started.”
As the talents gathered, the projects also poured in. Friends who knew they had started the business gave them referrals that kept the jobs coming in.
“I saw an opportunity for them to grow. I was very happy. But we needed some capital.”
“It was very exciting to see the growth and how hardworking the creatives were.”
Tee decided to sell his HDB flat to grow the business. He took S$100,000 from the sale to buy equipment and rent an office space.
Meanwhile, his family of five – Tee and his wife, Jennifer, and their three children all under the age of 12 – moved in with his father.
Jennifer, 47, helped out by taking care of the company’s finance and operations.
Asked why she let her husband sell their family home to finance his company, she said: “I saw the work that came out and it was something very special.
“It was very exciting to see the growth and how hardworking the creatives were. I had never seen anything like that so I came in with a leap of faith.”
“I felt there was a calling from God to help creatives realise their creative calling and make a dignified living.”
Tee was still holding down a full-time job then. But within a few months, he got retrenched.
After 17 years in the tech industry, he now found himself heading a production company.
“It was both an exciting and scary time for us,” he said.
“For me, deep down, I felt there was a calling from God to help creatives realise their creative calling and make a dignified living with what they do.”
Community with a cause
As the company took off, they saw more and more in the industry who had been exploited whom they wanted to help.
Said Jennifer: “People would ask them to do things for free, pay them very slowly or very poorly. They didn’t dare to command a (good) price for themselves.”
Tee tells of one man on his team who had spent four years working for free as a tech developer with a start-up that had promised him shares in return. The father of two ended up with nothing at the end of his stint.
“It is a powerful thing when people freely commit themselves to a cause.”
“I took him out for a meal and asked him, ‘Aren’t you angry?’ He told me, ‘If I got angry, I would have lost four years of income and my peace of mind’.
“I thought, ‘This is a good man’, and told him, ‘Come join us’.”
Today, PixelMusica works on a community business model. Associates have the freedom, like freelancers, to take on projects of their own and work the hours they please, while benefitting from the company’s equipment and infrastructure free of charge.
“Here, you find a balance of freedom and support. You get paid fast and you can learn from one another. We conduct courses to help one another. You’re not alone.”
There are 13 associates who make the company their “home and operation base” and are “committed to its success”. They are paid on project-basis.
Tee himself does not draw a regular salary. Only their operations manager and Jennifer have a fixed monthly income.
Tee, who is Catholic, drew inspiration for this combination of freedom and commitment from Catholic organisations like the Franciscans and Jesuits.
“I was looking at how to build an organisation that would last and where I could find institutions that have lasted a long time.
“We also realise that we have to set the example.”
“I have a deep belief that it is a powerful thing when people freely commit themselves to a cause. With freedom and purpose, the community becomes very powerful.”
Because of the culture of care they have built, the PixelMusica community is one that looks out for one another.
The Tees share stories of associates who, on their own, find ways to cut cost for the company, help organise and clean the premise and share expertise with one another.
“If one of them has a passion project and they need help, they call on the others who will show up.”
When the Tees, who are involved in the marriage ministry, Marriage Encounter, needed to get a video produced, their associates stepped forward to offer their services for free.
Said Jennifer: “It’s very self-giving, very life-giving.”
Added Tee: “We all desire to do good, broken as we are. When we see goodness, we know it regardless of race, language or religion. It is universal.
“We turn a lot to prayer.”
“We also realise that we have to set the example. So, in the early days, I would carry the gear, be the driver, clean the office. We practise servant leadership.
“We are a secular company. But we are passionate about living Gospel values in the secular world.”
Setting the tone for a company of free-spirited talents has not always been easy. “We are aware that we can also set bad examples. So, we turn a lot to prayer. We spend about two to three hours in prayer each day.”
The desire to be good and do good extends to their relationship with clients.
“We care for and love our customers. We seek their success. We don’t care for awards. If a client says thank you, that makes a difference, that is a reward,” maintained Tee.
That is why their wedding videos are not just snapshots of the happy day. “We want to promote, protect and preserve marriages through the stories we tell.”
One client, whose sister’s wedding video was shot by PixelMusica, told Tee that when his sister quarrels with her husband, she would watch her wedding video to remember the love they had and the vows they made.
They approach their corporate clients in the same way.
“We try to tell authentic stories to help them to succeed. We know they are giving employment to feed families. We see ourselves as supporting them, helping them to provide for others.”
When they did a music video for Singapore singer, musician and songwriter Corinne May, it was with the desire to “bless the world with her music”.
Said Tee: “Everyone came together and very lovingly put together the Christmas-cum-New Year project. Almost the whole company came together. We poured our best into it. It was our happiest and most meaningful project.”
May, who started out as a client of the company, is now a close family friend. She is godmother to one of Tee’s daughters.
“We grew stronger because of the relationships we built.”
That is how the Tees do business. Many of their clients are either friends to begin with or have become friends over time.
Their first client was a former youth from church who had opened a sushi restaurant and needed someone to do food photography for the menu.
“We offered to do it for free but he paid us. We did it at a very low cost.”
Their wedding shoots started with friends who got married and asked them to do pre-wedding photos. When those turned out well, they were asked to do wedding day videos.
“We evolved. People would ask, ‘Would you do this?’ We would say yes and move on from there.”
Word would get around. Friends would recommend friends. “We grew stronger because of the relationships we built.”
Word-of-mouth recommendations were how PixelMusica got many of their projects.
Added Jennifer: “Our first corporate client was an events agency. We did a photo booth for them. Till today, they are still with us.”
But in their desire to only do work “grounded in truth, goodness and beauty”, they have been known to walk away from jobs as well.
“One potential client was starting a dating app that allowed women to state how much it would cost to date them. I saw that it could potentially result in needy women being exploited. We politely declined,” said Tee.
A mission to bless
After PixelMusica had been in business for two years and the company was running reasonably well, they went on a lookout for “worthy projects”, pro bono work that they could do.
They settled on The Missionary Community of St Paul the Apostle and Mary, Mother of the Church – under the protection of St Joseph, patron of the Universal Church (MCSPA).
The international organisation provides food, water, healthcare and education to war-torn, impoverished and marginalised regions.
“I knew about them since I was a teen. They would visit Singapore and share with us the work they do,” said Tee. “I had also visited them in Kenya in 2010.”
Tee offered to re-do their videos. For 35 days, he and three colleagues visited MCSPA’s 10 missions in Ethiopia, Kenya, South Sudan and Malawi to film their work. Those who went were from various religions but “they were moved when they saw the good being done”.
The trip resulted in 10 videos for the missions organisation. “Till today, they still use the videos to explain their work and get volunteers.”
PixelMusica also kickstarted MCSPA’s social media platform and produced another two more videos for them in 2017. Again, the team that volunteered to go did it for free.
During the Circuit Breaker last year, when the production team was locked down and unable to go for shoots, they offered to edit videos for charities for free.
“We thought that instead of wallowing in our own misery, we should do something good.”
“Businesses were really, really hit badly. We were worried for our own survival, too. But we thought that instead of wallowing in our own misery, we should do something good.
“We saw the charities suffering. Some of them saw donations plunge by 80%. If we were suffering, how much more the vulnerable?”
They ended up editing over 20 videos for different charities during the Circuit Breaker. Tee paid the team out of the company’s own reserves.
“In 2019, business was good. We managed to build up a strong cashflow and that tided us through the Covid-19 period so we could help our people in times of need.”
Even when the company charges charities under normal circumstances, they give a discount.
Said Jennifer: “Our team understands that, if it is for charity, they don’t mind taking a discount. Everyone adjusts together to help.”
God in the ordinary
It has been eight years and though the Tees have had to take a pay cut to make PixelMusica a reality, they have found great gain.
Said Jennifer: “I can definitely see God’s hand in everything. From how the business started to the people willing to do things for free to the works of the people who bless the missionaries.”
“God has blessed us in unexpected ways.”
Even their family has benefitted from the experience. Their daughters, aged 17 to 21, have learnt that “money is not everything”.
“We used to travel every year, always dining out. We have to be more prudent now. But we have grown so much as people, learning more about how to depend on God rather than to think that money can solve everything. God is leading us down this unusual path,” said Jennifer.
The family has also since gone together on a missions exposure trip to Kenya.
Said Jennifer: “Till today, our second daughter keeps saying that she wants to go back.”
Since the Tees have made prayer a part of their daily routine, their daughters have followed suit as well.
“Sometimes, we come home and see them praying together on their own. I would think: Wow, where did that come from? They picked it up willingly. God has blessed us in unexpected ways,” said Tee.
“I want to live the Christian faith fully in the ordinary work that we do.”
For PixelMusica, the plans ahead are both ambitious, yet simple. Tee intends to branch out into other disciplines including coding, app development and product design. But all would still be anchored in truth, goodness and beauty.
For that, he draws inspiration from the life of Jesus before He began His three-year ministry.
“For 30 years, He lived the ordinary life. I often ponder what kind of life He lived. It must have been very humble, bringing the love of God into the very ordinary things.
“I am most moved by how God shows me how I can transform ordinary work into something beautiful for Him. I want to live the Christian faith fully in the ordinary work that we do.”
We are an independent, non-profit organisation that relies on the generosity of our readers, such as yourself, to continue serving the kingdom. Every dollar donated goes directly back into our editorial coverage.
Would you consider partnering with us in our kingdom work by supporting us financially, either as a one-off donation, or a recurring pledge?Support Salt&Light