Laura Mam’s career has taken her from California to Cambodia, from popular performer to industry executive
Laura Tevary Mam is a Cambodian-American artist, songwriter, music producer and businesswoman. A leading member and advocate of the Cambodian Original Music Movement, she co-founded Baramey Production, an artist management and music production company, to make original music mainstream in the Kingdom and to bring Cambodian sounds to the international stage.
As CEO of Baramey, Laura leads a team of full-time artists, including VannDa, Vanthan, Sophia Kao, Polarix and Khmer1Jivit. In 2018, she received the Arts and Culture prize from the Women of the Future Awards Southeast Asia for her vision and dedication to the Cambodian music industry. In 2023, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts appointed Laura Mam as the goodwill ambassador of Cambodia to Japan.
When did you arrive in Cambodia?
I officially moved here in 2013 after having visited Cambodia several times before. I was raised in San Jose, California, and earned a degree in anthropology from the University of California, Berkeley. I learned basic Khmer at home, and my mother had always woven Khmer heritage into my life through music and dance. When I returned, I was inspired by the ability of music to heal wounds in the Cambodian community, through shared memory and the pride of reviving a once-vibrant culture.
Take us back to the early days of your career, when you burst onto the scene with Laura Mam and the Like Me’s. How has the music scene in Cambodia changed from then until now?
The music scene has definitely changed quite a bit. In only 10 years, to put it simply, we went from zero to hero. At that time, the market for karaoke-style covers and pirated music was huge. It was just the norm. It was easier to do covers and copy a song than to try and fill the void and keep up with the modernity of the rest of the world. Music labels at the time did not have the incentive to produce original music. They were making money off the sales of those covers and pirated music. We had always had plenty of talent, but the system back then didn’t make it possible for artists to do original music.
I was honoured to be a part of the original wave to push the original music movement and to be able to witness how our music scene has flourished and become its own ecosystem. We did make it happen. We leveraged technology like Facebook and YouTube to push the movement forward. Look at us now. There is so much talent in every genre. So many artists are producing and releasing new sounds and new hits, one after another. We have artists going on international stages, doing international collaborations, and creating a new standard for music.
As a professional, your career developed beyond music with your brand ambassadorships for big names like Smart and Porsche, to ownership in restaurants, and now Baramey Production. What does your current business portfolio look like? What advice would you give other musicians in Cambodia looking to branch out beyond music?
Right now, I’m taking a pause from my own artistic career because Baramey has taken off and we have so many opportunities. I’m incredibly excited about the new voices of Cambodia. My sole focus is on turning Baramey into a major platform and taking Khmer music international.
We’ve helped our artists establish their own brands. Now, my artists land prestigious brand deals, and we’ve also helped move Cambodia away from the free concert model to a paid ticketing system, which is fantastic for artists. For example, VannDa’s merchandise drops have sold out for three consecutive years, with Bok Kalo selling out within hours. During my time (as a performing artist), that would have been unimaginable. Moreover, our Skull Tour tickets also sold out. For the first time, we took a two-hour show to both the provinces and Phnom Penh. We took big risks, and we’re thrilled that it sold out and we had a fantastic time on the tour. During my time, artists would only perform four-song sets. I couldn’t be prouder to witness this progress.
Finally, and most excitingly, we signed deals with Warner Music Group, becoming the first label to sign a major distribution deal. I’m very happy that our artists’ copyrights are now globally distributed and protected, allowing them to take further steps onto the international stage and participate in music festivals.
As for advice, if you’re going to get into music, it’s going to be your journey, but you’ll become something more than yourself, and you should expect to do so. If you want to be great, you have to bring something beyond yourself and truly shine. Draw from your life experiences. Don’t just be good, be amazing.
Tell us about Baramey Production. How was it conceived? What are your focuses now? Where do you envision it five years from now?
Baramey, meaning “sacred power,” is a premium talent management and concert production agency for original music in Cambodia. My mom, Thida Buth, and I co-founded Baramey, dedicated to boosting original talent and focused on research and development on legal frameworks. (We wanted) to increase the music industry’s respect for copyright and intellectual property, in the hope of continuously aiding in the development of the music industry in Cambodia.
My mom and I shared a dream of fostering and promoting music that truly reflects our Cambodian heritage. This passion was particularly strong for my mom during her years as a refugee in America following the Khmer Rouge regime, where she struggled to find music she could identify with. Baramey emerged as our gateway to rekindle our cultural identity and reclaim the lost souls of Cambodia. Baramey now delivers fresh new experiences to Cambodian and worldwide audiences equally via music, film, events and unique marketing strategies tailored to its talents.
Five years from now, my ambitious dream is to fix our copyright and publishing infrastructure. It is a legacy from the original movement that I want to finish. And of course, from a business side, we want to grow Baramey into a major entertainment ecosystem that is friendly to artists. I hope Baramey will continue to nurture Cambodia’s greatest talents, bringing the best entertainment in town and making the biggest names across borders.
We’ve noticed some of the artists at Baramey have been collaborating with other artists in Thailand and outside of Cambodia’s borders. At the same time, we’ve seen big music festivals in neighbouring countries, like Wonderfruit and Rolling Loud. What opportunities do you see for collaboration and out-of-market reach for Cambodian artists? Also, how long do you think it will be until Cambodia sees a large international-level music festival within the Kingdom? What needs to happen to make something like that possible?
We’re working on this now. I hope everyone stays tuned for what Baramey has to offer. We just arrived at this point and it is within Baramey’s plans, much sooner than five years, to build a music festival infrastructure. We have the advantage of youth, a country hungry for connections with the global culture. What needs to improve over time is the ticketing culture to get people used to paying for great experiences in order to bring better and more sophisticated entertainment. While there is an economic crisis globally, it has caused some things to slow down, but when things stabilize, I am very hopeful for a new explosion of culture, including global music culture.
Can you share with us some of the challenges of running a business in Cambodia? What are the advantages and opportunities?
One of the biggest challenges Baramey faces, in particular, is the lack of robust publishing and royalty infrastructure in the Cambodian music industry. This has prevented many revenue-generating social media platform tools from becoming available. For example, Instagram Music and YouTube Music are still not accessible in the country. However, Spotify arrived in Cambodia just one year ago, and Baramey is proud to be part of the Warner Music Group deal with TikTok, which now allows artists to earn revenue from their TikTok usage.
Personally, as CEO of Baramey, I am excited to establish a more robust music industry ecosystem in Cambodia, which will be facilitated by the development of a strong infrastructure. Once this is achieved, nothing will hold us back.