Singer Duc Tuan found out early on that he wouldn't make it big just his voice or passion alone.
After the failure of his first album, he was forced to rethink things.
A graduate of the Foreign Trade University, Tuan decided that he would have to brand himself and find a niche market to fill.
Now, four years of hard work have paid off as his Broadway-style album of show tunes, Music of the Night, has earned him national recognition.
"As a singer, my only choice is to be the leader in what I am pursuing."
But before that, his youth and inexperience had showed in his debut pop album, Anh yeu em (I love you), which fell to the bottom of the charts in 2004.
Tuan says that by singing modern pop songs, he had done nothing to stand out among Vietnam's dozens of pop singers.
He also said this mainstream style did not suit his mellifluous voice and contemplative style.
The artist said that in such difficult times, his economics studies helped him boost his singing career, which he considers a business.
"Like business, music has its own market, whose products are songs divided into different genres. As a singer, I must focus on my "˜potential fans' and offer them the best things I can."
So he decided his next endeavor would be prewar songs and Vietnamese classical songs written 1930-1950.
"These songs were my advantage because they were my passion since I was a child. Nowadays, though these genres are not preferred by most of the young people, I knew I had a certain number of fans, many of whom are elders, who would like to enjoy that kind of genuine music."
He says he knows that though his choice was considered narrow and limiting at the time, it was indeed beneficial. "It is more glorious because there are only a few singers in this genre."
Harkening back to Vietnam's immortal songwriters like Van Cao, Trinh Cong Son, and Pham Duy is not what is on every young pop-star wannabe's mind, but Tuan's second album, Doi mat nguoi Son Tay (Eyes of a Son Tay Native), sold 2,000 copies in just 10 days, and marked a turning point in his career.
Subsequent albums such as Tieng hat Truong Chi (The voice of Truong Chi) and Duc Tuan hat tinh ca Pham Duy (Duc Tuan with Pham Duy's love songs), solidified Tuan's reputation as the leading classic pop singer in Vietnam.
He also released Ao anh (Illusion), a collection of war-era songs composed during the 1960s and 1970s.
"The best way to appreciate my music is by listening to all my eight albums in chronological order. That is where I explored music and grew up," said singer Duc Tuan.
Anh yeu em (I love you)
Doi mat nguoi Son Tay- Tuyet pham Pham Dinh Chuong (Eyes of a Son Tay native Pham Dinh Chuong's greatest songs)
Nhung tinh khuc Pham Duy Trinh Cong Son (Pham Duy Trinh Cong Son"˜s love songs)
Duc Tuan hat tinh ca Pham Duy (Duc Tuan with Pham Duy's love songs)
Kiep nao co yeu nhau (In what life will we be lovers?)
Tieng hat Truong Chi (The voice of Truong Chi is a series of songs written by composer Van Cao)
Yeu trong anh sang (Love in light) Ao anh (Illusion)
Music of the Night
But each album had Tuan's brand, a twist of fusion he likes to call his own.
"I renewed those songs by performing them in modern ways and mixing them with rock, jazz and other genres. In other words, my style is only semi-classical."
Tuan's contributions to local music has been acknowledged by his winning of the Promising Singer prize at the Voice of HCMC Radio Station's Lan song xanh (The blue wave) contest in 2005, but he had to wait until 2009 to win Singer of the Year and Album of the Year at the fifth annual Music Contribution prize for his most famous musical project, Music of the Night.
The US$20,000 album was dedicated to his love for Broadway music, which he discovered on his first visit to the US in 2005.
Tuan said musicals and modern operas not only suited his style, but were also another way for him to explore new things and market himself as unique to a Vietnamese audience that had never heard show tunes before.
Despite the album's popularity, no other artists have followed suit. Tuan's not worried about that.
"It is said that a single swallow cannot be the whole spring. But for me, it is still exciting to see a swallow flying in the sky.
"Initially, I am alone, but I am sure that in future, more people will fall in love with [western] musicals like me."
And despite his go-it-alone allure, Tuan in fact had plenty of help along the way.
He received musical training from Vietnamese-Canadian composer Ignace Lai, voice lessons from two foreign voice coaches, Jane Davidson and Marcin Brzezinski, and opera instruction from English conductor-composer Paul Bateman. He also credits Irish sound specialist Colin Voland with helping him hone his style.
Music of the Night contained 11 English and French masterpieces from Cats, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor-Dreamcoat, Les Misérables, and several other shows. Several tunes from The Phantom of the Opera, from which the title song for his album was taken, are the highlights of the record.
"For sure, musical tunes are not my last project. I want to try more new things," Tuan said before leaving Vietnam for the US last week.
He says he's working on a major project there, but he has yet to release any details.