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Music Matters 2014 – What we learned

30 Jun


A collaboration between WAM and and the Timbre Group, the last of the inaugural Singapore WA Music Exchange Program events has recently finished, Beerefest Asia seeing The Amani Consort, The Disappointed (pictured, above) and The Brow having incredible experiences that will put them in good stead to impact on the Asian Market in the years to come. Asian press reactions have been extremely promising, including glowing reviews and interviews, and with new networked connections, touring seems imminent.

With an earlier part of the program seeing The Love Junkies and Tired Lion traveling to Music Matters Live, opportunities were formed for international festivals, a tour of Vietnam resulted, TV appearances were gained and more. WAM’s CEO Mike Harris was also in Singapore at the time to support these WA acts as well as forge new connections and relationships at the 2014 Music Matters Conference.

The biggest names in business and entertainment descended on The Ritz Carlton, Millenia Singapore for the 2014 Music Matters Conference, and the following ideas represent Mike Harris’ notes, observations and interpretations gathered from attending a number of sessions at Music Matters. They are not meant to be taken as at transcript or actual account of the content, just ruminations straight from the electronic notepad (sometimes typed at 3am) that we hope will be helpful, whether wanting to advance as a musician, promoter, manager or industry innovator in Asia, Australia or beyond!

>>>>>>>>>>>> MIKE’S MUSIC MATTERS MEANDERINGS >>>>>>>>>>>>

The conference had three primary topics that came up repeatedly:

1. How to do business in Asia.

2. Stop complaining about piracy and make yourself better and make your offer compelling (this was more directed at the digital/streaming platforms, not the artist).

3. Monetise/corporatise – how to exploit commercial opportunities across live, physical content and digital content as well as brand alignment and other means. The overwhelming weasel word of the conference was ecosystem. Some speakers / moderators used it at a rate of ten times/hour! E.g. “the music ecosystem is changing” or the digital ecosystem must evolve to exploit Asia”.








China: big, live and loud

  • The quantum of China’s live music economy is in a growth pattern (like all aspects of China’s economy) where it now has more than 100 live music festivals as opposed to three only, seven years ago.
  • To get a profile in China it is essential to use its domestic social media to ensure an artist has a profile. Chinese social media is not particularly sophisticated so, if and where possible, try to shift interest to an artist’s home page.
  • Artists and promoters should want to see China as a long term investment and be prepared to work hard to develop a following and be regular visitors.
  • Lyrics are not so important, especially with the language difference, but melody, rhythm and beat are more universal. Moody, introspective indie rock with deep lyrics may struggle to find a niche. EDM on the other hand…
  • Big opportunities exist to hook in with brands looking to establish a hold in China. Many brands are content hungry, for digital that is. This helps when working with a local as well as some brand’s product (e.g. jeans) are very well received.
  • Mainstream media is virtually all “pay-for-play”, which reinforces the reach of social media.
  • Work with a local promoter (and this was a constant message for virtually all Asian markets).


Multimedia tour de force: maximising digital assets to achieve success

  • An image stays in the mind longer than words and can more effectively tell your story.
  • Humanise your image/content to tell your story more effectively.
  • Acts/artists should have a digital strategy that keeps them true to themselves and their spirit: cool will follow. Going out to be cool at the expense of your self is a short term tactic.
  • Create emotional responses (e.g. the X million cat videos on interweb).
  • Quality not quantity: create your niche then mould that niche as you progress yourself.
  • The democratisation of distribution and creation of content now makes discovery much harder (bleedin’ obvious).
  • Understand ownership! This can be muddy with global platforms. It is your content so be sure your rights are being best represented.
  • Have accurate and clean metadata to assist in global reach (more of that later).
  • Be good at what you do and get more specialised help for that which you are not so good at.


Sold out: the future of live music in Asia

  • There is no single entity in Asia – the range of tastes, wealth, freedoms and conservatism (or otherwise) is huge, so think about the territories or markets you can work in and one to three countries is usually more practicable than eight to 12 (unless you are The Rolling Stones).
  • Be aware of local issues such as Ramadan or Chinese New Year that can virtually shut down a country.
  • Again, it is good to know someone on the ground locally, who you trust, as local promoters can come and go very quickly.
  • Local styles (J-pop, K-pop) can dominate in some areas, but regional interests still exists, such as rock in Indonesia, EDM mostly throughout, everything but EDM in Malaysia etc.
  • Tech riders may not eventuate and you may be stranded and need to purchase your own.
  • If a deal / offer seems too good to be true: it probably is.


Why metadata matters

Ok, I thought this would be so boring, but it was quite interesting and important…

  • Metadata drives all activity along the supply chain and must be 100% right (not 99%). Content needs to talk to providers, rights holders and end users. If it is not clean everyone loses the ability to commercialise their content.
  • Algorithm = discovery. If the algorithm doesn’t hit something it recognises it will not pick up your content.
  • The Korean industry believes the international success of K-pop and K-hip hop is down to a focus in having strong metadata.
  • Artist, song and record label are international standard unique identifiers and for example if you want to be connected in Korea get these accurately reflected in local language.
  • Accurate metadata contributes to shutting down piracy.
  • The bigger companies are better at getting this right: the small-medium sector must improve. They don’t always see the value and then lose money for themselves and their artists.


“All by myself”: Building a successful independent label

  • Be transparent and fair and be better than everyone else.
  • Being independent gives you the opportunity to take control, stop complaining about parent company and control your own destiny.
  • Be focused on what your label/brand represents musically and have a high attention to detail when managing your business and roster.
  • The Glassnote ethos is to go for the best live bands in the industry as a platform to selling records, as this should provide a solid foundation rather than being a fly-by-night success. Use live events to promote the artists and their music.
  • Deep down, nearly all (if not all if they were honest) artists want to be released by a label rather than self published.
  • Digital content sis constantly as work in progress that requires ongoing attention and care.
  • On social media every follower is a potential conversion into a direct customer.
  • Don’t get greedy, start with a small roster and take time to nurture and develop that talent. It is important to see a path or trajectory for that talent not just a quick gratification fix.
  • Do what you can do – it doesn’t matter if a market doesn’t exists, make it.


Full Stream Ahead: mobile and streaming services in Asia

  • Streaming services are moving into Asia as the market growth is seen to be exponential. A strong presence is seen as part of the move to migrate users from piracy into legal services.
  • Opportunities exist to work with local telcos (as Deezer has done).
  • It is best to offer some free service then have subscriptions packages for improved service/content to encourage user take up. Try to move into pre-paid market preferably.
  • Work with local labels/publishers/rights holders and ensure local content in the market you are expanding into. Enter new markets carefully and sustainably to establish a bridgehead.
  • Remember copyright law is not a barrier to accessing content it is there to ensure rights owners get paid.



Keynote Interview – Max Hole, Chairman and CE) Universal Music Group, International

He hit us up with some statistics:

  • 285M mobile phone subscriptions in Indonesia. 2% of all tweets come from Indonesia which is also the fifth biggest Facebook using nation.
  • Japan is the second biggest music market in the world: 80% of which is still physical (as opposed to, say, Sweden which is now 80% digital). 85% of Japan’s music economy is in Japanese language.
  • Understand your market, think strategically and act with the long term in mind.


Managers matter: a debate with some of today’s most successful managers

  • In the ’90s a manager was more about representing artists at the table in their negotiations with labels; now it is more of a CEO role of an artist’s complete business: physical, AV, digital, global, rights etc.
  • Be prepared to think outside the box and do some unexpected stuff such as hooking up with other genres.
  • Kid Rock was determined to drastically lower his ticket price (all tix $20 not just a student/cheap allocation) which lead to a 60% increase in sales and increase profitability.  A manager needs to support that vision and work through the other interest involved.
  • Increasingly popular is artists licensing their music to a label for a period (say, 5-7 years) to allow them to exploit the repertoire and then artists get their IP back.
  • Live events remain the best way to engage with fans.
  • Brands are hungry, but watch your brand alignment as fan are not silly and will respond negatively to illogical sponsor arrangements or those they see as opportunistic.
  • Smart brand alliance can lead to venture capital opportunities that may allow an artist to not have to sign their rights away.
  • The UK has an investment structure that gives tax concessions to investors in new creative who may lose their stake. (Invest GBP10,000 and if that is lost then the investor gets GBP7,500 tax credit.) This encourages investment in new creatives.
  • Teamwork and pulling in the same direction is the most important thing to drive an artist’s career forward.
  • It was once that the labels had the power; now that rests with the artists and manager. The major labels are not as well equipped to change through internal means; independent labels are more flexible and will work more collegiately.


Hitting the right note: keynote interview with Daniel Glass, founder/president Glassnote Entertainment Group

He discussed his industry background and ethos/practices that have made Glassnote the most important independent music label in the world.

  • Be relentless.
  • If you see a band in a small room, can you see them filling Madison Sq. Gardens. You must be able to see this trajectory.
  • Be fair and equitable in your deals.
  • Pay your bills.
  • Don’t chase revenues that you can’t achieve.
  • Be loyal and true to yourself and your artists.


In conversation with Christopher Muller, Director Global Music Partnerships You Tube

  • You Tube has 1m partners actively uploading/creating content in dialogue with the user.
  • You Tube are continuing to strive to increase monetisation.
  • 40% of their consumption is via smart phone.
  • You Tube is not about number of views, but about degree of engagement.


In conversation with Charles Caldas, CEO Merlin

  • Nordics are the benchmark for the rate of digital adoption.
  • Digital when done correctly leads to greater control, which means you give away less.


Keynote interview with Mark Geiger, Worldwide Head of WME Music, William Morris Entertainment

He talked about stuff he liked and what he had achieved. (such as starting Lollapalooza).









Growth potential in Asia’s developing markets

  • Asian digital consumers are (as a generalization) not used to paying for aces to content. You Tube is in many ways filling the gap while those communities move to a position where they’ll more readily subscribe.
  • Brand alignment in Asia represents the best opportunity to recover investment or development costs. Currently music sales are not providing that Return on Investment.
  • Recorded music is a loss leader in most territories in Asia: for e.g. in Malaysia physical sales are worth US$2.5M whereas digital and publishing business is valued at US$30M.
  • Monetising opportunities are growing rapidly (mostly an observation – but did not really explain more than the other comments under this section)..
  • The future may be a melding of hardware and software/subscription into bundles. For e.g. people happily pay $300 for a device but will not pay $12 to access content. If bundled fees of, say $350, to cover device and content were the norm, more rights holders would be recompensed for access to their content. This would require quite a shift to legislate but would obviously legitimise access to content.


Doing Business in Taiwan

  • Taiwan has the biggest range of genres actively supported, after Japan, in Asia and have a good range of popular music festivals. (Their assessment.) 80% of Chinese language contemporary music comes from Taiwan.
  • The music industry in Taiwan is very competitive with about 30 shows in clubs each weekend. They like Indie music!
  • Taiwan is a great entry point for China. It is easier to access and if successful their artists have a Chinese bridgehead of sorts that helps with the bigger Chinese language country across the sea (China, that is).
  • It is also less of a culture shock than China (especially outside Beijing/Shanghai).
  • Taiwanese government is very supportive of exchange programs.
  • Artists need to assign themselves a name in Chinese language, written for, or the Taiwanese will do so anyway whether you like what they call you or not.
  • As ever a local partner is important as they can assist in getting some presence through promotions etc. and measure any response prior to any commitment.


Doing business in Canada

  • Toronto has a commercial radio station that plays 100% Canadian indie music (Brilliant!) and Canada has strived to improve its legal local content minimums.
  • Canada has a very strong government grants system that supports artists well into their career.
  • Great touring opportunities exist as Singapore has 100s of festivals during their festival season. Both Anglophone and francophone touring circuits exists. Also lots of Mandarin and Indian (Hindi?) language opportunities also exist. Also seasonal work such as ski season (though the roads between gigs can be a bit hazardous).
  • Funders accept # of social media hits as tangible outcomes for funding of artists.


Doing Business in Korea

  • Korea is a top 10 country in terms of the scale of the music economy.
  • Korea was the first country where digital business outsold physical business.
  • Korea is #4 for net value of its music export business (after US, UK and Sweden).
  • Koreans are very tech savvy, connected and enthusiastic consumers.
  • 100% of top 40 music sales are in Korean language (70% of all sales).
  • Koreans told us nothing about exporting into their country but I now know a lot more about K-pop and audition shows in Korean than I did previously.

Phew, so much more – what an amazing experience!

Mike Harris, WAM CEO

Government of Western Australia Department of Culture and The Arts Australian Government

WAM is supported by the State Government through the Department of Culture and the Arts, and is assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body.