Not too long ago the region was still considered a challenge for international artistes, in terms of logistics and cost, but with more markets established and increasing venue options, it has become far more appealing, with viable multiple dates now possible for mid-range acts. Lisa Henderson reports
While opportunities for both local promoters and international artistes are certainly growing, the cost of traveling between countries is still a barrier for acts who can’t assemble enough shows to amortise the cost of visiting the region from Europe or the US.
Also, many local promoters are still grappling with poor local infrastructure, a lack of suitable venues, government restrictions and economic factors, not to mention, as many say, rising artiste fees.
But optimism abounds and there is no doubt business overall is growing rapidly across the region.
A forerunner of Indonesia’s live music market is North Sumatra-based promoter Vizion Vibe, which held between 20 and 30 concerts last year, including Honne at Hall A&B, Jatim Expo (cap. 15,000) in Surabaya, Boy Pablo at Basketball Hall Senayan (2,920) in the capital Jakarta and two dates with LANY at the Tennis Indoor Senayan (3,300) in Jakarta.
This year, Vizion Vibe will promote former One Direction member Louis Tomlinson for his first foray in the region, at Tennis Indoor Senayan in April, with tickets ranging between 625.000-973.500 rupiah ($45-71).
Among the Asia acts Vizion Vibe are promoting this year is South Korean singer Jin Jin Seok at Jakarta’s Soehanna Hall (500), with tickets costing between 420,000 rupiah ($30) for a regular ticket and 1,140,000 rupiah ($83) for a VIP Fan Meeting Session.
Korean hip-hop rapper One aka Jung Jae-won will also be making his debut in Jakarta at The Pallas (2,400) in June, with tickets ranging between 480,000 rupiah ($35) in the presale and 720,000 rupiah ($52) for a standard ticket.
The company also offers event management and agency services for artistes and DJs touring the region.
Having previously partnered with Live Nation Entertainment (LNE) on tours for Bruno Mars, Lewis Capaldi and LANY, promoter PR Worldwide sold a controlling stake in the company’s live entertainment division in January, to create Live Nation Malaysia.
Founded in 1999 by Para Rajagopa, PR Worldwide has worked with artistes such as Ed Sheeran, Mariah Carey, Taylor Swift and Maroon 5.
Rajagopal says the company enjoyed remarkable results as an independent promoter and, through steady business, has kept Malaysia on the touring circuit for the past 20 years.
Last year for example, it promoted Ed Sheeran’s at the Bukit Jalil National Stadium (87,000) in Kuala Lumpur, which sold over 30,000 tickets in a single day and 40,000 in total, while Shawn Mendes sold 10,000 tickets in a few hours at the same venue, outperforming some of the other bigger cities in the region.
“We’ve seen a positive change in the buying patterns and more and more people are beginning to adopt a lifestyle of attending musical performances and shows with their family and friends,” says Rajagopal.
“With over 30 million people and great connectivity between the major cities, if we get the right act on the right day (weekend performances), we can get fans from all over the country to visit our shows.”
Rajagopal says the market is often underrated, but the multicultural composition of the population means languages are no obstacle, so there’s opportunity to promote a wide variety of local and international events across various genres.
However, despite the opportunities and the relative success operating independently, Rajagopal knew that expansion was the key to growth.
“Apart from being able to promote a wide range of acts and shows across different genres under Live Nation Malaysia, this venture provides Live Nation with the opportunity to expand into other related areas of the business including venues, media and sponsorship, as well as other fan experiences such as exclusive pre-sales and other VIP experiences,” he says.
While the acquisition will see PR Worldwide and Live Nation Malaysia become a more powerful force, the company isn’t immune to the challenges affecting other promoters in the region.
Among the issues Rajagopal cites are a lack of purpose-built and mid-sized venues to accommodate a variety of shows and artistes, rising artiste fees, regulatory constraints and a fluctuating currency.
The country’s biggest promoter MMI Live operates mostly in the capital Manila and last year promoted shows with U2 at Phillipine Arena (55,000) in Santa Maria, as well as Maroon 5, Bruno Mars, Shawn Mendes, Backstreet Boys and Troye Sivan – all at Mall of Asia Arena (15,000) in Pasay. It also promoted Kodaline at the New Frontier Theatre (2,385) in Manila.
“There are years when the concert traffic is overwhelming and there are years when it’s slow,” says CEO Rhiza Pascau. “Some territories are more advanced than others. There are acts that do well in Manila and not sell in the rest of Asia, so I understand that it’s hard to do a tour sometimes.”
Pascua says the company’s success is largely down to maintaining good relationships with venues and using extensive analytics on their target market in order to price tickets correctly.
However, Pascua explains, the region is something of a micro market within the South-East Asia region, which needs to be taken into consideration by western agents planning shows.
“Inflation is also something we deal with every so often,” she explains. “Sometimes, we have to remind the artiste side that we are a third world country and our market has limited budget. For the most part, they do understand.”
Natural calamities such as typhoons and earthquakes are not uncommon in the region, with recent dramas including the eruption of the Taal Volcano which caused all flights to be cancelled, not to mention the threat of the Coronavirus.
“People are being warned to stay away from crowded places such as live events. There’s always a chance that an event might get canceled or postponed,” says Rhiza.
Among MMI Live’s upcoming shows are Tori Kelly at New Frontier Theatre in April, plus Green Day in March and Billie Eilish in September – both at Mall of Asia.
Founded in 1990, Lushington Entertainments was one of the early pioneers, introducing acts such as Eric Clapton to the region in 1990. Other acts the company has promoted over the years include Michael Jackson, Madonna, Eagles, Sting, Coldplay, Foo Fighters, Green Day and One Direction.
With the company also operating Hong Kong and Macau, Lushington MD Michael Roche says the South-East Asia market is vibrant and constantly developing, attracting more and more international acts.
“We had great dates and solid sales with Pet Shop Boys and Jason Mraz each at The Star Theatre [5,000], Anne Marie and Proclaimers each at the Capitol Theatre [1,800],” says Roche.
“But the highlights of 2019 were a sell-out show with Ed Sheeran at Singapore National Stadium [50,000], as well as two sell-out shows from Lauv at Capitol Theatre, which we promoted in conjunction with AEG Presents.”
This year Lushington has already had a Lewis Capaldi sell-out at the Capitol Theatre (977), the artiste’s first visit to Singapore. Upcoming shows include Green Day at Singapore Indoor Stadium (12,000) in March.
As a company which has operated both independently, and as a part of Live Nation Entertainment between 2013 and 2017, Roche knows all too well how difficult it is to compete for artistes against multinational players.
“Live Nation and AEG have global buying power and global touring rights on many artistes, which restricts the amount of shows open for independent local promoters,” he says.
“Also, the cost of venues and doing business in our three markets and bringing western artistes across to Asia and realising viable budgets on smaller and emerging acts, are all so high,” he says.
“Overall, the potential margins for promoters have shrunk and risks have increased on higher breakevens
Roche says the company’s showpiece event is the entertainment for the Singapore Formula 1 night race, which takes place at Marina Bay Street Circuit over three days in September, and includes nine stages of mixed genre entertainment.
It attracts 268,000 ticket-buyers and has seen performances by Swedish House Mafia, Muse, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Gwen Stefani, Fat Boy Slim, Hans Zimmer, Toots and The Maytals, Texas, Lighthouse Family and the Ramona Flowers.
Other artistes Lushington has promoted include Ariana Grande, Bruno Mars, Harry Styles, Imagine Dragons, Linkin Park, Jason Mraz and Twenty One Pilots.
Midas Promotions, which has offices in Hong Kong, Singapore and Philippines, has promoted artistes including Sam Smith, Khalid, Jessie J, The Script, David Guetta and Charlie Puth.Founder Michael Hosking says the scene has grown enormously over the past few years.
“South-East Asia tours are now a destination on its own instead of just a stop on tours of Australia or Japan,” he says. “Music festivals built around the region have also boosted travel and there are greater efforts underway to support homegrown talents as well.”
As with Lushington’s Roche, Hosking says that increasing appeal is a blessing and a curse for independent promoters like Midas.
“Major rivals sign global deals with artistes, directly impacting independent promoters like ourselves to fight for the smaller slice of the pie. We sometimes get involved in bidding wars and end-up paying exorbitant artiste fees,” he says.
“Venues have also jumped in to promote their own shows and it is almost impossible to compete with them.”
Hosking says to overcome these problems, the independents must remain creative and agile with their long-term vision and tackle challenges by collaborating.
“Technology is doing amazing things to unearth new talent and statistics have allowed us to make more calculated risks when curating artistes for the various markets,” says Hosking.
Last year the company promoting emerging artists Boy Pablo and Mahalia, but Hosking admits that 2019 was “fairly grim” overall.
“Data does not necessarily translate to ticket sales. The economic health of the market also determines how often and how much fans are willing to spend for a show ticket,” he says. “So cutting tighter deals and being careful not to oversaturate a market is key to face the stiff competition.”
While, last year’s shows were limited to the Philippines, the year before Midas promoted Sam Smith and The Script at Singapore Indoor Stadium and Khalid at Zepp, Big Box Singapore (2,333).
Established in 1997, Unusual Entertainment has offices in Singapore and Malaysia and specializes in production and promotion.
CEO Leslie Ong, reports a successful 2019, particularly with taking Asian artistes to bigger heights.
“JJ Lin, one of Asia’s top Mandopop acts, performed to 80,000 people at the National Stadium in Singapore last December. This makes him the first Asian act to perform two nights at the venue, joining the ranks of Coldplay and U2.
“And, Andy Lau, one of Asia’s top Cantopop acts, sold 40,000 tickets to My Love Andy Lau World Tour held in September, at the Singapore Indoor Stadium [12,000],” says Ong.
While enjoying success in stadiums, Ong says the region is lacking mid-sized venues between 3,000-5,000 capacity.
“There are only four key venues and these have to be shared amongst live entertainment, family entertainment, sports, conferences, exhibitions in one calendar year,” says Ong.
Ong believes there’s room for growth in other areas of South-East Asia.
“Counties such as Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam are still untapped territories, but it may take more years before the local facilities, infrastructure, soft skills, spending power catch-up.”
Formerly Yescom Entertainment, promoter International Creative Agency (ICA) programmes several festivals in Korea including new music festival Yoursummer and Pentaport Rock Festival, which is the longest sustaining annual international music festival in Korea.
It also operates across the region.
Last year, ICA promoted artistes including The 1975 at Olympic Hall (15,000), Jess Glynne at Blue Square imarket Hall (1,400), Nothing But Thieves at Yes24 Live Hall (1,090) – all in the capital Seoul.
“The Asian territories in general have become huge buyers for international artistes and now its live music industry carries great importance in the world and generates a high source of revenue,” says CEO Tommy Jinho Yoon.
“The market is growing rapidly, a lot faster than anticipated, with international shows and events emerging throughout the region.”
Yoon says it’s no trouble drawing international artistes or selling tickets in South Korea, but the primary challenge they’re faced with is winning the business.
“It’s very common for promoters here to fight for the same artistes, which causes bidding wars and ends up boosting the artiste fees till they’re much higher than other territories,” says Jinho Yoon.
This, in turn, breeds a market that’s rife with competition but lacking in professionalism, he explains.
“There’s a real lack of respect amongst promoters, causing organizations to show weaknesses and conduct business without manners – it’s extremely typical on this side of the world!.”
Jinho Yoon believes part of the issue is that the market is saturated with promoters who’ve migrated into the territory and are causing friction with domestic promoters who’ve helped build the local market.
“Local domestic promoters are now starting to emerge and team-up as a unit to fight against western companies and organisations that are making an entrance into the Asian world.
“However, the Asian territories are strongly influenced by the government system, which is strengthening its relationship with the domestic entertainment world and will eventually overpower foreign entities.”
On top of the standard issues promoters have to deal with, Jinho Yoon says political unrest in South Korea presented the company with some major challenges last year, almost forcing the company to close.
“With the new president and political parties and their new system geared towards Communism, businesses in general experienced major negative impacts,” he says. “But then again, from my perspective, a lot of the facts are controlled and covered up by the media here.”
These unexpected issues caused by the government also forced ICA to change the dates for its festival Pentaport at the last minute, when the artistes had already been confirmed.
“By some miracle we were able to salvage all the confirmed artistes by launching a new festival two months before the show dates, which resulted in our new festival Yoursummer, which was the top drawing and the most successful summer festival of Korea in 2019,” says Yoon.
Artistes who performed included Rita Ora, Chvrches, Zedd and Superorganism..
BEC-Tero Entertainment, founded in 1988 is one of the country’s longest established promoters and joined forces with Live Nation Entertainment in 2015 to form Live Nation BEC-Tero.
The company is led by Neil Thompson, who has spent almost three decades working in Thailand’s music industry, and is well-versed in the challenges and opportunities in the local market.
“Unlike the major touring markets, we have very high costs that we have to absorb with only one show, where as in the other key touring markets they can amortize over multiple shows,” says Thompson. “All of our shows have very high freight costs as every one has to fly in and out of each market.”
In addition, Thompson says the lack of suitable venues means the cost of venue rental is high and therefore tickets are more expensive. This means it’s a gamble to put on shows with smaller, developing artistes.
“I think we will see a strong emergence of Asian artistes breaking across markets as well as internationally, as the rest of the world discovers these acts. I predict that we will see Chinese, Japanese, Indonesia and Thai artists breaking out of their home markets in 2020 onwards,” he says.
According to Thompson, last year was a strong one for live music, with a noticeable increase in the number of shows, festivals and the ticket sales despite a slowing down in the Thai economy due to elections.
Among Live Nation BEC-Tero’s upcoming shows are Green Day and Khalid, both at IMPACT Arena (11,000) in Bangkok, and Babymetal GMM Live House (3,000).
LOL International is an artiste booking agency and event organizer which operates across Malaysia, Taiwan, Thailand and Singapore.
Among the artistes LOL has promoted in Thailand are Liam Gallagher, Mariah Carey and Take That.
Last year the company was involved with promoting Flume, Two Door Cinema and Matteo Bocelli.
“We are very proud to be the first company to debut Matteo Bocelli’s first solo concert,” says LOL International co-founder Shawnz Neo. “The show was a success and we are already planning for more with him.”
Like other promoters in the region, Neo says one the biggest challenges is meeting increasingly high artiste fees and says promoters have to rely on sponsors to make shows happen.
“Each year, it will be the standard few top brands in each category sponsoring music-related projects and their budget is usually quite fixed, but we do see that the increase of artiste fees makes it harder to get major artistes into Asia for a show.,” he says.
Meanwhile, business is good for the country’s biggest indoor venue, the newly-renovated Impact Arena (15,000) and its sister venue Thunder Dome (6,000) in Bangkok.
Over the years, the arena has welcomed artistes such as Michael Jackson, Scorpions, Eric Clapton, Santana, Kylie Minoque, James Blunt, Linkin Park, Sting, David Foster, Elton John, Luna Seas, Avril Lavigne, Mariah Carey.
“Last year we hosted about 31 music events at Impact Arena and another 32 music events at Thunder Dome, which for us is a satisfactory result,” says general manager Loy Joon How.
Last year the arena saw performances from Two Door Cinema Club, Westlife, Daniel Caesar and John Mayer for his first appearance in Thailand. Tickets ranged between 2,000 to 10,000 baht ($64-320).
Joon How’s only complaint is the increasingly high running costs for the venue.
“We are looking at the application of technology and automation to help us reduce our operating costs. For large-scale indoor arenas, I think we are a major player in the market,” he says.
While the country’s live music scene is still in its infancy, pioneering promoter Loud Minority believes that if nurtured, it could become a worthwhile market.
“It needs to start with creating a gig culture, where it’s a part of kids’ lives like it was for us growing up,” says Loud Minority CEO Damian Kilroy. “We try to educate and expose people to something they are not familiar with.”
Kilroy believes the young and fast-growing population is its greatest attraction but because the market is still relatively under-developed, there’s a culture of what he calls “smash and grab”.
“A lot of people are looking to do one or two big shows and make big money but the cash involved makes it such a high risk. EDM has been popular for years and some of those promoters are trying to expand into live music, but they’re only interested in huge acts that come at a hefty price and then try and get that back from sponsors.”
Though most markets in the region suffer from a lack of suitable venues, Vietnam is significantly lagging behind the others.
“Since Cargo closed in 2016, nothing has taken its place, so we’re limited to 300-capacity venues, bigger spaces that are old and unsafe, or outdoor spaces which are more costly,” says Kilroy.
“Also, the fees demanded by big international acts are not realistic for a new market like Vietnam. If an artiste is asking for $2 million to play here, but has never played here before, it just doesn’t make sense. There’s just too much risk. We tend to work directly with artistes and via agents that have an understanding of Vietnam and who want to play here,” says Kilroy.
Rather than lament the lack of major international artistes passing through, Loud Minority has turned its attention to its two-day Coracle Festival, which launched in 2018. Artistes played the event last year, which took place at Ho Tram beach resort, include The Lemonheads and William McCarthy, both from the US, and Canadian band The King Khan & BBQ Show.
“We wanted to create the festival we think should exist. It’s US$50 a ticket and $2 for a beer. It’s still an intimate event too, with 2,000 people expected this year. Last year we had a new venue and ran a cashless site, a zero-plastic policy, free drinking water and drew 1,000 people,” says Kilroy.
Aside from last year’s edition of Coracle Festival, the company also co-promoted The Wedding Present at Lela Bar (250) in Saigon.