The Biz Q&A: Jasper Donat, President of Music Matters
The Biz Q&A: Jasper Donat, President of Music Matters

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Jasper Donat, President of Music Matters gesticulating from the stage in Singapore last week. (Photo: Courtesy Music Matters)

Music Matters 2011, the premiere Asian music industry conference, just wrapped up last week in Singapore. Launched six years ago in Hong Kong, this year's confab featured 1,000 participants from 30 different countries, 176 speakers and 42 artists from 18 countries performing over three nights. In an interview by phone from Hong Kong, Jasper Donat, president of Music Matters and co-founder of Branded Ltd. (organizer of the conference) reflects on this year's event, which included Steve Lillywhite, performances by Simple Plan and Imogen Heap and a new Digital Matters conference. He also lets us in on what to expect for next year.

Christina Aguilera

.Biz: How does this year's Music Matters compare to last?
Jasper Donat: It was pretty amazing. Not only did we move it to Singapore for the first time, which was a bold move, but we also added another string to the conference called Digital Matters, which was every other facet of entertainment in a digital space, so movies, gaming, TV, and music. Two days of that and then we had two days of music and a lot of the delegates actually stayed for both. There were some very tired faces by the end of it.

In addition, we had our music festival, Music Matters Live, which goes over the top of it. We're one of the few conferences that has live performances in between sessions. We only have one track. It's not like MIDEM or Canadian Music Week. We don't have a thousand things going on. We have one thing going on so Simple Plan played an amazing acoustic set; Imogen Heap did an hour and half interview at the piano and everyone fell in love with her.

Is this a conference for established industry players and artists?
Not at all. The ruling for the artists is they should be fairly well known in their local markets, but unheard of elsewhere or predominantly uncharted. To get a gateway into Asia, get a footprint into Asia, they all get to meet and get seen and heard by the Asia-Pacific live music industry. So most of the promoters were there; a lot of venues were there.

What primarily are people telling you they didn't realize about that market?
Eighty-five percent come from outside Singapore. Of that number, 30 percent or more come from outside of Asia and they're here to learn about Asia.

The first thing that they learn is that the word Asia is a very dangerous word. There is no such thing as Asia. What they find is that Asia is made up of 53 very separate individual countries and if they want to make it over here, they need to pick out a strategy and go for the countries that they think will work best for their artists and you can have a very different make-up of countries based on their artists. Some may think that Japan is the right market just because of its scale, but some may also think that China is also a very exciting market now because it has a new, underground, over-ground live rock 'n' roll scene.

We did a spotlight for the first time this year on Indonesia; it's the world's fourth largest country, but no one really knows that much about its music scene. It's got an amazing music scene. We even did a spotlight on Beijing. We've never done a spotlight on a city before. But Beijing, as a city, is going crazy because again the government is relaxed about people getting up and singing.

Why did you call it a "bold" move to hold it in Singapore?
Because Hong Kong had been our home for many years and a lot of the Asian music industry has historically been based in Hong Kong, but in recent years the Singapore government have invested billions into the entertainment industry and creative infrastructure in Singapore and we've been watching this closely for three or four years. They've got the Formula 1 for example. It's become a very exciting market for the international music scene.

Will it be held there next year?
Yes. We had a great time there. The city came out for us. The attendance was way up. The move to Singapore has worked. It's brought in a whole new raft of nationalities into the event - so more Indonesians, more Malaysians, more Australians, more Indians, while also maintaining the same number of Chinese, Hong Kong, Taiwanese. The feedback has been 100 percent positive. We haven't had one single complaint about the move.

What can you reveal about next year?
Along with more of the same, we'll be focusing on a much larger festival component because it really did work. And Singapore has got a lot more venues we could be working with. So I like the idea of a festival. We do a lot of mentoring for local Asian musicians; for example, we did a mentoring session with [producer] Steve Lillywhite and Steve got to talk about his life and his career and his successes, but also where he's made mistakes. We did the same with Peter Jenner who originally discovered Pink Floyd. They get to talk about things they wouldn't normally get to talk about onstage to a bunch of Asian musicians who wouldn't normally get this kind of leg up into the industry. We've done this every year, but it's something that we're looking at really building out because that's where the industry gets to give back.