The 12th edition of Music Matters, Asia premier music conference, returned to its long-time home at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Singapore after a stint at the Marina Bay Sands complex in the same city last year. Held Sept. 9-13, the 2017 event is organized under the All That Matters umbrella, which simultaneously holds conferences on music, sports, marketing, gaming and online. This year's summit also featured live music showcases in venues spread around the city, most notably the historic Singaporean shopping complex Chjimes. In all, over 1,500 participants traveling from all over the world and engaged with 180 speakers across the five content tracks.
Music Matters keynotes were delivered by industry stalwarts Lyor Cohen (global head of music, YouTube), Tom Windish (senior executive at Paradigm Talent Agency) and Hartwig Mausch (CEO of BMG), among others. In addition, many panels drilled into Asia, exploring what is going on with the most populous region on the planet.
The "Emerging Markets in Asia" panel focused on India, Vietnam and the Philippines. Devraj Sanyal, managing director & CEO of Universal Music Group India and South Asia, suggested the market in India, with 650 million people aged 27 or younger, is about to explode. “For any big market to flip and really go over to the other side you need many things to be aligned….and I believe that time is now for India. The global eyes are on China and India now as massive growth markets for the road to 2020 and 2022. (India has) the cheapest data in the world, a massive mobile eco system.... it’s almost a mobile-only eco system, (and) huge adoption and habit-formation as we speak.”
Sanyal pointed out that while “Bollywood” or Hindi film music has been 90 percent of the music market in India, things are changing rapidly. Independent music is developing into a market force and the government is onboard with the digitalization of India, priming the market to breakout.
Chee Meng Tang, director of label relations for Spotify agreed, emphasizing that every market in the region that the streaming service has launched in has seen not only positive but accelerating growth. He gave the example of the Philippines. “We launched in the Philippines in 2014. We turned it around from a negative 12.6 to a positive 1.3, which is about a positive 14 percent growth. The following year, 2015, you see a growth of 17 percent... and for 2016 we see an incredible 30 percent growth. And we are just getting started.”
Tom Windish gave a keynote that addressed both the agency business in general and Asia in particular. He noted he’s always been interested in being independent, getting involved with bands early in their careers and searching out new, unknown talent. Windish took an interest in Asia before other agencies were paying attention to it. Says Tom, “It’s (a) kinda common-sensy thing. Nobody else was doing it. It really started from people writing to us and saying ‘I want to book this artist there….’ That would lead to booking shows. We’d start to get a little network of people together that would like the kind of music we were booking and we could book little tours.” He adds, “I wouldn’t say we’ve mastered it yet, but I’d like to master it… it requires just rolling up your sleeves and asking everyone you can think of in every country that has a live market ‘are you interested in developing this artist’? And then having an artist that is interested to go there.”
Hartwig Masuch, CEO of BMG, explained how they re-launched BMG in 2008 to be a lean, digital-driven major label, and what that means for the current worldwide music market. He noted that in 2008 they sold their 50 percent share in Sony BMG and had previously sold off their publishing company to Universal. Masuch put up statistics showing that from 2013-2016 BMG had a +17 percent growth.
Masuch explained his artist-first philosophy, which he sees as necessary for the current climate. “You should have happy clients, and the clients are the musicians and those who are creating the repertoire in a world which is getting very transparent, changing drastically with respect to (who) has the leverage in the industry toward the creative side. You have to come up with a model where you don’t run into complaints and lawsuits all the time but have clients who call in and say ‘that was a great year let’s go on,’ or ‘thank you for the check that was more than I expected.’ ” He emphasized, “We are addressing competitive positioning here and going forward we will see that artists just have more opportunities to enter markets… digital distribution, digital communication tools will change leverage toward artists and if you want to be part of the equation you have to come up with something that your clients value. There has to be a service and there has to be a value set that fits their needs. So it’s a pretty strategic point to be transparent and fair in this industry.”
As the closing keynote, YouTube's Lyor Cohen brought star power to the stage. He reflected on his 34-years-plus in the music industry and shared stories. Cohen explained his approach to the industry. “I admire people who are smart enough…not to think they know all the answers and ask for help…I do it all the time… I have a vibrant group of friends … I’m constantly asking (them) to explain things to me.” Referring to his first job at Russell Simmons’ Rush Productions, he notes, “Remember, when we started the company we had no money, we had no clout, we had no success…. it was the arrogance of the established record industry that thought that rap was just noise that allowed us to incubate and learn, and find our voice.”
In terms of finding new artists Cohen said, “I’m more of a live performance (guy). When I meet an artist, do the molecules act differently in the room?” He adds, “I really pay attention to the person, getting to know the person, and watching their performance.”
He summarized, “For anyone to think the business is going away is just dumb. Music is an essential element. It’s like water. It’s like oxygen… I always knew there was going to be some re-adjustment. The fact that distribution has been eviscerated is a huge opportunity for musicians, for labels.”