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LOVE & RISK - Singapore, iconography and priorities.

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I've been spending more and more time in Singapore. The city once heavily maligned as being dull, uninspiring and too hot is now becoming increasingly different from this stereotype (apart from still being very hot). It's sadly leagues ahead of Hong Kong as a cultural destination; it's every bit a world city where Hong Kong isn't. Hong Kong's policymakers have failed to understand the importance of a sustainable cultural ecosystem and creating an attractive place for the regions most innovative companies and talent to operate. 

During a recent visit to Singapore, I went to a free arts event in a downtown carpark with some friends. The program included a number of local artists and performers. Speaking to the organisers (Invasion), I soon became aware that the event itself was not only endorsed by the government but organised by them. Taking steps to utilise this sizeable unconventional space on the weekend might be seen as commonplace in many countries like the US, UK and other parts of Europe. However, in Asia, it's less common, and in Hong Kong virtually impossible.

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'Underground' events which utilise interesting spaces are doing so often at the risk of being shut down. The city's outdated regulations mean engaging multiple stakeholders (landowners, government departments and tenants) and gaining approval is often impossible as there's usually someone in the decision-making chain that objects, or more often than not, can't be arsed to take on the perceived risk. There are obvious issues around noise, and understandably so. We need to manage these effectively and understand that ruling out cultural events with broad brush strokes isn't going to cut it. Construction sites in Hong Kong run for years and cause far more issues to society. There's a clear distinction to be made here. We're placing too much emphasis on short term gains than long term societal improvement. Ultimately no-one wants to live in a boring place with no culture or entertainment, so do the math. The perceived risk in putting these events on often relates to something going wrong and unwanted attention being drawn to a venue or landlord - a bit scary really. Music events are often marginalised so much in Hong Kong we're forcing promoters and event producers to take on risks that further damage their reputation and the industry as a whole.

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The city needs to make a shift in its priorities to grow, something Singapore has seemingly already done. On a more commercial level - Singapore’s slick Harbourside development comes to life at night. It’s pristine architectural developments make up a tapestry of cultural spaces and modern retail concepts. In many ways, this is similar to Hong Kong, just newer, cleaner and better designed. However, the debate we should be having is around the ecosystem rather than the glamorous show pieces of either city. I think both cities still have some way to go, but right now, Singapore takes Hong Kong to the cleaners with its progressive culture strategy.

When people across the world think of Hong Kong, they often think of flashing lights, sky scrapers and bustling communities. The city has long benefitted from people travelling here to enjoy the majestic views the city has to offer; however, dramatic cityscapes are becoming more and more common throughout the region. Clockenflap has done a great job of harnessing the harbours iconic views by having acts perform with the city as a backdrop. Content like this resonates, both locally and internationally and provides real value to the economy. Many events continue to use the Central Harbour Events Space, and these events will soon be joined by regular programming at the West Kowloon Cultural District as it finally opens up. We also have some fantastic sites in Hong Kong away from the harbour that have never been used, green locations on the islands, in the new territories as well as heritage sites like - The Peak Lookout, The Big Buddha and HK Museum of Coastal Defences Museum to name a few.

We also have beaches on our doorstep; Repulse Bay is used for touch rugby tournaments with a light music offering, why shouldn't it host more serious music programming in the future? Capturing events in great locations through digital content can be very powerful in building the destination's brand as much as the rights owners themselves. Should we encourage Cercle to do a music session here? Alternatively, develop our own series of iconic events with support from the government or tourism boards. It's worth noting Boiler Room have done something successful but minimal in Hong Kong with local crew Yeti, will we see more from Boiler Room as part of their new China push?

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It's hard to predict if changes are on the horizon given the cloak of mystery shrouding the governments long term policies on culture and the elitist out of touch approach many of the landowners seem to be adopting. However, it's not too late to take steps to make things happen. The news that The Festival de Cannes Film Week is coming to Hong Kong is a fun and a solid tactical play to enhance the notoriety of K11 Musea and the city's association with global cinema. The event will no doubt provide a set of iconic images, with a fusion between the red carpet and the HK harbour. For the rights owners, they're able to develop some decent licensing revenue as well as build the 'Festival De Cannes' brand in Asia. They will also provide valuable opportunities to actors and those international film makers who make it into the region to do the same. Hopefully, the festival will benefit local/ regional talent and give a much-needed boost to the film industry here. That's the challenge, to remain credible and develop broader participation and advocacy. One thing is for sure, in true Hong Kong fashion, lots of money will change hands, and it'll be a big night out.

LOVE & RISK - Entertainment media is reborn in Asia as a new era of editorial is set to spark the conversation again.

The media landscape is incomparably different than it was a decade ago; the consumption formats have and will continue to change at a crazy pace. When I discuss the development of music content in SE Asia one inescapable point that I continuously raise is the scarcity of media focused on emerging culture and entertainment. The little press that exists is often inconsistent and mediocre. There’s coverage of major shows which engage a mass audience. Usually, this is paid for and wholly uninteresting to creative communities. New music’s column inches or pixels have lost out in the battle for eyeballs to selfies, ’epic fails’ and food. The void left is sad for several reasons, not least because it means that the conversation around music, the debate, never really stood a chance.

There is good news on the horizon however as we see major music streaming platforms beginning to go big on editorial. Whether it’s in the form of playlists, reviews, podcasts, video content or even radio shows we see a more consolidated music ecosystem develop, it’s exciting for the following reasons. 

STORY - Fans can buy into the 'music story' more, develop interests around the music. Be it the characters, events or fads. It provides context and allows people to engage with music in a more meaningful way.

DISCOVERY - People who listen to music can learn more about the genre and scene. They can learn about the different acts and influences that stand alongside their favourite musicians. They can also learn about other shows or happenings relevant to their tastes.

CREDIBILITY - Music fans can also develop a sense of credibility with the music they’re consuming. As they buy into the story, they form a more profound connection with it and therefore in many cases respect it more. Supporting talent is what being a fan is all about, so taking pride in this is positive.

ORGANIC GROWTH - Having a media framework means there’s a multiplier effect. As fans see more music content, and better music content, they’re developing behaviours that advocate this by sharing it and commenting on it. Many of the streaming services such as NetEase in China have vast amounts of comments which support the ecosystem. There are issues around authenticity and bots, but much of this is undeniably real engagement. This activity further encourages more home-grown user-generated content and builds a more fertile environment for the entire industry as artists and audiences join the broader conversation.

OPPORTUNITY - With this rise in editorial and content production we can also see more opportunities for people to work in the industry. The lost art of editorial and curation is coming back to life. Many of the best music writers and curators are being encouraged to go into music by providing expertise, insight and opinion.

MORE ARTISTS GETTING STREAMED - As streaming services roll out curated playlists and editorial they encourage the audience to listen to new music (often algorithmically personalised). It makes the experience simple, and listeners can find themselves streaming new artists they’ve not heard before. A good thing when you consider 10% of most streamed tracks account for 99% of all streams.

Some say that music blogs are dying as a result of playlists being rolled out by streaming platforms. However, I'd argue these blogs never really had a business model to support themselves and can use the legal resources in better more user-friendly ways in producer their playlists. Playlist curation from the platforms themselves along with their algorithms does allow room for bias, but it's a necessary evil to push things forward.

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We are also seeing big technology companies such as Tencent, Google, Amazon and Facebook developing serious music strategies across a number of their products. What this does is create access to music in a new and exciting way. Targeting consumers with music is becoming more prominent and exploiting data from audiences is becoming more productive. Whenever we talk about data and 'big tech' there are arguments for and against, however, it's promoting competition, music listening and richer music content. Apple Music has choreographed a big-name roster of radio DJs led by the Zane Lowe to drive the conversation in a more literal sense. This has given rise to an increased global debate (yet to hit Asia notably) on emerging music. It's now time for Asia to step up and deliver localised content that resonates and promotes the region as well as playing a roll on the debate mentioned above. Podcasts are gaining a foothold in the media landscape and it's an area we see a mass of opportunities, get in touch to learn more.

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SE Asia, China and Hong Kong have seen many international media brands start to develop more Asia content and in some cases syndicate/ franchise themselves into new Asia versions. Billboard China, MixMag Asia/ China and VICE China have done this to varying degrees of success, but in many instances, they have struggled to develop a robust business model. Hard working small enterprises like Bandwagon, Still-Loud and Boom are working hard to keep up as creating original material for music fans in a way that works for a balance sheet is very hard in a resource-heavy industry. The news platforms like SCMP or Apple Daily have dedicated culture sections, but music doesn’t get the same emphasis as food or other culture pillars, it doesn’t attract the level of ‘clicks’ from readers. However, as the ecosystem grows both the smaller independent channels and more prominent news platforms should be presented with opportunities as audiences develop a more discerning global outlook as a result of the more solid editorial offered by streaming services who have the resources to make it work. There will also be a plethora of opportunities for brands through branded content and smart alignments beyond the programmatic ads driving revenue for streaming platforms. The conversation is developing - watch this space.

LOVE & RISK - Music is the sport of the future.

I’m a long term sports fan, I love it. However, like all entertainment properties, there’s an active element of competition as we often compete for the same eyeballs and dollars, albeit from different audiences in most many cases. Some say sport provides a more tangible outcome than music, more ROI? It’s often more physical and therefore healthier, it’s great for team building and developing communication skills. Analysing the merits of both sport and music would take an age and I’d be happy to do it with anyone who chooses but in my opinion music is the more powerful of the two. In an age where people agree that mental and emotional health is essential, we need to understand the benefits of music in society. 

The sports business has done a better job in Asia than music. We’ve had to deal with some tough years and diversify revenue streams but we’re emerging stronger than ever, and it's exciting. In a live context, Singapore has continued its trend towards LIVE entertainment and put together an even bigger music line-up this year or their inaugural Night Racing event. The likes of which will undoubtedly develop more fan engagement ahead of the F1 Grand Prix weekend than the race itself. Also, consider the point that the ROI for brand partners involved will be stronger from the music experience than the race itself. 

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From an audience perspective, it’s important to consider not all sports fans are into music and visa versa, and genres of either can show little correlation. It’s often a sure fire way to lose any sense of credibility when you align the music and sport without properly thinking it through. It goes back to my earlier rant when I talk about not understanding the creative or the culture. It can be very damaging to the brand, rights holder and the artist if things don't align properly. A one size fits all approach doesn’t work. Consider the rugby 7’s in Hong Kong, matching an event synonymous with international rugby fans with music presents some challenges. How do you create a credible and sustainable music platform in the shadow of an event which is so different at its core?

Acts like David Hasselhoff, The Beach Boys and most recently Madness have graced the pitch in recent years to perform for fans within the stadium. This has worked to varying degrees for the in-stadium audience but is a million miles from being credible to a broader music audience, and most would agree it paints a pretty crusty picture. It’s painfully uncool but this isn’t a bad thing, nor is having a South Stand Harlem Shake or Sébastien Chabal dressed in high heels, it’s just not designed for many passionate music fans. So this year announcing Gwen Stefani to play on the Harbour Front is progress, albeit ten years too late. Reportedly low on numbers the event still held some iconic moments, as you’d expect from a Main Stage on the Hong Kong Harbour. We need to understand the importance of developing this component in a credible way going forward, and understanding music may well be a more critical form of fan engagement in the future than the rugby.

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Music content can also be really powerful. HSBC are big on sports partnerships, and they are heavily invested in most of the major sports and some that are lesser known all over the world. It’s good to see more of those sponsorship dollars being spent on music initiatives. My initial reaction after seeing their recent work with Jean Mitchel Jarrewasn’t pretty but after the somewhat contrived film where he talks about how the brand speaks to him about ‘community, environment and technology’ I got into it. The soundtrack is strong, and hopefully, the rest of the partnership will be on point with the brand continuing to see the value in music. I’m also looking forward to seeing how FWD are positioned at Sonar in Hong Kong this weekend. Building on their other festival partnerships the insurance company now partners with the cutting edge music and electronic arts festival. Is this only possible in a financially focused Hong Kong or the dawn of a new age of corporate sponsors upping their game and trying something new?