How The Internet Is Transforming Asia's Live Music Industry
Walking into a store to buy a CD now sounds as dated as smoking on a plane. Tech transforms every industry it touches, and music is no exception. Streaming is now the predominant way of accessing music around the globe, with 529 million people using a streaming service in 2019. As a result, the entire industry has had to undergo a major upheaval.
For decades, the music industry had absolute power. Labels were charging up to US$25 for a CD and raking in hundreds of millions. And then streaming hit, and everything changed. In the US, music’s biggest market, annual revenues fell from US$14.6 billion in 1999 to US$6.3 billion in 2009. Meanwhile, total revenue for music streaming companies is expected to hit US$3 billion in 2020, with the likes of Spotify and Apple Music, as well as their Chinese and French competitors Joox and Deezer respectively, taking the lion's share of that income.
The streaming industry continues to grow—Tencent Music's IPO in December 2018 valued the company at US$21.3 billion—but not a lot of that money is trickling down to artists. Spotify, one of the few services that's transparent about its practices, pays around US$0.006 to US$0.0084 per stream to the holder of the music's rights. All of which means the best chance musicians have of making the kind of money their predecessors got in the heady decades of the 20th century means they need to go on tour. A lot.
That’s where Malaysia-born Iqbal Ameer comes in. The CEO of Livescape, one of the top events management organisations in Asia, Ameer is responsible for festivals such as Singapore's It’s the Ship and for bringing some of the world’s best musicians to Southeast Asia.
“It’s changing here, and fast,” he says of the influence of tech on the industry. “I have seen a certain level of maturity in terms of what people want to experience when they go for a gig and that’s all down to the internet. People are better informed than they ever were, and they will go online to see what the artist is doing in other markets and expect something similar here. In the old days, you’d just get a flyer, but now because everything is online, Southeast Asians are as music literate as anyone else.”
One of the biggest differences he has seen come from the tech era is that a gig is no longer just about the music, but the overall experience. This is partly because we have higher expectations about what we see on stage, but also because we want to share the performance on social media. And we need something dazzling.
“Livescape’s focus has always been on the experience,” says Ameer. “Performers these days are going to try and up the experience of the show instead of just rocking out. Bands like Coldplay are brilliant at it. I know people who will buy all four days of a Coldplay tour because it’s magical watching them—they have started something, and more artists are now going to follow their lead and create something unforgettable."
Ameer cites the band's ability to get the crowd involved through drone shots and roving cameras that capture the crowds singing, as well as huge confetti canons. “They then stream all this on huge screens which creates this amazing connective tissue between the audience and the band,” says Ameer.
Thanks to streaming, this whole region is a lot less daunting, as people in the industry know that their artists have fans because they’ve got data to prove it
In the past, the music market was generally more Western-focused as that was where all the money for marketing and tours were poured into. But with the rise of streaming, secondary markets could discover artists freely from their own home, which has shifted the focus away from European and American hubs.
“It has been a huge change,” says Ameer. “Markets like Singapore are becoming really important for international pop artists, as are Indonesia and Thailand too. I was just in Bangkok and the talent coming to play there over the next few months is extraordinary. Thanks to streaming, this whole region is a lot less daunting, as people in the industry know that their artists have fans because they’ve got data to prove it. We’ve worked with Spotify to put on concerts in Jakarta and Bangkok based on hits in both countries.”
Streaming has also changed the type of music that tops the charts. The industry used to be dominated by people with the most spending power—which often meant middle-class, middle-aged people who could buy a new CD every week. Now, Afrobeat, Danish rap, niche electronic music and global urban music are flourishing commercially, without having to make any concessions to the mainstream.
If you love live music, you don’t have Glastonbury and get your feet muddy—there are other options
— Iqbal Ameer
However, the revolution does come with some negative aspects—as Ameer knows all too well. “The problem with Spotify or Apple Music is that it allows people to be selective of singles not albums," he says. "That has a major effect—artists now drop singles not albums, as that means higher fees when they tour if one particular single has topped the charts. As a result, we have a whole generation who doesn’t pay for music and who never buys a CD and discovers whole album. This means that when they go to concerts, they’re often disappointed. I can’t tell you how many times I have been to festivals where people wait for that one song to come on, and the moment they hear it, they leave.”
But through Livescape, Ameer is hoping to educate the market as well as create environments for people to discover new music. “We’re trying to make a brand that caters to certain communities, whether they love grassroots Malaysian music or are looking for a five-star experience. I want to say to people, ‘If you love live music, you don’t have to go to Glastonbury and get your feet muddy—there are other options.’”