FANS REACT AS THEY ARE SHOWERED WITH CONFETTI DURING THE ANNUAL CLOCKENFLAP MUSIC FESTIVAL IN HONG KONG ON NOV 30, 2014. STARTED IN 2008 AS A SMALL ALTERNATIVE MUSIC EVENT, CLOCKENFLAP HAS GROWN INTO A MULTI-DAY EXTRAVAGANZA. AFP PHOTO ／ ANTHONY WALLACE
By BONNIE WANG in Hong Kong
Asian countries are moving to the beat of the music, and looking for the billions of dollars that beat could generate.
Outdoor music festivals, once regarded as cornerstones of Western culture with such iconic events as Woodstock in the United States in 1969, are becoming an increasingly important part of life in Asia.
Countries such as Japan, South Korea, India and China all host their own live music events.
“Music festivals are friendly, unlike the competition in sports events,” said Shan Wei, chief executive at Beijing Midi Production Co, which organizes the Midi Festival — one of China’s largest annual live music festivals.
“The golden era of rock was between the 1960s and 1970s in America and Europe. It became more and more commercialized in the 1980s,” said Shan. “China started to have music festivals at that time, and they’re still being developed now.”
For Shan, festivals are a response to a very human need, akin to “campfires in the evening in primitive society”.
Total live music revenue will grow 3 percent annually through 2020.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of Japan’s Fuji Rock Festival — one of the biggest live music events in the region — which took place between July 22 and 24. Set against the backdrop of mountains and forests in the Niigata prefecture, this is a must-attend event for music lovers.
One of the world’s biggest electronic dance music (EDM) events, Ultra Music Festival, has branched out internationally since it launched in 1999 in Miami. This year, Ultra Korea was held over a June weekend in Seoul. Vh1 Supersonic in India is referred to as the country’s “definitive dance music experience”, and aims to take place in December on the beaches in Goa. Central China’s Hubei province hosts the Tenglong Cave Midi Festival from July 29 to 31, with its setting in one of the longest monomer karst cave systems in the world. And Hong Kong’s annual Clockenflap Festival, held every November, began in 2008 as a small alternative music event but has grown into a multi-day extravaganza.
Music festivals are a rapidly growing business. According to consultancy PwC, total live music revenue will grow 3 percent annually through 2020. In 2014, earnings from live performances in the Chinese mainland were valued at $204 million, and are expected to climb to $290 million by 2019.
And there is plenty of room to grow.
Last year, global music industry revenue was $42.93 billion, according to PwC. A massive live music market already exists in Japan, but elsewhere in the region it is a relatively new business.
If music follows the path of other forms of entertainment, growth could be explosive.
“Japan’s music industry is very creative and full of its own cultural elements and values. The developed Japanese animation industry is empowering the music,” Shan from Midi Production Co said.
“India’s local music industry is relatively mature. Bollywood is influential globally. But China is at a beginning stage. It’s far from mature.”
If music follows the path of other forms of entertainment, growth could be explosive. For example, China’s movie box office revenues have expanded at a 30 percent annual rate since 2011.
The growth of live music could be a boon for artists, fans and festival organizers, as well as governments, brands and businesses. Live events could go a long way toward making up for ongoing drops in sales of recorded music, with artists becoming dependent on earnings from performances.
More music festivals mean more stage time for artists, which in turn means more revenue.
Much of this growth is in the EDM scene, which is riding a wave of global popularity.
Akira Okada, founder of Taico Club, an electronic music festival in Japan, said: “Performance fees for one EDM artist are between $20,000 and $50,000. This is the price for one person — it will be higher for a band.”
It is difficult to make the business financially viable in the early stages.
Artists can also earn considerable amounts from copyright income when online platforms rebroadcast their festival performances.
Chinese online video platforms such as Youku Tudou rebroadcast outdoor music festivals and concerts. So has Mi TV, the Internet TV station created by Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi.
Although the market is growing, it is difficult to make the business financially viable in the early stages.
Michael LoJudice, director of international affairs at the New York office of Beijing-based music festival Modern Sky, agrees. “Music festivals are really not the best business to earn money. It’s hard to break even in the first year,” he told China Daily Asia Weekly.
Modern Sky invested 3 million yuan ($450,000) in its first music festival in Beijing in 2007 and ended up with losses of 1 million yuan. The company started to turn a profit at the second Modern Sky Festival in 2008. Last year, around 60 percent of the company’s 300 million yuan in profits came from the festival business.
Midi Festival China only stopped losing money seven years after it began in 2000. Each year between 2009 and 2014, the Shanghai Jazz Festival lost around 2 million yuan.
Tourism destinations are tapping into live events to attract more visitors.
For the host locations, however, music festivals have other benefits. Tourism destinations are tapping into live events to attract more visitors.
Zhenjiang, a city in East China’s Jiangsu province, invited Midi to hold its 2009 music festival on Shiye Island — now known as “the music island” — as a way to attract tourists during the Chinese Golden Week national holiday in May.
The local government contributed 1 million yuan, which covered half of Midi’s total costs. And the fans are also helping out. Music lovers can be very hungry consumers.
Shan said the Internet makes young people more like “couch potatoes”, so Midi music festivals give them “a chance to sleep in tents and get close to nature”.
“A camping culture in Midi is what we have advocated.”
Because of the popularity of music festivals among young consumers, some savvy brands are using these events to gain exposure.
According to a study by market research firm Nielsen, 45 percent of festivalgoers are millennials — broadly defined as those born between 1980 and 2000 — some of whom have become addicted to the Internet and are cut off from the real world. Music festivals give them a chance to get out and socialize.
Because of the popularity of music festivals among young consumers, some savvy brands are using these events to gain exposure. In Japan, the beer brand Corona sponsors Taico Club and the Sunset Festival, while in India, the whiskey brand Jim Beam is the title sponsor of Vh1 Supersonic. US shoemaker and skateboarding gear manufacturer Vans has been a long-time supporter of Midi, and carmaker Nissan was a major sponsor of the festival in 2015.
And it is not just consumer brands. The United Nations Development Programme has been working with Midi since 2014. Seeing it as an important part of the cultural industry, some Asian governments are keen to support the development of the music festival market.
Shan said that China always had policies to promote the culture industry but there was no funding. However, that has changed. “Because we have been able to hold successful festivals since 2007, we can now apply for cultural industry funds from hundreds of thousands to a million renminbi, depending on how much we invest,” said Shan.
He said that in some cities, local governments were willing to extend public transportation running hours and routes during music festivals, as well as provide security services. “It’s difficult for companies to do this,” added Shan.
His company used to get a permit for its events by applying to both the local and national government bodies, but now it only needs to work with the cultural departments at the municipal level.
“The government used to be very sensitive to outdoor events with a lot of people. They even asked us to put out chairs at the first music festival. But in recent years, the government is relaxing restrictions.”
Venture capitalists are also jumping on the bandwagon.
Modern Sky secured an impressive 130 million yuan in its second round of financing last year, and it has the potential to receive as much as 3 billion yuan in the future.
In 2010, China State-owned real estate company Evergrande Group set up a music subsidiary — Evergrande Music — and held around 60 music festivals in the country during 2013 and 2014, before quitting the market this year.
“The growth is the result of the combination of all stakeholders, but the fans are the strongest driving force,” said Shan.
He added that the development of music festivals is just one aspect of the music industry, and the growth is in line with the entire industry.
“When more and more individuals seek out gigs to attend, the music festival market will be mature,” said Shan.
Exporting ‘cool gigs’ from Asia BANDS AND MUSIC FESTIVALS FROM THE REGION GRADUALLY GAIN A FOLLOWING IN THE WEST THOUGH THEY MOSTLY CATER TO THE DIASPORA
SECOND HAND ROSE, A CHINESE ROCK BAND, PERFORMING AT THE MODERN SKY FESTIVAL IN NEW YORK’S CENTRAL PARK ON OCT 5, 2014. IT WAS THE FIRST TIME AN ASIAN MUSIC FESTIVAL HAD BEEN EXPORTED OUTSIDE THE CONTINENT. THE FESTIVAL WILL BE HELD IN HELSINKI ON AUG 26-27, THE SECOND TIME IT HAS TAKEN PLACE IN FINLAND. AFP PHOTO / TIMOTHY A. CLARY
By BONNIE WANG in Hong Kong
Western music may dominate the global industry but Asian bands and festivals are making their way abroad and, step by careful step, gaining recognition and earning their rightful place.
China’s music festival Modern Sky will be held in Helsinki, Finland, on Aug 26-27. It is the second time the festival, which has also been held in New York and Seattle since 2014, will be held in Finland.
“What? A Chinese music festival in New York?” That was how many Americans reacted to Modern Sky’s festival in New York’s Central Park in 2014, according to Michael LoJudice, director of international affairs at Modern Sky Entertainment, who has spearheaded the company’s international push.
“(Modern Sky CEO) Shen Lihui said, ‘OK, let’s do it, a music festival in New York.’ He is a little crazy,” LoJudice said.
Two years ago, the idea of a Chinese music festival was totally new for Americans. Modern Sky brought its own brand to New York for two days in October that year. That was the first time an Asian music festival had been exported outside the continent.
The company marketed the festival to the Chinese community, American-born Chinese and Chinese students — in fact pretty much anyone with a connection to China.
“For average (American) music fans, Mandarin pop is a foreign language, so it is not very accessible,” said LoJudice.
More than 6,500 people attended the gig in Central Park — smaller than the audiences for Modern Sky’s festivals in China. In New York, Chinese indie rock bands including Rebuilding the Rights of Statues, Queen Sea Big Shark and Second Hand Rose played alongside Western musicians like Cat Power, Ted Leo and Aimee Mann. But not all foreign markets are the same. In Helsinki, for example, there is a very small Chinese community. So the company worked with Finnish bands that toured China and worked with the local government, which co-financed the event.
At the same time, the festival was timed to coincide with Europe Asia Roundtable Sessions (EARS), a conference for the creative industries. “That’s why we chose Helsinki over London, Tokyo or Paris,” LoJudice said.
Modern Sky’s efforts to head west have followed a proven pattern. For Japanese festivals, the first step toward growth was to gain more exposure among Western audiences. Japan’s 20th Fuji Rock Festival was held in mid-July and may be the best-known music festival in Asia. “We book around 25 artists every year,” said Akira Okada, founder of the Taico Club festival, which focuses on intelligent dance music, a form of electronic dance music that emerged in the early 1990s.
“Half of them are from Western countries. They tell people in their countries that Taico Club is great, so we see more and more overseas audiences, especially from America and Europe,” Okada said.
The Vh1 Supersonic festival in Goa, India, was launched by radio DJ and MTV presenter Nikhil Chinapa, who was inspired after visiting different bars in Europe. The fact that English is widely spoken in India helped Chinapa in his efforts to expand Vh1 Supersonic. He and his wife started out by inviting DJs from Europe to host free beach parties.
The second step in the push westward by Asian music festivals is to build connections with overseas partners.
LoJudice has experience in the United States and an understanding of Chinese companies and artists. He came to China from New York in 2006 — when “everyone was looking for a Chinese partner” ahead of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.
After working in Modern Sky’s Beijing office for three months, he told CEO Shen that they could put together some partnerships. Shen said yes and the company launched its New York office.
“We were not sure how to sustain Mandarin rock music in a Manhattan office. How would the market react?” LoJudice said. He said work in the early stages largely involved websites and design projects for bigger New York City firms that outsourced to Modern Sky’s designers in China.
“We weren’t sure if we could sell any Mandarin rock records. How would it work for bands coming over? We just did anything that brought money back to the company. We were working 100 hours every week.”
It can be hard for Asian music companies or artists to gain traction with Western audiences.
There are just 69 albums in history that have sold more than 20 million copies worldwide and not one of those is Asian. Michael Jackson’s Thriller, released in 1982, has sold 65 million.
Although album sales are not the only way to rate music, they suggest that bringing Asian music to the West can be difficult. Most Asian music festivals in Western countries are held by, and for, local diasporas.
LoJudice said staging outdoor music festivals is never easy. “You need a lot of time. Visas (for artists) are a little complicated,” he said.
“When we produced our first overseas festival, our New York office didn’t have the connections we have now.”
And then there is the weather.
“Last year, in Central Park, we had a hurricane that week. We had a special guest who should have performed with Yoko Ono, but she got sick the day before and canceled, that was too bad. It would have been pretty crazy.”
Despite the challenges, Modern Sky has been successful and has emerged as the only major festival brand from China operating in the West. It gives Asian artists a greater chance of exposure to Western audiences and those same audiences a greater understanding of Asia, particularly China.
LoJudice said music can overcome language barriers. For example, many Americans have heard of Youku, the New York-listed China online video and streaming service platform, which is promoted in the US even though its content is in Chinese.
The third step may be the most crucial — to export artists and gigs. To do this, they might have to work more closely together.
Some Japanese bands and artists like Mono and Cuushe, respectively, have put on great performances overseas. But they are in the minority.
“Japanese artists are too shy to go out of Japan,” said Okada, who plans to launch a booking agency to create tour routes for artists who played at the Taico Club festival and to export Japanese artists to Western markets and to other locations such as South Korea and Hong Kong.
LoJudice said Asian festivals need more cooperation and better consolidation, to share networks and resources within Asia. At the same time, they need to borrow ideas from older overseas festivals in Europe and America.
“There are a lot of cool things happening in China, but the distribution channel is filtered. It’s really hard to get it to the rest of the world,” he said.
“People get interested in China, but the media usually talks about economics and politics. There is not a lot of information about ‘cool China’, such as independent music, movies and art.”
Festivals turn up the volume MUSIC EVENTS IN ASIA ARE MOVING INTO THE MAINSTREAM AS GROWTH TRANSFORMS SUBCULTURE INTO A POPULAR AND PROFITABLE INDUSTRY
FANS ENJOYING THEMSELVES AT THE STRAWBERRY MUSIC FESTIVAL IN BEIJING ON MAY 1, 2014. ASIAN MUSIC FESTIVALS ARE GROWING IN POPULARITY WITH MANY MORE PEOPLE, EVEN THOSE WHO ARE NOT DIE-HARD MUSIC FANS, WILLING TO TRY OUT DIFFERENT STYLES AND EXPERIENCES. AFP PHOTO / WANG ZHAO
By BONNIE WANG and ALFRED ROMANN in Hong Kong
From China to India and throughout Asia, music fans are coming out of the woodwork and going to festivals in droves. In turn, Asian music festivals are growing in both regional and global appeal.
Japan’s Fuji Rock Festival, for example, has been held every year for two decades. The 2016 iteration in July attracted 100,000 fans and some of the biggest names in music. Hong Kong’s Clockenflap, once an upstart event with appeal for a small community of expats, is moving to a space in the city center this year for its thousands of fans over three days in November.
For festival promoters, however, this shift towards the mainstream can be a profitable one and the growth is visible in multiple markets. In India, for example, fans are very dedicated and the room for expansion is huge.
None of the highest-grossing music festivals in the world are in Asia and there is nothing in the region like the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, held in California, which grossed $84 million last year.
“I went two or three times to festivals, but I’m not a die-hard fan. I feel it is hard to be one of them. They have a strong connection with each other. It’s hard to break into their network,” said Qiu Teng, a music lover who works at an Internet company.
Qiu and other new music fans like him underscore a shift in the music scene throughout Asia and in the music festivals that are such an important part of bridging the gap between musicians and people. While the music scene itself remains something of a subculture, music festivals have become increasingly popular and mainstream over the past few years — also more commercial.
Die-hard fans are in the minority among attendees. There are many more people who simply want to try out different styles and experiences.
“Music festivals are comprehensive. Everyone is welcome. It’s not the gig’s fault if a fan feels it is hard to join in,” said Shan Wei, chief executive of Beijing Midi Production Co, which produces Midi Festival, one of China’s largest rock festivals.
This shift is certainly helpful to the bottom lines for musicians, labels and promoters but it is also the focus of some criticism from those who say that consumerism is hurting the music scene.
Ironically, it is the very popularity of music festivals that is turning this music subculture into something more mainstream, commercial and profitable.
It’s in line with social development.
In June, The Asia Music Conference was held in Macao, its inaugural outing, in response to the explosive growth of music events in Asia. The conference focused in particular on electronic music events, which are booming in the region — especially in the Chinese mainland where festivals in second-tier cities often attract more than 50,000 people.
“The culture of music festivals is changing but it’s still advocating universal values, peace, equality and the support of each other. It’s in line with social development,” said Shan.
Greater social development often happens alongside economic development, and economic development translates into greater spending power. That, in turn, means more people willing to spend more on experiences like concerts and attending music festivals.
“What’s exciting is people in this country are eager to adopt new cultures and styles. Even if you take 10 percent of 100 million, 10 million is a huge number,” said Nikhil Chinaba, who started his career as a DJ, video jockey and emcee and is co-founder of two Indian music festivals.
Different genres attract different fans. Each group has its own tag and identity.
“India is an extremely large English-speaking territory. It is the largest English-speaking place outside of North America. This is a huge advantage,” Chinaba said. “International artists are always amazed that every Indian audience knows the lyrics of English songs. They tend to be very passionate.” Chinaba added that Indian music lovers are extremely vocal and appreciative, with fans willing to “travel two days to see their favorite artists”.
Different genres attract different fans. Each group has its own tag and identity.
Rock music lovers tend to be closely associated with protests, often against unfairness. Hip-hop lovers portray themselves as chasing the fast life, with cars and gold. Fans of electronic dance music (EDM) value experiences — they love parties and dancing, said Chinaba.
Most Asian outdoor music festivals are multi-genre, even if some of them have an underlying theme. The Strawberry Music Festival, held in Beijing, is more focused on folk music. Midi puts emphasis on rock.
“The Strawberry Music Festival is more of a fresh breeze. People are sitting on the small hills, holding hands and listening to the music. But in Midi, it’s a very different scenario, it’s tougher. It has a camping culture, encouraging fans to sleep in tents at night. Fans in Midi do something cooler,” said Pan Tianqi, a die-hard Midi fan who also runs Yao Lab, a music label.
And the bands themselves can take unusual approaches to their performances. King Ly Chee — a Hong Kong band that plays hardcore punk — stood out when performing at the Shenzhen New Year’s Midi Festival. One band member brought his son on stage and put him on his shoulder so that the child could shout into the microphone. “We were very excited to see that,” said Pan.
“Audiences are looking for real things,” said Shan. “Audiences don’t welcome lip-synching any more. They don’t want musicians who don’t give a true performance. Audiences have better taste now. They want something true.”
This search for new experiences and unique performances is leading to the emergence and growth in popularity of different types of music. And that is creating opportunities for artists and promoters.
EDM is hot in Asia, for example. EDM started as a fringe movement with four principles — peace, love, the universe and respect, which fans call PLUR. India has a huge EDM community. “Someone who listens to EDM values being at an event with friends more than owning a new phone. If you give them a choice, I think most of these people will choose EDM over an iPhone. They value experience over possession,” said Chinaba.
In music everything moves in a circle, he said, adding that what is popular today tends to be less popular a few years later.
“But we (music festival producers) don’t mind if it’s popular or not. We started it because we really love it,” Chinaba said.
“We love the culture of dance music. It encourages people to get together. Even if it’s not the most popular in the world, we still have a party and dancing.”