Singapore. Faced with stubbornly feeble economies back home, more Western music acts are being lured to play in Asia to boost their profiles in a region where disposable incomes are growing, say experts.
Festival organizers say a rising number of North American and European acts are accepting cuts in their performance fees for the chance to build a fan base in Asia, an comparatively economically vibrant region hosting most of the world’s seven billion population.
“Some artists do take lower fees … They see the big opportunity in developing a market for themselves in markets like China and India,” said Alan Ridgeway, president of international and emerging markets for Live Nation Entertainment, one of the world’s leading concert promoters.
“They could use festivals as a platform to introduce their music to a new audience, they can then come back and do multi–city tours and start building a following,” Ridgeway said at the Music Matters conference in Singapore in late May.
Japan, by various measures the world’s second largest music market after the United States, has traditionally always been able to attract high profile western acts and its Fuji Rock festival is considered to be Asia’s biggest.
But Western indie acts are making pit stops elsewhere in Asia’s growing festival scene, even though these events lack the profile of the likes of the famed Glastonbury festival in the United Kingdom or Coachella in the US.
Glastonbury performer Yuck played at Singapore’s St. Jerome’s Laneway festival in May this year, while UK bands The Cribs and Bombay Bicycle Club appeared at Hong Kong’s harbourfront Clockenflap festival in 2011.
The Pull of Asia
The world’s 50 biggest concert tours — most of them held in European and North American cities — sold a combined total of 35.5 million tickets in 2011, an 8.7 percent drop from the year earlier, according to trade magazine Pollstar.
As audiences dwindle in Europe, the pull of Asia’s upwardly mobile middle class is attracting Western acts to the region, said Mindy Coppin, vice-president and managing director at talent management company IMG Artists.
“Western artistes have identified that the Asia market is growing when the Western markets are suffering due to economic difficulties,” she told AFP, adding that Asian “audiences have greater disposable income”.
In its latest forecasts released this month, the World Bank predicted that gross domestic product in East Asia and the Pacific will grow by 7.6 percent this year, compared to a 0.3 percent contraction in debt-hit Europe.
The US economy is expected to grow by 2.1 percent, it said.
Organisers say the widening musical palette of local audiences is also a key factor for the rising reputation of Asia for attracting bands.
“With increasing use of social media and Internet, audiences are exposed to many music genres apart from popular music,” said Tay Pui Lin, an assistant director at Esplanade Theatres on the Bay, the organizer of Singapore’s Mosaic Music festival.
The eight-year old event has featured the likes of retro band ‘Craft Spells’ and indie folk outfit ‘Blind Pilot’, while also leaving room for headline acts such as Jason Mraz and Rachael Yamagata.
Promoters say that as more acts discover their audiences in the East, they help contribute to a snowball effect with more bands coming over.
“If you’d told me five years ago I’d be putting The Jesus and Mary Chain on in Hong Kong, I would have fallen over,” said Jane Blondel of Songs for Children, a Hong Kong based promoter that hosted the Scottish band in the Chinese territory and Singapore this year.
“The Internet has changed things. When we started we had to use very grassroots tactics, postering and flyering and using Facebook. Now as more bands play, the bands and managers know each other and if they have a great time they’ll encourage others to go.”
Attitudes are also changing in China, the world’s most populous nation and second largest economy which was once averse to the disorder and rowdiness that comes with such rockfests, according to festival organizer Scarlett Li.
Music aficionados in China are now willing to pay to attend such events, a concept unheard of just ten years ago, said Li, the chief executive of music platform Zebra Media at the Singapore conference.
“We have less baggage (than before) in China, and our audience has the stomach to take on different kinds of music,” said Li.
Paul Dankmeyer, who organizes Indonesia’s Java Jazz festival, said international acts are vital for the long-term sustainability of Asian music festivals.
“The audience wants to see their heroes in the mix of international renowned artists. They would not spend money just to see their local heroes perform on their own,” he said.
Local musicians are however ambivalent, fearing the influx of Western acts into the region may smother promising local talents.
“Artistic inspiration from overseas is definitely essential,” Tim De Cotta, a bassist with Singaporean hip-hop band Sixx, told AFP.
“But festival organizers also have the responsibility in shaping the local music scene. There must be a quota to limit foreign acts in festivals,” he said.