The Conference Last week, for two days and three nights, the MusicMatters conference in Singapore brought together musicians, publishers, record labels, live promoters, music technologists and others with a stake in the Asian music. There were panels, interviews, live music showcases and loads of “networking.” My reasons for being there were simple – I’m moving […]
Last week, for two days and three nights, the MusicMatters conference in Singapore brought together musicians, publishers, record labels, live promoters, music technologists and others with a stake in the Asian music. There were panels, interviews, live music showcases and loads of “networking.”
My reasons for being there were simple – I’m moving to Singapore soon and need to connect with people in the Singapore (and South East Asian) music industry. Thankfully, there were plenty of local and regionally based people in attendance.
It certainly felt like a different mix of people this year. I met more folks involved in indie music (especially local scenes) and different genres (like Jazz and World, for example) as well as a lot more people from the tech/startup/online side of things.
For the most part the panels were good, passionate and often quite candid. There were great moments; like Alex Ljung of SoundCloud challenging the potential of cloud/locker based services (bringing to life what was becoming a very jargon heavy session) – and legendary concert promoter Michael Chugg colourfully highlighting the corrosive effect of sponsors giving away free tickets to Asian concerts.
Great Panels & Performances
The conference opened with a cool performance by eleven year old rock-wunderkid, Yuto Miyazawa (whose flights were arranged more to limit his days out of school than to secure a good night’s sleep!). In fact there were great performances throughout the whole two days of the conference – along with Miyazawa we also heard singer-songwriter Sandy Sondoro (what a voice!), brilliant guitarist Pavlo, Japanese music legend Kreva, Hip-Hop artist Masia One and, of course, Imogen Heap.
Much of the first day was focussed on technology, startups, cloud services and social media (there were also panels on funding live tours and focus sessions on Japan and Indonesia). The quality of the discussions varied, some big names retreated into hyperbole and jargon, but most of the panelists were upfront and the conversations highly relevant.
When the dynamic of a conference is good, the sessions and panels will fuel discussions outside, over coffee or food. That was certainly the case on the second morning, when we had two contrasting panels on China.
One was made up of musicians, producers, promoters, and DJs connected to the Indie scene, who described a nascent, anarchic and very dynamic music culture where it is very hard to make money. The other panel was comprised of people working more in corporate and business to business space who talked a lot about the lucrative “potential” of the market and the packaging of music as “content.”
We also had panels on the Indian Music scene, live touring in Asia, music and advertising and other Asian music scenes. There was a strong panel on publishing, which highlighted both the good things that are happening in that area (with improving access to different databases and attempts to create global publishing databases) along with the challenges we face (sadly, with very little mention of how make access to publishing contracts easier for upcoming artists or those creating music for apps, games and software).
Two Brilliant Keynote Interviews
For most people the highlights were the two keynote interviews, with Imogen Heap and Steve Lillywhite respectively. Both were funny, profound and inspiring. It was also great to see both Heap and Lillywhite around the conference and not just during their moments in the spotlight (in fact, Lillywhite was there at the band showcases!).
Imogen Heap was an excellent choice for this conference. As a successful artist who has learnt to use social media in a smart, creative and fun way, she represents a good role model for upcoming musicians. She has used data from her blog and twitter readership to plan tours, sourced material for songs and artwork from her fans (for which she pays them!) and booked support acts and musicians for her tours via online auditions.
But, most important of all, she is a great performer. Her normal stage show involves a lot of sampling, looping and effects. But for this performance it was just her and an electric piano and she totally captivated a hall full of music industry professionals. You can’t do what she does, on stage, online and in the studio, without a real commitment of time and talent.
The brilliantly entertaining interview with Steve Lillywhite also reinforced the importance of a strong work ethic. Lillywhite’s discography is extraordinary – not least because it includes the first three U2 albums, including War, which many regard as one of the best, most iconic guitar-driven records ever produced. Lillywhite made clear that the one thing he cannot stand is complacency – which he considers an even worse trait than a lack of talent.
The contrast between the attitudes and values of Heap, Lillywhite, Kreva, Pavlo, Miyazawa, Sondoro and One were in stark contrast with the session introducing manufactured candy-pop band Blush. Apparently they were due to perform, but, we were told, they couldn’t make it because they were in LA. OK. Whatever.
Instead of a live showcase we got the most tedious corporate slideshow-presentation I’ve seen in a long time. Apparently the company behind them is really professional. Apparently the women in the group have been picked from a bunch of different countries so they can “represent Asia” (whatever that means). Apparently they are preparing for a professional career by doing pilates, attending photo-shoots and crying into camera for a reality TV show.
In fact, the chatter amongst attendees I spoke to only highlighted a handful of negatives. Blush was the obviously the first. The panel on “making money” in China and some of the hype around cloud services were also criticised. Some thought there were too many people on some panels (I’m in two minds about that). And, then there was the question of Singapore’s “place” in the conference.
Making A Scene
Around the middle of the second day a little discontent started to surface, outside the conference hall and online – something to do with the conference not having enough Singaporean representation. As someone who is moving to Singapore in a few weeks, I was very curious to understand what that was all about.
In my view, the fact that, after five years in Hong Kong, MusicMatters had decided to move to Singapore said a lot about the city already. There was a strong representation of Singapore government agencies in the event, there were Singaporeans and Singapore based companies represented on the panels, the “for charity” recording was mixed in a Singapore studio and coordinated by a Singapore based company. And, of course, there were Singaporean bands in the live music showcase at Clarke Quay.
Of course, it could be argued that MusicMatters should, in the future, have an even greater focus on the local Singaporean scene. But, it’s also worth pausing to consider what is involved in creating a big presence at an an event like this.
Canada and Australia were very visible at MusicMatters, both in terms of panelists and bands in the showcase, but they also have substantial organisations behind their work and a strong collaborative spirit. China had a really good showcase, but again they had a lot people pulling that together and aggressive support from a corporate sponsor. Belgium and Finland also had well organised contingents at the event.
Supporting bands just because they come from your home town (or region) is worthy but ultimately kind of limited. It is true that people starting out need encouragement, coaching and support. It’s also true that developing a passionate (if small) local scene can help create some momentum for musicians.
But, now, more than ever, music is global and expecting people to support you, just because you are a local is increasingly a strategy for disappointment and heartache. Being a “local” only matters in ways that, ultimately are not that important when it comes to making great music (unless you make traditional, or ethnically specific music, of course). There needs to be a more expansive approach than that – something that can pull collaborators into the cause and is focussed outward, to a global audience.
On the plane back to Hong Kong it really hit me that the conference had a strong theme around creating music – far more than last year. In fact, it gave musicians a lot to think about; work hard, find your voice, collaborate with and support other artists, don’t be afraid to talk to sponsors, think about your rights, make it count live and in the studio and be savvy about how to share your work online and connect with your fans.
There’s a strategy for making your music matter. And, this conference had lots of that on display – I’m glad I took the time out to be there!