Are Singaporeans paying too much for concerts?

The cost of concert tickets is a constant gripe for regular gig-goers in Singapore, and our shows are widely acknowledged for costing punters significantly more than shows held in our regional counterparts including KL, Manila, and Australia.

Are the high ticket prices warranted, and can they be justified by a breakdown of costs? Have certain concert promoters earned themselves well-appointed reputations as “cash cows” without thought or conscience enough to consider the long-term sustainability of our live music industry in Asia? Or are the industry’s small fish (…or even the big ones) just unable to fully understand the implications of their actions?

Back in June, our China correspondent Xiao Zhong from Slink Rat sat down for an in-depth discussion with Chinese promoter Archie Hamilton about to the Asian concert promotion industry. In light of this, Other Sounds has dug deeper, to learn how local promoters price their tickets, why costs can’t be lowered any further, and why some things that work overseas just can’t be implemented in Singapore.

Matthew Lazarus-Hall
Chief Executive Officer, Chugg Entertainment (AU)
There are many factors that are taken into consideration when pricing tickets. We have to question whether it is a one-off event, or if the concert is part of a tour; this will greatly impact the costs for the artist. Also, we must know what else is going on in the market before coming to a conclusion on how to price tickets.

The ticket prices in Singapore cannot really be compared to that of Australia. As most deals are done in US dollars, so often, we are working on prices back from the artist cost.

It is great that Singapore is seen to be a music destination for increasing amounts of overseas artists as well as music-goers. This would have benefits to the music industry. However, the challenge is not to oversupply, as everyone has a limit to their disposable income.

Promoters should have the responsibility of self-regulation in the interests of not spoiling the market. As it is a commercial business; there isn’t any need for government regulation. Promoters, venues and ticketing companies need to instead work harder and more closely together to continue to create value and grow this business further.

Tim Kek
Director, Symmetry Entertainment
Generally, I feel that ticket prices for concerts in Singapore are slightly pricey, but it’s generally well within the range of affordability. As a kid, I used to rue the ticket prices that routinely burnt a hole in my pockets but as I eased into the business, I learnt the mechanics and dynamics of the industry and better understood the necessity of relatively higher ticket prices.

Most ask why countries like the US or Australia, and even SEA cities like Manila and Jakarta, are able to charge so much less for concerts. But using these places as a benchmark for concert ticket prices is unfair: for countries like the US and Australia, touring parties can travel from city to city by cheaper means of transportation (e.g. tour buses, coaches, or internal flights) whilst in the case of our tiny island, touring parties have to fly in and out, internationally, just for the one show. That’s one hefty aspect of cost right there. As for other countries in SEA like Manila and Jakarta, costs (such as venue hire, hotels, etc.) are much lower than those in Singapore.

I think it’s more of a question of why our ticket prices are high, rather than why our ticket prices are not low?

As a promoter, there are several factors that we consider in pricing. There are obviously high costs involved, and promoters would also like a decent crowd at the show to make it successful. Finding a balance between not losing money/making some, and keeping it affordable, is the biggest challenge.

The harsh reality is that, despite how passionate about music a concert promoter is, or how much they want to aid growth in this budding industry of ours, the concert promotion industry is still, after all, a business, and will operate as such in the free market. If a promoter prices a ticket at a certain price and demand is still forthcoming, there really is no incentive for the promoter to reduce prices for further shows.

Seah Seng Choon
Executive Director, Consumers Association of Singapore (CASE)
As we do not have the industry knowledge on the costs incurred by concert organizers locally or overseas, CASE is not in the position to comment on the discrepancy in pricing across countries.

What we do know is that prices are set by supply and demand, at a level the market can bear. I.e. consumers will only purchase tickets if the price is at a level they are willing to pay. Price is also a function of various factors such as rental, freight charges, transportation, manpower, etc., and our cost level may be different from other countries.

If concert organizers intend to draw an international crowd, then price comparison with other countries would make sense to ensure that our pricing is not way above the international market level. International events held locally may be less popular with tourists if our tickets are priced way above the level they can get back home, or elsewhere, given the same show. Having said that, tourists may be enticed by other factors such as safety, cleanliness, service quality or other attractions in our country. Price of concerts may be just one of the many considerations when tourists travel.

Higher pricing could be advantageous for Singapore and the music industry, but is really dependent on the ability of the concert organizers to attract patronage at that given price — pricing the tickets above what the market can bear may result in low turnout; pricing the tickets appropriately will generate greater number of patrons for the show to run viably. Such pricing decisions are for the business to make.

I believe that support from organizations, be it from private or public institutions, to promote the arts may help to lower costs and encourage participation. Would I attend more concerts, even of artists that I do not know, if prices were lower? The short answer is – yes, I would.

By Jared Rezel

Are Singapore’s live music venues up to scratch?

Live music venues can far too simply be overlooked as the public spaces in which audiences and artists meet — but they are so much more than that.

They are the spaces in which the audience can form opinions, and discern for themselves their own tastes; spaces in which artists are perhaps given the validation or encouragement to continue with their art; spaces in which promoters, students, organizations, can come together in the spirit of collaboration — spaces in which ultimately, commerce can arise from creativity to spark a whole new and sustainable cycle of creativity.

And with a growing furnish of venues in the Lion City, we set out to understand how big of a role they really play in our own slow-burning industry, and the ideas and hopes of members of our own music community.

Joseph Zhang
Owner, Hood Bar and Café
Our aim is to promote original, local music in the hopes that one day we can revive a local music culture reminiscent of the 80s, when local bands were held with the same regard as overseas acts. We hope to offer a space where musicians can showcase their works — but there will always be limitations for live venues.

For example, while almost all genres and acts are welcome, due to the fact that we are located in a shopping mall, the only genre we accept less of is death metal as it gets too loud and would turn a bulk of our customers away.

More venues allowing local bands to perform their originals during ‘prime time’ instead of on the quieter nights would definitely create a more vibrant movement in our music community, similar to the ‘live house’ culture of Japan and Taiwan. Being a live music venue that pays extra attention to hosting local music, our biggest challenge is in enticing a new crowd for our Saturday Originals Session (SOS), especially for the newer bands, so it’s just as important for the crowd to seek out new music as it is for venues to facilitate it.

In terms of numbers, we’ve definitely seen a marked increase in live music venues, but not all of them are quite up to scratch yet. And if you’re talking about the ones supporting original music, that number dwindles significantly.

Programming-wise, we are also seeing a very encouraging increase in the number of performance avenues for original music, from corporate-sponsored platforms such as the Ben Sherman Sessions to the very regular Identite gigs at Home Club to “imported” concepts such as the recently concluded first edition of Sofar Sounds. But there’s something to be said about putting local music in unexpected places like schools, ‘heartlands’, or trailers on TV, and not enough Singaporean artists have experienced the thrill of hearing their music on the radio for the first time.

It is not as much about the number of venues than it is about making local music more prevalent in the average person’s life. Perhaps it is in our Singaporean nature to think that music is not something that we take as seriously or something that we can call ourselves “professionals” at. We don’t seem to be very used to paying for local shows — a fact not lost on certain gig organisers — which ultimately serves to devalue the very bands we claim to support.

On the flip side, even bands that can pull a paying crowd cannot expect to do so week-in-week-out. The market is just too small. That said, if bands do their part in delivering great music, and if venues make sure that there are other draws for customers besides the live music, it just might be possible for everyone to come away happy.

Mae Ng
Founder, Upsurge Productions
The availability of live music venues has a massive impact on our music industry, especially if Singapore wishes to be a core part of the South East Asian touring circuit for international bands.

I think we could do with a bit more variety and open-mindedness in terms of programming, especially when it comes to what some venues have titled the ‘heavy-music’ genre — we’ve been turned down before simply because they were afraid that the music would disturb surrounding residences, and have had to reject some band offers because we could not find the right venue to hold the show in. Ultimately, it’s a real shame for the fans.

More live music venues gives promoters more choices, but it does not necessarily mean growth for the scene in the long-run. Venue owners need to be open to a variety of programmes. Take House of Blues, a premier live music venue that has 13 different chains of live music halls around the US. It may be called ‘House of Blues’, but they often hold shows ranging from pop-punk to hardcore, and have played a huge part in helping many up-and-coming bands succeed.

Music could really be a lucrative industry for the government, especially for tourism. Festivals, like Belgium’s TomorrowLand, that are packaged with flights and hotels, draw a sea of tourists — perhaps Singapore could be the next music mecca destination in Southeast Asia.

Mish’aal Nasar, Box Office and Outreach Executive; and Nur Khairiyah Bin Ramli, Programme Manager
The Substation
MN: Our venues can do a lot more to support local bands by offering more opportunities to perform original material. The Substation has always been open to local bands, whether it’s with our in-house programmes or venue hirers, and we’re always on the lookout for performers who are willing to push the boundaries and create their own material.

It is great to see the government investing more in local music, but what is really needed is the cultivation of an audience that supports the local music scene and some of the more experimental gigs where performers challenge conventional forms of sound. Unfortunately, I don’t think that’s something government intervention could have a very big impact on.

NK: Our programming is geared at giving performers an opportunity to try something new. The last thing we want to do is limit artists — we want to encourage new works, new approaches and new sounds. We also try and keep ticketed shows as affordable as possible, for example the Tribal Gathering of Tongue Tasters, a collaborative series curated by our Associate Artist Bani Haykal, is keep it to $10 to $15 a ticket, which seems to have worked well so far.

For other series that tend to be more experimental, venues can try to encourage more people to come along by making the events free.

By Sylvia Koh

Indie radio: Is it possible, and can it make a difference?

As shown by the response of the industry when a local content quota for radio was rejected by the MDA, and more recently a suggestion by MP Sylvia Lim of the Workers’ Party to have local music encouraged — but not mandated — to be played in public spaces, the Singapore music community is ready to see support for our musicians on a larger scale.

Discussion always leans towards the general notion that we need to provide more outlets for our musicians to be heard, but as a relatively young country with an even younger music industry, we have yet to establish the foundations of a fully activated eco-system — one in which independent radio often plays an extremely important role.

Aloysius Tan
General Manager, RADIOactive
Many things point to independent FM radio in Singapore not happening — the requirements and fees make it impossible to acquire an FM license. And it only stacks on the odds if the station is going to be a torch bearer for local music.

I can’t recall a totally independent FM radio station being attempted in Singapore before, but there was a time where there was some kind of a ‘mandate’ to play more local music and a radio station that had ‘local music’ as a category in the Radio Music Awards. We had winners, and a pretty good crop of contenders, but there was a lack of local support — perhaps even apathy?

Regardless, a radio station or even simply mandating a local content quota for broadcast radio is not the solution. A whole eco-system has to be built and many things have to come into play. Unfortunately, the pragmatic, smart money will not enter for the long haul because in today’s world, music isn’t as sexy as 3D animated movies or an online game that would propel Singapore as a media hub.

Times have changed though, and technology has improved by leaps and bounds, with some enterprising local musicians, DJs and producers creating their own spaces on the internet — but is and always will be a question of stamina and sustainability: honing your skills and finding the money to keep the lights on.

Beyond the efforts of everyone trying to maintain their own pursuits, perhaps we, as an industry, should try pooling our resources and working more closely together.

Natalie Files
Head of Promotions and Publicity, Inertia Music (Australia)
Independent radio is extremely important for Inertia. For example, FBi [Radio, Sydney’s leading community radio station] plays 80% of Inertia’s releases — they are essential to us. A lot of record companies are relying on these community stations that – compared to commercial radio stations — take risks.

They have the freedom to be able to make their own choices — they support the ‘riskier’ stuff that commercial radio and even Triple J [state-owned Australian radio station] can’t, the more eccentric stuff that wouldn’t normally go anywhere.

Simply having avenues other than commercial radio available helps. For music to do well, it has to be familiar — the more places they hear it, the better. It’s about full engagement: hearing the music on the radio; being able to download the track on iTunes; seeing it in print; it’s all part of it, the whole industry.

In terms of sustainability, the thing that will always help independent radio to stay alive is the community itself, who is first and foremost, built around the music. The radio stations themselves also need to have an incredible vision of what they are doing — they have to know what they stand for and what their station is going to sound like, because their listeners need to trust them.

I think with FBi, they’ve created a loyalty so strong that their listeners would never let anything happen to it, be that being shut down or taken off the air for whatever reason. The majority of their staff are volunteers as well, and I really respect that — it shows the passion behind the station.

Everything they do to build up their brand is so important in making sure that they stick around. With their supporter drives, open days, the FBi Social, and everything else they do, they include their listeners as part of the station — it’s like a social enterprise.

Chris Ho
Musician, author, rock n’ roller
The Singapore music industry would naturally benefit from the presence of an independent or community radio station on the airwaves, but our government has so much control over all forms of public media in the country that it’s not about to relinquish.

Our radio industry has long experienced ‘artificial competition’ since its early days under absolute government control. What should have been a matter of business, was to them a matter of losing control. There was literally no growth in the industry until Radio Batam knocked the complacency out of Singapore radio in the 1990s, without whom radio stations like Class95, 987FM, and more, wouldn’t exist.

Now, even with the tune of ‘inclusive society’ being sung and no doubt all kinds of government-aided ‘alternatives’ being established in an effort to revive the local music scene, the fight will always be an uphill battle. You could say that I’m too cynical to bother with these alternatives, but the fact is that local music has yet to rise again (from the late 1960s) because as with the arts, the economy will always be our country’s first priority — as if they see no actual intrinsic value in music & the arts itself.

All that said, the internet has turned things upside down, making way for completely independent enterprises to exist. SONAR Radio is a good example — you can tell from its content that it is completely independent.

By Melissa Yong

The SEA touring circuit: Are we doing all we can?

There are more artists emerging in Singapore than ever before but is there enough room here for them to grow and develop themselves? We explore the value Southeast Asian touring circuit and the opportunities it presents in offering local and regional artists a wider platform from which to grow.

Keith Tan
Founder/CEO, Slate Entertainment; and Founder, Just Push Play Music
The SEA touring circuit is definitely more solid than it was ten years ago. For local and regional independent acts though, touring is definitely still in its infancy and needs a lot more development and time to take shape.

There should be a more combined and concerted effort to improve the touring circuit for SEA artists but that said, it will be difficult, considering that touring, like everything else, depends a lot on preference and market potential, which are not the same across the board.

Southeast Asia specifically is a very unique region as we are talking about over ten countries (not even counting the individual cities!) and possibly over five main languages, thus, there are so many factors that would affect the commercial viability of an artist. That said, there is development happening at various levels at the moment and I do see things moving forward, just possibly not as quickly as we’d like. I always believe individual initiative plays a big part in making things happen, and things always move more smoothly as long as agendas are aligned.

I also think a sense of open-mindedness always helps. Venues and clubs across the region need to start seeing themselves as more than just presenters, promoters and venues; but rather as a part of the process of developing our artists and in turn, the productivity of our industry. Unfortunately, not many small to mid-sized venues in the region think that way just yet. They’d rather go safe with a resident band playing covers (not that there is anything wrong with that!).

While I’m on that note, I think artists should also start seeing themselves as business owners looking to forge business partnerships with venues and promoters if they want to add the touring aspect to their careers. They need to find ways to make headway into the markets that they wish to tour in rather than offer up their craft and wait for someone to take all the risk and ‘buy’ it. The benefits for artists would be endless as they unlock another side to their careers – touring.

Sameer Sadhu
Partner, Secret Signals
There are bars and venues all over SEA but I don’t believe that artists from Singapore are doing all they can to take advantage of them. I get it, it can add up, but you can easily drive to KL once every other month, or trade shows with bands in Indonesia or Hong Kong. Investing in regional touring does cost, and artists won’t see the value in it unless they are thinking long-term.

Maybe that’s the biggest issue in Singapore, that bands don’t view themselves in the long-term (beyond just one EP release) or have a clear vision of who they are, what they want to be and how they are going to get there. There are bands that do it, they just don’t do it often enough. It’s never just about the first tour – it’s that fourth tour down the line when people are still coming out and bringing their friends.

I think there is more value in this than artists trying to save thousands of dollars to play big festivals where no one will give a shit about them. Sure, people will say, “That’s cool, you’re from Singapore,” but then what? You aren’t going to be back anytime soon and you just spent the last six months saving to play this show, neglecting to develop a fan base in your surrounding countries.

Overall, I think it’s an artist’s job – not a label’s and not society’s – to make sure that they’re making the right connections. Work smarter. Be confident. Don’t make excuses. And always know your value. There’s this age old tale that bands need managers and labels. The industry doesn’t work that way – it’s about building your team. Managers and labels work with you to help reach your goals and vision. A great label that does this is Kitty Wu. Kitty Wu is a fantastic team. Their bands understand where they want to be; and the label simply facilitates that. If you aren’t going to be smart or sell your own music, why would anyone else?

Jon Chan
Lead singer, Plainsunset
So far, no one has successfully built a full network of promoters in all the SEA countries. There have been attempts, but nothing really concrete has come about, except for maybe on a per-project basis.

Ideally, promoters should be able to work together as a sort of ‘conglomerate’, a syndicated network that would just facilitate the process much more quickly. Everyone’s trying to run their own businesses though, and inevitably, things tend to get competitive. I guess it becomes a question of whether or not we trust the guys on the other end, and multiply that by the number of countries and cities we have in Southeast Asia and that’s a very difficult thing to coordinate.

I think for starters, promoters need to develop stronger relationships with each other, and build trust and understanding. That’s where the hanging out and drinking comes into play. In our own circle, we have good relationships with specific promoters in other countries so that if anything comes up; they are the first that we ask, and vice-versa.

We know there’s a level of trust, and that we need each other. Ideally, we should try to use the ‘I-scratch-your-back-you-scratch-mine’ rule and recognize the symbiotic relationship between promoters and artists.

By Melissa Yong