By The Editors
The first Taiwan Asean Music Action (TAMA) forum held in May 29 titled “Taiwan Music Export Opportunities and Challenges in ASEAN” addressed challenges and questions regarding today’s music industry landscape in ASEAN countries and how can it build sustainable communities within its communities and also be a thriving space for musicians outside the region, including Taiwan.
The Rest Is Noise co-founder and creative director MC Galang joined the panel moderated by Ali Johan (BFM, Malaysia), which featured John Huang (Atrip, Taiwan), Fikri Fadzil (The Wknd Sessions, Malaysia), Satria Ramadhan (SRM, Indonesia), as well as All of the Noise 2019 panel speakers Piyapong ‘Py’ Muenprasertdee (Fungjai, Thailand) and David Siow (M1LDL1FE, Singapore) to tackle these questions: How can Taiwanese musicians, especially younger up-and-coming bands, break past this barrier and establish themselves outside the Sinosphere? What are the resources and methods that musicians can use to connect with Southeast Asian markets? And what role can Southeast Asian music communities play to help these musicians make the leap?
The roughly one-hour panel discussed how Taiwanese acts, especially non-mainstream ones, can break past the language and cultural barriers and make a name for themselves in the region.
Building your network
Muenprasertdee kicks things off with a basic but critical piece of advice. “Make friends,” he tells the audience. Referencing fellow panelist John Huang’s experiences, Py highlights the importance of using social media and platforms such as YouTube and Spotify to connect with bands in other countries.
“You befriend them, you ask if you can visit them and play shows, and then they invite you, and then you invite them over. That friendship builds a fanbase,” Muenprasertdee explains.
Huang follows up with an equally important point about listening to and becoming familiar with a particular country’s music and culture. “You have to find out what they like and build a connection. If you just go there and say, ‘Hey, we’re Taiwanese artists,’ nobody cares.”
Connections are only the start, though; it’s what bands do with these connections that also matters. Singapore’s Siow suggests that collaborations are an excellent way to break into a foreign market while also highlighting the need to make friends with industry figures and players.
TRIN’s MC Galang takes Siow’s point up and emphasizes the importance of attending showcase festivals. These festivals offer a brilliant opportunity for bands to make a name for themselves amongst industry figures, which can lead to concert and festival appearances down the line.
“You need to put yourself out there. If you just put out your music and do no marketing or outreach, we’re not going to find you,” Galang reminds the audience.
The discussion leads into one of the central points of the whole forum: the need for digital savviness. Whether using social media to establish new connections or promote yourself to the right audience, the panel unanimously agrees that bands need to take advantage of the internet.
Indonesia’s Satria Ramadhan shares that Indonesians are particularly enamored with TikTok, suggesting that Taiwanese acts look into breaking through on TikTok first before trying to tour the country. He puts forth the idea that Sunset Rollercoaster’s massive popularity in Indonesia has a lot to do with their popularity on TikTok and Spotify.
But digital savviness isn’t just about knowing how to make it big on social media. As Taiwan’s Huang points out, services such as Spotify offer bands a great insight into their listener demographics. This information makes it a lot easier to find and target potentially more receptive audiences.
Know your market—and find them
Huang also emphasises the importance of researching and understanding the media landscape in a particular country. In Thailand, for example, he mentions Py’s Fungjai as an excellent first point of contact for the media. But it’s vital to understand audience habits; Huang notes that Filipino listeners still find new music from the radio, which they listen to during traffic jams. So, based on that, bands interested in the Philippines would do well to contact radio stations over other media outlets.
“But don’t be annoying!” Huang says with a laugh. Galang echoes the sentiment, reminding the audience that sending out mass emails might not be the best idea. “It might be smarter to find out who the ‘players’ are” and be more selective when sending out promotional content. “Do your research, and do your outreach. And be prepared with your press kit, all that kind of stuff.”
It’s a critical point not just for Taiwanese bands but also for any band looking to make a name for themselves in a different country or region. Writing good music is the foundation, but a willingness to learn about consumer habits and the media landscape of other countries is equally important. And this is all work that bands can do through the internet.
Optimizing your DIY music marketing
An audience member asked about the best form for a press kit or promotional material. Website? PDF? Something in between?
“A website is better,” he begins. Still, it doesn’t hurt to have a PDF one-sheet to send out, and he suggests bands do more than just talking about the music they play. “Tell us a bit about your life and your career. Sometimes I want to know about who you are and what your background is, more than just the music.”
Py adds that it’s best to do three things: have a website, prepare a PDF one-sheet, and put together an electronic press kit. In his experience, delegates at music conferences treat websites as “more professional.”
Satria adds that a “good-looking” Instagram account can help in Indonesia, which is something that Galang echoes for the Philippines. “Don’t stop at just having social media accounts,” she says. “It’s important to stay social; don’t just have an account to show that you’re on social media. Stay connected to the audience.”
Touring the region
The panel also discusses touring with limited resources. It’s a topic panellists Fikri and Siow are well-equipped to sound off on, as musicians themselves.
“It’s about finding markets with the highest return on investment,” Siow explains. “You can tour 10 or 20 different countries, but if none of them like your music, it’s wasted money.” So it’s essential to be smart about touring and not book shows just for the sake of it.
He brings up bands such as Elephant Gym and Sunset Rollercoaster as solid examples of bands who took the showcase festival route to maximise the return from their live appearances.
Fikri, who’s toured Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore under his Bayangan moniker, offers a different perspective on playing abroad. “If it’s more about the community and experience, touring the DIY way is a great way to learn about yourself. You’re putting yourself out there, and you strengthen yourself as an artist.”
It’s a valid route to gain experience before trying to sell yourself at industry-facing showcase events. And, for bands just starting out, it’s an excellent way to learn about inter-band dynamics. “Tour locally first, to see if you and your band members can get along,” Fikri says.
The panel then addresses how best to set up a SEA tour and whether it’s best to go through a single booker or reach out to individual venue owners.
“Southeast Asia doesn’t have an official network of booking agents,” Py starts. While bookers do have connections with each other and talk about coordinating bookings for prominent international artists, indie bands will “probably have to talk to a lot of people.” Py also brings up Southeast Asia’s split weather cycles, which we discussed in our guide to touring Thailand.
“I don’t think it’s that important for an artist to play all 10 Southeast Asian countries in one go,” Siow adds. He suggests splitting up a Southeast Asian tour to work around the weather and festival seasons and reduce downtime. Southeast Asia’s proximity to Taiwan is a boon in this regard, as it’s relatively quick and affordable to travel back and forth a few times a year.
Before we know it, time’s up. While audience questions continue to flood in, time, as ever, proves the limiting factor. While moderator Ali Johan and the panellists all offer valuable closing thoughts that sum up the key points of the talk, David Siow’s more general advice resonates the most.
“A music career isn’t a sprint; it’s a marathon. Take your time to think and deliberate about things, and your career will be more fruitful. So there’s really no hurry.”
Words to live by, regardless of career.