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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