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A long road to recovery: Promoters in Asia talk Covid-19

As some residents in the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the disease now known as Covid-19 originated in November, leave their houses for the first time in months, IQ turns to promoters in China and the wider Asia-Pacific region to find out if this means a return to business as usual any time soon.

“People are cautiously optimistic,” Archie Hamilton, managing director of Shanghai-based promoter Split Works tells IQ, noting that some clubs – but no live venues – in Shanghai opened their doors for the first time in months last weekend. “We have a while longer until things open up properly.”

Although Split Works has projects ongoing in its brand business, which has been active in China for around 15 years, and is looking into moving into the livestreaming sector, Hamilton states that the core part of his business – live events – “is not coming back any time soon”.

Zhang Ran, director of international business at Modern Sky, echoes this sentiment, saying that “nothing has changed here yet for the music industry” and adding that “some venues likely won’t survive”.

Although the situation “is getting better” with regards to the virus, Zhang believes it will be a month or two until Modern Sky will be able to hold shows again and “probably longer for [shows by] international bands, given the virus situation elsewhere.”

Zhang says that Modern Sky is currently looking to book shows for November.

Elsewhere in Asia, Tommy Jinho Yoon, president of Korea’s International Creative Agency (ICA), says that everything “is calming down” in comparison to a lot of places around the world.

“We just need to band together as an industry and try to make things work, and be good humans at the same time”

Yesterday (23 March), South Korea reported the lowest number of new coronavirus cases since infection rates hit their peak four weeks ago. Although the virus has led to the shuttering of many events and venues in Korea, some popular musical theatre productions have continued to enjoy successful runs over the past few months.

“The Covid-19 madness is not completely over yet, but we are anticipating and hoping that the majority of this gets settled down by May or June,” Jinho Yoon tells IQ.

Matthew Lazarus-Hall, senior vice-president for AEG Presents’ Asia-Pacific division, states that, although China and other countries in Asia appear to be over the curve of the pandemic, the situation in many other parts of the world continues to put the brakes on international touring.

“The challenge is that a lot of artists can’t tour due to quarantine measures,” says Lazarus-Hall. “I anticipate that this situation will continue for many months, with everyone rescheduling tours until the back half of the year, and then maybe longer.”

With government restrictions on events and other public gatherings still in place across much of Asia, domestic touring remains difficult too.

China still has a complete event ban in place, whereas a surge in new cases of the virus led to a ban on gatherings of more than 250 people over the weekend in Singapore and a resumption of social distancing measures in Hong Kong.

“At AEG Presents, the plan is evolving every day based on government regulations, the industry and doing the right thing by our artists and staff, and we are reacting, and modifying our plans in real time,” says Lazarus-Hall.

“There’s no rulebook here, we just need to band together as an industry and try to make things work, and be good humans at the same time.”


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Concerts cancelled over coronavirus concerns

A number of live shows in China, Hong Kong and Singapore have been called off or postponed in recent weeks over fears related to the spread of the coronavirus.

Over 7,700 cases of the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) have been confirmed in China, with the death toll now standing at 170. The virus, which originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan, is believed to have spread to 22 countries, including Thailand, Japan, Malaysia, Taiwan, Singapore, South Korea, France and the United States.

“There have been a couple of cancellations already, and I’m sure there will be more to come,” Archie Hamilton of Shanghai-based promoter Split Works tells IQ, explaining that mass gatherings were cancelled over the Chinese New Year and schools and businesses closed in an attempt to contain the virus.

“I imagine this will continue into March,” says Hamilton, who notes that Split Works is “monitoring the situation closely” due to upcoming tour dates by Stereolab and Mika in Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Hangzhou.

Zhang Ran, director of international business at Modern Sky, tells IQ that the promoter cancelled a number of shows in February “to avoid both artists and audiences getting affected by this virus”, adding that all fans received full refunds.

“We have updated artists that are coming for tours in March with the virus situation,” continues Zhang. “We will see how it goes for the next few weeks and see if we still can do these shows.

“From the artists’ side, most totally understand the situation – some of them agree to postpone the tour and for those who find it difficult to postpone, they are willing to refund the show fee.”

“From the artists’ side, most totally understand the situation”

Shows by US rock band X Ambassadors in the Chinese cities of Shanghai and Chengdu, as well as concerts by Japanese rock group Suchmos, are among those to have fallen foul to the virus.

Acts playing outside of China have also called off shows. Canto-pop star Andy Lau recently pulled 12 concerts at the 12,500-capacity Hong Kong Coliseum, with organisers citing health and safety concerns. Lau is currently scheduled to perform in the city of Wuhan in April. It is unclear if the show will go ahead as planned.

Upcoming shows by K-pop acts Taeyon and NCT Dream have also been postponed due to “coronavirus proliferation concerns”. Promoter One Production, which was last year acquired by Live Nation, states that it “will continue to act on advice from the authorities on the coronavirus and take precautionary measures in line with prevention efforts.”

Live Nation have also cancelled a show in Singapore, by singer Miriam Yeung, “due to the current freight and travel conditions in China”.

Although the virus was discovered at an early stage and could be “fully under control very soon”, Modern Sky’s Zhang predicts it may take “at least six months to get the whole industry back on track,” adding that some artists that have shows scheduled for as far ahead as April are looking to postpone the whole Asian leg of their tour.

“This is a fight between humans and a virus,” says Zhang, “and I don’t think we have any other option.”

Photo: Huandy618/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0) (cropped)


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Go local to achieve global: Asia’s growing live industry

There’s an old joke amongst local music fans that Asia must be an “extra-terrestrial.” Because until very recently, every time a band announced a “world tour,” they’d orbit around the Asian continent like it was an alien moon.

Thankfully, the 2010s have seen the business of live music expand to all corners of the globe. Where once, festivals and touring were limited to the core markets of North America, Europe and Australia (with a little Japan and South America thrown in the mix), the last decade has seen dramatic growth in the newly developing markets of Asia, the Middle East and Africa. It was estimated that there were nearly 300 music festivals in China alone in 2018, up from a mere three in 2007.

An ever-growing number of Western artists come through the region with increasing regularity at all levels of the live spectrum. New venues and festivals have sprung up from Jaipur to Hanoi, Chongqing to Ulaanbaatar, and ticket prices have increased many-fold as disposable income and willingness to spend goes up in all markets. Asian talent is now heading west, with Korean, Chinese and Japanese music touring the US, appearing in showcase festivals in the UK, testing radio waves on and offline, and fans buying billboards for their idols in Times Square. It’s an exciting time to be Asian (or an Asian economic migrant).

This region seems like a no-brainer. A huge population with the classic bulge around the younger end of the age range, young people that have both time and money and an awareness of global and local trends, and media and social media that is increasingly receptive to high-quality content from wherever.

But like any good opportunity, developing markets require investment, time and patience. The globalisation trend of the last two decades is in reverse as countries become increasingly protectionist, and we are seeing signs that the uplift of the last decade is slowing. The greed and short- sightedness of the global EDM industry has contributed to a four-year Asian boom-and-bust, as overly high talent and licensing fees have all but killed a platinum goose.

“Asia demands local know-how and grounded expertise. Diversity is its feature, not a ‘potential roadblock’ to skirt”

Internationally, the pressure on individuals in the newly consolidated agency giants have led to increased demands for worldwide rights from their artists and less urgency on territories that are not immediately profitable. Asia demands local know-how and grounded expertise. Diversity is its feature, not a “potential roadblock” to skirt. But the continuing consolidation of the world’s promoters under the dual aegis of Live Nation and AEG, and the aforementioned roll up of the world’s biggest agencies to create a “big four” have created an increased focus on profits and bottom line, and as such, less focus on building these locally grounded competencies. The focus on global markets and lack of focus on local expertise is creating a contradiction. With consolidation, we’re seeing a race to sign-up “buzzy” artists for “global” rights, for “worldwide” distribution. But many of these words carry the baggage of the past, when much of Asia was indeed extra-terrestrial territory.

It seems to us that there are two options – invest real time and resource in the region, or cede worldwide rights to regional specialists.

Perhaps it’s time to truly go global by ditching the word “global.” Let local differences shine, and recognise local and regional players for what they are: tireless champions of what makes their part of the world special.

If our industry’s superstructure is going to be giant monoliths, we can deflect some of the fragility that comes with it by diffusing responsibilities and opportunities down the line. Regional and local specialisation grows the pie for everyone and shows that we’ve learnt our lesson from the Napster days.

The best music in the world has always come out of hyper-local specificity. We can make sure that the best shows, the best tours, and the greatest experiences in the world do, too.

Of course, we write from from a position of self-interest. We are proud of an artist roster we have built over the last decade for our Asian booking agency. Forward-thinking artists, managers and indeed agents have enabled us to grow some of the world’s most exciting artists in one of the world’s most exciting regions.

You can see more at www.scorched.asia.


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