Sound City boss Pichilingi heads up Modern Sky USA
Dave Pichilingi, who launched Modern Sky UK in 2016, is expanding his role to take over operations at the company’s US division.
In his new role as chief executive UK and North America, Pichilingi will divide his time between Modern Sky’s Liverpool and London-based UK office, and the company’s Los Angeles home.
Founded by LiHui Shen in 1997, Modern Sky Entertainment is a multi-faceted entertainment company, operating across live, recording, publishing and video. Modern Sky is the largest independent record label in China and promotes music festivals in the country, under the banner of Strawberry Festivals and MDSK.
Pichilingi launched Modern Sky UK along with LiHui Shen as part of a partnership with Sound City, of which Pichilingi is founder and chief executive. Sound City is the company behind music conferences and showcase festivals in Liverpool, Manchester, New York and Seoul.
In his new role, Pichilingi will look to generate opportunities for Modern Sky’s Chinese repertoire for sync and publishing.
The Sound City boss will also work with US brands in conjunction with Modern Sky’s festival portfolio and video and streaming platform MNOW, which has over 42 million subscribers and an in-built ticketing service.
“We [Modern Sky] believe we’ve got the best pipeline for western businesses looking to make headway in the Asian market”
“Modern Sky is in a fairly unique position as the custodian of a large, excellent Chinese music catalogue, particularly in hip hop, contemporary folk, electronic and guitar genres,” says Pichilingi. “We’re seeing a big increase in the demand for Chinese repertoire and want to generate new opportunities for our artists.
“As far as working with brands in the US is concerned, we believe we’ve got the best pipeline for western businesses looking to make headway in the Asian market and communicate with a large, engaged and targeted young audience with plenty of disposable income and a keen interest not just in western music but in lifestyles and wider pop culture as well.”
Talking to IQ ahead of his promotion, Pichilingi discussed the potential of the Chinese music market, stating that approximately 550 million people consume popular music in the country.
“The level of opportunity in Asia in general is huge,” Pichilingi told IQ, “and it is still a relatively untapped marketplace.”
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From Liverpool to Seoul: Sound City’s Asian adventure
Independent festival and conference Sound City has its roots firmly in the northwest of the UK but has recently begun to set its sights much further afield, tapping into the rapidly growing South Korean music industry.
Here, IQ talks to Sound City chief executive David Pichilingi about new ventures overseas, the appetite for new music in Asia and why Sound City is much more than “just” a music festival…
IQ: What are the origins of Sound City?
DS: We launched Sound City in 2008, because it felt at that time that Liverpool was looking backwards. Liverpool is a city with such an important musical history and a strong tradition of shaping popular culture, but it felt like it had got to the point where everything was focused on reflecting on the past rather than trying to define the future.
Sound City was the model needed to enable Liverpool and the wider region to begin looking forward and begin trying to reinvent itself for a modern audience. The ethos was always to put Liverpool and the region on the map, and we aimed to do that through musical showcases linked to a world class conference schedule.
By showcasing what we felt was the best of creative talent on offer, we have grown into presenting over 350 bands from 22 different countries. This year we had over 7,500 bands applying to play at Sound City. There’s also the business conference, which has been present from day one right in the heart of festival. It has grown from 50 speakers in year one and a couple hundred of delegates, to this year over 1,500 delegates and speakers. To date, Sound City has helped to secure around £30 million in new deals for UK artists and music-based businesses, equating to around £3m per year.
Sound City was the model needed to enable Liverpool and the wider region to begin looking forward and begin trying to reinvent itself for a modern audience
How did Sound City Korea come about?
Like most things in life it was a happy accident. Our mission has always been to support the development of artists and industry talents in any shape or form. We started getting inquiries from organisations based in Korea, China, Australia and parts of central Europe, wanting to showcase musical talent and bring business representatives.
Through this, we cultivated contacts with a wide range of people, including a very close relationship with Dalse, who runs Zandari Festival (South Korea’s largest showcase event) in Seoul. He wanted to grow the festival and shared our ethos of supporting young artists. We started by helping to book speakers and by taking agents and labels over, then that grew into us taking British bands over and putting on a British stage. Four years on, we have our own version of Sound City in Seoul. There was no strategic plan just kindred spirits and like-minded people coming together to create something inspiring.
Have you expanded into other parts of Asia?
Absolutely, the reputation and credibility of Zandari Festival has grown substantially because of our association with it and because of what we’ve done there, we have been asked to do similar things elsewhere. We are looking to build on that and a key priority over the next three to five years is to create a version of Sound City in China as go to event for Asia.
Modern Sky, the largest independent Chinese record label and festival promoter, is our conduit into that marketplace. Through our partnership with them, we have the ability to connect with audiences and businesses in China and the wider Asian region, giving us an opportunity that few others have.
With Modern Sky, we are aiming to create a flagship event in China. The idea is to create more opportunities as opposed to fewer, and we are by no means aiming to take away from Zandari with this. We want to coordinate it so artists can come from doing one or two shows at Zandari, to then performing in China. So rather than getting people to fly out for four days, they can come for ten and attend two conferences and showcase festivals instead of one.
A key priority over the next three to five years is to create a version of Sound City in China as go to event for Asia
It’s important to note that this is all about two-way traffic. We are also helping Asian artists to make it in the UK and Europe, as well as showcasing our own talents and creating our own connections in Asia.
Why is the Asian market important?
Via globalisation and social platforms it is possible for anybody to be known overseas now and the days of trying to be only king of your own backyard is over for artists.
In the Asian region, Korea is seen as a very important marketplace, even though it’s not that big – much in the same way that the UK music market is influential but relatively small – and a lot of artists use it to get a foothold elsewhere.
The level of opportunity in Asia in general is huge, especially in China where audience consumption of popular music is estimated at 550 million people. It is also still a relatively untapped marketplace. In China and the rest of Asia, there is a very savvy young audience now with a strong connection with the west and western culture. In terms of the music and subcultures, there is a lot of opportunity for independent record labels and emerging artists. It is much more of a level playing field over there.
What else is Sound City up to?
The Sound City festival comes as both a blessing and a curse – people think that’s all we are but we do so many different things.
We have a lot going on abroad but are doing many other great things at home too. In July this year we launched a new version of Sound City at Manchester International Festival, as a part of Distractions (a three-day summit on future of entertainment). We are now aiming to turn that into an annual event, so we have two meaningful events for business delegations and artists in two of the strongest music cities in the UK.
In China and the rest of Asia, there is a very savvy young audience now with a strong connection with the west and western culture
Our event Off the Record, which we do in conjunction with festival promoter From the Fields, is coming into its fourth year. This is a very grassroots festival, for artists and young people on the first rung of the ladder still trying to make sense of it all. We have sold out for the past three years and are looking to do the same for the fourth year too.
We also run music entrepreneurship training, offering early stage talent development for young people, featuring music-making, training, mentoring and work placement opportunities, with a focus on areas of deprivation in Liverpool and the northwest.
In terms of our wider strategic partnerships, we are the lead UK partner in the Keychange initiative (led by PRS Foundation and supported by the Creative Europe programme) which encourages festivals and music organisations to achieve a 50:50 gender balance by 2022.
This has also led to us being part of the INES network which is a EU cooperation project led by a network of eight international showcase festivals to create a united, strong European music market.
When we started Sound City over 14 years ago our mantra was always to have an international footprint. Over these years we have now built a strong and credible brand that is respected globally. We are still proud to call Liverpool, Manchester and the North our home from where everything else radiates.
The inaugural Sound City Ipswich, a one-day conference and multi-venue festival, is taking place on 4 October in partnership with Out Loud Music and local venue the Smokehouse.
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‘It’s a natural export market’: Becky Ayres on Sound City Korea
Becky Ayres, COO of international new-music brand Sound City, has spoken of the huge appetite for British music in South Korea, as the deadline approaches for applications for its upcoming fourth Sound City Korea music mission.
Sound City, the UK-based company behind the annual Liverpool Sound City festival and Sound City+ conference, expanded into South Korea in 2015 with backing from Arts Council England and the British Council, taking artists to showcase events MU:CON and Zandari.
While the western world’s growing love of Korean music and culture – the so-called ‘Korean wave’, exemplified by boy bands such as BTS and EXO – is well known, the rise of K-pop in Europe and North America is part of a “two-way” street, says Ayres, with emerging European, especially British, artists also finding a keen audience in South Korea.
“Koreans are really passionate about British music,” she tells IQ. “We’ve had a fantastic reception so far.”
Reflecting on the genesis of Sound City Korea, Ayres says: “It came about over a number of years. We’d had Korean acts at Sound City, the first of which performed at the 2013 edition, sponsored by Samsung. Then, Dave [Pichilingi], our CEO, went over to Korea and was blown away by how incredible the music scene is there – he said it reminded him of Japan in the ’80s and ’90s.”
That thriving music industry, “coupled with mindboggling technology” – Korea was streets ahead of the West when it came to mobile payments and the availability of high-speed internet, for example – “and a voracious appetite for British music”, meant it was a no-brainer to start sending UK artists over, she adds.
“Korea is a great early export opportunity”
Ayres also highlights – as in CD-buying Japan – Koreans’ healthy spend on music as a key attraction for acts wanting to make it is in the east.
“[Korea] is a great early export opportunity,” she continues. “The artists don’t have to be at a very established level – it’s just a really natural market for British music.
“But that doesn’t mean you can find success in the territory without doing a lot of homework first,” she adds. “As with any new market, knowledge of how businesses and infrastructure operate over there, and an understanding of the culture, is vital. Finding the right partner to help facilitate things will make all the difference.”
Ayres is also COO of Modern Sky UK – the British division of Chinese entertainment giant Modern Sky Entertainment, which bought into Sound City in April 2016 – and Sound City working with Modern Sky to take UK artists over to Sounds of the Xity in Beijing next year.
“Sound City has a longstanding relationship with many businesses and artists across Asia now, and our recent partnership with Modern Sky has only helped bolster that and create exciting new opportunities for artists travelling in both directions,” she says.
Applications for Sound City Korea (Zandari/MU:CON) are open until 6pm GMT on 27 July. Click here to apply.
“The bands that have taken part in these festival exchanges in the past have seen great returns,” said Ayres in May. “We look forward to seeing who steps forward this year.”
Sound City to help UK artists crack Asia
Sound City, one of the UK’s leading music brands for developing artists in Asian countries, has announced today the details of its fourth Sound City Korea initiative.
The festival has partnered with Liverpool Vision and the Department of International Trade in order to create discussions for the conference about opportunities in the Asian markets for British acts. Sound City is also partnered with festival promoter and label Modern Sky Entertainment (which in 2016 acquired a large stake in the business), giving those acts interested in the initiative a head-start.
Sound City will also host a day programme at International Business Festival 2018 in Liverpool on 27 June, featuring executives from many high-profile Asian companies such as Japanese promoter Creativeman and Chinese consultancy Outdustry.
“Asia is home to some of the most exciting music markets in the world”
As part of the Korean initiative, acts can now apply to showcase at two industry events in South Korea: MU:CON (late September, 3,000 capacity audience) and Zandari (5–7 October, 3,000 industry delegates and 15,000 festival attendees). Based on previous Sound City Koreas, it is expected that the project will lead to more than US$146,000 being spent on the participating artists.
Sound City COO, Becky Ayres, says: “Asia is home to some of the most exciting music markets in the world today, with millions of fans eager to hear the next big thing to come from the West.
“With the support of Arts Council England, our partnership with Modern Sky Entertainment and collaborations with big festival brands such as Zandari, MU:CON and others, we’re able to provide a rare opportunity for UK acts looking to make a name for themselves in Asia, as well as for Asian artists and businesses looking to come the other way.
“The bands that have taken part in these festival exchanges in the past have seen great returns. We look forward to seeing who steps forward this year and encourage anyone with an interest in breaking into Asia to get in touch and join us at the International Business Festival in Liverpool on 27 June.”