As an already reeling music trade is hit by the coronavirus, the proprietor of UK publication NME says the pandemic has introduced challenges and alternatives.
Singapore-based BandLab additionally owns music manufacturers starting from guitar-making to retail and digital platforms.
The virus got here at a time of already seismic change for the trade as companies search new methods to make earnings.
In latest years, the recording trade has been revolutionised, whereas instrument and journal gross sales fell.
The final twenty years have seen the enterprise mannequin of conventional file labels massively disrupted by digital downloads, whereas the marketplace for musical devices and magazines has been hit by radical modifications in client behaviour.
As the coronavirus pandemic compounded this already hostile enterprise surroundings, many firms within the music trade have seen their companies hit exhausting.
BandLab’s chief government, Meng Ru Kuok, says that whereas components of his music-focused agency have confronted coronavirus-related disruptions, different areas of the enterprise have thrived.
He says that in the course of the pandemic, his music tools retail enterprise has seen its finest efficiency since he purchased it in 2012, as social distancing measures imply folks have had extra free time.
“We’ve seen a 300% rise in month-to-month gross sales at our South East Asia music instrument retailer, Swee Lee,” he mentioned.
Print vs digital
Some of BandLab’s most high-profile investments have been in music journalism, an trade that has been turned the wrong way up by internet-driven modifications in how folks eat information.
Although the stay leisure and publishing industries have been hit exhausting by the coronavirus, NME – which BandLab purchased in 2019 – was launched in South East Asia final month.
That announcement got here after NME entered the Australian market on the finish of final 12 months.
Even as plummeting promoting revenues and circulation numbers power rising numbers of publications to desert print, NME has just lately restarted bodily publishing with a month-to-month journal in Australia, its solely present common print version.
Mr Kuok says he has a way of obligation to guard the NME’s legacy: “We really feel there’s a accountability not simply to the model, but additionally there’s a accountability of being a reputable model.”
And he hinted at new NME-related launches each within the UK and internationally, with bulletins anticipated later this 12 months and in early 2021.
The firm purchased a 49% stake in US rock journal Rolling Stone in 2016, however offered that holding much less three years later after failing to purchase the remainder of the enterprise.
Mark Mulligan from MIDiA Research sees potential for NME as a digital model: “When NME went totally digital, it was seen by many because the demise of the model. But in fact, within the digital period, print can really be a hindrance, lowering your skill to achieve actually international audiences.
“BandLab has a possibility to thoroughly re-imagine the model for a brand new technology of music followers, with a worldwide attain it beforehand lacked,” he added.
At the identical time as BandLab is continuous to broaden NME, additionally it is seeing important development in customers of its digital music manufacturing platform, Cakewalk.
“Today we’ve got greater than 22 million people who find themselves utilizing our product world wide. More than eight million songs are being recorded and launched a month on the platform,” he mentioned.
In one other signal of how the music trade as an entire is having to adapt to the brand new regular of social distancing, BandLab is that this weekend holding a digital guitar present.
Guitar.com Live is a three-day occasion combining a commerce present with interviews, panels, workshops and performances by world-famous guitarists.
Jamie MacEwan from Enders Analysis mentioned: “A music enterprise like BandLab that connects folks with digital manufacturing instruments and stay streaming is nicely positioned to develop its person base underneath lockdown.
“Using the NME model to achieve fans world wide is a stable technique. My query can be, how does BandLab intend to monetise and construct on its enterprise from right here?”
The pandemic has additionally brought on important disruptions in BandLab’s group of companies.
Uncut, one other UK-based music journal owned by BandLab and the agency’s solely newsstand-focused product, noticed its gross sales take a success as folks stayed at house due to Covid-19.
Meanwhile, the agency’s US-based guitar producers, Heritage and Harmony, had been compelled to droop manufacturing for eight weeks owing to lockdown measures.
Production has now restarted and the corporate says it has seen a surge in orders, which it’s now working to satisfy.
As the son of Kuok Khoon Hong, the chairman and chief government of Asia’s main agricultural manufacturing group Wilmar International, he’s typically requested about his billionaire father.
While the youthful Mr Kuok is fast to level out that his firm is separate from the household enterprise, he’s additionally eager to spotlight the debt he owes for the steering he has acquired over time.
A key piece of recommendation he says he at all times retains in thoughts is: “When issues are going nicely, do not be too glad. When issues are going badly, do not be too unhappy.”
From Muse to the blues
So which artists does a music entrepreneur like Mr Kuok take heed to when he is not working?
He nods to his mother and father encouraging him to study the violin and piano as a toddler, however credit his time at considered one of Britain’s high public faculties, Winchester College, after which Cambridge University for his love of guitar music.
Growing up listening to British indie bands akin to Radiohead and the Libertines, he says his favorite band in his youth was various rock group Muse.
But now his tastes have matured to incorporate one of many nice American bluesmen: “My favorite artist is BB King.”
“He is somebody who has a character, had hassle in his life and he performed to his final day. Incredibly exhausting working and had the respect of the whole trade.”