Friday, 31 August 2012

“Be persistent and patient. Even if the song does not sell this time, it may still stand a chance in future." COMPASS Young Composer of the Year recipient Derrick Tham says.

A music lover since childhood, Derrick Tham (譚志華) began composing in 1999 & was later signed as a songwriter with a music publishing house in Singapore.

Derrick had his first song published in 2002, titled《我不能飛》, and that marked a milestone in almost 10 years of songwriting and publishing songs with local as well as regional artistes.

Today, he is best known for his collaboration with singer Sam Lee, having written numerous songs for him, including 最近 (Recently), 擦肩而過 (Passer-By), 靠近 (So Close), and many more.

As we spoke to the recent COMPASS Young Composer of the Year Award recipient, he comes across as a down-to-earth and sensitive writer who takes humble pride in his own works.

“All these songs are my babies. Most people only hear the 3-4 minute track, but they didn’t know the story behind the song, they didn’t know that this song had been rejected or criticized many times, but when it becomes a hit song, it gives me the strength to believe in my own work.”

COMPASS Young Composer of the Year Award recipient, Derrick Tham

Q: Describe your musical journey as a writer. What made you go into writing? When was your tipping point?

When I first started with song writing, I didn’t know how far I could go. And when we looked at established writers like the Lee brothers, we would always wonder if we could achieve the same too. Singapore’s market is very small, and there aren’t many success cases that could make it overseas.

I started with classical piano, and then one day I just decided that I was so tired of playing classical music, then I attended a songwriting workshop conducted by a local pop music school, after which I joined their courses for several years. Songwriting, to me, is like keeping a diary, but instead of using words, I use musical notes.

One day, I decided to write my own song, and submitted it to my teacher. She added a bridge to the song, so the final version was co-written by both of us. A few years later, to my surprise, I heard my song on a newly released album at a music retailer, but when I checked the booklet, I didn’t see my name, only my teacher’s name. That was the first song that I published, so I was sad that my name wasn’t included. I went to the publishing house, and they told me that there was a miscommunication, and said that if the CD sold well and were to go for a reprint, they would include my name, and they would still include my royalties. In the end, the publisher did offer me a contract, and so I had my first contract when I was 18.

A few years later, I sold other songs under the same publisher, and the third song was sung by Sam Lee, which became the turning point of my whole music career. After my contract ended, I chose not to renew it because I decided five years is enough and I wanted to try something new. I spoke to Sam Lee over the phone, and at that time, he had just started his own production company, so he asked me to join him. I went over to Taiwan, and had the experience of being a studio assistant. Even though the tasks were menial, like buying lunch or making coffee, it gave me an opportunity to listen to what the producers and audio engineers discussed during recording sessions and the decisions they make, and this experience helped me create better demos that were more in line with what was required commercially. It was something that could not be learnt from school. I would never have that kind of chance in Singapore. In Taiwan, the turnover is high: every month there’s a new singer and every other day, there will be a recording session and a learning opportunity.

Q: Where do you get your inspiration from?

I enjoy watching movies and reading stories, or it could be inspired from the stories around me or from my own personal experience. I didn’t expect to become a lyricist too, and it was because I couldn’t find any lyricist to write them, so I wrote my own. Some suggested that I submit my demo without lyrics so that it would not restrict the producer’s imagination, but at the end of the day, I choose to put in my own lyrics, especially after selling the song by Sam Lee. It was encouraging to know that even a Singaporean’s Chinese lyrics could be accepted by the market and I began to have more faith in my own lyrics.

Q: What do you think other budding writers can learn from your story? How can they stand out from the rest?

Firstly, making the first move is very important. Take the initiative to sell your songs actively and find a publisher whom you can work with.

Secondly, create a unique style of your own, and stay focused. In this way the producer would be able to identify you clearly for a certain genre (e.g. ballads). Producers will want albums to have a variety on their menu, so having 10 ballads on the album will be boring for the listener, and normally they would include songs influenced by other genres to create an element of surprise.

Thirdly, believe in yourself. Be persistent and patient, because even if the song does not sell this time, it may still stand a chance in future.

Finally, be flexible and open to changes. Sometimes, amending the song according to the producer’s request may not mean that the previous version isn’t good, but it’s to show that you are open to ideas and willing to improve, and this will help win the producer over. Don’t be too stubborn!

Q: Tell us more about your relationship with a local publishing house and later as an exclusive writer with Zoommuzik. What are some of the pros and cons of being an exclusive writer? What are some of the things you would look out for in your publishing contract? What do you value most?

Back then, I didn’t really look at the terms closely, but if I were to be offered a contract now, one of the things that I would look out for is that the rights of the song would be returned to me after the contract has ended. Over the years, I have also learnt to be more discerning about the royalty rates shared between the publisher and writer. In the past, it was typically 50-50, but now it is possible to have a higher share for the writer.

Although I’m an exclusive writer under Zoommuzik, it does not mean that I only write songs for the artists under the label. It does, however, mean that they would have the first right of refusal to my material. If the song is not suitable for their own artists, then the song is submitted to other publishing companies.

When I was under a local publishing house, I would have to submit my songs to the publishing manager, after which the publishing manager will liaise with the overseas A&R manager for selection. But when I’m with this Taiwanese publishing house, I would be able to contact the Taiwanese sub-publisher A&R manager directly, with the consent and knowledge of the original publisher of course. At the end of the day, you would still need a sub-publisher to manage all the accounts.

As a writer, I would like to work with a publisher who is equally as aggressive as me in pushing out my works. I remember once there was a local publishing manager whom I approached to submit a song, but the manager simply just placed my CD aside and I felt disheartened and demoralized. That was when I decided that (this publisher) was not suitable for me. The environment must be right. You must be happy with your colleagues. Even if you can sell many songs, but if you’re unhappy, then there’s no point. If we can work well together, even if the song is not sold, I would still value the effort that the publisher has put in.

Under the Taiwanese publishing house, I was introduced to not only the singer, but also the producer and audio engineer, and having the opportunity to be in the recording studio is also an experience I value very much.

Q: After writing so many hit songs, what kind of income do you generate as a writer?

I receive mechanical royalties from the publisher and performance royalties from COMPASS. The proportion of performance royalties is much bigger because of high radio airplay, and royalties from Karaoke and ringtone downloads.《最近》and 《擦肩而过》are my top grossing songs.Top songs can generate up to a four figure sum per year in terms of royalties. I’m not sure how the royalties are calculated in detail, but I trust that they will do their job properly.

Q: You seem to have found some success in Taiwan, HK and Singapore, according to your accolade of awards. What are your future plans?

My plan is to conduct a live music showcase with a couple of friends who are live performers and tour around music cafes in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, so that more people will get to know my music, and because both the singer and myself are Singaporeans, I hope that more people will get to know more Singaporean artistes and writers. So far there have been a few local artistes who have been conducting such tours, but most of them are females, so we would like to have an all-male team for this tour.

Q: How do you think local composers and authors can collaborate with each other better?
Personally, I never had the opportunity to work with other local writers, but in my opinion, the local music schools are a great way for different musicians (writers, lyricists, vocalists) to congregate and collaborate together.

Q: What do you think of the future of the music industry in Singapore and in Asia? How should writers be looking to sell their music?

In China, some publishers practice “买断, which means that writers are paid upfront a fixed amount. Their name is credited but they do not receive any royalties thereafter because the publisher owns the song completely. We wouldn’t know how big a hit the song would be, and whether it would be used in other media such as in a film, so it is difficult to assess if a writer should take up such a deal. I would advise writers to consider very carefully with such deals.

Awards and Milestones of Derrick Tham

• 1999年開始創作
Began Songwriting Career in 1999

• 2002年發表第一首歌曲《我不能飛》
Published 1st song in 2002, entitled I Cannot Fly

• 2004年成為《新加坡詞曲版權協會 》會員
Became an Official Member of Composers and Authors Society of Singapore (COMPASS) in 2004

• 2006年以作品《最近》深受大家的註目與肯定
Garnered popularity with the song, Recently, in 2006

• 2007年以作品《這樣就好》獲得香港新城國語力 熱爆K歌
Awarded the HongKong Mandarin Karaoke Song Award, for the song, That’s All

• 2008年錞藝音樂公司專屬詞曲作者
Became an Exclusive Songwriter with Zoom Musik (Music Production Company in Taiwan)

• 2008年受邀出席新加坡S-POP萬歲嘉賓
Invited to attend the S-Pop Event in Singapore as a Special Guest in 2008

• 2008年以作品《擦肩而過》獲得台灣單曲連續數周6大電信鈴聲下載冠軍
Awarded the Taiwanese Ringtone Download Champion for the song,“Passer-By in 2008

• 2008年以作品《擦肩而過》入圍馬來西亞 Red Box2008最高點播率K歌20強
Top 20 Most Dedicated Songs in Malaysia Red Box 2008, for the song Passer-By

• 2008年以作品《擦肩而過》入圍台灣KKBOX年度數位音樂風雲榜 No.5
Was Awarded 5th Position in Taiwans KKBOX Annual Music Chart, for the song Passer-By in 2008

• 2008年以作品《擦肩而過,最近》入圍新加波KBox 年度K歌金曲大奬20強
Entered the Top 20 position in Singapore KBox Annual Hit Songs Award in 2008, for the songPasser-By and Recently

• 2008 担任第14届《飛越時空》半决赛 评审.
Judge for NTU Chinese Society 14th Music Express Songwriting Competition Semi-Finals

• 2009年与歌手“李聖傑”在新加坡舉辦音樂分享座談會
2009 Conduct Music and Songwriting Workshop in Singapore with Taiwanese Singer Sam Lee

• 2012年  新加坡詞曲版權協會 COMPASS 年度青年歌曲创作人
2012 awarded COMPASS Young Composer of the Year

表作品(Songs Published)

·  我不能飛 (I Can’t Fly) - 路嘉欣 Jozie Lu
·  矛盾 (Paradox of love) - 何静萱 Nicola Ho
·  最近 (Recently) - 李聖傑 Sam Lee
·  分心 (Distraction) - 王傑 Dave Wang
·  這樣就好 (That’s all) - 鄧穎芝 Vangie Tang
·  別要走 (Do not go) - 鄧穎芝 Vangie Tang
·  讀心術 (Read my Mind) - 卓文萱 Genie Chuo
·  擦肩而過 (Passer-by) - 李聖傑 Sam Lee
·  靠近 (So close) - 李聖傑 Sam Lee
·  下个幸福 (Next Love) - 卓文萱 Genie Chuo
·  抱歉 (Sorry) - 李聖傑 Sam Lee
·  明白 (Realize) - 李聖傑 Sam Lee
·  最後紀念 (Last memory) - 陽韻禾 Melody Yeung
· 擦肩而過 (Passer-by) - 王馨平 Linda wang
· 當初 (In the beginning ) - 胡夏
· 第一次 (First time) - 陳浩民 Benny Chan
· 會過去的 (It’ll be Over ) - 梁靜茹 Fish Leong

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Multi-level marketing: A new radical online distribution model to Tell Your Friends

Social media is the way to go, it seems, as a tool to promote and market one’s music. With streaming platforms such as Youtube, many artistes have found fame online, with close to a million hits or subscribers on their Youtube channel. Most of them, however, have yet to have found fortune, or are still unable to monetize the strong support from social media. A proportion of these artistes still depend on performance fees to generate the bulk of their income, and not through the sales of their music. Tell My Friends (TMF), a new online music distribution model, aims to change all that, says CEO Mr Ben Looi, by providing tools for artistes to get people to go from interest to conversion.

At first, this writer thought that TMF was an online music store like iTunes, but on closer look, we couldn’t find anything that resembles a store on its website. So how is the music sold? Apparently, after an artiste or publisher inks the distribution deal with TMF, they are given unique links for each song that is being sold, and the client would have to market the link themselves by posting it on their own social networks such as blogs, websites and Facebook pages. Their fans will get to purchase the track by clicking on the link, and payment can be done via paypal or credit card. Buyers of the track will in turn, be given another unique link of their own, and if they share it on their social media networks and someone else buys the track from their link, the buyer now also earns a commission for sharing that link. 

Sounds like MLM (Multi-level marketing)? Yes it is. Then is it a scam? Well, during the interview, Ben openly admitted that he knows that MLM has had a bad name, and so he did his due diligence to ensure that his model is legal, and to clarify things further, he even went through the effort to state the distinction between a fraudulent MLM model and a legal one on his website. He also explains that TMF is simple, as you do not have to hit a minimum number of levels in order to get your credits.

We drilled into the ex-SAF officer on how he executed his mantra: “Consume digital products responsibly and get rewarded for it.”

Ben Looi, CEO of Tell My Friends Pte Ltd

Q: What exactly is the business model of Tell-My-Friends? How much does your company make from each sale of a song copy?

The business model is network marketing, also known by other terms such as direct selling and multi-level marketing. The twist is that it is integrated with social networking, hence a more appropriate term is social network marketing. Tell My Friends make 20% from each sale of a song copy.

Q: Who is your core target audience?
As a platform, we are targeting those who currently download stuff for free, either via torrents or illegal file-sharing. As for content, there really isn't a core target audience, because practically anyone, whether you are a social network user or a smartphone user, can be an audience. Tell My Friends is a platform to augment content owners' sales and marketing, so the core audience of our clients differ. For example, if an artiste that sings pop ballads, then the core audience for us would be working young adults. If it's Mandarin oldies, then the core audience will be retirees, housewives etc. If it's Christian worship songs, it would be Christians. The core audience depends on the content, not Tell My Friends.  We also target young people like teenagers and students by facilitating cash payment using prepaid cards.

Q: How did this concept come about? Why the MLM model? What is your company's vision and mission?

I've always enjoyed music, and I have great respect for those who chose to make music their livelihood. Believe me, it's not a very well-paying job, but the passion for the craft is what keeps most musicians going. I was wondering how can I help musicians make a living AND keep the passion, and a big pain point most musicians face is that of online piracy. It's a very pragmatic view if you ask any consumer  "Why would you pay for something when you can get it for free?" and the answer is obvious. The industry has tried to beat piracy using technology like DRM and we know that doesn't work, because anything that is encrypted can be decrypted. It then tried to fight based on price and convenience, driving prices down to the ground at $0.99 plus minimal clicks. That has some positive outcomes, but musicians aren't the ones making money - it's the megastores that does. Then they tried to use legislation and enforcement such as SOPA, which is totally against what the Internet is all about - freedom of choice and expression. Hence, I reframed the problem of piracy - not as a technological or enforcement issue - but as a behavioral problem. Working as a military psychologist for the past 2 years gave me the experience and insight that positive reinforcement of a desired behavior is more effective than punishing or negative reinforcement of an undesired behaviour. With that, I then needed to think of a way to sustain a reward system. After much research of various business models and laws, the solution was found in network marketing or MLM.  My company's vision is summed up as such: Help People. Save Music. Be Rewarded.

Q: How long has TMF started? What is the response so far? What kind of investment costs did you incur in setting up such a business? How long do you expect to break even?

We've started full-time for about 7 months, and we have broken even. The response is good, judging from the interest generated, and conversion is slowly happening. We are still in beat testing, and already we have 210 users and 394 paid downloads - and we haven't even started marketing yet. We will expect a spike in both numbers soon, as we begin our marketing efforts. The investment costs is confidential, but suffice to say we have been very prudent in getting things done with a limited budget and lots of innovation. And of course, goodwill from supporters of our vision.

Q: What is your current catalogue like? Are you working with major and independent labels?

We know we are very new, and no one has an idea of what we are doing! We have met up with a major label as well as industry bodies, and while the local HQ is interested, the inherent legacy corporate structure may not allow major labels to use us at the moment. The independent labels, however, have more autonomy, and are very keen to be on board. We now have mainly independent artistes, both local and overseas, mainly friends, and friends of friends, like Chen Huisi, Matthew Quek, Ko Sherman, Eric Chiryoku, Jai, Jessica Irawan, The Glad Stones, Phoebee Ong, Gilbert Baldoza, Nat Ho and Thomas Ong. The catalogue includes Chinese pop, New Age, English pop, Christian worship, classical, jazz, musicals, Malay pop, Japanese. We also have ebooks lined up.

Q: Could you explain more about the partnership with Music Galaxy Records and Music Publishers Singapore? How does the one-year blanket license work?

Music Galaxy Records is a subsidiary of Tell My Friends. We had to start a content creation arm so that there are songs to sell on Tell My Friends! When we started TMF, we spoke to local industry bodies and societies to understand about royalties and industrial practices. Music Publishers Singapore (MPS) is a society formed by music publishers like Sony ATV, Universal Music Publishers Group, EMI, Warner-Chappell, Touch Music and many more. We know that there are many local artistes who do very good covers of popular songs, but they do not know how to clear the rights to sell them online. Many pop songs on radio today are also covers, thanks to successful shows like Glee, American Idol, The Voice etc. There's always a fresh and new way to interpret the same song. We have made an arrangement through a license from MPS that any cover song submitted by independent artistes and labels will automatically be cleared for mechanical rights licensing as we will apportion the royalties due to publishers have claims to those songs.

Q: How can artists and writers benefit from this? 

Artistes can go ahead and record their songs, whether it's original or a cover version, and sell it via TMF as a one-stop service. The artistes will have the sound recording royalties if it is a cover song, and both sound recording and mechanical royalties if it's an original. Artistes and composers/writers can also collaborate to do a song, and work out an agreement between themselves what portion of the royalties they share, and let TMF know who to pay when the song is sold. It's that simple.

For a cover song, out of a dollar for royalties, a certain percentage goes to the owner of the sound recording, while the remaining is paid to MPS for the song royalty. This is a blanket rate, so the recording artiste will simply have to decide how much they want per song to set the final price of the track. Each song is uploaded by Tell My Friends so that we would have control and this is why we are taking the 20% commission to manage all this for the client. The distributor contact will have a list of songs that they want to sell as a client, and from there the tracking will be done by Tell My Friends to pay MPS. They would have to sign to declare that they are not the composer in the distribution contact. In this way, all administration is taken off artistes’ backs and settled by TMF.

Q: How do you compare yourself with other major online music stores like iTunes? How is your business model different? Ultimately, what does it mean for labels, publishers, artists and writers?

We are different from major online music stores in that we give buyers something that online music stores don't give - cash rewards. Online stores are very much single level market models built with convenience and low price as the selling point. For artistes, there is a fee involved in putting our music on those stores, and will be catalogued in a large, virtual store together with thousands of other artistes and products. Consumers can choose to go spend $0.99 on your song at the major store, or get it for free somewhere, somehow via torrents, or even via USB or email. 

Tell My Friends is not a store, as we do not sell music directly on our platform. We do, however, send out weekly newsletters as a catalogue of songs, and members can buy them. Now, here's where TMF makes the difference. Anyone who buys any song, ebook etc will have a unique link for each product, and you can share the link with your friends, via social networks, email, and even SMS and Whatsapp if you have a smartphone. For those who have a blog, you can even insert the link within your blog, and even create your own music store. Each time anyone buys the song from your link, you get a reward. Even if the person who bought from your link copies what you do and set up his own store, you will still get a reward when someone buys from his link - for up to 10 tiers. You can't do that with iTunes, can you?
What it means for labels is that, while labels generally own the sound recording rights to the song, the artistes under the label will also get a commission each time the song is sold, provided the first link is given to the artistes to seed the market. For example, if MGR paid for and produces a song, and therefore owns the rights of a song sung by Ben Looi, and because the first people to buy the song would be Ben's fans (assuming he has fans...hahaha), Ben earns a steam of commission, while the label earns royalties. It's a win-win for both.

Q: Are there any listing fees in the distribution contract?

TMF does not act like a retailer, so there are no upfront fees to list songs, but clients are required to take a consignment of at least 50 prepaid TopUp cards with a downpayment of 10% of RSP to be sold for a period of 3 months. The artistes can make $0.50 per card. They can also customize the Topup card with an additional $300 for the mould.

TopUp cards are priced at S$8 for 600 credits. 1 credit = US$0.01. Users can cash out via paypal or cheque. Clients would however have to accumulate a minimum of $15 before cashing out, and can only cash out commissions earned and not topped up.

TopUp Cards from Tell My Friends

Q: What if the artistes’ fanbase does not use Facebook?

TMF has put in a total of 320 social media platforms on which the links can be shared on, so even in a country like China which does not use Facebook, artistes are still able to reach out to that market through other popular local platforms like Weibo.

Q: According to your website, each song is selling for US$1.84. How did you arrive at this price?

No, the song price is not fixed for every song. It depends on what our clients set
as royalties. The principle is nothing less than 50% of retail price goes to royalties, so we first determine what our clients want as royalties for sound and mechanical rights.  Supposing our clients want $1. This would then form 50% of selling price before taxes and transaction fees. 30% or $0.60 will be allocated as commissions for buyers, spread over 10 tiers. The amount per tier is shown on every purchase page you land on selling each song. The remaining 20% goes to TMF for admin costs. So, in this example, the retail price, inclusive of taxes and transaction costs of about 13-15%, will be close to $2.30. Most of our clients set their royalties at about $0.90 to keep the final selling price inclusive of taxes and transaction costs below $2.

Q: Tell us more about the Secret Angel function in your website. Is it a direct donation? Why would consumers choose to donate in this way instead of directly to the charity of their choice? Will the donation be tax deductible for consumers? Do you charge any administrative fees for the donations? How is the charity cause increased the affiliation between the consumer and the artist? Is there supposed to be any deliberate connection?

We are finalising the MOU with a major charity entity who will be partnering us in this Secret Angel function, so the details can't be discussed at the moment, but suffice to say we are doing this as part of our vision - Help People. There will not be any affiliation between the consumer and the artiste under normal circumstances because the artiste is just selling his/her song. Whoever buys that song can choose to direct all future commissions from that purchase to the charity of choice, so it's not the artistes' call or decision to support the charity, but that of the consumer. However, if an artiste DOES want to support a charity through the sale of the song, he can direct TMF to apportion a certain percentage of royalties accrued to the beneficiary, and consumers who buy the song can choose to still keep their share of commissions for own use, or direct their portion of commission to ANOTHER charity. As to the other questions about whether it is tax-deductible and admin fees, we will have to wait till the MOU is signed, as these points are covered in the MOU.

Q: Your site claims that at least 50% of revenue goes back to royalties and about 30% of revenue to go back to consumers in the form of commissions. How do you intend to ensure transparency in reporting in terms of sales and donations?

Each purchase landing page has the breakdown of commissions at each tier. Each time you buy a song, it goes on to your Purchase History. When your link you share generates referral purchases, the commission earned is displayed for each song. Clicking on it will show the breakdown of commissions, i.e., how many and who bought the song that earned you $0.21, $0.11 $0.05 etc etc. The identities of the buyers are partially masked for confidentiality. As for donations, whenever someone donates HIS level to charity, the purchase landing page will highlight the respective tier of commission with an indication of which charity is receiving that share. On the Secret Angel list of charities, it will also show the amount raised and how many "secret Angels" each charity has.

In terms of accounting, we can arrange to have a credit note be given every three months or even every month to the artiste or publisher.

Q: Tell us more about yourself and who makes up the team at TMF. How did you get yourself involved into the music business and why?

I served in the Singapore Armed Forces for 13 years before calling it a day to start Tell My Friends. In my 13 years as an Army officer I've served in various capacities, ranging from direct command in the Infantry, law enforcement as a Military Police, doctrine and capability development for homeland defence, training officer cadets in OCS, and as a defence psychologist. I'm currently the Ops Officer of an Infantry Brigade in NS. The prospect of doing something totally different, challenging and never attempted before was the change I needed, because the notion of staying on for another 13 years in the same environment is not for me. The TMF team is growing day to day, and I guess it's the vision that attracts the right people to my team. We are entirely self-funded at the moment, and we are able to sustain the business to profitability because everyone in the team contributes and value adds. Pearly, my sister, takes care of business development for TMF and our subsidiary music label, Music Galaxy Records (MGR). Huisi manages the production of music that MGR produces, Chris takes care of the technical development, overseeing and coordinating with my vendors who do the programming. Andy markets Tell My Friends to international artistes to put their content with us, and a few friends who are helping out with the user experience design and other stuff to make us look pretty. Justin is taking care of the PR, and we work with an IP lawyer as well as a patent lawyer for the legal mumbo jumbo stuff. We are currently developing an arrangement with a music marketing manager in the Netherlands to cover Europe and a few potential partners to bring Tell My Friends to the Philippines, Malaysia, and Taiwan.  We got involved in the music business because music is very important to everyone - it represents the soul of life, and we all need music to be with us all the time - to celebrate life's finest moments, and to comfort and sooth the pain and sorrows. We need to keep music alive.

Q: How much do you think digital sales would make up the music market in the next three to five years in Singapore? How about in Asia?

Increasingly with smartphones, personal media devices and other gadgets converging, products will be consumed in the digital form - videos, books, music. Singapore is a small market with high computer literacy, online banking and credit card subscription, which is not representative of other Asian markets. Digital sales will increase at least 10 to 20% year on year in Singapore if piracy wasn't so rampant. That said, there isn't really a music industry in Singapore today, although there is a vibrant music scene. Most major labels have moved operations to Malaysia as the local market is many times bigger than Singapore. Digital sales in countries like Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines still has not been significant as credit card subscription is low. For example, 70% of mobile phone users in Malaysia and Indonesia are on prepaid plans, unlike Singapore where most are on postpaid plans. Cash will continue to be the preferred payment method regionally, and unless you have a complementary system other than just Paypal and online banking, people will continue to buy music in its physical form of a CD, go home and rip it to digital format, and since it's already ripped, they might as well share it with friends.


Ben is optimistic on the potential success of this model. His target is to have five major artistes to be on the catalogue by the end of the year, and as long as he has some success stories, he’s confident that the floodgates will open.

“It’s a chicken and egg thing, currently I have no customer base, and no content, it’s just a platform. So now it’s a matter of building content and getting buy in from artistes. It’s a challenge but I love the challenge because it’s something so new. So far the response has been positive, and people have been keen in coming in, like Nat Ho, who recorded the song with us. I need content. I tried talking to some labels, but because I’m so new, so nobody wants to bother with me, so I created a label to create content. We actually commission songs for private investors. Songs are intellectual property and we sell the intellectual property. We, as a label, get the singer, band, audio engineer and producer to create the recording. Because the investor bears the financial risk of paying everything upfront, they own the intellectual property for 70 years. They are actually creating jobs. Roughly we are selling the package for about $15,000, and the royalties generated will all be returned to the investor. MPS still gets paid if it’s a cover song.

Eventually, how I measure the success of TMF would be to enable at least one artist from Singapore to make it big overseas.”

This entrepreneur has big dreams for local artistes, and we hope that he makes it big too.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

How to increase your revenue? "Write more songs!" says Synthpop duo, Cosmic Armchair

If you're an artiste and/ or composer who is looking to increase your revenue, one of the most important things you have to do is to expand your catalogue quickly so that your fans can buy more of your music. Sounds simple enough? Sure, but some musicians find this even a challenge because they have to juggle so many other jobs in between writing, like marketing, teaching, performing etc.

We hear from Cosmic Ben, one half of a synthpop band, Cosmic Armchair, on the challenges and opportunities he faces as a musician.

Q: Being a synthpop act based in Singapore, how does it make it any easier or harder to sell or market your music?

The most popular music genres in this region are the non-English pop ones, so we are definitely a minority interest in Singapore. So we've been happy that there is a small but growing group of friends and fans in Singapore that continues to enjoy our music and support our gigs.

From another point of view, we are pretty unique because there aren't many synthpop duos in this region. That also helps us stand out in the international synthpop and electronic pop scene, which is where our larger audience is.

Q: What are your distribution points, online and offline? Which of them bring the most revenue to you? Any other income sources?

Most of our digital sales have come through iTunes US and UK and Bandcamp, with a small percentage through Amazon MP3. We have a very small revenue from streaming on Spotify.

Our physical CD is available in Singapore only at The Esplanade Store, and sales were highest when we performed at The Esplanade Concourse for BayBeats. We hope this will happen again when we perform at the same place on 29 and 31 August.

We also sell our physical CD through our website, and even shipped one to a fan in Russia!

Our other source of revenue is performance fees. At this point in time, we're still in the start up phase so the proportions of each revenue stream are still evolving, and we're still open to other opportunities such as providing songs for TV, film or advertisements. Currently, our largest customers are venue operators, so performance fees make up the bulk of our income. In fact, the ratio of performance fees to CD and digital sales is about 10:1. So what we strive to do is to reach the tipping point where consumers become our bigger customer base, and that’s when CD and digital sales will make up a higher percentage of income, and we would also be able to sell other products like merchandise as an additional revenue stream.

Q: You are a tutor (at the NUS Electronic Music Lab), a band and you even have your own label (Stratos Entertainment). Share with us what are some of challenges and synergies of holding several hats in the music industry.

Working with the Electronic Music Lab has always been a passion for us and we actually first met at the Lab. That social element is a big synergy because we meet new and talented electronic musicians every year. Over the years, we've collaborated with various musicians, producers and engineers that we met through the Lab.

On the other hand, teaching at the Lab is also a challenge because it takes time which could be spent working on Cosmic Armchair songs, so it's a balancing act.

Q: What are some of the future developmental plans you have for Stratos and for Cosmic Armchair? Do you plan to increase the stable of artists under your arm?

We want Cosmic Armchair to reach as wide an audience as possible not just in Singapore but around the world. Currently, our presence in Youtube is still rather weak; ideally we should be putting out one video per month. Besides our Facebook, Twitter and YouTube outreach, we aim to play at international music festivals, and we're open to foreign gigs like the one we played in Nospace Gallery, Bangkok. 

Stratos Entertainment's main artist will continue to be Cosmic Armchair, and we'll grow organically if we find other artists that we can work with.

Q: What do you think of the future of the music industry in Singapore and in Asia? How do you think artists like yourselves should look to increasing your revenue and making their music careers sustainable?

The music industry in Singapore is not confined to Singapore. Our home is here, our friends and family are here, but we can also reach the much larger international audience.

Just these few years we've seen an increase in the number of US and Canadian independent bands touring Asia. Even though they're relatively obscure, they can fill 1,000-seat venues in Singapore because their music has reached fans here through YouTube and other channels. In the same way, we Asian artists should be able to find our pockets of 1,000 fans in cities all over the world, if we take our business seriously and promote it actively.

But all the social media in the world only works if the music is good. There is no magic bullet to success. If we want our songs to reach wider audiences, increase revenue, and support sustainable careers, the most important thing we need to do is to keep on writing, recording and performing good music. Right now, one of our biggest challenge is to have more material churned out more quickly, because the more material we have, the more income we can make because there will be more products for our fans to buy.

About Cosmic Armchair
Cosmic Armchair is a synthpop / electronic pop duo based in Singapore. Cosmic Jane (singer / songwriter) and Cosmic Ben (producer / arranger) have been compared by fans and critics alike to Goldfrapp, Depeche Mode and Chicane. Their CD "A Second Look" is available at The Esplanade Store and their songs are available for download on iTunes, Amazon MP3, BandCamp and more. For more details, photos, video and music, visit

Their next live performance will be held on 31 August 2012, 715pm at The Esplanade Concourse.