Log in

07 August 2008 @ 08:25 pm
SingFest actually lost a million dollars last year?  
COME the first weekend of August, thousands of people will groove to world-famous acts like The Pussycat Dolls, Travis and Alicia Keys performing live at SINGfest.

But not many people may realise that the music festival is no longer completely Singapore-owned. Why should you care? Because foreign ownership of an event means that it can potentially be yanked out of the country altogether.

A controlling local interest in a music festival means more than just keeping it glued to Singapore soil. It also affects decisions such as the extent to which local talent is showcased, and how Singapore's music scene grows or shrinks as a consequence.

SINGfest was also only just started last year, which is a pretty short time for foreign investors to jump on board, especially in contrast to the lack of local investor interest.

Foreign investment in music festivals here is also a possible indication that the local market doesn't have what it takes to sustain events and musicians.

Founding organiser Midas Promotions lost a million dollars on SINGfest last year. And chief executive Michael Hosking says that even though new funding is flowing into the event, it will take three or four more years to break even.

Does this herald a new era of foreign investment - and decision-making clout - in our music festivals? Could we see the Substation's and Timbre's Rock The Sub event turned into an essentially foreign event, like Womad, and have it leave and never come back?

Womad is taking a break this year and the next, and even though it hopes to return in 2010, it's not set in stone. And Australian music festival Good Vibrations didn't return this year despite coming here last year. Neither Womad nor Good Vibrations are supported by Singapore government funding, so they have no obligation to come.

Imagine if that was the case across the board.

Essentially Singaporean

These concerns of festival ownership and funding challenges were ignited on Wednesday when Midas announced that SINGfest was being bought into by All The Worlds, which is itself a joint venture with Universal Music Group, one of the four major music labels.

Mr Hosking was quick to pledge that SINGfest would always remain essentially Singaporean not just in name, but in emphasis.

But neither he nor his new partners discounted the possibility of SINGfest physically travelling outside Singapore.
"It's possible we could decide to extend SINGfest outside Singapore physically," Becky Morgan, chief operating officer of All The Worlds, concedes.

"That wouldn't be any time soon, however, and what we're looking to do first is to establish SINGfest firmly in Singapore and grow the festival," she adds, saying that the current goal is to double the size of SINGfest within three years and achieve a four-stage festival, up from this year's two stages and last year's one.

For this year, the newly created joint venture company Singfest Pte Ltd will focus on extending the festival digitally, not physically.

"We're recording the performances and looking to broadcast the content internationally on TV and the Internet," says Ms Morgan. Her partner, chief executive of All The Worlds Paul Morrison, emphasises that TV broadcasts would take the place of DVD content due to physical media being passe.

However, the power remains with Singfest Pte Ltd to change its mind and pull the festival outside Singapore should it choose to, and it doesn't look like there's anything we could do about it. Even if Midas fought such a decision,
it's hard to know what the outcome would be when we're talking about a behemoth like Universal.

Although the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) supported SINGfest in its debut last year in terms of marketing, there's been no financial investment from it nor from any other local government agency, though a National
Arts Council (NAC) spokeswoman points out that the NAC hasn't been approached to fund SINGfest.

"For SINGfest 2008, the STB will once again be providing marketing assistance both regionally and locally," says Lynette Pang, director for cluster development (events & entertainment) at STB.

"We laud Midas Promotions for presenting SINGfest in 2008 with such a strong line-up of artists and we will continue to work with them to market SINGfest as the event is an important addition to our events calendar as it enhances Singapore's appeal as a vibrant events and entertainment capital of Asia," Ms Pang adds.

But money is one of the few things that can truly anchor festivals here, such as the NAC's funding for the Arts Festival. The Esplanade, which holds the Mosaic Music Festival, also gets its annual grant from the Ministry of Information, Communications and The Arts and the Singapore Totalisator Board, though it remains reliant on the financial support of sponsors.

Is the government missing an opportunity to invest in anchoring SINGfest in Singapore?

Despite these considerations, most people here aren't worried about losing ownership of our music festivals.

Timbre plans to bring back its Blues Festival next year after a half-decade hiatus, and co-managing director Danny Loong says that there probably isn't anything to worry about with regard to SINGfest as long as the organisers know what they want to achieve.

"If you don't have a clear idea of what direction you want to take a festival, and investors come in and want to expand it, the direction can, of course, change because decisions can be made just like that," says Mr Loong.

"But we're clear that we want to keep the home base of the Timbre Blues Festival in Singapore. We're a locally grown company and we want to grow the local scene."

Leslie Ong, director of Unusual Entertainment, feels that the key a festival helping to grow the local scene is to involve local artists.

Mr Loong adds: "If you have a fixed percentage of local artists in a music festival, it doesn't matter if it travels overseas because it will give those artists exposure."

Local bands represented

"As long as local bands are represented in a festival, it doesn't matter if it goes overseas because what matters is that the local platform is there," says David Tan, lead vocalist and guitarist of local band Electrico.

Adds Electrico bassist Desmond Goh: "Say, SINGfest travels to Thailand and has three of four local bands with it, it would be great exposure for those bands."

Amy Ho, a producer at The Esplanade Co Ltd, says that the Esplanade's music festivals - Mosaic and Baybeats - have showcasing local talent as a key goal, such that even if its festivals toured the region, this aim would remain

"We are building the Mosaic's and Baybeats' branding and audience, and one day we do hope that these festivals can
travel to other countries with the intent of introducing our local musicians and Asian artists to other parts of the world. To us, it is this vision of promoting local and Asian artists that makes touring a festival meaningful," Ms Ho says.

It happens that SINGfest's organisers have that very kind of commitment to showcasing local talent. "I am a local boy even if I don't look Chinese, and one of my dreams is to be able to produce a local talent that we can put
on stage at top events like Glastonbury or V Festival," says Mr Hosking.

"We don't just want to import talent but to export it. It's probably not so much directly exporting it by touring SINGfest overseas, but to act as a conduit by raising the profile of local artists such that they get well known enough to play at the largest music festivals in other countries," he adds.

As SINGfest expands over the next three years and adds more stages, All The Worlds' Mr Morrison says that a goal is "to have one stage just for unsigned local talent and another for new talent".

One shouldn't forget that the Universal Music Group is backing the whole SINGfest venture, which means that promising local acts who play at SINGfest will be perfectly positioned to be noticed by the music label.

Sandy Monteiro, Universal's senior vice-president for Asean, says that he sees the concept of a comprehensive music festival "being replicated around the world, with SINGfest just being the first".

Even if there's no danger of the local music scene not being able to benefit from SINGfest, there's a bit of concern about finding the right venue for it as the festival grows in size and scope.

SINGfest's organisers know that the question is not if, but when the event will outgrow Fort Canning Park and its 10,000 audience capacity.

"There are a lot of artists who would love to come to Singapore to play but there aren't appropriate venues," says Graham Perkins, managing director of media company Elasticity, on the sidelines of the PALME Asia audiovisual
industry exhibition.

"There's a lot of big venues but not enough medium-sized ones, and a lot of the artists flying to Australia are therefore bypassing Singapore." Mr Perkins adds that this situation should change when the Integrated Resorts (IRs) open.

"I think I think we're all beefing up towards the IRs because without venues, you can't have good events staged here," says Rosalind Ng, managing director of IIR Exhibitions, which organises PALME Asia.

All The Worlds' Ms Morgan and Mr Morrison say that other venues under consideration for SINGfest include the Padang and Sentosa, but Mr Hosking hopes to keep the festival at Fort Canning for at least another year.

Well, as long as they aren't running off with SINGfest to another country, Singapore should be happy.

This article was first published in The Business Times on July 11, 2008.

BY: Christopher Lim


Wow, I totally didn't know that SingFest lost a million dollars last year. I would have died to go! That probably explains the ridiculously priced food and drinks. So, what are your views? :D
Current Mood: surprisedsurprised
Current Music: Stand Up ♥ Mêlée
SJorange_nerds on September 12th, 2008 08:49 am (UTC)
I did read about them losing money in the first year, but that was expected from a business POV. Didn't seem like there was a lot of promo for the festival in '07 either and I reckon only a handful of local/regional music sites had mentioned it let alone were aware of SINGfest at that point. It was totally different this time round, even local radio stations (in Malaysia, where I'm from) picked up on it and were affiliated with the festival in some way or another so Midas has definitely stepped up their game.

SINGfest '08 was my first and all I had in terms of expectations were what a friend told me of her experience at the festival in '07 which I didn't attend (read: overseas for studies). To be honest, I was pleasantly surprised and found it (day 1) highly enjoyable. It's something I can only wish/hope/dream Malaysian organizers would pick up on someday and until something similar happens, I'll definitely be attending future installments of SINGfest as long as I'm keen on the lineup and am able to afford it.