“We have aggressive plans in terms of growth and to expand in the world, and we feel that Asia is really in an exciting time right now”, says BandLab Technologies CEO Meng Ru Kuok, referring to company's launch of music-oriented publication NME in Asia.
BandLab Technologies acquired the publication, which originated in the UK, in 2019. NME Asia will offer content for free, and aims to celebrate both established and emerging homegrown musical talent from Southeast Asia.
"At this time, we have no plan or need for a content paywall," Kuok says. "We are telling important stories about scenes around Asia and we want everyone to be able to see them.” He cites the success of untraditional talent-management company 88rising as evidence of the vibrance of the music scene. Started by Sean Miyashiro & Jaeson Ma, the startup has become a music label in its own right and helped to bring Asian music to the forefront.
“Right now more than 60% of the youth in the world live here,” Kuok says. “People are looking beyond K-Pop and Korea. They have seen the success of that but there are many more stories to be told.”
The company believes it can offer brands solutions that go far beyond traditional media buys. "Brands across Southeast Asia can expect to be given access to our entire world of connected music brands through integrated solutions that deliver on physical and digital platforms, experiential touchpoints and events."
The company's commercial and editorial teams will work closely to deliver "creative concepts that provide real results for brands and our audience", adds Holly Bishop, BandLab's global head of media strategy and partnerships.
As a digital-only brand, NME has not been strongly affected by COVID-19. “Operationally, there are some more challenges rather than necessarily our ability to kick off, as ultimately we are launching primarily a digital product,” says Kuok. “There are some challenges in doing face-to-face interviews but that has allowed the team to be very focused." Since many markets are still under distancing orders, people are looking to discover new artists and are willing to listen to new content, he added.
The publication will have contributions from established music and pop-culture journalists across Asia. “When it comes to Asia we see a need to focus on local and regionalized content," Kuok says. "In terms of differences, international music imports very well into Southeast Asia but there’s no question of a huge passion for local music.”
Illiyas Ong, the editorial lead of NME Asia, says the key is in how BandLab markets NME. “How we market ourselves, a lot of it is word of mouth on social platforms, or picking the right talent to champion us,” he says.
BandLab tailors its approach to specific markets and social-media networks. It focuses on generating Facebook-specific content in Philippines, while in Indonesia, it has been creating longer form videos, such as a series called Home Sessions on YouTube, and IG TV. Producing such creative content has a higher priority than instant news on the music industry.
While NME Asia is digital-only initially, the door is not closed to the possibility of a physical edition in the future. “We’ve already successfully implemented [NME] in Australia via a more traditional print product, and we’ve already seen people in Asia wanting to get their hands on that, so we know there is demand for special physical edition subscriptions in the region," says Kuok.
This is not the first time BandLab has tried to popularise a storied western music publication in Asia. In January 2018, BandLab sold to Penske Media Corporation (PMC) a 49% share in Rolling Stone, which BandLab had acquired in 2016 for $40 million.