AS the old saying goes, the more the merrier and concert-goers have never had it so good as the music scene in Singapore and other Asian cities heats up with a surge in festivals as well as live acts.
With artists forced to tour now to make a living, more of them pencil Singapore (as well as Hong Kong or Malaysia) in as a stop during their world tours. That has not only resulted in a busier gig calendar here but also a growth in promoters putting together multi-act outdoor music festivals.
A handful like Timbre Rock & Roots, ZoukOut and St Jerome's Laneway Festival have established themselves over the years and have gone on to become annual affairs. Two new ones - 1 World Music Festival and Camp Symmetry - put together by new organisers are set to join the line-up; while regional ones like Hong Kong's Clockenflap and Malaysia's Urbanscapes are also attracting local music lovers to them.
More than just the music
People are drawn to festivals not only because they give plenty of bang for the buck - for the price of one ticket, they get to catch a variety of acts in one place - but they offer more than just your average concert.
"Some take place by the sea, some have a very community feel, some are stretched over a couple of days; so it's all very different," notes Beatrice Chia-Richmond, managing director of Running Into The Sun, a concert promoter that mainly specialises in K-pop acts and is also behind the upcoming retro-pop festival, Retrolicious Reunion.
The atmosphere each creates is an important one. "The biggest challenge I feel, and the most important one, is to make sure that the experience of the festival is second to none to create a vibe that has people leaving the festival feeling happy," says Mark Rafter, a veteran Australian promoter. His 1 World Music Festival, for instance, will offer premium frills such as dedicated table-service and an ultra-exclusive VIP lounge where guests can rub shoulders with the artists - something no other festival in the world is offering.
To make the experience a richer and more rounded one, others like Hong Kong's Clockenflap go beyond just music and feature creative arts as well. "Clockenflap's whole has always being greater than the sum of its parts, and music is just one component of that whole," explains its festival director Justin Sweeting. "Since the beginning, we've been focusing more on creating the overall experience of the festival."
Clockenflap has since become one of Hong Kong's marquee festivals and it's common to find installation, graphic and animation graphic artists plus filmmakers sharing the line-up with international music acts. Meanwhile, Singapore-based Camp Symmetry's festival director Tim Kek shares a similar vision and cites the iconic South by Southwest - an annual music-film-arts festival and conference that takes place every spring in Austin, Texas - as his inspiration and an exciting model to follow.
"The dream is to one day be able to involve the entire arts scene in Singapore," says Mr Kek, who's also the managing director and co-founder of Symmetry Entertainment, the company which his festival is named after. "We personally believe that it's much more than the music and that it is the small things that matter and what people remember. Of course you need a stellar line-up (of music acts), but beyond that, the entire experience is paramount - from providing a good selection of food and drinks to fun fringe activities for attendees to participate in."
Ideal testing ground
Most promoters also feel Singapore has room for more festivals. "The people know how to have fun ... (so) I see the festival circuit opening up," says Mr Rafter, as he prepares to relocate here in the coming months and enter the "live" events industry with Retfar Entertainment. Not only that, he sees Singapore as an ideal testing ground for the premium services that 1 World plans to offer because of the country's affluence. If things pan out well, there are plans to export 1 World back to Australia.
Ms Chia-Richmond adds that Singaporeans are "very experienced concert-goers" while Symmetry Entertainment's co-founder Jean Hui Ng notes that other established festivals in the region like Japan's Fuji Rock and Australia's Big Day Out continues to draw more and more Singaporeans there; that, in turn, has influenced the demand for local promoters to start their own events.
But she states the priority now is to solidify Camp Symmetry's presence within Singapore first. "That means building a solid fan base with top-notch production standards and turning it into an annual event," she says. "We would definitely want to expand the festival into more than one day; and with more slots, we can include and promote local and regional bands. We also hope to include other art forms in the coming years."
Ms Chia-Richmond, however, feels the scene might have hit saturation point - be it a one-act concert or festival - as early as two years ago. "Because our market is very small, the danger is, very often two or more people will have the same idea," she warns. Running Into The Sun has resisted expanding Retrolicious despite the success it has enjoyed in the past; preferring to keep things comfortably intimate so it doesn't change the vibe of the festival.
"We are restricted by the number of people Fort Canning can hold (and) I'm hesitant to shift to another venue," she explains. "People also talk about running it over two nights but we feel it should just be one night of nostalgia - I don't think people want to wear their costumes for two nights in a row!"
Risky yet attractive
Given the scope of festivals, organising one can also be risky business for promoters. Mr Sweeting says they are far more complex to pull off and there are many components to festivals that make them really different beasts compared to organising one-off shows.
Mr Kek admits that as Camp Symmetry is the first his company is organising, they "might be off with numbers and projections" but adds it's a double-edged sword. "Yes, a festival comes with more risk of loss but it also comes with a larger potential profit margin," he adds.
That's because festivals tend to have the potential to draw larger crowds - including overseas visitors - so it can also be seen as an attractive business proposition for promoters.
Retfar Entertainment's managing director, Gregory Gumo, a New York native who has 24 years experience in the nightlife industry, cites the example of festivals being more cost-efficient because logistically, you only need to set things up once.
But as his business partner Mr Rafter plainly puts it: "I think all events - whether concerts or festivals - are risky as it is the nature of the business."