Sony Music’s Shridhar Subramaniam on the rise of Asian music, working

Over the past two years, we have seen the rise of Asian music and entertainment across the world. The dazzling success of BTS in the West to the major global influence of shows like squid gamethe spotlight is slowly moving towards our side of the world.

With music in particular, the wave is only growing with more and more globally recognized Asian acts and major music companies, like Sony Musicplanting their roots in the region.

Following the launch of Sony Music’s Southeast Asia headquarters in Singapore, moving train spoke with the president of Corp Strategy and Market Development in Asia and the Middle East, Shridhar Subramaniam, to talk about what it takes to be successful in music and the growth of the Asian music scene.


So you’ve just arrived from New York, where you’re based. Why, given that you focus more on Asia and the Middle East?

The future of the music business, whether we like it or not, over a period of 10 to 15 years will pivot towards Asia. Why? Because we have a lot of things—population, demographics, creativity.

If a global company wants to succeed globally, it must succeed in Asia. Until the headquarters and the people who sit there and make decisions understand Asia, we cannot be successful in that part of the world.

In the previous presentation, you mentioned how COVID has really affected the music industry. Could you elaborate on that and the numbers you shared with us?

The music industry is almost a $26-27 billion business again, right, and at its peak in 1991 it was a $30 billion business. It’s fallen to 8 billion, but it’s now back to 28. Most of that growth has happened in the last five years and every year the global growth is 20%, so the industry has increased from 5 to 6 billion last year. It’s the first number.

The second figure is that of almost 60 different markets. Of the 60 markets, 50 markets grew by double digits and each of the 60 markets grew – not a single market did not grow. The Middle East is the fastest growing region at 35%, while China, already a billion-dollar market, is growing at 35% and the United States, the largest world market, with growth of 18%. All of this is driven by subscription streaming services.

Every major market is growing, not 20-25%, so these are all staggering numbers and we’re still just the tip of the iceberg. Of the 28 billion, Asia is still only 2.8 billion, we are still only at 10%, but there are public reports that predict we will reach 60 billion by 2028. When you look at this type of expected growth, you have to ask us what are we doing and what type of infrastructure do we have?

The only way to grow with the market is in the local directory, because as the Internet penetrates, everything will be done in local languages, right? Instagram, TikTok, social media celebrities and fans are also very local. So, now that you’re combining all of these trends, it’s imperative that you have your feet on the ground. So that’s where this office and all of our central operations, like our data analytics, human resources, etc., come in.

In Singapore, we have major players here like Universal and Warner, and now Sony Music. What is Sony’s sale? Why Sony, especially for budding artists?

We always ask ourselves this question, it is a huge question. The question is not what you say but how to execute. Our money is as good as anyone else’s, so that’s not even a differentiator. What we do best is our expertise and the support we provide to our artists

The first is actually the creative process. When you write a song, it’s the most lonely and insecure experience, where you feel a lot of doubts about your music. So that’s where our creative partnership comes in and we guide them to make the right decision. We’ll also be there to accept blame if it doesn’t – if a song doesn’t become a hit because sometimes it doesn’t, we take responsibility for it. So, we become this support function for artists, whether for good or for bad.

The short answer is that we have to be their partners. It’s cliché, but in reality, it is what it is – if you’re not that, you can’t be successful. And when an artist comes here and we introduce him, he introduces us, he has to feel that these guys can deliver that.

Compared to the US and Europe, Asia is a very fragmented market, it’s a very diverse region with so many different languages, cultures, styles and even relationships with music. How do you and your team strategize to handle the different shades of Asia?

I think that’s the biggest challenge in Asia. I mean, there’s the economic challenge in some of the markets in Asia, but the bigger one is really what you mentioned.

When you’re in a creative business, there’s always going to be diversity – and diversity isn’t just about language and geography; there is also cultural and heritage diversity. The only way to fix that, and I think you see that thinking here in Southeast Asia, is to start multiple labels, which target specific genres of music that fit different cultures and different needs in different countries. The only way to do this is to have specializations that cater to the specific niches you’re talking about.

How do these sub-labels work?

When you start a label, it’s not just lip service or paperwork. It must be supported by people, budget and resources.

More importantly, they need to be able to make sure this is viable. Typically, it takes a while for a label to start to become profitable or gain momentum, so you need to be patient. It won’t happen overnight, which is why a big company like ours, with deep pockets and a longer-term vision, can have the capacity to weather the storm in Asia.

You mentioned NFTs earlier, what are some Sony Music Web3 plans you can share with us?

Everyone is trying to figure out what needs to happen and in fact over the last few days we’ve been talking about that a lot.

To form a strategy to deal with this, you need to be nimble in observing which direction things are going, be alert and aware of the direction things are going to go, and participate and work with different things so you can learn. how these things happen without fully committing to them. It’s the only way to do it.


Sony Music’s Shridhar Subramaniam with Bandwagon Asia Founder Clarence

If you sit around and don’t see what’s going on, you can’t step in because you don’t know which one is going to win. You have to stay committed, but you can’t fully commit. So that’s what we’re going to do, we’ll experiment and we’ll be busy. If anyone has a clear strategy right now, I wouldn’t trust them.

What is your personal vision for Asia and the Middle East, what would be your tangible marker of success for these regions?

Personally, it will not come from the financial parameters. I think the measure of success, from what I believe and what has done a good job for us, would come from two things: the day Asia stops being seen as a market that just consumes the cultures of others and when we will become a market that can really influence global culture. This is where I think we succeeded because otherwise why are we here?

What do you think it takes to get there?

You have to look at the ingredients of success. One is the talent, which we have and of course it might not be polished or sophisticated enough, but it’s something we can add, as a global company that knows what it’s like enough “polished” and “finished” in the United States and elsewhere markets.

But what we don’t have, for me, are those enablers that can enable that transition from the local to the global. It goes back to an earlier point of creative partnership of what we can do to explain, convince and motivate artists to deliver this talent. Another thing is the people. The reality is you need to have people who believe this, who can offer this, who can have this.

With that, when you see acts like BTS, BLACKPINK, and all these other amazing Asian artists who have achieved huge success in the West and have such a huge influence in the world, what do you think are the factors that work in their favor and maybe help other Asian artists as well?

The simple message is that you have to be yourself, play yourself better than anyone else. That’s how it works.


This interview has been edited and condensed for brevity.


Lyle L. Maltby