By SGN | 9 June 2022
2022 is the year that Clarence is stepping into the metaverse.
After a year of dabbling in cryptocurrency and DeFi investing, he began to see the potential of Web3 as a gamechanging technology for the music industry. Working together with his team, he launched Bandwagon Pixel Party in January, a series of virtual concerts hosted in Decentraland.
“The metaverse allows artists and fans to connect in novel ways,” he says, noting that metaverse concerts bring back the element of ownership to music appreciation.
Just as they bought CDs and vinyl records before the age of streaming, listeners can now collect digital badges and official NFT artifacts (or ‘wearables’) to affirm their fandom. This model generates a new source of income for artists, who can sell NFTs for $40 to $300 apiece, versus earning a mere 0.3 cents or so per stream.
In addition, the metaverse offers ample room for creative expression and a sense of limitless possibility. Concert-goers can customise an out-of-this-world avatar, explore interactive spaces, chat with new friends, and take part in wearable giveaways. Best of all, entry to Pixel Party is free.
The response has been encouraging. Over the first three editions (featuring MYRNE, Forests and Dipha Barus respectively), attendance has grown steadily to over 1000. Clarence’s team has lined up several more concerts with artists from across Asia, and they are currently exhibiting the Pixel Party concept at MetaJam Asia, Singapore’s first NFT festival.
In collaboration with CapitaLand – the real estate company with $87 billion in assets – Bandwagon is also about to launch CapitaVerse, an immersive new world of experiential retail.
A lifelong love of music
“I always loved music growing up,” Clarence shares. “When I was three, I would carry a toy guitar and pretend to lead my father’s friends in a sing-a-long.”
As he grew older, he went on to master a slew of instruments, including the organ, piano, violin, guitar (acoustic and electric) and bass. In secondary school, he played the national anthem on piano every morning at school assembly. In university, he was in a band that performed at annual concerts.
Over the years, he has gravitated towards “different palettes of sounds” but typically genres that emphasise improvisation and creative interpretation, such as jazz (artists like John Coltrane, Oscar Peterson, Brad Mehldau), progressive rock (Dream Theater, Liquid Tension Experiment) and, of late, indie soul (Tom Misch, Thundercat, Alfa Mist).
He relates this love for improvisation to his propensity for venturing off the beaten path. “I am someone who doesn’t believe there’s just one way to do something, which is why I guess I ended up as an entrepreneur in Singapore operating such a niche business. People say starting a business is tough, but starting a music business is even tougher, and a music media business even more so.”
Fresh out of university in 2011, Clarence founded Bandwagon as a searchable live music directory, aggregating at one point over 1000 gigs per month, everything from classical concerts to cover band pub shows to DJ club performances.
When concert promoters started asking for editorial coverage of their events, the company launched its media business and proceeded to sign a multi-year deal with Yahoo Entertainment to supply music-related content.
The scope of their coverage gradually expanded to include more countries in Asia and a wider range of music genres and entertainment angles, be it electronic music festivals or K-pop music video releases. Today, the Bandwagon website draws a global audience of roughly 650,000 monthly active users, with the largest readerships coming from the Philippines, the US and India.
Building platforms for Asian artists
Along the way, Clarence noticed that there weren’t many platforms for local artists to perform and promote their music. In line with Bandwagon’s second birthday in 2013, his team organised an event called The Music Market, featuring pop-up stalls along with live music by Singaporean artists like The Sam Willows, .gif and Anechois.
The sizeable turnout spurred Clarence to stage more music events, including quarterly shows at Marina Bay Sands highlighting regional artists and the annual competition Vans Musicians Wanted, which receives hundreds of submissions each year. Bandwagon has also organised many concerts in the region for acts such as legendary guitarist Slash and English singer-songwriter Lucy Rose.
“Our unique edge is being able to offer artists not just a stage but also online media value,” Clarence says. “Before the pandemic, we were doing about 30 events a year.” When COVID hit, however, the team doubled down on digital and created an online concert series called Sing Along SG, for which they had to send recording equipment to musicians’ homes, then mix and master the audio remotely for the online streams.
As pandemic restrictions eased, Bandwagon co-organised hybrid community events like *SCAPE’s Youth Music Awards and Shaping Hearts, an arts festival celebrating the talents of the differently abled. Yet their focus on digital never faded, and they continued to engage fans online through music news, Spotify playlists and Pixel Party concerts.
Looking back at the past 10 years
Since day one, Bandwagon has never been about jumping on the bandwagon. The company has constantly spearheaded initiatives to grow the local and regional music communities, leading the way while evolving according to demand and opportunity.
Looking back, Clarence says it has been incredible to journey with artists like ShiGGa Shay, Benjamin Kheng, Charlie Lim and Gentle Bones – who came onto the scene around the same time as Bandwagon – and see how far everybody has come. It has been gratifying for the team to connect with artists and fans from across the world, seeing their articles translated by readers into Spanish, Thai or Vietnamese, or meeting people who share how stumbling upon a Bandwagon piece years ago helped them discover music that has seen them through hard times.
Clarence’s advice to upcoming founders is to spend time prototyping and validating interest before building out an entire platform. He also says it’s important to equip yourself with less “sexy” knowledge that may not always be talked about but is critical for business growth, such as understanding the legal aspects and capital structure of a company.
Last but not least, he recommends looking to tech. “I would say invest in technology as much as you can, because technology presents the biggest differentiator that can help a business to scale.”
Shaping global tastes and culture
With Pixel Party and the metaverse, Bandwagon is using technology to explore new realms of engagement and avenues of expansion, but their mission of spotlighting and championing music in Asia remains the same.
In this digital era, Clarence observes that streaming has broadened listeners’ palates, even opening them up to music in languages they don’t comprehend. Asian music has recently made great strides in the West, with BTS becoming the first Asian (and non-English-speaking) artist to be named Global Recording Artist of the Year and American label 88rising elevating the status of Asian artists, whether through a Marvel blockbuster soundtrack or a showcase at Coachella.
Together with his team at Bandwagon, Clarence hopes to build on this momentum, creating experiences and building communities around Asian music that appeal to an international audience. “Music speaks to our soul, our culture and our identity,” he muses. “Our dream is to one day shape global tastes and trends, and foster a greater appreciation of the rich cultures that we have on this side of the world.”
Clarence is the founder of Bandwagon, a Singapore-headquartered music media company that spotlights and champions Asian music. The company organises physical and virtual live music events and has built a website with approximately 650,000 monthly active users from around the world.
Connect with him here.