Growing up, Priya Dewan had a robust but academic exposure to music. The entrepreneur — an Indian citizen born in the Philippines who spent her formative years in Singapore — played the trumpet and trombone, was part of a high school band and jazz band, and took voice lessons.
“I also loved going to musicals and I loved Take That,” says Priya. “In fact, I used to go to sleep with 98.7FM (an English-language pop hits radio channel) on, and it would drive my mum crazy.”
Today, the head of music consulting and booking agency Feedback Asia probably listens to much more music, except now she travels all over the world to hear it live. And that is how she came to set up her latest venture, Gig Life Asia — a digital guide and music tourism site for events in Asia.
Priya tells Options how she arrived at this point: “When I went to the US to attend university — I studied PR and Marketing — I joined the college radio station. I started a radio show together with a friend who was very knowledgeable about all things independent music and, through that, I fell in love with music in a completely different way. It was an immersion,” she says.
While still a student, Priya took up an internship at the US office of UK-based independent record label, Warp, and through that she also interned at Fenway Recordings in Boston, where she was offered a full-time position upon graduation. After about two years, she decided to move to New York and landed back at Warp Records. There, she built a successful career over eight years, becoming its North American label manager and gaining industry recognition — including being a board member of the American Association of Independent Music.
Just as she was feeling somewhat restless and wondering what lay ahead, Priya booked a flight back to Singapore to visit her parents. She timed it for when the first ever Laneway festival (which originated in Melbourne, Australia) was to be held on the island.
“A few of my friends were playing there, so I wanted to support them and check it out. And it was at Laneway about seven years ago that I got my epiphany — that I needed to come back and do live music in Asia. That it was the right time,” Priya recalls of that pivotal moment. She recognised the potential of what she saw — a burgeoning interest and appreciation for indie music here in Southeast Asia.
Feedback Asia is now an established booking agency, representing acts and artistes who include Malaysian songstress Yuna, local band One Buck Short, Scottish synth-pop band Chvrches, British producer and DJ, Lapalux and American producer and DJ, Gigamesh, to name a few.
Priya confesses that she spends a lot of time on the road, going to different music festivals, concerts and gigs. “I still do it because this line of work is all about relationships and experiences,” she says.
As a result of her travels, and through sharing her experiences on social media, Priya found herself becoming the go-to guide for friends who wanted to either tag along with her, find out what shows were happening around the region or which hotels were she staying in.
“It got to the point where they thought just because I was doing it anyway, I could do their travel planning as well. So, I thought I should put all the information on a website so everyone could have access to it and they would stop bothering me,” she laughs.
That marked the birth of Gig Life Asia two years ago, which was initially set up as a calendar and guide to various music events, with information on the cities where they are held and other tips. But last year, Priya says, she began to pay more attention to the potential as a business.
Working towards a redesign of the website this year, the platform has already morphed into something beyond the listing of events, as the entrepreneur hopes to build a one-stop site for music events in this region.
“Festivals are not just about music. I think that is why I love them so much. It is a whole lifestyle — like what kind of food is going to be there, ‘check out that art installation’ or, ‘oh, this is a nice area to chill’. One of my favourite memories recently was at Fuji Rock, where one of the stages was on another mountain that you took a 20-minute gondola ride to get to. I looked down halfway and saw the entire festival landscape beneath. It was stunning. That is what it is about, it is a whole experience. So that is what I am tapping into, to curate that experience for others,” Priya says.
Festivals are not just about music. I think that is why I love them so much. It is a whole lifestyle — like what kind of food is going to be there
Already offering travel packages that typically include an entry ticket to the event, accommodation and local transport, Priya is working towards adding a community feature for music-event lovers to converge and share their experiences, knowledge and build friendships, because “one of the best things about music festivals is meeting new people”.
Also on the cards is a blog function and expansion by collaborating with strategic partners, such as in Australia and eventually beyond, to bring in visitors from other markets. “The music scene has been booming here in the last few years, just going by the sheer volume of events. But a slight concern — which everyone who works in the industry is aware of — is the potential for over-saturation … there is a finite audience here. So I am hoping one thing Gig Life can accomplish is to bring in people from other markets,” says Priya.
Naming Bali and cities such as Bangkok and Pattaya in Thailand as hot spots for music festivals in the region, she observes that Southeast Asian and Australian music fans are also particularly interested in Japanese and South Korean music festivals. She hopes to broaden Gig Life’s reach to more events from the two countries.
As for the most active music tourists, Priya says it’s 100% the Malaysians at this point. “When I went to Bangkok to see the Foo Fighters, I think I bumped into every single person I know from KL,” she laughs. “It used to be the Indonesians, but now I would definitely say there are far more Malaysians.”
This article first appeared on May 14, 2018 in The Edge Malaysia.