But things are changing and the giant markets of China and Malaysia are now opening up to bespoke music and partnerships with overseas composers.
Last month, Spikes Asia 2014 spearheaded local activity, gathering art directors, media agencies, music supervisors, producers and directors from across South East Asia and Australia to offer an important gateway for UK publishers and composers.
Catherine Manners, who helms boutique publishing and management company Manners McDade, received UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) support to attend the event. We caught up with Catherine on her return to find out about the exciting opportunities South East Asia and UKTI investment can offer British publishers.
You recently attended Spikes Asia – can you tell me a bit more about it?
It’s really exciting and very new – and that’s why I wanted to go. We’re part of the UKTI scheme called Passport to Export, which helps small British companies to take their business abroad. They will tell you about other schemes you can join, give you financial support as well as on-the-ground support to find new contacts.
Most people are familiar with the sync summits that the BPI and MPA support as well – Spikes is a fairly new addition to that round of events. It’s like Cannes Lions, which is where all the European advertising agencies get together and network, except it’s for Asia. It attracts all the major advertising and marketing agencies from the region, including China and Australia.
What attracted you to the region?
It’s a growth market. We can go over to LA to talk to music supervisors, but there are hundreds of supervisors being approached by hundreds of publishers. While the US is a great market for us, it’s also very crowded. But over in Asia, it’s very new. There are very few music supervision companies out there. Some countries are quite behind in their musical tastes so there’s a lot of eighties pop on adverts and TV shows. Now that’s changing and they’re starting to commission composers to write music and soundtracks. It’s getting a lot more sophisticated and creative.
In Europe we do a lot of work with bespoke music for advertising and I wanted to see if we could take it over there.
Is catalogue music still the predominant force over there?
There is a lot of commissioned music in Asia but the quality is very different. There’s a lot of library music and synth music, yet what we see in the rest of the world is music by well known film and TV composers who will, nowadays, work on ad campaigns.
So, while there are still a lot of people working on jingles, agencies are now looking for more sophisticated campaigns and specially composed music.
China is a huge growth market, but on the copyright side of things they’ve got a huge amount of work to do to catch up. But in terms of paying a composer to write music, I’d say it was a very big market.
Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia are all open to syncs too – but the fees are going to be nowhere near as good as over here. The business works the same, it’s just not crowded out with music supervisors, and therefore the prices are less competitive.
Did you notice any musical trends when you were there?
It was a real mixed bag, but in Singapore I noticed a lot of eighties pop, whereas in Australia they seemed to be looking at more interesting up-and-coming bands. The music coming out of China was quite sophisticated bespoke music – allsorts in fact. A lot of the ad agencies had their headquarters in Shanghai and a lot of people are doing work there, including the British company Massive Music, which has an office in the city. I’m sure that in five years’ time every big music supervision company will have an office in that part of the world.
Did you pitch while you were there, or were you just making contact?
No, it wasn’t about pitching, it was about meeting people and making contacts.
How do you envisage doing business over there?
We already work with Saatchi in the region and through that have learned a lot about the different culture of business. In a way it’s very straight forward and polite, but everything has to be written down and you have to send copies of everybody’s passport. They’re very hot on money laundering. You have to jump through a few administrative hoops before you can supply music to companies out there. But then they’re very loyal, they seem to come back.
How much of Manners McDade business comes from overseas?
It’s growing and that’s part of reason why we teamed up with UKTI. We wanted help in looking at other markets. This year, while they’ve been supporting us, we’ve been out on promotional trips to LA, Amsterdam, Paris and now Singapore. One of our biggest writers is German and I think, whereas a couple of years ago when we were focusing just on the UK, we’re now looking externally to see what areas of the global market we can get into. We’ll go everywhere we can.
We sit down with UKTI and discuss this. We also look at our composers’ strengths and look at areas we should approach with them. Obviously LA is really important for us, due to the sheer volume of sync opportunities. And we will look at countries with a solid film industry, possibly state-supported, and France is top of that list. We went there and are translating our website into French. Since going there, Harry Escott, who’s one of our management clients, has started working on a French language film.
We try to make as many partnerships as we can in different territories rather than try to act like a bigger company and set up offices everywhere. We make contact with people who are already there. For example, we’ve got a really good relationship with an LA trailer company called Pusher. We’ve got good relationships in France and in Singapore with Song Zoo, which covers Asia Pacific and Australia.
It’s been a big year for your company then?
Yes, it’s been a really exciting year. We have new staff, we’ve travelled and I think what we’ve learned is that the world is actually a really small place. The sooner you can get out there and make connections the better. We want to do the best we can for the talent we represent both on the management agency side and the music publishing side. And part of being a good agent and good publisher is going out there and making connections.
How does the process work with the UKTI? Do you have any tips on how to approach the organisation?
My main tip would be to engage with them. They’re really busy people and they support loads of small companies – but if you engage with them and go to all the schemes they offer, you’ll find it really useful. There was a day workshop we attended on how to internationalise your website and take your business global. I had to drag myself there thinking it would be a boring day of presentations but I was on the edge of my seat all day. They make you think differently. They don’t tell you what to do, they just open your mind. They’re there to bounce ideas off and hold your hand along the way, as well as providing funding and travel opportunities. There’s so much on offer, you just have to take advantage of it and throw yourself in.
Want to learn more about the region? Read our K-pop and J-pop feature.
Manners McDade represents a diverse roster of composing talent, from Nils Frahm and Poppy Ackroyd to Adrian Corker, Ben Foster and Tom Hodge.
Since 2001, Catherine has managed the careers of composers working in film, television, games and advertising, while the company’s publishing arm launched in 2006.