Priya Dewan, the pioneer behind one of Southeast Asia’s most successful live booking agencies- Feedback Asia, gives us some of her time to talk about working with the UK-based Warp Records, women in the workforce and her insight into the Asian music industry!
Having lived across many different worlds, Priya is an Indian citizen who was born in the Philippines and later bred in Singapore, where growing up she would then chase her dreams in pursuing theatre; but ended up in music tourism for the long run. After studying in Boston and spending her life in New York as a young label manager for Warp Records, she’s worked with the world’s top talents such as Grizzly Bear, Broadcast, Battles, Flying Lotus, !!!, Aphex Twin and others!
Notably, Priya has served as an active member and board member of the American Association of Independent Music (A2IM), has been featured as Billboard Magazine’s, “Top 30 Movers and Shakers Under 30” and quoted in The New York Times, Billboard, The Boston Globe, et al.
Q 1. Despite growing up in an era where Singaporean radio stations narrowed down their content to pop-music and pursuing theatre for your studies; what made you decide that Music Tourism had more appeal?
Good question! My love of music was unleashed when I was a student at Boston University and got roped into having a radio show with a friend of mine who had a lot more knowledge of cool music at the time. Boston has such a rich history of independent music and live music and I was immediately drawn in. I discovered that there was a massive industry behind the music and immediately wanted to be a part of it.
All though most of my professional career has been in working on the recorded side of the business, I always loved the live side, attending festivals all over the US and Europe during my Warp days, and across Asia now that I am based here again.
Q 2. Having experience working with Warp Records and continuing your work based in various cities such as London, Boston and New York- did you experience any cultural and work differences in terms of working in the Asian music market?
There are absolute differences between working in the US or UK or Asia. I think that one of my strengths has been developing a good understanding of the cultural nuances in communication the UK, US and across Asia, having spent several years in each market. Communication styles in each of these markets are very different – for example with my NY background, I can come across as an aggressive communicator in Asia, so I definitely worked on toning that down.
Q 3. With various accounts of patriarchal misconceptions of women working in music- could you share any memorable stories or experiences you’ve had from working as a receptionist all the way to a label manager in the international music industry?
I was and am very blessed to work with some great female and male mentors in my career. I have also had the reality of working with some unpleasant females and males in this industry. I prefer to focus my energies on those who encourage me, both professionally and personally. It was my former boss at Warp who was leaving to head another great indie label who trained me in all aspects of Label Management while I was an Office Manager, preparing me to take over for him.
I am forever grateful for the opportunity and worked very hard to learn from him to do a good job. One interesting story from my time as a young Label Manager at Warp was during a meeting with a company trying to work with us, the moment I stepped in the person I was expected to meet asked me if I could get him a coffee – confusing me for an intern. The rest of the meeting was quite amusing once he figured out who I actually was.
The Asian music scene
Q 4. One of the most important things about starting a platform like Gig Life Asia is to have a solid network base. How did you establish these connections? Were there people from your previous work history that was significant in the development?
I actually started Gig Life Asia because I had all of the connections needed to put this portal together through my original business – Feedback Asia – a booking agency for artists wanting to tour Asia. I work with numerous promoters around the region and attend at least one regional festival/concert a month.
I usually am there with artists or get taken out by promoters or other locals in the entertainment industry and being exposed to the best that each city has to offer in terms of sights, eats, drinks and stays. This is the information I am sharing with our followers on Gig Life Asia.
Q 5. When was the first time you felt a strong connection with the Asian music scene? Could you share your favorite concert that you attended in South East Asia?
The first time I felt truly connected to the Asian music scene was at the first Laneway Festival in Singapore on a visit home from the US. I was blown away that the music I loved, not necessarily the most commercial, was being enjoyed by fellow Asians in the crowd.
That was also the moment I realized that I should come back to Asia and bring all of the great experiences and contacts I had developed in the US and Europe back with me to support the then developing scene. I moved back to Singapore the following year to set up Feedback Asia.
Q 6. People sometimes generalize the Asian music scene, can you please tell us the specific differences, for example, between Hong Kong and Singapore in terms of their local music industry or gig culture?
I have definitely heard that misconception. It is fascinating just how different each market is – from the type of music they consume to the type of festivals they host. A good example is fan behavior at gigs – markets like Seoul and KL have very energetic fans who move to music, whereas Hong Kong and Singapore fans are more reserved with their body language at gigs.
Another is genre – Thailand has a huge affinity for EDM, whereas the Philippines would go more for rock/folk/pop. A third is language – most markets outside of Singapore consume mostly domestic content, which means in Thailand the #1 music they listen to is Thai Music (esp Thai rock) vs India where Bollywood music in Hindi dominates.
Q 7. Tell us a bit about your experience with creative geniuses like Flying Lotus and Grizzly Bear! What does the job of a label manager entail?
I was fortunate to have started working with Flying Lotus and Grizzly Bear early on in their careers, so there is definitely a strong bond of friendship beyond our working relationship.
I was there for a lot of their early milestones, which were so incredible, like when I sat at a pew of a church for a Grizzly Bear show, next to Paul Simon, or bumped into Flea backstage when Flylo opened for Atoms of Peace. It was great to see my friends working with and respected by other artists that I respect as much.
Q 8. There’s this notion of having to “pay your dues” or “do your time first before pursuing your passion” when working in the music industry- What’s your opinion on it?
I actually think this notion is true, and justified, in any industry.
I certainly had to pay my dues, starting as an unpaid intern stuffing envelope for radio promotions and doing press clippings to an Office Manager, managing the interns doing the envelope stuffing, to Label Manager, managing the entire operation, to finally starting my own business. I learned so much in each stage of my career. To just have the opportunity to be in the room for those management meetings as an intern was a huge opportunity that contributed to my future successes.
Q 9. The recurring theme of “Sustainability” is often mentioned when it comes to music festivals of late- could you share your insight on how it enhances the industry as well as the overall music experience?
I am thrilled to see Sustainability as a recurring theme, especially when used in a positive context like when talking about Wonderfruit Festival in Thailand – a sustainability-driven festival that actually educates festival-goers on how to have a better impact on the world, while still enjoying all of the fun of a festival.
I was devastated to read an article last year about how much waste and damage to the environment these festivals cause so it is vital that everybody learn how to be more conscious, but on the festival field and off.
Q 10. In your opinion- what is lacking in the Asian gig scene in your perspective, and what can the local music industry as well as supporters do to improve?
Support of regional music! I have discovered some amazing music by local artists in each market across the region and would love to see more regional interest, if not global interest in these talents. The local industries can support by inviting regional artists, and thus their fans, to their festivals.
Fans can research and listen to artists from around the region on Spotify or Apple Music. The recent launch of a label like Liquid State, a joint venture by Tencent and Sony Music, featuring artists from Asia, is a great sign that we are heading in the right direction.