Territory Director – ONErpm
Founder – PLAIN PACK
Isaac Miranda started as a writer, and session musician then moved to label head and artist management. Having started his label and marketing company PLAIN PACK, Isaac began breaking artists in SEA and globally. Starting as a writer for JUICE magazine, a street culture and music magazine focused on Malaysia and Southeast Asia, he gained valuable experience covering musicians within the region. Beyond writing and being a working musician, Isaac also freelanced as a party promoter, where he first got his introduction to artist management. His label PLAIN PACK based out of Singapore and Kuala Lumpur has released over 200 songs in the last 3 years producing over 250 million streams. PLAIN PACK provides a variety of services including artist management and development, marketing and advertising strategy, A&R, distribution, and consultancy. PLAIN PACK’s roster of artists includes lullaboy, NYK, JAIE, Ffion, and other acts from Malaysia, Singapore, and beyond.
How did you find yourself in artist management?
I had no idea what it was going to take to be a manager. I had experience in media and advertising so in some ways, it gave me confidence that had some of the skills to manage. It wasn’t until I found an artist that, in my opinion I felt had it all, did I think to give it a try. This particular artist was someone I had booked for a party through a recommendation of a friend. He could sing, and he had an incredible stage presence. I was positive I could work with him to get him signed to a major. So we talked about what we could do together and made it happen within the next six months.
“It was probably the biggest mistake I’ve made but we learned from the experience.”
I realized that if I could do this with one artist maybe I could do it with others. So I expanded quickly because at that time I saw there was a gap in the Malaysian market… and there still is. There aren’t enough independent managers or labels that are focused on developing Pop and Indie-Pop artists – which in my opinion is what can go global from SEA, as opposed to regional Malay or Mandarin music which is the predominant force in the region.
At one point I had ten to twelve artists concurrently, and as a one-person team it was too much. I may have overextended myself by thinking that if I could find success with one of them I could use that to leverage a push across the entire roster. Then, in 2019 I moved to Singapore and decided to consolidate and downsize my roster and began working with a few already established artists and found a balance that was far more manageable.
Which aspect of your experience proved to be the most valuable as you transitioned to artist management?
While working at JUICE I had the opportunity to cover many bands that were touring around the world. It gave me access to interview management and artists to find out why they were doing what they were doing. It opened up a whole new world to me.
What are some of the challenges to finding success in the SEA region?
The biggest problem we face is the lack of homogeneity. Over here every country is so culturally distinct. For lullaboy’s latest single we did with RedRecords and Universal, we had to make assets in several languages. We had lyric videos and translations galore even though we had no idea if the song would do well in every region… but we had them ready. So, I feel a lot of people think of Asia as one blob as opposed to understanding that to be successful here, there needs to be specific targeted marketing plans and strategies to break in the region.
The regulations are also extremely different from country to country. So in one case, Singapore is very open. I can get an artist in on a permit for $15, which I can apply for online. If I want to bring an international artist to Malaysia I’m looking at paying about 1,000 dollars for every person in the crew along with having to apply at least 60 days in advance. This leaves no room for smaller emerging bands to tour easily. On top of this, there is a 25-30% tax on entertainment depending on the venue. The same thing happens in Indonesia where we need to pay about the same amount to obtain permits for each performer. This makes it difficult for small and upcoming artists to plot a tour around SEA and try to hit each market. This is detrimental because that’s how you grow everywhere else in the world. Traditionally artists would tour and open up for bigger artists while they play their own shows in smaller venues.
Singapore is a nation of fewer than 10 million people, while Malaysia has 25-30 million and most of them are focused on local music. Smaller music venues are scarce. There aren’t many places for people to play outside of the urban centers in these countries, leaving many artists to only have access to the same showcases or events repeatedly at the same venue. How many times as an artist can you play in the same place before you saturate your fan base?
However, we’ve begun to circumvent this problem through social platforms. Social mediahas made it easier to reach new fans, to collaborate with creators around the world. The real power of online collaboration became even more evident during the pandemic.
In your opinion, what are the most useful DSP’s in the region, and how do you use them?
Tiktok and Youtube are the most important discovery platforms for us. We use a lot of TikTok or influencer-led platforms to funnel people to other platforms like Spotify that generate revenue. Youtube is the biggest DSP in the market at the moment. Youtube Shorts are starting to take off so we’ve been experimenting with what the right balance of content is. Primarily, Youtube and Tiktok content drive engagement. We’ve found that our content works better when it’s focused on individual platforms. So if we put something on Tiktok we’re not going to use the same content on Reels or Shorts. We’ve also found – well this might be slightly speculative – that for now if you create content natively on shorts you get about 20-30 percent more reach than you would if you uploaded a video. I try to get my artist to bank content. Then from the start of a campaign, we’ll take a look at what works and then try to do more of the same. An issue that a lot of artists and creators have here is a lack of consistency and discipline. I’m a music person, and I like music, but music is just the first piece of the puzzle nowadays. The music is there to sell experiences, it’s there to sell merch, it’s there to sell products. The quicker the people wrap their heads around this the more we’ll start to see growth in SEA.
What are the most important things artists need to consider when developing a business strategy?
In Malaysia, Singapore, increasingly in Indonesia, and in Thailand, we see a lot of artist influencers. This came about primarily because music revenue was not enough to sustain an artist. It’s almost become the de facto path when a major label signs an artist. They are not looking to build their music beyond our little region, they’re just looking to use music as a selling point to brands. Brands see it as they are not just engaging with an influencer but an artist as well. An artist needs to develop their brand identity strongly first before even thinking about starting to engage with brands. Compared to creators in the west who might have one or two strong brand deals and that’s it, over here poorly fitting brand deals can dilute the fan base. One of my former clients was doing decently with about 100-150k followers on Instagram. 90 percent of her Instagram was product shots and wasn’t music-adjacent content, which is what is needed to curate a fanbase. The fanbase didn’t continue to engage when she dropped music, the fanbase didn’t convert to her music even though she was and still is a popular figure in Singapore.
So an artist needs to think about how they want to be perceived, do they want a quick bag now, or build a career growing a fanbase that’s connected to their music? If they want to grow globally then they have to think about how they are building their fanbase globally. It’s important to consider whether the content they are endorsing or producing is a potential detriment to musical opportunities. Building a musical career or brand is a balancing act because you can make great money on ads but I feel that most artists don’t want to be influencers. So if an opportunity is right we try to guide artists to choose brands they have an affinity for.
What are some of the current trends that are specific to SEA?
Well, global collaborations are happening for sure. Out of the top 10 songs in my catalog 8 are collabs. We’ve seen that fly. What I feel is happening more, maybe not just in the SEA market but Asia as a whole, is that we are starting to see people make music that is more niche. So maybe two or three years ago everyone was trying to make music that was primarily Pop, which is cool, but now people have realized that you need to find your lane to stand out. There are about 100,000 songs uploaded to Spotify every day. Doing something interesting and weird or unique is what is going to make people come out and so with that, there has also been a rise in collectives.
It’s not a new thing but it’s been happening more and more. I’m seeing a lot of artists not caring about hitting 1 million on socials if they can service their crowds they are happy about it. I don’t know if we’re doing anything vastly different from the rest of the market at the moment. There has been a lot of focus on SEA because we are the largest consumption region, along with the concept of trigger cities. So we are starting to see more attention from outside SEA. Now it’s just about finding artists we can blow up in the region as opposed to just the ones that are coming in from outside.
How hands-on does a manager need to be to sculpt an artist and prepare them to make a jump to the next level?
It differs from artist to artist. With my artist NYK, I came in from the start as a writer/producer because that’s how we started working together and I’m here to help plan out a strategy, and marketing. He takes care of all the visuals. I trust his brand identity and how he wants to move forward. With an artist like lullaboy, he writes the songs first and sends us the demos. We take a look and I’ll A&R a bit ill try to place him with the right producers for it. We bring in the label to pitch marketing ideas and we help to strategize and find common ground. For another artist like JAIE, she sends me music that is 99% done every quarter and I take over from that point. With one of my former clients in Singapore, I didn’t handle the music side of things at all, I only did her finances and brand deals and didn’t touch the artistry.
My role as manager is not to keep them here forever, what I’m looking to do is to develop them to the stage where they have enough leverage to get good deals for themselves. I realize I can’t take them globally as a one-man show, music is a team game.
When looking for the right fit, label-wise, the only thing that matters to me is the team. If there is somebody I trust, somebody with a track record, and someone who is invested in music, I want them to call and discuss any strategy or opportunities they might have. They must want to grow with the artist as well. So I think money is not so important, because if it goes well we all make money. Not to say money isn’t important for artists, but advances are just really bad loans. So for me, finding the right team to help nurture and grow the talent is my primary consideration. However, I am now working at a distribution and label services company called ONErpm, so I am starting to see the other side of the fence… So, I understand it’s a lot tougher than it looks from the outside.
What developments in Web3 technology have you seen that interested you so far?
I haven’t seen any real utility come out of any web3 music products thus far. The way I look at it, if it can be done in web2, then why are we trying to make it so complicated? I feel like NFTs and music NFTs have a bit of a bad reputation unless you are an artist with a knowledgeable fan base that can help support the technology. Otherwise, it’s tough to find viable use cases. I do think that NFTs are the future and web3 will fully develop, but it will take a lot to change people’s opinions in the short term. Oddly enough it might even take a certain amount of regulation or at least self-regulation until it will be able to reach mass adoption.
Not related to Web3, one of the most exciting things I’ve seen in the music industry is there are more and more independent artists carving out income for themselves without the need for a major label. There is a platform called Indify that’s based in the States and what they do is pair exciting projects with managers, investors, marketing firms, and agencies who want to invest in music and help people get a leg up. The singer Pink Sweats first broke out using this platform. An example of the power of Indify can be seen with the artist Yuji whose song went to #1 on the Spotify global viral charts. Thrice Cooked, an artist management company found the song and made a strategic investment through Indify and was able to help the song break through. Indify’s user base helps to bring value to projects to help push them through to wider markets.
I’ve worked on a few projects through this platform. It’s a great way for managers and upcoming agencies and labels to find each other. I still think you need an old-fashioned label to take things globally, but the first step, finding the right partners is not so difficult anymore and you can do that globally.
What are the next steps for your career and where do you see yourself in the next 10 years
The long play for me has always been to help develop infrastructure for artists in and around SEA, and I feel that is something that can be done from a variety of roles. There is something I learned from a good friend. Take my twenties to learn, my 30’s to build, and 40’s to teach. So that’s the general formula I’m trying to stick to. As for advice for people who want to jump into the industry side of the music business, the number one thing you can do to help your career is to just reach out and network. Your network is the most important thing in the music industry. A lot of people feel scared to send out a message, but a DM and a LinkedIn message can go a long way.