Strengthening Penang’s Concert Industry

loading Photo: Setia SPICE.

Penang is setting its sights on becoming the new destination of choice for concerts in Malaysia, rivalling KL and Genting Highlands’s Arena of Stars. Currently, the Setia SPICE Arena is the go-to venue for concerts in the state. The multipurpose indoor arena, an impressive 33,000 sq ft of uninterrupted space, can comfortably seat a crowd of 10,000.

“The arena is fitted with terrace sitting and is protected from the whims of the weather; concert-goers won’t have to worry if it’s too hot or be concerned about heavy downpours,” says Yeoh Kheng Ho, the head of Setia SPICE Convention Centre.

Yeoh Kheng Ho. Photo: Setia SPICE.

There is just one problem, however: the arena is almost always fully booked. “Out of 52 weekends of the year, most are reserved for consumer fairs like baby and food expos, as well as home and furniture, travel and technology fairs; with the exception of days coinciding with festival celebrations. For these available slots, we try to approach concert organisers to host concerts in Penang.”

The state attracts a steady stream of Chinese artistes such as Fish Leong, G.E.M., Sammi Cheng and Eric Moo. “To date, the biggest concert we have hosted is by Taiwanese singer-songwriter Eric Chou; 15,000 people attended his show. We have had K-pop artistes like T-ARA and Rain perform here as well, and we are also trying to get more Western artistes to come in, though that would mean incurring a higher performance fee in comparison, and an extensive list of requirements to fulfil.

“But there are exceptions, of course. Certain artistes are more flexible with their performance requests. For example, if equipment A can’t be secured, they make do with equipment B instead,” says Yeoh, adding that the stage management procedures are entrusted to the organisers upon confirmation of the concert.

“These equipment carry hefty price tags, and as a venue, we do not provide them. To put together a major concert in Penang, the equipment must be flown in from either KL or Singapore; and the setting up can sometimes take up to five days to complete, from erecting the stage to conducting sound checks before the artiste is able to properly rehearse.”

The Setia SPICE Arena is the go-to venue for concerts in the state. Photo: Setia SPICE.

Nonetheless, Yeoh is confident that the arena is well-equipped with the required facilities, including ample parking spaces. “If we are to include the convention centre, a total of 1,300 parking spaces are available. Similarly, we have our own security personnel on standby on the day of the concert, as well as in-house caterers to prepare meals for the artistes and their crew. I think it’s wonderful that the state government is striving to promote more concerts in the state.”

The Concert Business

The entertainment industry can be classed into two categories; the upstream which partly consists of artiste management and content manufacturing; and the downstream comprising venue choices, stage hardware and ticket sale platforms.

Datuk Seri Brian Chow.

On the whole, the industry is supported by ancillary establishments, including the artistes and their management companies, government agencies, the media, stage hardware companies, stage art software designers, ticketing and human resource companies, as well as the performance venue and sponsoring airline, just to name a few; and linking all these facets together is the entertainment company. “It bears the highest risk within the overall entertainment industry chain, because initial investments have to be made. Only when concert tickets go on sale or when corresponding income is obtained through the project sponsor that profits are made,” says Datuk Seri Brian Chow, the CEO of IME Entertainment Group.

It takes 12-18 months to organise a concert from start to finish, and the process usually begins with negotiations with the artiste’s management company. Once the project has been greenlit, the availability of both the artiste and venue has to be locked down, and respective payments must be made upon confirmation.

This is followed by a series of preparatory work, e.g. the formulation of publicity strategies, ticketing-related arrangements, sponsorship recruitment work, preparation of publicity materials, and lastly, applications for relevant permits. “It is fairly easy to attain government approval to host a concert in Penang,” says Chow. “The only issue we’ve faced so far is the visa application for artistes and their crew. That jurisdiction is still in KL.

South Korean girl group T-ARA. Photo: Setia SPICE.

“At the same time, flight, hotel and vehicle arrangements must also be confirmed, as well as liaising with the artiste management company and stage designers on the backstage preparation needs, all in line with the specifications of the different venues. Only after all the stage specifications have been determined can the ticketing area be set up in the venue space, and the period of ticket sales be decided.

“Personally, I think Penang has very good potential to become a market for major concerts. Penang’s Setia SPICE Arena is furnished with excellent amenities, not to mention its strategic geographical location,” says Chow.

In analysing the current performance market in Malaysia, he notes that both KL and Genting Highlands have secured their positions as strong entertainment hubs “because they make full use of their surrounding facilities. The concert industry can immensely boost the state’s tourism. Think about it, if the maximum capacity for a concert is 10,000, and if 30-40% of concert-goers are from out-of-state, or even from different countries, chances are they would want to spend a few extra days exploring Penang.”

Tsai Chin in Concert

Datuk Seri Ken Lim Yew Ming.

A huge event to look forward to is the concert by legendary Taiwanese singer Tsai Chin, who will make her first-ever appearance in Penang this February 15, at Setia SPICE Arena. So, mark your calendars.

The concert is organised by AC Music Entertainment, a diversified entertainment company that strives to create and promote a broad range of music and entertainment activities across Asia.

When planning a concert, the artiste’s popularity in a particular city, as well as the target audience are given most consideration. After that, the advertising avenues are chosen. “Generally, for local artistes, we lean more towards the local Chinese media for sure; and for international artistes, we depend more on the English media,” says Datuk Seri Ken Lim Yew Ming, the executive chairman of AC Music Entertainment.

For more information about the concert or for online ticket purchasing, visit

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