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Media & Entertainment

Thai music industry rocks with country's first online festival

Pandemic forces promoter to change tune, with concert held in a virtual venue

Two singers perform in front of live images of the audience during "Top Hits Thailand," an online music festival held in Bangkok on June 7 and streamed worldwide via Zoom.

BANGKOK -- An online music festival may have struck just the right note in pandemic-weary Thailand, fueling hopes that virtual venues can help a slumping music industry shattered by the novel coronavirus.

Record label What The Duck held what was billed as the country's first-ever online music festival on June 7, powered by the Zoom videoconference platform. Performers did their thing in a studio in front of hundreds of streamed-in concert goers, accompanied by a computer-generated whale swimming lazily across the screen.

Some 3,000 people paid 499 baht ($16) for a "seat" to the eight-hour "Top Hits Thailand" festival. They could have been anywhere there was an internet connection, as tickets were merely a link provided by the organizer.

In the studio, live images of more than 600 people who had logged on were interspersed with shots of the performers, giving the show a lifelike feel that drew rave reviews across social media. "I felt as if I was at a real concert," said one, while another commented that "the show was definitely worth the price."

Thailand declared a state of emergency in late March to stymie the COVID-19 outbreak, banning large gatherings and all but silencing the local music industry, which is hugely dependent on live events for earnings.

Promoters, artists and support staff have all felt the squeeze. And though the government on June 15 began to permit concerts and other live events under strict conditions, concerns over a second wave of infections may result in another partial lockdown, adding to uncertainty for the business going forward.

"Who is even in deeper trouble is the crew: sound engineers, technicians, stage hands and lighting staff," said Samkwan Tonsompong, managing director of What The Duck and impresario. "Nobody has income from their previous jobs, so people have had to find other things to do. We wanted to do something to support them."

The promoter may be on to something new, as half the audience had never attended a live concert. In addition, the festival attracted people from rural areas, youth who may be too young to attend live shows, and people outside the country, including Japanese and Indonesians.

The audience also liked the perks that came with the show. For example, an enthusiastic fan cried with joy when one of her favorite artists singled her out from the crowd and asked her name. "I can't believe it!" she said.

Despite the success, however, problems remain, among them substandard audio and video, and uneven streaming.

Still, Samkwan is hopeful that the new platform will take hold. "Online concerts may not be able to replace the real thing, but they can deliver new experiences that live events cannot offer."

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