Singapore firm picks up stake in iconic Rolling Stone magazine

BandLab chief executive Kuok Meng Ru. Backed by his father, the 28-year-old Cambridge graduate has been building a smaller empire of his own in the music world.
BandLab chief executive Kuok Meng Ru. Backed by his father, the 28-year-old Cambridge graduate has been building a smaller empire of his own in the music world.ST PHOTO: MARCUS TAN

Social music start-up BandLab Technologies is US company's first outside shareholder

Singapore-based social music start-up BandLab Technologies has acquired a 49 per cent stake in Rolling Stone, which publishes the eponymous magazine.

The size of the deal was not disclosed, but this is the first time that Rolling Stone is taking on an outside shareholder since it was founded 49 years ago by American Jann Wenner.

BandLab chief executive Kuok Meng Ru is no complete unknown. Backed by his father and palm oil tycoon Kuok Khoon Hong, the 28-year-old Cambridge graduate has been building a smaller empire of his own in the music world.

In 2012, he acquired Swee Lee Music, a guitar and audio equipment distributor that he expanded online. BandLab, the group's flagship app, debuted in August last year as a platform for musicians to find collaborators. Earlier this month, the group acquired Mono, which designs accessories for musicians.

The Rolling Stone deal was first tabled about 15 months ago, after Mr Kuok was introduced to Mr Wenner by a member of the Forbes family.

IDEAL PARTNERSHIP

A 49 per cent partnership - it's like a marriage, right? And to us it's the best kind because that means both of us together will work on this for the long term. Rolling Stone has an unbelievable heritage and history. We really hope that we can respect and honour and take what Jann has started further forward.

BANDLAB CHIEF EXECUTIVE KUOK MENG RU, on acquiring a 49 per cent stake in Rolling Stone, which was founded by American Jann Wenner 49 years ago.

Mr Kuok told The Straits Times: "We initially started talking about a possible joint venture for Asia. Jann introduced me to Gus, his son, who is head of digital and our business partner in this deal, and we had a wonderful dinner in New York about 12 months ago from which everything escalated into the partnership we have today."

Together, Mr Kuok and the younger Mr Wenner, who is 26, will set the pace at Rolling Stone in the coming years.

 

Mr Kuok said: "A 49 per cent partnership - it's like a marriage, right? And to us it's the best kind because that means both of us together will work on this for the long term.

"Rolling Stone has an unbelievable heritage and history. We really hope that we can respect and honour and take what Jann has started further forward."

While editorial decisions will continue to be made from the New York office, Mr Kuok will lead a new unit called Rolling Stone International, to be headquartered here.

His task is to take the brand into new markets and work on brand extensions.

Rolling Stone already publishes 12 international editions, so Mr Kuok will spend the next six to nine months getting to know the licensees and learning what support they need.

For Mr Kuok, a Malaysian who lives here and is in a serious relationship, music magazines were a part of his growing-up years. He remembers browsing through his first copy of Rolling Stone around the age of 13.

"Whenever we were able to get our hands on a copy, it was always something quite special," he said.

He did not disclose the print figures, but noted that revenue from RollingStone.com has grown over 90 per cent from 2013 to this year.

As for BandLab, he said he is exploring more deals at the moment.

"We are working with people who really share the same mindset that music is changing, that it's about creators, it's about musicians, it's about everyone being a creator today."


Correction note: This story has been updated for clarity.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 26, 2016, with the headline 'S'pore firm picks up stake in Rolling Stone'. Print Edition | Subscribe