30 September 2021

Boon Ken Wong

Boon Ken Wong

International Music Manager at Spotify
Bachelor of Arts (Communication and Media Management)

Boon Ken Wong has always been an avid reader and consumer of popular culture. There’s nothing more fulfilling to him than diving into the latest critically acclaimed bildungsroman or new Japanese anime series, so it makes sense he’s become somewhat of a tastemaker throughout his career.

Boon Ken, Malaysia-born and Singapore based, now oversees the Asia-Pacific region as part of Spotify’s International Music team, leading artist and editorial strategy and multi-market collaboration, in turn introducing the world to the best new music and well-loved classics for the global streaming giant.

We’re lucky enough that he took some time out of his busy schedule, which involves collaborating with and managing teams across South East Asia, South Korea, Greater China, Japan, India, Australia and New Zealand, to share his career journey and what life is like at Spotify with us here.

Could you tell us a little about your early life and how this has contributed to where you are now? Have you always been fascinated by music?

My parents always had classic Cantopop records from the 70s and 80s playing in the background on weekends, which were some of my earliest memories of music as a grade-schooler. My older sisters then introduced me to 60s music, which led me through a rabbit hole of girl groups, Motown, the Beatles, and the Beach Boys. I have always been fascinated by the communal, visceral, and cultural qualities of music, how music travels and is shared.

Growing up in multicultural and multilingual Malaysia, I would always look forward to karaoke, because you never know what might be on the song list: Jay Chou, BIGBANG, M2M, random Japanese anime OSTs, Malay jiwang classics, Indonesian ballads, Disney tunes… and everybody would somehow be able to sing-along to this mishmash of songs. Nothing connects people quite like music.

Boon Ken grew up as an avid reader, immersed in music and pop culture.
Boon Ken grew up as an avid reader, immersed in music and pop culture. Source.

What initially sparked your interest in communication and media management at Taylor’s & UniSA? Have you always wanted to go down this particular career path?

I was in high school when I first toyed with the idea of taking on writing as a career, having always enjoyed the essay assignments in English class. This was around the time I started getting engrossed in literature and spending more time reading novels, newspapers and magazines. Upon graduating from high school, I was shortlisting journalism programmes and UniSA’s Communication and Media Management at Taylor’s came highly recommended. I was fortunate enough to receive a full scholarship for the programme, and the rest, as they say, is history.

What do you remember most from your time at university?

I’ll always remember the great friends I met at university and the thought-provoking assignments we were given. Coming from a public-school science education that never really captured my imagination, I found it thrilling to be researching about the Middle East conflict and writing an irreverent paper on why Ricky Nelson’s ‘Garden Party’ holds the secret to happiness.

You’ve also spent a couple years as a reporter and writer . What are some of the stories and people you covered? Do you have any that particularly stand out to you still?

Prior to joining Spotify, I was the Music and Theatre Editor at Time Out Kuala Lumpur magazine for about three years, interviewing musicians, artists and thespians alike, in addition to covering the latest lifestyle and entertainment happenings and trends in Malaysia and beyond. I have the fondest memories of long-distance calls with Elisabeth Moss – I was extremely star-struck as I was a massive ‘Mad Men’ fan at the time – and Este Haim, who is the funniest, as well as meeting Tegan and Sara in a festival tent, and interviewing The 1975’s Matty Healy in a Hong Kong hotel room. Being able to experience top-drawer music festivals like Hong Kong’s Clockenflap and the Rainforest World Music Festival in Kuching, Sarawak as a press member will always stay with me.

Boon Ken with his team, following the last edition of the Spotify On Stage concert in Jakarta
Boon Ken with his team, following the last edition of the Spotify On Stage concert in Jakarta​.

Could you tell us about your role in International Music at Spotify?

The goal of the International Music team at Spotify is to find ways to optimise our local strategy and cross-regional collaboration, with my focus being the markets in the Asia-Pacific region. Our truly global team – we have folks in Paris, London, New York, and Singapore – specialises in connecting the dots and spotting trends locally in order to maximise opportunities globally. My projects tend to vary depending on seasonality and issues of the day and might range from being a part of the South Korea market launch earlier this year to crafting a strategy deck on winning K-Pop.

I’m extremely blessed to have the opportunity to work with such talented teams and individuals in the region and across the world. As cliche as it sounds, everyday really is a new experience, as I am learning about different cultures and musical realities all the time. Navigating time zones can be a challenge at times, having to also connect with teams in Europe and the Americas while being based in Singapore, but this is a privilege I don’t take lightly.

You were also involved in a great program supporting emerging artists on Spotify called RADAR, featuring a number of great playlists. Could you tell us about this and why it’s important to support budding musicians?

It’s in Spotify’s DNA to support emerging artists across all stages of their development, in order to help them deepen their connection to new and existing audiences around the world, and RADAR is one such initiative. It’s our global emerging artist programme that aims to introduce up-and-coming artists from their home countries to a global audience. We continue to introduce new artist rosters regularly in the Philippines, Indonesia and other parts of Asia as part of our commitment to spotlight rising talents in the region, with the hopes of fostering their sustainable, long-term career growth.

Playlist: Spotify’s RADAR SG & MY playlist unearthing up-and-coming acts from Singapore and Malaysia.

What are some of your career highlights?

Prior to my current role in the International Music team, I was the Editorial Lead for Spotify in Southeast Asia, which entailed managing a team of editors whose responsibilities include curating playlists and cultural programming. For over five years in the Editorial team, I was fortunate enough to have been part of Spotify’s efforts to localise our content offerings in the region. We created playlists that became fan favourites in the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia… that really connected with local audiences and shined a light on the amazing music coming out of Southeast Asia.

Amongst all the memories, I would say crafting tongue-in-cheek, in-the-moment playlists like Hazed & Confused during the haze debacle that plagued Malaysia and Singapore back in 2015 stands out, as that gave us the opportunity to harness the healing power of music and the reach of Spotify to inject some much-needed positivity and humour into an otherwise hopeless situation.

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