In the space of a decade, Meng Ru Kuok has built himself into a highly influential figure in the global music business.
The co-founder and CEO of Singapore-headquartered BandLab Technologies, the company behind music-making platform BandLab Technologies, has organized something of a music-business empire under the umbrella corporation Caldecott Music Group, which controls not only BandLab but a number of music media publications, instrument manufacturers and even a music instrument retail network (Swee Lee & Dawsons).
The son of palm oil magnate Koon Hong Kuok and the grand-nephew of Robert Kuok, Malaysia’s richest citizen, Meng Ru Kuok was born into one of Southeast Asia’s most prominent families.
However, unlike many in such a fortunate position, Meng Ru Kuok didn’t rest on his laurels: He spotted an opportunity within the digital revolution to expand the global pool of music creators – and upend the music business – by opening it up to new creators through a cloud-based and collaborative digital audio workstation (DAW) known as BandLab.
“I personally think there will be over 1 billion music creators by 2030, potentially even sooner.”
Meng Ru Kuok
In essence, Meng Ru Kuok blended the ease of digital music-making technologies with the connectedness of social media, and a cultural phenomenon was born. As of early 2023, BandLab boasted 60 million registered users, who were collectively creating 17 million new tracks per month on the platform.
In an interview published to celebrate that award, he said: “I personally think there will be over 1 billion music creators by 2030, potentially even sooner,” he said.
“However, this is with the caveat that I also believe the definition of a ‘music creator’ or ‘musician’ will change, just as the definition of a ‘photographer’ has changed with the advent of smartphones.”
Meng Ru Kuok: The building of an empire
Meng Ru Kuok, a graduate in mathematics from Cambridge University, first jumped into the music space with his acquisition of Swee Lee, a Southeast Asian music retailer, in 2012.
Three years later, he co-founded BandLab with Steve Skillings (developer of the JamHub audio mixer), and from there, built a music conglomerate through a series of strategic acquisitions.
In 2016, BandLab Technologies acquired Composr, a smartphone app for recording and generating music. The same year, the company acquired US-founded instrument accessories company MONO, as well as a 49% stake in music magazine Rolling Stone (which it would eventually sell on to Penske Media).
From that early point, Meng Ru Kuok’s multi-pronged approach to developing a media company was obvious – there was digital technology, retail, conventional instrument manufacturing and music media, which all remain aspects of Meng Ru Kuok’s business today.
In subsequent years, the acquisitions would continue, from DJ streaming service Chew.tv (renamed Chew By BandLab) to Heritage Guitars. Then came the acquisition of music production software Cakewalk, artist services platform ReverbNation, and the more recent acquisition of beat marketplace Airbit.
In between the acquisitions, the company was busily developing new products, not least of which was the generative AI-powered tool SongStarter, which presents users with musical ideas to kickstart the music-creation process.
Aiding this aggressive acquisition and development spree have been a series of funding rounds. A Series B funding round closed in April 2022, having raised USD $65 million, valuing the company at $315 million. A little more than a year later, a Series B1 funding round raised $25 million and valued the company at $425 million.
Meng Ru Kuok: The rise of Caldecott Music Group
In December 2021, BandLab Technologies became one of three divisions under a newly-formed umbrella company, Caldecott Music Group. Those three divisions represent the three general fields of the music business that Meng Ru Kuok has been steadily expanding into over the past decade:
BandLab Technologies encompasses the tech and software side of the business, and includes products such as:
- BandLab, a cloud-based social media creation platform
- Cakewalk, a DAW
- Artist services platform, ReverbNation
- Beats marketplace, Airbit
- BandLab, a cloud-based digital audio workstation (DAW)
- Digital distribution tool BandLab Albums
- Live streaming feature BandLab Live
- Cakewalk by BandLab, a DAW
NME Networks is the music media arm of the business, comprising such brands as:
Vista Musical Instruments is the manufacturing and retail branch of the business, and includes:
- Instrument manufacturer Harmony Company
- Guitar maker Heritage Guitars
- Instrument accessories firm MONO
- Musical effects pedal maker Teisco
- Southeast Asian instrument distributor and retailer Swee Lee
Meng Ru Kuok: The promise and challenge of AI
BandLab’s digital audio workstation and its AI-powered SongStarter app have placed the company squarely at the center of the AI revolution in music.
It’s a revolution that has raised concerns within the industry. Generative AI, with its ability to create tracks in seconds and turn former music consumers into music creators, has raised worries about the possible devaluation of professional artists’ work, and the potential for AI to take over from human creators altogether.
Meng Ru Kuok largely pushes back against the former concern – and shares the latter concern with others in the music business.
“I strongly feel that the music industry needs to evolve the business model to a more artist-centric approach in order to reward and better incentivize the pursuit of artistry. But at the same time, we should all be focused on developing more ways for creators to mature on their journey,” he told MBW in 2023.
“The idea that there is a need to evolve the streaming model is not an opposing position to our vision of breaking down barriers for music creators around the world. In fact, both can be true at once. If both are achieved, the entire industry will grow significantly in a healthy way and everyone, ‘users’ and ‘artists’ included, will benefit.”
“To us at BandLab, ‘responsible’ generative AI in music means leveraging technology to augment human creativity, not to overshadow or replace it.”
Meng Ru Kuok
However, and quite significantly, in 2023 BandLab became the first music creation platform to join the Human Artistry Campaign – a group dedicated to ensuring that human creators have a place in the new AI-driven music creation environment.
“To us at BandLab, ‘responsible’ generative AI in music means leveraging technology to augment human creativity, not to overshadow or replace it,” Meng Ru Kuok said.
“Our SongStarter tool gives creators a starting point while still ensuring the final creation remains a product of human imagination. There’s a reason why we named it SongStarter, not SongFinisher.”Music Business Worldwide