The creative world is one that’s hard to survive in, and few can tolerate the eccentric whims of artistes and labels long enough to boast credible experience like Dona Inthaxoum can. The petite lady is of Laotian descent, but a noticeable French accent punctuates her every word, a hint of her upbringing in the European country, and its influence on her love for the French music industry.

She takes her passion for the country and its music very seriously, so much so that she found work in Paris-based Deezer as a music industry relations officer. The music streaming service was founded 11 years ago, and has since become available in more than 180 countries. Now, it’s grown to become one of Spotify, Apple Music and Tidal’s biggest rivals. 

Inthaxoum clearly loves her job, because the sparkle in her eyes remained even after we had stopped chatting about her personal music preferences and moved on to discuss Deezer. In such a fleeting and trend-centric industry like hers, time is of the essence and it’s imperative to know what the market wants, and when it wants it. Inthaxoum’s job is to bridge the gap between Deezer and its consumers, and her wealth of experience in the industry means she has the ability to deliver well beyond expectations, scouring the world for obscure artistes that have been waiting to be heard. 

A job like this has its “occupational hazards”. Inthaxoum’s daily exposure to music — both the good and the bad — means that she’s probably amassed playlists well into thousands of songs. She knows which artistes are naughty or nice, and which will make it big before everyone else. 

Dona Inthaxoum deezer
Dona Inthaxoum.

In this fourth instalment of interviews with the extraordinary members of The Great Room, Inthaxoum lets us in on her personal favourites in the industry, and how Deezer plans to take on the big boys this year.

What does your job as a music industry relations officer entail?

I’m in charge of the relationship between the music industry’s players and Deezer in Asia Pacific and Oceania regions. These could range from the labels, publishers, and institutions, to the promoters, artiste management firms, and artistes themselves — basically everyone that’s part of the music industry’s ecosystem. My role is to get them to understand Deezer, and to promote their music through our platform.

I also have to search and negotiate with music labels to acquire the content for Deezer, while working with music editors in different countries to recommend music to different audiences. This means having to localise content as much as possible, and to support artistes in different countries with as much editorial content as possible.

How did you land this job?

I studied business in France and my goal then was to work at a record company. My course required me to do internships in the industry that I aspired to work in, so I found a six-month stint in Japan at the French Music Export Office. I had to find record licences for French productions there. 

Japan has a very strong domestic market, and to export foreign artistes there, you need to really localise your product (i.e. your album needs to look Japanese, have Japanese translation, has to be distributed by Japanese retailers and has to be part of another ecosystem with promoters and festivals. I ended up working there for three years, where I developed a close network of Japanese and French companies, before a switch to an Australian company specialising in digital distribution for indie labels brought me to Singapore.

The French labels which I had closely worked with before recommended me to Deezer when they heard it was looking to hire someone in Southeast Asia.

What’s your most unforgettable encounter with a music artiste?

I’m quite lucky compared to many people in the industry; most of the artistes we’ve worked with have been very nice and open-minded. Some artistes have very special requests — a famous American band I can’t name requested to not only be picked up from the airport to the hotel, and then to the venue by helicopter, but also be accompanied by bodyguards armed with weapons. They’re A-list artistes so it’s normal for them, but as a concert organiser, it was quite hard to justify chartering a helicopter. We had to settle for a police escort instead (laughs).

Other strange hospitality riders include having their room only be furnished with Philippe Starck furniture, or to have it painted entirely in purple. I’ve also had an artiste destroy his air-conditioning unit because he didn’t like it.

What’s your current song on repeat now?

I’ve been listening to a “chill out” playlist I’ve made, of which there are two songs that I always end up playing two to three times in a row: Singapore artiste Charlie Lim’s ‘Choices’, and Local Natives’ ‘You & I’. 

deezer
Local Natives.
What’s your go-to genre?

I really like folk, soul, electronic, indie and alternative music. But if I had to choose only one right now, it’d be folk.

Do you listen to music from your home country Laos?

Yes of course. I enjoy listening to mor lam, a folkloric type of music from Laos that’s also shared with the people from northeast of Thailand. There was a stage at the Wonderfruit festival last year that was dedicated to mor lam music, where traditional bands mixed modern beats together to create very lively and danceable music. 

The annual Wonderfruit Festival held in Pattaya, Thailand.
What’s the best concert you’ve been to so far?

I went to American singer songwriter Sufjan Stevens’ concert in Sydney a few years ago, and the experience was so beautiful that I cried. He had plans to make an album per US state initially, but only managed to make three or four in the end.

His music is very deep, and the set up of his shows is really well done, so I was very touched even though I didn’t pay attention to the lyrics. Turns out the song was about a murderer in Illinois! At least he managed to convey really strong emotions.

American singer songwriter Sufjan Stevens
Who's your favourite artist or band of all time?

Stevie Wonder is my favourite artiste — I managed to see him live in Tokyo. I also love Frank Ocean, and most artistes in the soul/alternative or soul/indie genre.

Which emerging artists do you think will make it big this year?

That’s a tough question. Last year, I would’ve told you Dua Lipa right away. English singer-songwriter Anne-Marie will be quite big this year. There’s also a band called Ibeyi, they’re Cuban twins who were spotted by Beyonce. South Korean alternative R&B singer-songwriter, rapper and record producer Dean is also quite big now.

Cuban twin act Ibeyi
Describe Deezer in a sentence.

Deezer is the most personalised music streaming service available.

Besides very high quality audio, people will also find an extensive catalog that goes beyond the mainstream. There’s a function in Deezer called Flow that provides a lean back experience, much like a personalised radio. All you have to do is press play and the radio will give you music that corresponds to your music taste via a mix of algorithms and human curation. It’s really cool because you’ll discover new music while listening to ones that you already like. 

How does Deezer try to differentiate itself from tough competition?

There’s Flow, and we’re also planning to launch podcast services that will come to Asia later in the year. Besides live podcasts and radio, there are also English Premier League match commentaries and press conferences available. Even the players’ personal song playlists have been uploaded to the platform too. 

Deezer has expanded beyond its vast portfolio of songs with live audio streaming services.

We’re currently planning to provide a wide range of audio content that’s meaningful for the Asian market. This could be anything from audiobooks, to educational, children, and religious content. We’re also looking into entering the high quality audio field. Serious audiophiles can subscibe to HiFi, a high fidelity audio service that uses 16bit Free Lossless Audio Codec (FLAC) to deliver the best possible listening experience. It’s more than twice the price of Premium+ at S$19.99, and it’s so high quality that not all the wireless speakers in the market can support it. There are, however, products from Sonos, Yamaha, and Onkyo-Pioneer that will do the job.

Is this where the collaboration with Sonos comes in?

Yes, it’s the kind of partnership we intensively look for in all our markets: To work with manufacturers that offer very high quality systems that can represent us. We integrate our product in there and work out promotions that benefit both companies and users.

What are your ambitions for the Asian market this year?

We see Asia along with Latin America as two promising markets where music streaming consumption is expected to grow tremendously. We relaunched in Asia last year and we’re hoping to bring locally relevant content onto the platform to differentiate ourselves and to serve the growing demand in these two markets.

Tell us about your song identification program SongCatcher.

It’s currently available in beta mode for Android, but we are exploring other platforms as well. It’s nice to have the possibility of identifying your mystery song directly on Deezer, and then adding it to your playlist easily. We actually tested it out in the office the other day with rather obscure music, and it worked quite well so I’m very excited about this product. 

Ultimately, what is Deezer trying to achieve in such a saturated market now?

We want to provide the best user experience — that’s the most important thing for us. 

 

The Great Room has flexible office memberships at their second office location at Centennial Tower and a newly launched Business Club membership. To find out more about being a part of The Great Room community, drop an email to singapore@thegreatroomoffices.com.

Shatricia Nair
Senior Writer
Shatricia Nair is a motoring, watches, and wellness writer who is perpetually knee-deep in the world of V8s, tourbillons, and the latest fitness trends. She is fuelled by peanut butter and three cups of coffee a day.