Singapore-based music startup buys 49% stake in Rolling Stone

The company behind iconic music magazine Rolling Stone has sold a 49 percent share in the business to a startup from Singapore in a bid to grow its international reach.

U.S.-based Wenner Media announced the sale of its stake to Singapore’s BandLab this weekend, although the price paid was not disclosed. BandLab is run by Meng Ru Kuok, the 28-year-old son of palm oil billionaire Kuok Khoon Hong, and this isn’t its first piece of notable M&A. In 2012, the company acquired Swee Lee, a distributor of guitars and other instruments, and last week it picked up San Francisco-based instrument design lab Mono. It also offers a free app that lets artists create and share music.

BandLab said it will “focus on expanding Rolling Stone’s business in new markets, and propelling the brand’s global evolution.”

That means the creation of Rolling Stone International, which will manage the newly acquired stake in the business and, Bloomberg reported, develop live events, merchandising and hospitality to extend its brand beyond editorial. (Editorial control, by the way, will not be in BandLab’s remit, the company said.) Rolling Stone already circulates local versions of its magazine in 12 countries.

Rolling Stone claims a readership of nearly 12 million for its print publication and a ‘digital audience’ of more than 65 million online — although that figure appears to include social channels like Facebook, where it claims a cumulative 18 million fans and followers. The company didn’t give figures for, instead it said that “average monthly unique visitors to the site [are] up nearly 40 percent” year-on-year. Take that as you will.

This is a significant deal for Wenner since it is the first time it has allowed outside money into Rolling Stone, which is approaching its 50th anniversary.

But these are modern times and they require a modern approach. Kuok, who was in negotiations for 18 months, told Bloomberg that he sees “plenty of synergies” between Rolling Stone and BandLab’s other ventures. It’s certainly a reality in the 21st century that media can’t rely on print or online alone, but it’ll be interesting to see how these threads are tied together.

“We are focused on the consumer and the supply chain of music, and innovative business models around music that exist today. At the end of the day, the end consumer is the same. BandLab’s goal is to be a global music business,” he said.

Already, BandLab has breathed new life into Swee Lee’s 70-year-old business, which has expanded to become a place to find music lessons and buy merchandising as well as instruments.