Percept in the News

“To be the only Indian brand in the Top 10 global ranking is unreal” – Karan Singh, CEO, Sunburn in an exclusive interview with Musicunplugged
1 March, 2023

An MBA from Harvard Business School, a Bachelor’s Degree in Management from the London School of Economics and Political Science, and Investment Banker to being CEO of Asia’s largest Music Festival brand Sunburn, Mr. Karan Singh, CEO, Sunburn, has had an illustrious career strongly built on what he truly loves. Since 2007 he has made Sunburn one of the most loved Music Festivals in India. Today the festival held in Goa (the 16th edition was in 2022) has been rated at the Number 10 spot on the Top 10 Festivals of the World, the only Indian brand to be featured in the Global 100 listing.

In an exclusive interview with Musicunplugged, Singh recounts the early days of Sunburn, the challenges he faced, his future plans and his joy on Sunburn being rated as the Top 10 Festivals of the World.

Sunburn has been rated as the Top 10 Festivals of the World. How do you feel about it?

On top of the world! This is a momentous achievement for Sunburn and the entire dance music fraternity of India. To be the only Indian brand to be featured in the Global 100 listing, that too to be in the Top 10 global ranking is unreal. More so, given the limitations we have had to face during the Covid-19 lockdown years. To have leapfrogged from #27 to #10 in one of the toughest periods in history says a lot about the appeal and value that Sunburn has in fans hearts around the globe. We stand humbled and in gratitude for the immense love and support we have received over the past 16 years; we could never have done this on our own. A big shout out to all our fans, artists, government authorities, brand partners and the DJ Mag team…this means a lot!”

From No 27 to Top 10. What do you think really pushed the limits for making it to the Top 10

Innovation, keeping pace with the latest global trends, and our commitment to delivering the very best experience to our fans on ground and online has been our success mantra. Despite the pandemic induced challenges and the many regulations imposed to ensure a safe festival for fans, the “#LifeIsCalling’ themed 15th edition of Sunburn saw a spectacular three-day physical showcase featuring over 60 elite artists across 3 stages. In the past year, the artists we have brought into India are ranked absolutely top in the world, and that’s the only way to be atop the game. We are also very strong on social media, in the Top 5 globally on each platform, and our engagement levels are very high. We are at the forefront of all social trends and putting out really cutting edge content has helped us garner great global visibility, credibility and organic traction.

What does the Sunburn brand offer that makes it a must go every year for music fans?

Over the past 16 years we consciously kept shifting the needle depending on how consumer tastes evolved. Sunburn evolved from a product paradigm to a customer paradigm. If you’re in that 18 to 25 age bracket we make sure that we are focused on you. We constantly keep researching global trends, partnering with the best around the world, innovating, re-inventing and rapidly changing the pace of the acts. Sunburn associates with the latest and the best, with whatever is trending today. From creating the biggest stage in Asia, to importing world-class technology and SFX, to flying in top ranked global artists, a host of engaging brand-partner activations, best on site camping facilities, After Dark parties and over 100 curated gourmet food experiences, Sunburn keeps researching, engaging and listening to customer feedback, evolving and growing consistently every year to offer novelty and the very best to discerning fans year on year.

What made you have the festival in Goa as opposed to other parts of India?
Any festival in sunny Goa is bound to be enjoyable, given the abundance of open air beaches, sun, sea, happiness and a relaxed atmosphere that is so distinctive of Goa. Goa offers a more intimate vibe, more emotions, experiences, landscape, pre post parties, activities, shacks, local food, flavours and memories like no other destination in India. The view from the stage set atop a hill that overlooks the entire Vagator beach and the sparkling blue waters around you while fans listen to the best global artists belt out their latest hits is an unparalleled experience. The Goa Government and locals have also given us much support and love over the years and we wouldn’t have reached such heights if it weren’t for their backing and faith in us. Sunburn just wouldn’t have the same vibe if it wasn’t hosted in Goa!
What memories do you have of the first Sunburn Festival and what did you learn from this experience?
My first Sunburn Festival experience was in December 2011 in Candolim, Goa. It was a whole new world for me to experience actually managing and working on such a large scale event, with all the challenges, intricacies and nuances that go into making it the success that it is. It was a fantastic learning experience for me and I'd like to think now more than 10 years on that I am a much more seasoned campaigner at this.

As Sunburn houses so many electronic dance musicians, surely there will be some of your favorites. Who have been your favorites throughout the years?

It is very difficult to pick favourites, however one of the all-time greats for me has to be AVICII who was an absolute genius at making music and also my first ever Sunburn arena show was with him. Sadly he left us too early a couple of years ago. Apart from him, I'd say other dance music legends like Martin Garrix, DJ Snake, David Guetta, Armin van Buuren, and DVLM are all my favourites. 

Do you plan to expand the festival to add other genres into the mix as well as more activities?

Given the massive popularity of the Sunburn Festival and audience feedback, we shifted the needle from the pure EDM genre to incorporate Techno, House and Psy. More genres and fresh new sounds are definitely going to be added in the coming year.

Sunburn has also adapted and morphed into multiple formats viz. Reload, Arena and Campus. Covid made us further expand into Digital variants viz. Sunburn@Home, Sunburn Home Festival, Sunburn Select, Sunburn Campus Chatbox. Given its popularity the brand has further expanded into Sunburn Clubs and Lounges, Sunburn Radio, Sunburn Academy, Merchandise, Real Estate, NFTs, Fitness Programs, Cafes and Beverages, and will keep growing over the coming year both online and pan India. We are currently working on the roll out of many new products and brand extensions basis the ongoing consumer research, trends observed and feedback received.

Sunburn 2022 had for the first time, a Goa Village. How did this concept come about and how successful was the Goa Village?

Given the close relationship Sunburn has shared with Goa over the past 16 years, the inception of the ‘Goa Village’ was our way of paying back and thanking Goa and its people for all their love and support they have given us into making Sunburn the global iconic success that it is today. The authorities were keen on promoting the local talent and diversity of the State to a global audience, and what better than a massive international platform like Sunburn Festival.

We worked closely with Goa Tourism and took utmost care to curate and present a one-of-a-kind zone that showcased the varied and rich culture of the State as also offered local Goan artists an international platform to display their talent to the world. It was a win-win proposition as visitors to Sunburn from 52 countries and pan-India got to learn about the famous legends of Goa and enjoy the vast music, local food, beverage and culture of Goa while experiencing the best international music and entertainment that Sunburn Festival Goa 2022 had to offer. The feedback received from domestic and global visitors to this zone has been awesome.
With the Goa village, how did it really help local musicians from Goa?
The local Goan musicians got a global platform where visitors to Sunburn from 50 countries visited the Goa Village and experienced the local acts. The exposure was not only massive on ground for these artists, but the online media coverage and social media posts further amplified their reach, visibility and profiling. Performing at a Goa Village launched by Shri Rohan Khaunte, Hon. Minister for Tourism - Goa, supported by Goa Tourism, and part of Asia’s leading music festival, adds a powerful and authentic credential to their profile, visibility and impact in the music community.

What was the experience like in 2022 and how is it different from previous years?

Sunburn Goa 2022 set a new milestone and was definitely one of the grandest and largest editions we have ever held. We witnessed a massive turnout of 300,000 fans and saw some of the biggest headliners fly into India, world class production, state-of-the-art design, AV and SFX, with best in class security measures, safety protocols and facilities for all our fans.

Sunburn has grown in leaps and bounds over the years. From 5,000 visitors, a handful of artists performing at a single stage in 2007 to 150,000 fans and over 100 artists spread across 7 stages in 2019, it’s been a journey of growth and evolution. We had to take a brief pause with the on ground edition in 2020 due to the pandemic, and the 2021 had a limited attendance of 50,000 attendees given the Covid-19 regulations still in effect. But now with all that behind, Sunburn 2022 was back with a bang! The sheer scale, size, production grandeur and content of Sunburn 2022 was a testimonial of our commitment to our fans, and the on ground attendance of 300,000 visitors from 52 countries a conviction of their love and support to Sunburn. Frankly the response to the festival this year exceeded our expectations with the online footfall and live streaming embracing more than 10 million fans around the world.
What was it like having the legends Black Coffee and Afrojack this year as well as the DJ duo Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike?
Amazing….to have World # 9 Dutch DJ Afrojack headlining day 1, Grammy Award winner Black Coffee on day 2 and World #3 DJ’s Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike wrap up the final night of Sunburn 2022, what more could one ask for! The sheer energy from the moment these legends step foot on stage, to their incredible music and sets, and the way the can ramp up fans energy levels to an all-time high is legendary.

Our utmost priority was to offer a festival that was a testament of the enduring spirit of humans and the dance music scene as the festival scene went dormant over two years due to concerns over the pandemic. Sunburn 2022 represented the return from tough and trying times, and having these brilliant artists aboard certainly helped Sunburn live up to its’ legacy of being the leader in the electronic dance music festival circuit.”

How does it feel to be in charge of one of Asia’s biggest Electronic Dance Music Festivals?
As Spidey said, “With great power comes great responsibility!” Over the years we have tirelessly scaled up to offer our fans the very best experience at par with some of the top international music festivals. From ensuring the Top 10 artists in our line up, to the best global production, to on ground engagements, security, F&B and best in class facilities, Sunburn has grown and no wonder today ranked # 10 in the world.

Sunburn also evolved from being just an event to an aspirational youth lifestyle brand years ago with a range of merchandize, Clubs, Lounges, NFTs, Radio, and even a Music Academy to its portfolio. The brand keeps growing and evolving as consumer tastes shift, and therein lies both the challenge and opportunity. The entire process is a blend of online scientific research and on ground connect with fans, and that will continue to ensure we offer our fans what they desire.

What does music mean to you?
Music is a lifeline for me.

How do you choose to react when you receive negative comments about the Sunburn Festival?
There will always be haters and trollers, and every brand experiences its share of hate online. Often people misunderstand what it is we are trying to do, and it becomes our responsibility to educate and demonstrate what we truly represent – a massive, open, collaborative platform using the power of Music to enable the Youth of India to connect, engage and express themselves. If any negative feedback received at an event is valid we acknowledge, rectify, learn and grow from that experience. Otherwise, we just stay focused on the task at hand and keep pushing forward to curate and create a bigger and better experience for our fans.

Protests come in from some quarters only. Often people misunderstand what it is we are trying to do, then it becomes our responsibility to educate and demonstrate what we truly represent – a massive, open, collaborative platform for the Youth of India to connect, engage and express themselves. We have always strictly followed the laws of the land and it has always been our top priority to provide a safe and secure environment for our fans.

Are you always on ground at Goa for Sunburn. Do you also bring along your family?
Yes, I am make it a point to be on ground at the flagship Sunburn Festival in Goa and also all the Sunburn Arena and Sunburn Reload events across India. From the very beginning our family has always been an integral part of the festival, not only enjoying a slice of the music fest but also taking care of our guests, helping in many affiliated areas of the ground event and even offering vital feedback that has helped reshape many elements of the festival.

Any tentative artist lineup plans for Sunburn 2023?
We are already working on the 2023 line-up but cannot reveal! However I can definitely say here that we are looking at a combination of some of India's popular acts as well as new fresh sounds.

Your favorite Destination?
From the places I have visited, my fave would be Australia and New Zealand

Your favorite Food?
Burgers and Fries

Your favorite Book?
Catcher in the Rye

Your favorite Movie?
Shawshank Redemption

Your favorite Music?

When not working, how do you spend your free time?
Watching Football and playing Squash

Which new artist/s are you waiting to bring down to India?
Calvin Harris