Legendary music producer Steve Lillywhite comes to Indonesia and discovers a secret recipe for selling CDs: fried chicken

Steve Lillywhite with Bono of U2 (above) and members of Noah (bottom). An advertisement for a KFC Indonesia combo that comes with two pieces and a music CD (right).
Steve Lillywhite with Bono of U2 (above) and members of Noah (bottom). An advertisement for a KFC Indonesia combo that comes with two pieces and a music CD (right).

In the United States and many other countries, music downloading and streaming services have led to the rapid decline of physical music purchases and historic lows for albums sales in general.  
But in Indonesia, album sales are still booming. In fact, its most popular music retailer still sells around half a million CDs a month.

That retailer’s secret recipe for success? They sell the CDs with fried chicken.

Which may seem strange, until you realize the retailer is actually global fast food powerhouse KFC.

The American chicken chain has revolutionized the music industry in Indonesia by offering CDs to customers as they purchase their deep-fried poultry. By selling a mix of new music and greatest hits compilations, the initiative has been a huge success since it launched about 5 years ago. It’s not just taking advantage of the fact most Indonesian don’t yet have access to high-speed Internet connections (most currently rely on mobile phones to browse the web), but it’s also tapping into the vast country’s deep love of both music and ayam goreng (fried chicken).


With over 500 KFCs across the archipelago, outlets of the fast food chain are often the only game in town when it comes to selling CDs in some of the Indonesia’s more far-flung locales.

But KFC doesn’t just pick any music to sell at the store. It is all carefully selected and distributed by a true legend of the music industry – British producer Steve Lillywhite.


Legendary is really one of the only ways to describe Lillywhite’s storied career. He has won six Grammy Awards while producing songs and albums for some of the world’s most iconic musicians, from U2 and the Rolling Stones to Peter Gabrial and The Pogues (and he still works with such acts regularly).

In 2012, he was even made a Commander of the Order of The British Empire (CBE) for his contributions to music. 

So how did super producer Steve Lillywhite CBE end up involved with KFC in Indonesia?

When Coconuts Media spoke to Lillywhite, he said the attraction to Indonesia came out of his fascination with Asian culture and a search for authenticity.

He originally traveled to Singapore but was disappointed, because it reminded him “of Disneyland rather than [what his] vision of what Asia should be like.” But after hearing that prominent Indonesian band Noah needed a producer, he flew to Jakarta for the first time and was immediately enthralled.  

“All of a sudden I was sitting in the hot sticky weather with this band and I thought, ‘oh, I like this place.’ This is more what I was expecting, in a strange way, of what Southeast Asia was like,” he said.

“And once I got here and noticed the reaction of people to music was very strong. And my job is about art, not exactly about commerce. Because I believe with great art comes great commerce.”   

“So I thought there was an opening here, that maybe I could come here and just work. And then, through a series of coincidences really, I got this great job working on the music that’s sold through KFC.”

A significant part of his job is to decide which music makes the cut for KFC, and it’s a responsibility he takes very seriously. With KFCs now one of the main places where many Indonesians buy CDs, Lillywhite directly curates and shapes much of what the average Indonesian listens to through his choices.

“I have to choose a well-balanced selection of music that goes into the stores. KFC is the number one place for children’s parties in Indonesia, so we have to cater to the children.  But there’s also a very good heritage of quality music and musicians here. So it’s something I’m very proud of.”

His company, JMSI (Jagonya Music & Sport Indonesia), has an exclusive deal with KFC, allowing them to distribute their music through their stores.

While Lillywhite’s role is mainly just to choose the albums which are sold, he does sometimes tweak the music, noting how he recently mixed legendary Indonesian band Slank’s newest album.

“Some other records I don’t have any involvement in. But it’s my taste a lot of the time and I’m learning a lot about the Indonesian market.”

But why do Indonesians continue to buy so many CDs in the age of MP3s and streaming? Lillywhite believes it is because “under 5% of the population have credit cards” and this makes it impossible for many of them to use streaming services like Spotify.

“Also, digital streaming is still in its infancy here, because of the hardware Indonesians own. A lot of people still have Blackberries, which you can’t stream on. Also, good 3G is difficult to get ahold of in the rural areas,” he said.

“All of this is changing and it’s changing very quickly, so Indonesia will catch up with the rest of the world eventually. But if you look at the total plays of something like Spotify, they are very small as a percentage of the population compared to Spotify plays in the US.”

The boom in CD sales is not only profiting KFC, but is also benefitting local musicians. Most of the music selected is made by Indonesian artists and JMSI offers the artists a much better royalty rate than other record labels can, because his company has exclusive rights to KFC music.

“We’re going to the artists now and doing deals directly with artists and bypassing record companies,” he said. “It’s like getting rid of one of the levels of things. If there arethree people in the food chain, you don’t get as much as if there are two people sharing it.”  

Music fans also benefit from KFC’s foray into the music industry, with artists giving back to the community by visiting the stores their music is sold at.   

“We have press releases and launches. One of the things is artists have to visit the stores as well. Because KFC are very kind to sell our CDs for us, we must give something back. It’s quite fun actually, we get the stars to go to KFC and they stand behind the counter and sell chicken.”

While Lillywhite knows streaming and digital music consumption is the future, he still enjoys selling music at retail points, which is something unique to Indonesia.

So next time you’re at a KFC store in Indonesia (which Lillywhite tells me is “a step above KFC anywhere else around the world”), you can consider purchasing a CD with your meal.

Not only will you be supporting local artists, you’ll also be playing a part in keeping the Indonesian music industry thriving.


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