Analysis

Music opportunities in China: ‘Artists really need to move fast…’


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In China, the music industry works differently. Music fans quickly – and in the tens of millions – adopt new technologies, new methods of supporting artists or ways of consuming music. The audience seeks a different experience from artists, who are often hybrid stars – equally at home as actors, TV personalities or models. What happens in China is a useful indicator of what may soon happen around the globe.

It’s also a tricky market to fully understand without some context. So, last Friday we invited the experts from Kanjian, the Chinese music services company – and partner for Music Ally China – to join us on Music Ally TV Show to help us understand the business and cultural differences.

Kanjian’s VP of international business, Tinko Georgiev, international marketing manager Jane Polubotko and international business Specialist Yutong Situ explained how in China, artist branding must hit different touch-points, and how building a long-term, diversified approach across multiple businesses is essential for success. They also explained what artists looking to break into China must do to properly engage with the market.

For further reading, there are some good resources on Kanjian’s site explaining the Chinese music market in comparison to other types of marketplace. Kanjian also suggests referring initially to the latest edition of the China Music Industry Development Report, issued by Chinese academia and the government – it believes the Chinese report represents the bigger picture, and considers the pan-entertainment model of China.

You can watch the full show below, but this article runs through some of the main talking points from the conversation – and sign up for future Music Ally TV episodes here.

On how the speed of China’s music industry makes creativity happen fast:

Tinko Georgiev: “the biggest change in perspective was understanding that in China things are revolving more around a business opportunity rather than fragmented copyrights. In China the music business – especially at the top level – is consolidated in the sense that the artists control the full spectrum of their rights in pretty much most of the cases. They are the decision maker – or there’s one or two decision makers, tops – and opportunities can be realised very very quickly.”

Jane Polubotko: “I think it’s really fascinating, especially the speed of decision making and the way people communicate within the workspace – not emails but in short WeChat messages.”

Yutong Situ: “This actually leads to a lot of creativity in promotion and a lot of other things because artists control everything so they can do a lot of things which in the west is controlled by different companies and goes through a very long process to get approved. The demands of the audience [in China] is also moving very fast.. So artists really need to move fast, make fast decisions and be very creative.”

On how an artist needs to be a multi-faceted entertainment business:

Tinko: “The Chinese entertainment industry is very celebrity driven – it’s the idols that drives it, and that moves the business forward and makes the business tick. Somebody in our company told me that many of the people that go to concerts don’t go to listen to the music – they go to see their idol, and understanding that gives you an idea of what we’re talking about. It’s being able to cross from music to TV or the film industry, or maybe fashion… you do not stick to just being a music artist.”

Jane: “The musician boundaries here are a little bit faded because the musician is not only a musician. Music is just like part of the bigger portfolio. Jackson Wang is a pretty good example of doing all of those sorts of things – being a model and actor, and recently he launched his new creative agency.”

Yutong: “Popular international artists in China are not popular only because of his or her music – there is something else that is attracting the Chinese fans’ interests. For example Cardi B went viral and got into the chart – this is because she is posting a lot of funny videos, and talking about how successfully the Chinese government is doing with coronavirus – things like that. She then gets trending on Weibo, and then she gets interest from the public, who start to stream her music. She is not only a musician but also a kind of personality or celebrity in China.”

What do artists from outside of China need to do to integrate properly with the market?

Tinko: “The starting point is a long-term vision. You need to be able to speak the language, whether it’s by means of a local team or you actually can speak the language – that definitely opens quite a lot of doors. And then keep investing – in China the main issue western acts are facing is not competition from other western acts, it is competition from the Chinese acts because they, especially the ones that are making really good money, are putting lots of that money back into the business and into developing their own brand. The competition is much more fierce than you would see anywhere else.”

Jane: “The biggest challenge is overcoming the cultural gap – it’s very important for international artists to be relatable to the Chinese audience. For example from a practical point of view, the social media posts from the artists has something to do with China – like touring in China or Chinese food or saying happy Chinese new year – they always gather the most engagement.”

Yutong: “If you can collaborate with Chinese local artists, then your music is automatically being heard and it’s a very quick way to getting to the market. Look at what BTS did in the United States – collaborating with a lot of top-level artists.”

Jane: “We’re trying to educate [Kanjian’s western] clients and the artists that the market is very different. There’s very high expectations from a very short period period of time – one or two releases – and I feel like the artists expect a lot without knowing the market and knowing that things don’t work in the same way. Sometimes it’s very difficult to predict the return on investment or expectations [if a western artist only has one or two releases planned.]”

Tinko had one, final, clear piece of advice:

Tinko: “Act now. We have been monitoring how international artists are performing in China and quite a few of them haven’t really paid any attention to China. It actually opens the door for those mid-level to top-level artists that we have within our catalogue that can live off the revenue they generate from within China alone.

These are names that it’s very unlikely you’ve heard of outside China. They’re not yet making hundreds of thousands [of dollars in income] but that’s where we are heading – and over the next few years there’s going to be those artists who will be able to carve a niche for themselves in this huge market… Within the next three to five years that window of opportunity will close – so my suggestion is to act now, and focus on China.”

Joe Sparrow

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