EMI Sunny Chang

Ahead of its planned IPO in September, Universal Music Group is stepping up its ambitions in China another notch. It is launching Republic Records China as a frontline label, while relaunching EMI China, PolyGram Records China and Universal Music China to sit alongside it.

The model is the same as in the west, with the labels operating independently (and, given that this is UMG, quite likely in fierce competition with one another), all reporting in to Universal Music Greater China boss Sunny Chang (pictured).

The three existing labels will continue with their rosters, while also signing new artists. Universal Music China will carry on representing UMG’s international artists in China alongside domestic stars including Li Nong Chen and Sunnee.

As for Republic Records, it’s the first time that has spawned a separate international division. Its China subsidiary will be focusing on signing local artists “with a view to reaching a global audience”. The first signings have yet to be announced.

This is all the latest stage in UMG’s determination to be as big a player in China as it is elsewhere in the world. That strategy has seen it move from an exclusive arrangement including sub-licensing with Tencent Music (TME) to separate non-exclusive deals with TME and NetEase Cloud Music – a move matching regulatory shifts in China.

However, UMG’s relationship with TME remains tight: its latest deal with the company in August 2020 included plans to launch a joint venture music label – it wasn’t mentioned in today’s announcement of UMG’s own frontline China plans, mind – while a Tencent-led consortium that includes TME owns a 20% stake in UMG.

Last June, Universal also trumpeted its success with Li Nong Chen, whose ‘Unbelonging’ album sold more than 510k copies across the various Chinese music services in its first week – and more than 500k on TME’s QQ Music alone in its first fortnight. That’s the kind of success UMG will be hoping for more of with its new frontline labels structure in China.

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Stuart Dredge

Music Ally's Head of Insight

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