The inaugural Music Ally China Digital Summit is taking place this week, and a panel session today focused on international marketing, with a particular focus on Chinese artists.

“Outside of China, the main Chinese music markets are Malaysia, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Macao,” said Keith Tan, director, market development, APAC at CD Baby.

“But I think that the digital side of things has allowed Chinese music artists specifically to also play in a lot of the big cities like London, Sydney, San Francisco, Vancouver, this kind of thing. If you backtrack it to maybe even 10 to 15 years ago, I don’t think Chinese artists – or not that many – were touring to those markets.”

He also noted that collaborations between Chinese artists and K-Pop artists are also helping the former group break in South Korea, which is a hugely important market in the Asia-Pacific region.

Jane Polubotko, international marketing manager at Kanjian Music, talked about the potential in countries like Thailand and Vietnam, which share borders with China. One popular Chinese idol, Sunnee, was originally from Thailand.

“So basically she is bringing a lot of Thai people who are interested in Chinese culture to China. Or with Vietnam, Vietnamese people love Chinese dramas, Chinese TV shows, which means that they already know those idols who are playign in those TV shows, or they listen to the original soundtracks that were created by Chinese artists,” she said.

“It’s really about this cultural exchange, together with language, and because south-east Asian countries are culturally a bit closer than, obviously, the US or Europe, to China, it’s always easier to start with those countries.”

The panel considered why K-Pop has enjoyed growing global success through artists like BTS and Blackpink, and whether that might offer encouragement to Chinese artists and labels who are hoping to follow suit.

“I think a big reason why K-Pop was able to become so successful internationally is because K-Pop itself had its roots with international players involved,” said Stephen Dowler, brand manager, Asia-Pacific for Monstercat.

In other words, foreign producers and songwriters have been a part of K-Pop alongside South Korean creators. “I don’t see that as much, necessarily, in China. There’s a lot more of a domestic focus.”

This isn’t a problem for the Chinese music industry’s growth at home, given the size of China’s population. But when it comes to looking for collaborations to help break new markets overseas, it may be a challenge.

“Having something that’s innately going to be just a little bit more palatable to the other target market is going to, I think, go a long way. So that would be one thing that could be learned,” he said.

Polubotko agreed. “China has a huge population. The artists basically can just earn enough money here, and it’s not even about how much money… it’s about how much they invest time and efforts within the market,” she said.

“It’s not those 200-something more countries. You just need to focus on this one, and you will get that return on investment pretty soon, so I think it’s also the question that artists should ask: does he or she want to spend the time and effort on other countries and markets?”

She offered some advice for artists who do want to take on that challenge, and to reach more than just the audiences already interested in Chinese culture.

“How do you break through those audiences? What do you have to offer for the mass audience to like you? And what is special?” she said.

“At that level, you’ll be competing with the top artists of that genre. Top international artists. So it’s important to know your uniqueness. What is there, what is your message, what are you offering to the world?”

The panel talked about collaborations, and the importance of artists’ managers playing their role in finding the right ones – including not simply assuming that they should pick based on who has the biggest fanbase.

“For small artists that are not bigger [than your artist], can they still bring something to the table? Because they sometimes have a particular… they’re good, or they’re big or they bring something in a particular market,” he said.

The panel also stressed the need to do the basics well, if Chinese artists want to break out from their home market.

“Number one, you’ve got to build foreign socials, and not every artist does that. Just even getting your music available. There’s so many Chinese artists that I’m familiar with, they just don’t have their music on foreign platforms,” said Dowler.

“Constantly think about localised and regionalised marketing for your strategy, and not just one-size-fits-all for the whole world,” added Tan.

The Music Ally China Digital Summit, in association with MQA and sponsored by Blokur and Fuga, runs until this Thursday (9 September) and you can still register here for a free ticket to watch its sessions.

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