The Chinese Music Industry

Capture the true value of China by understanding the market

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With China’s online users having limited access to the global media (Google, Facebook, and YouTube to name a few or the multiple news and media outlets such as the BBC or The New York Times), many businesses, music artists and labels included discover that in China they need to invest heavily or in some cases even start from scratch regarding their brand and following.

As a result Chinese tech giants such as Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent flourished, with the most striking example arguably being ByteDance – the Beijing-based creator of the highly popular 15-second video app, TikTok (or Douyin, in China).

The effects of a rapidly developing tech combined with the government’s draconian approach to having rules followed have been far-reaching, though they have had a very positive effect overall streamlining at scale the process of music distribution, discovery and consumption.

The absence of global players in China, combined with the local socio-cultural factors has shaped the domestic digital space and music services in a way that is rather unique and in its own way innovative and advanced as compared with the established practices.

To have a prosperous brand in China, one must be fully considerate of the impact of the local legal and cultural intricacies and the influence of the state in day-to-day operations on one hand, and the opportunities and shortcuts that a well-established personal network offers on the other.

The Government Success

The government’s role has been also significant in educating people in China about copyrights and fighting illegal use of content through the National Intellectual Property Strategy Outline promulgated in 2008. And as intellectual property protection in China is often questioned, some of the recent developments and reforms demonstrate a strong resolve to enforce the copyright doctrine. The authorities’ effort and commitment became quite clear as it began shutting down major online services utilizing unlicensed content – books in 2008, videos in 2012 and music in 2015.

A legal reform instituted recently allowed for the formation of a specialized and centralized intellectual property court system with the first Intellectual Property Courts established in 2014 in Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou, and more launching since 2017. In a further attempt to inform and guide the lower courts, the Supreme People’s Court publishes annually the 10 most significant IP cases and 50 guiding IP cases of the year.

The Copyright Law of the People’s Republic of China was last updated in June 2021, adding some significant changes.

Platform Pitching

Many artists use platform placements to expand their fanbase and to promote key releases. It should be said this is typically only available for artists who have achieved moderate success within the market already or who are collaborating with artists of note.

Releases can be pitched for free or by paid means. Paid pitching will guarantee tracks to be placed in playlists and gain banners. This is a good way to ensure a new track from a smaller artist will be placed. Smaller artists can also use smaller platforms like Qian Qian or Mymusic as a cost-effective way to establish a fanbase as oppose to Netease or QQ.

The Artist as a Brand

Authenticity is one of the centrepieces of present-day marketing practices and with the rapid advance of social media and marketing tactics, brands now talk directly to their followers and music artists are embracing the opportunity to nurture and retain their own fan base.

Artists, managers and labels alike, embrace this approach around the world as they run with the established notion of authenticity where meaning is ‘manufactured’ through various organisational processes in the cultural industries who are ‘carving’ a market niche for the artist through the creation of ‘unique identities’.

This approach often is very impractical in China as the artist-fan and brand-consumer relationships rely on different touch-points and value propositions due to a wide range of socio-cultural and political factors affecting generations.

Like in many other areas, China’s music industry took the best of both worlds (east and west) and created a unique fusion of business models and legislation that are forward-facing, pushing the boundaries and showing year in year out that what works in China is the Chinese model, with major labels (Sony, Warner and Universal) effectively accounting for only 20% of the consumption in mainland China today (Statista, 2020).

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