Understanding the Chinese Music Landscape for Global Artists

Explore the Intricacies of the Chinese Music Market.

Explore the intricacies of the Chinese music market. This article offers an in-depth analysis of the Chinese music landscape, focusing on the digital ecosystem and consumption patterns, providing international artists with the knowledge to effectively navigate this flourishing market.

Interpreting the Chinese Music Market

Analogous to the historic Silk Road, the current Chinese music market symbolizes a dynamic conduit for cultural, technological, and idea exchanges between the East and West. It has transformed into a digital superhighway, creating a vibrant canvas for musicians to harness the numerous possibilities within China’s diverse music market.

With a robust internet user base of over 900 million and a burgeoning middle class, China is a vast field for music consumption. The country’s music sector has witnessed a significant transformation, evolving from a space prone to unauthorized distribution to a highly regulated industry with a variety of income sources. The surge in digital music consumption and live performances in recent years illustrates this shift. For context, in 2021, the nation’s digital music market amounted to an impressive RMB 79.068 billion, registering a year-on-year growth of 10.3%. This growth pattern reveals the market’s substantial demand for music. This strong upward trajectory indicates the enduring vitality of the digital music market, even amidst global challenges. With a burgeoning user base of 729 million, led by the 20-29 age demographic, the digital music space offers artists an expansive, engaged audience.

Yet, to define China merely as a large consumer market would fail to capture the breadth and depth of its intricate musical culture. This culture is a complex mosaic, blending ancient traditions, contemporary pop sensibilities, and an ever-evolving technology ecosystem. This fertile ground supports diverse genres such as Mandopop, C-pop, hip-hop, and electronic music, which prosper alongside traditional Chinese opera and folk music.

What attracts global artists to China is not solely its massive market size, but also its potential for artistic exploration and financial gain. This piece serves as a compass for global artists, offering a roadmap through the complex Chinese music market. Whether an established or emerging artist, comprehending this landscape is crucial for your musical journey in China.

China’s Digital Music Ecosystem

In the wake of the revised “Copyright Law,” China’s music industry has started adjusting its operations. With the China Music Copyright Association’s licensing income reaching RMB 442 million, an 8.3% increase from the previous year, the sector is now prioritizing compliance with laws and regulations, as encouraged by the National Copyright Administration. As part of this effort, a “Sword Network Action” was launched to investigate and manage copyright infringements, solidifying the protection of online digital music copyright. This evolving landscape necessitates new technologies, such as blockchain, to ensure robust copyright protection.

Further invigorating the digital music landscape is the rise of the “music+” ecosystem. This ecosystem operates under a paid model and extends beyond conventional music services, providing interactive and socially innovative experiences. Such a transition satisfies younger users’ appetite for premium music and derivative content and fuels the continued development of digital music products and services, made possible by emerging technologies such as 5G, 8K, and big data.

The flourishing music market in China thrives on the synergy of various players who contribute to the tapestry of the industry. Pivotal in molding the market landscape and consumption trends, these digital service providers – both streaming and non-streaming – are instrumental in distributing and popularizing music. This analysis aims to elucidate the functions of these entities and how they can serve as vital platforms for international artists.

Influence of Streaming Digital Service Providers

Tencent Music Entertainment (TME) has positioned itself at the forefront of China’s music streaming arena with its triumvirate of streaming services – QQ Music, Kugou, and Kuwo. By the conclusion of 2021, TME reported a staggering 615 million monthly active users, with 76.2 million users generating revenue via subscriptions or digital album purchases.

NetEase Cloud Music, another major influencer, ended the year 2021 with an impressive 182.6 million monthly active users, among which 28.9 million were paying subscribers. NetEase has successfully established a distinct space for itself, fostering a thriving community where users partake in active discussions and playlist sharing.

Adding to the dynamic milieu is ByteDance, TikTok’s parent company, with its entrant ‘Qishui Yinyue,’ translated as ‘Soda Music.’ Providing access to a catalogue of over 10 million music tracks and integrating with Douyin (the Chinese counterpart of TikTok), this platform introduces an intriguing dynamic to the market. With ByteDance’s other music-streaming service, Resso, gaining popularity in India and other countries, it will be interesting to monitor how Qishui Yinyue navigates the digital landscape in light of recent government scrutiny towards digital platform owners.

The significance of streaming services like TME, NetEase Cloud Music, and Qishui Yinyue for international artists cannot be overstated. Not only do they provide direct access to an active Chinese audience, but partnerships with these platforms also offer artists an opportunity to gain increased exposure via featured spots on playlists.

Significance of Non-streaming Digital Service Providers

Complementing their streaming counterparts, non-streaming digital service providers such as Douyin (Chinese TikTok), Kuaishou, PICO, Wondershare Filmora, Keep, EQXiu, Xiumi, and others also wield substantial influence in China’s music industry.

Short-video platforms like Douyin and Kuaishou often feature music as background scores for their videos, presenting a unique promotional opportunity for artists. While these platforms may not be primarily used for music discovery, an enjoyable video paired with a catchy track can motivate viewers to explore more from the associated artist.

Virtual reality pioneer PICO offers artists an alternative avenue for engagement. Through immersive experiences enabled by its integrated XR platform, PICO presents the potential for VR concerts and music experiences, connecting artists with a unique segment of the audience intrigued by VR technology.

Platforms like Wondershare Filmora, EQXiu, and Xiumi, which focus on video editing and presentation creation, further broaden the reach of music by enabling its use as background scores. This passive mode of discovery can lead to music reaching new demographics who engage with presentations, videos, and other creative content. In a rapidly evolving digital environment, these platforms underline the boundless potential for music distribution and promotion.

Radio and Television Music

Radio and television also play pivotal roles within China’s music sector. In 2021, income from radio advertising in music categories amounted to RMB 1.581 billion, and nationwide radio listeners peaked at 681 million. The rise of “cloud technology” has resulted in a redefinition of conventional listening habits, and smart listening is becoming mainstream. However, these trends coincide with a decrease in music TV variety shows and evening party programs, emphasizing the need for innovative, digitized program formats.

Music in Film, Television, Games, and Animation

2021 saw the total value of music in film, television dramas, games, and animation reach approximately RMB 740 million, demonstrating a 15.2% year-on-year increase. This growth trend indicates the convergence of music with various entertainment formats, including short videos and live broadcasts. Online virtual performances and game soundtracks are emerging as immersive and popular mediums for music consumption, further diversifying the digital music industry.

The Karaoke Industry

Despite the adverse effects of the pandemic on the karaoke industry, online karaoke emerged as a new form of entertainment. The market size for online karaoke in 2021 reached RMB 15.58 billion, marking a 45% increase from the previous year, with approximately 510 million users. The integration of karaoke functions into short video scenarios signals the rise of social, scene-based transformations in online karaoke.

Overall, the Chinese digital music ecosystem presents an intriguing fusion of traditional music practices and digital innovation, fueled by evolving consumer preferences and technological advancements. Understanding these key components is pivotal for artists seeking to navigate and succeed in China’s dynamic music landscape.

What it Means for International Artists

For global artists, these streaming platforms offer an avenue to reach an extensive audience in China. Collaborating with local artists, having your tracks featured on popular playlists, and participating in online concerts can be immensely beneficial. Particularly, Qishui Yinyue’s integration with Douyin presents an opportunity for artists to leverage the virality of short videos for music promotion.

Having your music on non-streaming DSPs is not just about diversification; it’s about reaching new audiences who aren’t necessarily seeking new music but stumble upon it through the content they enjoy. For example, a fitness enthusiast using the Keep app for workout routines might be introduced to an energetic track, or a budding videographer using Wondershare Filmora for editing might incorporate a particular song into a video project. These platforms serve as an avenue for passive discovery, where the user might not actively be looking for new music but comes across it due to the platform’s content.

The digital service providers, both streaming and non-streaming, play an essential role in the distribution and promotion of music. However, navigating this landscape can be challenging for global artists who are unfamiliar with the local market. This is where Kanjian’s expertise becomes indispensable. With its extensive experience and insights into the Chinese music market, Kanjian can guide rightsholders in forming collaborations with major streaming services like TME, NetEase Cloud Music, and Qishui Yinyue. These collaborations are crucial for a multitude of reasons: they provide a direct avenue to reach the Chinese audience and can help artists gain featured spots on playlists, significantly enhancing exposure. Kanjian stands as a trusted partner and an expert navigator in the Chinese music landscape, helping global artists to seamlessly integrate into this booming market.

Knowing Your Audience

A keen understanding of demographic factors is an essential foundation for international artists desiring to make a significant impact in the burgeoning Chinese music market. China, home to a population exceeding 1.4 billion, presents an enormous audience base. Nevertheless, this audience is far from monolithic, with considerable variations spanning age, tastes, and consumption habits.

Central to the patterns of music consumption in China are its young people. Reports indicate that an overwhelming 84.1% of users on mainstream digital music platforms fall within the age bracket of 20-29. This demographic group, typically referred to as the post-90s and post-00s generations, is well-versed in digital technologies and has played a key role in the ascendance of streaming services. They show a high degree of openness to foreign music genres and have a robust presence on various social media platforms.

Furthermore, the vast geographic dimensions of China result in a wide array of regional music preferences. For instance, Mandopop reigns supreme in the Eastern and Southern provinces, while traditional and regional music hold sway in the Western provinces. International artists may need to fine-tune their content to harmonize with these regional inclinations.

A notable difference in consumption patterns emerges between urban and rural populations. The urban audiences are more inclined to engage with an array of genres, encompassing Western music, whereas rural audiences exhibit a preference for local and traditional music. This discrepancy extends to technology adoption, with urban locales experiencing higher penetration of streaming services.

Understanding Content Regulations and Copyright Issues

While the immense opportunities within the Chinese music market are certainly tantalizing, they also bring with them a unique set of challenges that international artists must deftly navigate. Among these challenges, perhaps the most crucial are content regulations and copyright issues.

China is known for its all-age appropriate content regulations, demanding international artists to be fully aware of cultural norms and policies. Lyrics and themes that may be considered commonplace or harmless in Western countries could potentially be viewed as inappropriate or sensitive in China. For instance, content involving explicit language, or anything that could be construed as culturally insensitive may invite scrutiny or lead to content removal from platforms. It underscores the need for foreign artists to conduct comprehensive research and due diligence before launching their music into the Chinese market, ensuring their work aligns with cultural and policy guidelines.

China’s past track record has invited criticism regarding its management of intellectual property rights. However, the narrative has tremendously evolved in recent years. The Chinese government has initiated substantial efforts to bolster copyright laws, recognizing the critical role creative industries play in shaping the country’s global image. This shift reflects not only in the letter of the law but also in its enforcement, with several high-profile copyright infringement cases highlighting China’s commitment to intellectual property protection.

Another layer of complexity for international artists is the unique internet landscape of China, often referred to as the “Great Firewall,” which affects the availability of global digital platforms within the country. International artists, who may be accustomed to platforms like YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter for content dissemination and audience engagement, must adapt to China’s homegrown platforms such as Weibo, WeChat, and Youku.

Each of these platforms holds a vast user base and comes with its unique features and audience behavior. Understanding these nuances could help artists optimize their presence on these platforms, enabling them to effectively reach and engage with their Chinese audience.

For example, Weibo, often compared to Twitter, is a microblogging site where users can follow artists and engage with their content. WeChat, a multi-purpose app, offers functionalities similar to Facebook and Instagram and has a massive audience base. It also allows artists to create WeChat Official Accounts to share updates, sell merchandise, and engage with fans. Youku, similar to YouTube, is a video-sharing website where artists can share music videos and behind-the-scenes footage.


In summary, while music streaming is a significant part of the music industry in Western markets, it is not the only major revenue stream in China, where the industry is more diversified. The Western music industry is more centered on streaming platforms and relies heavily on the pro-rata model, which has been criticized for favoring major artists and labels at the expense of smaller and niche artists. In contrast, the Chinese market, with players like Tencent Music Entertainment, has a more diversified approach, emphasizing social entertainment, innovative advertising, live performances, and a blend of online and offline experiences. This diversification allows for a wider range of revenue streams and potentially a more sustainable ecosystem for artists and the industry as a whole.

Final Thoughts

Understanding the Chinese music landscape is foundational for any global artist aiming to make an impact in this rapidly evolving market. However, understanding is just the first step. To truly capitalize on this market’s unique opportunities, a robust monetization strategy is vital.

If you’re keen on turning your music into a sustainable revenue stream in China, you may find our insights on Monetization Strategies for Global Artists in the Chinese Music Market invaluable.

Navigating the many revenue streams in China’s music industry can be intricate. Platforms like Starcast offer a dashboard that simplifies this process, letting artists focus on their craft. If you’re interested in navigating the complexities of the China’s burgeoning Music Market with a trusted partner, you’re welcome to learn more about how Kanjian can facilitate this journey for you.

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