Iconic record label group Beggars (home to XL, Matador, 4AD, Rough Trade) has today formally begun operations in China. We knew about this a while back and we have also spotted a lot of activity on the social networks here (artist pages being set up, content being written), but the press release was issued today. Beggars will be advised by Beijing based consultancy Outdustry. Physical releases will be through local label Jingwen and Taiwanese label Hi-Note, online and mobile distribution through the online store Wawawa.
The Radar recently came across this Larry LeBlanc (former longtime editor of Billboard Canada) interview with Jasper Donat. Donat, co-founder and executive director of Hong Kong-based entertainment marketing agency Branded, is also the president of Branded’s annual music industry conference, Music Matters, which we liveblogged last year and which we are psyched for this year. The interview contains some good insights on what the future holds for the music industry in Asia. Some of Donat’s notable quotables after the jump. But first, some more mindblowing China numbers from LeBlanc:
“In contrast to the Western culture, Asian youth prefer to download their favorite songs on to their mobile devices rather than computers. According to Chinese government figures, about 84% of China’s nearly 300 million Internet users download music over the Internet, and most of it is used for cell phone ring tones. In April, 2008, China Mobile started its testing of the third generation (3G) of mobile communication in 8 cities (Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Qinhuangdao, Shenyang and Xiamen). While test results have not been made public, it predicted that the 3G usage will surge up to 100 million in China by 2011.”
The recent Google/ Top 100 deal which will
- help Google to compete with Baidu
- help artists/ labels to get paid at least something for their goods
has been widely discussed. In this article, “media futurist” Gerd Leonard argues very coherently why the Chinese music industry, long viewed as the world’s dirty secret, may indeed be showing the rest of the world the way.
Last week, the Register did an in-depth study into the well known, but never-proved use of deep linking to pirate MP3′s for download. Baidu, the Chinese search engine with a 70% share of the local search market, has achieved this position through a combination of first mover advantage and more relevant Mandarin language search results. However, it has always been speculated that the real reason for Baidu’s popularity has been the search results to music tracks hosted on (their own?) servers in China.
Read the Register article here and some excellent commentary by
Encroaching on Baidu’s territory, Google China this month launched its free music search-and-download service. The advertising-supported feature is a partnership between Google China and Top100.cn, the country’s largest online music store.
While Baidu has come under fire from the music industry for linking to third-party illegal downloads, all search results from the new Google portal will lead to a path to legal (but free!) downloads from Top100.cn.
Reuters quotes Google China President Kai-fu Lee as saying that, “the internet industry should by no means stand in the opposite camp against the music industry.” We like his thinking, and hope that Top100’s music catalogue will be able to compete with Baidu’s, which is unfettered by questions of legality.
Partnering with IODA, Beijing-based digital music provider R2G launched the Wawawa (for the moment, Internet Explorer only now Firefox-friendly) online music store this month. The subscriber-based model has a catalogue of over one million full-length recordings of international music, and could present a welcome alternative to the “short tail” pirated recordings found on Chinese search portals like Baidu.
It’s an interesting and ambitious project, and time will tell if China’s netizens will warm to the idea of paying for mp3s. No word in the below press release on how the songs will be priced, but if Wawawa is user-friendly, tailored to the Chinese market and to individual subscribers, and attractively priced, it may just achieve a critical mass (we’re thinking of iTunes here), where customers are willing to shell out money for a breadth and depth of catalogue with reliably better quality recordings than Baidu’s current offerings.
China’s largest search engine, Baidu has long been the scourge of record companies, who criticize the site for providing easy access to illegal music downloads. The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI), which represents Sony BMG, Universal and Warner, filed suit against Baidu, but in 2006 the Beijing courts sided with the search engine, accepting the argument that it’s not a crime to provide access to illegal downloads from a third-party.
In June, a number of Chinese and international recording industry groups including the IFPI and the Music Copyright Society of China, called Baidu “the largest and most incorrigible purveyor of pirated music in China,” and called for an industry-wide advertising boycott, according to Variety Asia. As the search engine dwarfing all other search engines in China, Baidu’s role in music piracy makes it difficult for other sites to go the legal route. Baidu’s illegal downloads give it a leg-up over Google China, and suffocate local paid-download business models. “Baidu is at the root of the problem of illegal music downloading, Wu Duanping, chief executive of online music seller Zheliang Flyasia Electronics Business Co., told Business Week last year.
A result of continued pressure from IFPI and other music organisations, a couple weeks ago Baidu announced a new partnership with three major Chinese record labels: Emperor Entertainment Group, Ocean Butterflies Best Hits Karaoke, and Shanghai Huayi Group. Baidu will stream licensed versions of these companies’ music through its advertising-supported Baidu Digital Music League, which reportedly just landed a 10 million RMB advertising contract.
When it comes to finding things to do with your cell phone other than, well, making phone calls, Asia is well ahead of the pack. An analyst from wireless research company Portio recently estimated that the number of text messages sent in the Asia Pacific region annually will grow to 2,071 billion messages in 2012 (compared to 967.7 billion in 2006). Across the region, young people are viewing their mobile phones as more than communications devices. Accessorized with all manner of lucky charms and pendants, phones are vehicles for self expression. Increasingly, they’re fulfilling the role of mp3 player, too.
MTV’s Music Matters survey — a sample of 5,741 urban middle class participants aged 15-34 across China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, the Philippines, Vietnam, Australia, Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and India — found that 50% of respondents had downloaded music to their phones in the previous month. In China, this number is 68%. 11% in China said that their mobile was their primary music player, and 76% would opt to replace their mp3 player with a mobile music phone altogether. “Downloading music” does not directly translate to “downloading full tracks for listening pleasure,” and may well include a hefty amount of ringback tones and simple ringtones. But it’s a start, and it’s an obvious delivery platform for the future.
One of the most interesting speakers we heard at the recently-wrapped Music Matters Asia conference was Ian Stewart, Senior VP of Viacom Brand Solutions and MTV Networks International. Ian presented the results of this year’s Music Matters survey, a barometer read of musical tastes and tendencies across Asia. You can view the full results here.
The survey polled a total of 5,741 urban middle class participants ages 15-34 in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, the Philippines, Vietnam, Australia, Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and India. A whopping 93% of respondents described themselves as “passionate about music,” and 85% “like music,” compared to 67% in 2007. This rise may be due to increased exposure and ease of access: 66% say they listen to more music now that it’s digital.
What this demographic is listening to these days varies widely from country to country. 74% of Chinese respondents said they like Western music, compared to 95% in Malaysia and 62% in India. This may be inversely proportional to each country’s homegrown music industry. India churns out pop stars by the dozen, and China’s not too far behind, with more respondents than in any other country (98%) who like local music. In each country’s rankings of top five favourite artists, a handful of global superstars made the cut (Gwen Stefani, Linkin Park, Beyonce, Simple Plan and Robbie Williams). But for the most part, “local language drives preference.” Koreans like to listen to people singing/rapping in Korean. Likewise for the Philippines, Taiwan, etc…Southeast Asia tends more toward rock and indie, while North Asia (China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Korea) prefers hip hop, R&B and ballads. China’s favourite singers are:
- Jay Chou
- Andy Lau
- Faye Wong
- Jacky Cheung
- Wang Lee-hom