Music Matters 2011, our review.

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There is also a great review by Fernando Gros HERE, and you can see our tweets from the event in a previous post HERE.

China Music Radar recently attended the Music Matters 2011 as a media partner. This review comes to you courtesy of our Thai beach resort – we are good to you 🙂

It was the fifth time for the Radar to attend but the first for this writer, who found it engaging and invigorating to have so many people (several hundred attendees) from the same industry in the same place at the same time. Everyone focused on an issue very dear to us: the music industry in Asia and how it is developing, how it should develop and how we can all work together to make things happen.

From that perspective, the conference was wildly helpful. It functioned to give a overall snapshot of the region by providing a forum for several countries and territories in the region to explain what is going on in their areas. Among these were Indonesia, India and China – with China receiving an added look courtesy of a Converse-sponsored panel focusing on the music scene in Beijing.

Given the early hour of the Converse panel (9 AM), the session was relatively sparsely attended (about 60-70 folks). Perhaps the early hour also affected the collective brain power of the panelists, who did not manage to cover much ground in the hour allotted. It was immediately pointed out by the moderator, Charles Saliba from record label Maybe Mars, that perhaps the topic was a bit too focused. It is really not possible to talk about Beijing without talking about China in general and 3 out of six the panelists were actually from Shanghai and not terribly familiar with the scene in Beijing! The panel was composed of mainly the younger, more independent operators in the scene, with only 2 of the panelists having more than 10 years experience in/with the industry:

Shen Lihui: member of one of China’s first indie rock bands to gain traction (“Sober”), founder of independent record label Modern Sky, current purveyor of two of China’s quickest developing festivals.

and Zhang Youdai: radio and club DJ and occasional promoter who was one of China’s first radio DJs to play rock and electronic music

Both of these veterans were supplemented by relatively new but certainly active players (and of course the token Converse marketing manager and dear friend, Stephanie Sun – who managed to both to spark some controversy offer several good insights into why the music scene is what it is at the moment for China). Although all of the panelists knew each other fairly well, the group dynamics did not function particularly well, with several hindrances to fluidity (one panelist stated at the beginning he was not sure why he was even invited and several of the panelists were not confident in speaking English). However, to their credit the panel did manage to convey a picture of what is happening in China now and perhaps the dynamics of the group also functioned to illustrate a point: that the current scene in China is a free for all at the moment, is relatively unguided and is in great need of focus and direction. BUT, this situation also demonstrates the opportunities in the market – the scene is opening up and the main dynamic in China currently is that there will be local scenes developing throughout the country as niche audiences emerge and develop their own in different cities. The sheer size of China’s youth population will mean that even niche scenes can survive on their own if given the right support. This all means that China is in desperate need for investment in the infrastructure of the industry. The disconnect with the music industry in the rest of the world was brought to point at the end with a question from a member of the audience regarding how record labels work and what sort of deals are signed with artists. The thrust of the answer by the record label representatives on the panel was that the question was actually irrelevant to China as no one is actually making money “doing deals” with artists.

The second panel on China, entitled “How to make money in China” was populated by a more money and commercially-driven selection of panelists who on the whole seemed to be more urgently interested in conveying that it is actually possible to make money in China in the music business. Lots of stats were thrown around, many of which were not clear what exactly they referred to and some of which seemed dubious at best. Interestingly, the panel was comprised of mostly ex-pat types who are “giving it a go” in China and from what we could tell all of whom are claiming to be making money in their respective businesses – which were all focused on the digital or tech side of the business. The main takeaway from the panel, however, came from the ever coy Scarlett Li whose strong position within the media and entertainment industry indicates she should be someone to listen to. She very clearly stated that it is possible for some people to make money in the business (perhaps people like China Mobile who generates 2 billion RMB per year paid by consumers for music products), BUT that it is not a gold rush and the view towards profits needs to be long-term. This, along with commitment to quality and service will be rewarded. There was further indication that the political/government environment in China is relaxing and stabilizing somewhat, although this is never guaranteed.

The general tone of the panel was incredibly positive and we like the injection of new blood into the market and only hope it serves to develop the overall environment and infrastructure of the industry as a whole. The “bring it on!” attitude is exactly what China needs.

Given our focus on China and the need to attend to real work, coupled with the effort to mingle with folks at the conference, we were unable to attend all of the sessions. Highlights from other panels included a Q&A with Imogen Heap, who we knew relatively little about previously but delightfully discovered how she has made a career out of the use of social media to connect with her fans and develop her fanbase. Her efforts at crowd-sourcing and involving her fans at every step of her creative approach to her music is inspiring and can serve as a model for the many less-than-proactive artists in China who think their career should be handed to them on a silver-platter simply because they are in a cool rock band from Beijing.

Another highlight was the opportunity we had to meet and listen to legendary producer Steve Lillywhite, producer of favorite early U2 records  and everyone from the Simple Minds to Ultravox. His enthusiasm and infectious love for music and the business was ultimately the most inspiring part of the conference. He also seemed interested when spoken to about coming to Beijing to produce a young Chinese band. His response was “I don’t mind if it is a shitty studio. I’ve produced albums in many shitty studios and I can always get a good sound out of one anyways.” Perhaps he had in mind the studio where he produced the first U2 album, where there was no good place to record the drums but in the hallway by the receptionists desk…!

Finally, shouts out to new friends we met at MM: Hanin, Simon,  Eric, Ray, Benny, Felix, Kei, the “other” Nathaniel, John, Colleen, Scarlett, Frank, Spencer and the list goes on… And a big thanks and congrats to Jasper and the other folks at Music Matters and Branded Asia for a successful event and providing an ongoing forum for regional players to get together to thrash it out. Thanks for having us…

Thanks to Converse for bringing the bands from Beijing down for the showcases. Re-TROS killed it.

Next stop: transmitChina in September in Beijing – a conference with a particular focus on China and the roles & convergence of content, platforms, technology, R&D and capital in the creative industries, with a special attention to music.

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