Prominent Chinese and international music professionals had discussed at the just-concluded Dongdong Convention in Beijing how to improve the fortunes of the domestic music market.
Although the market is growing steadily and service providers generate more than 2 billion U.S. dollars in revenue by sales of music downloads and ringtones each year, the revenue of the recording industry is less than 100 million U.S. dollars annually.
Held by Kaiguan Culture Beijing and French-based promoter Fernando Ladeiro-Marques on Friday and Saturday, the Dongdong Convention focused on how to better the situation for artists, labels and concert promoters in China.
While the revenue of recorded music remains low for most artists and labels because of widespread piracy and a lack of transparency in service providers' distribution of fees, live music is a strongly growing market, said Shen Lihui, founder of the Strawberry Music Festival. Festivals are becoming a popular lifestyle trend in the young Chinese middle class and consequently interesting for brands, too.
Cooperation with brands can be a win-win situation for both companies and artists, Terry Xiang of Nova Entertainment Beijing said. "Some brands are looking for young, original characters. For the artist, it's important that the brand is cool and not pushing him aggressively to do stupid things."
Concert promoters like Live Nation China carefully analyze the market before deciding whether to organize a tour for an artist. That includes checking song downloads and social media as well as talking to trusted peers in different cities, said Managing director Robb Spitzer. A lot of likes and followers on social media alone doesn't guarantee full concert venues, especially not in second and third-tier cities.
Also, bringing stars from the United States or Europe to China is no easy business. Popularity at home doesn't automatically mean that Western artists attract big audiences in Beijing, Shanghai or Guangzhou, Spitzer explained.
About 90 percent of the music consumed comes from Taiwan, Hong Kong, South Korea or the Chinese mainland. Only Western megastars like Justin Bieber are widely popular in China, too.
Other artists from the West should prepare thoroughly for their performances here, making sure that they have attractive websites in Chinese and good contacts with Chinese media. "They have to create a Chinese context," advised Mathew Daniel, vice president of music distribution service R2G.
But generally interest in Western music is growing in China. While international stars only used to perform in Beijing and Shanghai, for some of them Live Nation China now organizes tours through five to six cities, according to Spitzer.
Yet at the same time, big Western music service providers like itunes still haven't entered China. That's because the barriers are quite high, said Stephen King, chief international officer of Britain's Believe Digital.
King showed his conviction that Chinese artists would profit strongly if they could work together with Western services, because these would treat them much more fairly and transparently than Chinese equivalents. A profit-sharing deal of at least 50 percent is common in the West.
In China, artists are lucky to get over 5 percent, said Bill Zang, vice president of Shanghai Synergy culture & Entertainment group. "If accounting would be more transparent and artists and labels got at least 20 percent, China's music industry would be booming."
Zang said he was sure the Chinese government had realized that it has to help the music industry. "A strong country needs a strong culture," he said. "The government also sincerely wants to promote Chinese artists to the international market."
King is also certain that music piracy would decrease if international service providers like itunes would operate in China. While itunes offers about 35 million songs, most Chinese providers offer only up to 1.5 million songs. In Latin America, piracy decreased about 50 percent after international providers started to operate there, he said.