Billboard Interview : China Top 5

A few months ago, as part of their Maximum Exposure edition (Sept 26th 2009), Billboard magazine sat down with Outdustry’s Ed Peto to find out 5 good ways to build a bit of presence for your artist in China. Here, printed in full, is the resulting piece by Jonathan Landreth.

Rampant piracy and a lack of transparency have long complicated efforts by record labels to do business in China. Still, for those willing to be flexible and patient, the Middle Kingdom could still prove to be a useful laboratory for new business models.

Relative to it’s potential, China’s music market remains microscopic. Recorded music sales totalled just $82 million in 2008, up 8% from a year earlier, according to IFPI data. But digital sales, which accounted for 62% of total music sales, provide a glimmer of hope, having surged 45% last year to $50.4 million.

Ed Peto, founder of the music business consultancy Outdustry in Beijing, believes artists must adopt a 360 degree approach to China. The man on the ground for the Beggars Group of labels, Peto works to tap a network of promoters, critics, DJs and Web entrepreneurs to position acts aiming to connect with Chinese music fans. Asked to identify the best means to promote music in China, Peto cautions that no single platform would suffice, given the China market’s fast pace: "The menu could change at any minute," he says.

1. Land a billing at Beijing’s premiere live music event, the Modern Sky Music Festival

Founded in 2007 by Modern Sky record label boss Shen Lihui, past festival headliners included U.S. rockers Yeah Yeah Yeahs and local heroes Carsick Cars. This year’s event will be held Oct 4-7 at Beijing’s Chaoyang Park and will feature a roster including British Sea Power, the Buzzcocks, the Futureheads and Shonen Knife. Peto says Modern Sky is better organized than previous Chinese rock festivals, boasting sponsorship support, a wider range of bands and a more professional staff. "It’s not perfect, but it’s a really significant step up," he says. Peto also suggests licensing a record to a local label first then using the fest to promote it. And don’t go shouting about politics like Bjork did about Tibet in 2008. "That incident did a disservice to everyone working hard for incremental change in music in China," he says. "It is getting better, but she set things back five years."

(Update: It is worth noting that Modern Sky Festival ran into some….’trouble’ this year, after the article was published. The week before the event, the organisers were told that none of the international bands would be allowed to play)

2. Hire an intern to start a discussion thread about a single or album on Douban.com

Douban.com is the most transparent, frank, witty and active collection of critical writing about music, books and films in the Chinese blogosphere. Knowledgeable music editor Xu Bo is also the guitarist for one of the capital’s top bands, the post-folk punk quartet P.K.14.

Peto says 80% of the traffic to Outdustry’s online community/record label site MicroMu comes from Douban. "It is the light at the end of the tunnel," he says. "It’s what Myspace China wishes it could be."

3. Make friends with Kelly ‘ZhaZha’ Cha

Cha is an influential TV/radio host educated partly in the United States whose shows on Hunan Satellite Television (“Midnight Mindtwist”), China Radio International’s Easy FM and the video channel of popular Web portal Sina.com (“The ZhaZhaClub Show”) expose fans to imported music by playing songs and discussing lyrics in English and Chinese. "She’s like a champion for Western music across a number of platforms in China," Peto says.

4. License music to R2G

R2G is a Beijing-based online music distribution platform whose custom-built software detects illegal electronic listings of songs, then uses documentation of those posts (and the courts, if necessary) to negotiate legitimate royalty payments for future downloads from Web sites. Privately owned R2G takes a cut of the payments and thus far appears to have survived China’s Wild West environment by focusing on songs downloaded and used as ringtones and ringback tones by the nation’s 430 million cell phone subscribers. Peto calls R2G "the most transparent and Western-friendly of the music distribution sites in China".

5. Upload a video to Youku

Youku is China’s largest online video portal. As with YouTube, a channel can be set up for free, pages customized and videos uploaded. "It is definitely worth adding Chinese and English subtitles," Peto says. "Lyrics are very important to Chinese people, and having the translation there really adds value as the video also becomes an educational tool." By posting a video, Chinese music fans can better appreciate a band’s over-all presentation, he says, noting that "where your music might not be particularly culturally applicable, your video might pique interest, be plucked from obscurity by the editorial team or community and hit a feature page."

Billboard article used with permission of Nielsen Business Media, Inc.

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