In China, Internet creates new wave of pop stars
Updated: 2005-10-19 09:52
Yang Chengang was a music teacher by day and lounge singer by night in
central China's Hubei province when one day three years ago a friend suggested
putting one of his songs on the Internet.
Fast forward to 2005, when Yang and his
song, "Mice Love Rice," have become two of the hottest refrains on China's music
scene -- all without the help of a slick marketing campaign, national concert
tour or even a proper album release.
Yang Chengang shot to stardom as soon as his
song "Mice Love Rice" caught on among people.
"At first, the Internet posting didn't have much effect," said the
26-year-old Yang, whose debut, self-titled album will hit music stores in
"But then last year, a DJ made a disco version of it. It was the original
song, but with a faster rhythm. He put it on the Web, but people started playing
it in discos as well."
The phenomenon that propelled Yang to fame has gone on to lift a growing
number of others to similar stardom, all helped by China's 100 million-strong
Internet user base that is now the world's second largest and a growing crop of
young companies trying to cash in on the trend.
"Mice Love Rice" has been downloaded from the Internet around 100 million
times, according to Yang -- a fact that led more than 20 record companies to
approach him about signing a contract.
Even Vivendi's Universal Music, the world's biggest record label, has gotten
in on the act, signing a recent contract with Internet singer Dao Lang, said
Harry Hui, Universal Music's president of Southeast Asia.
Since signing Dao, Universal has released an album of his previously recorded
tracks, and is preparing a new CD as well.
"We have been tracking this pretty closely," Hui said. "The Internet is
becoming a very good promotional platform that did not exist before for finding
new talent. I don't see it as a threat, but as a complement to our business."
Similar phenomena are happening in other markets, as exemplified earlier this
year when the song "Crazy Frog Axel F," based on a cellphone ring tone mimicking
the sound of motorcycle engines, became a major hit in Britain.
But the trend of using the Internet as a promotional tool is especially
suited to China, where traditional broadcast media typically used to promote new
music are tightly controlled and less available to promoters, said Hui.
The market's lack of big labels with fat promotional budgets is also a factor
behind the trend, said Scarlett Li, chief financial officer of R2G, a content
She estimated that at least three or four of the top 10 songs on China's
music charts at any one time have come from Internet artists over the last year.
"There is a music community in China online," she said, citing chat rooms,
peer-to-peer download sites and music portals as parts of the broader Chinese
online music community.
"These are spots where young people go to find and exchange music," she said.
"Some of the Internet singers just throw their music into these different pools
and hope something comes out."
A number of the major western labels, including Universal, Warner Music and
EMI Group have operations in China, which was the world's 19th largest by value
in 2003 but was No. 7 in terms of units sold, according to the International
Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI).
But despite the market's huge potential, all the major labels have been
reluctant to make significant investments there due to piracy rates that some
estimate to be as high as 90 percent.
Enter the Internet, where a growing crop of entrepreneurial
Web site operators have seized on the medium and started signing exclusive
deals with online singers.
Site operators then post the songs on the Internet, collecting a fee each
time one is downloaded and paying a cut of the proceeds to the artist.
One such service, operated by Hong Kong-listed Tom Online, charges about 2
yuan per song downloaded, and gives 40 percent of proceeds to the artist while
retaining the rest, said chief executive Wang Leilei.
"We sign contracts personally with singers and repackage their Internet songs
and promote them via our music channel," he said. "We believe we'll get good
results for the effort."