A Conversation With The "Godfather" Of Taiwan And China's Music Industry

by MusicDish China Monday 17 January 2011

As China's stature on the world stage grows, so is the attention being paid to its music industry, and for good reason: With 620 million mobile users and 420 million Internet users, it already has the potential to be the world's largest music market.  A consumer population that massive will also have growing influence overall on what the world listens to. What is much less understood is that when one looks at China's music industry, they are really looking at a mirror image of Taiwan's, which has played a pivotal role in the development of modern China during the last 60 years.

Consider these numbers:
* Over 80% of the music created or produced in the Greater China market comes from Taiwan.
* Taiwan's music repertoire is responsible for 70% of music sales in Mainland China, while international artists account for 12% and Jpop/Kpop sales account for 4% of sales in the China market.
* In the 2009 live performance market in China, 55 concerts featuring Taiwan artists generated US$210 Million in ticket sales.

In order to better understand this often underlooked music market, I had the opportunity to interview Mr. Tsu-Tsu Wu, who is part of the Taiwanese delegation attending this year's MIDEM conference. In addition to being President of UFO Records, Mr. Wu is the Founder of The Association of Recording Copyright Owners (ARCO) and The Music Copyright Society of Chinese Taipei (MÜST). In recognition of these outstanding achievements Mr. Wu was presented the "Special Contribution Award" at the 16th Golden Melody Awards (equivalent to the Grammy Awards).

Mr. Wu was also the co-founder of the Rock Record together with Sam Duan. Later he formed UFO Records and produced, released and managed many top-chart selling pop artists. In 1993 he sold UFO Records to Warner. He was president of Warner Music in the Greater China Region for 5 years. During his time at Warner, Mr. Wu released the first Chinese international pop album, Dadawa "Sister Drum", to the world market. He also arranged Dadawa's performance at MIDEM during the mid-1990's. Sister Drum sold over a million copies worldwide. This album remains today as the only Chinese album to have sold over a million albums worldwide.

I'm pleased to share Mr. Wu's insights on Taiwan's pop music industry, it's influence on the mainland, the role of new medias in developing talent and MIDEM 2011. But I'd first like to thank John Solakian and Yvonca Ning for allowing me to share the interview in both English and Chinese.


You've been a key figure in Taiwan's music industry over the last 20 years. How has it influenced mainland China over that time? Is it likely to wane in the future as China's culture sector develops?



Because Taiwan and China share the same language, Taiwan's pop music was able to enter China even before the relaxation of travel restrictions. The likes of Teresa Teng and the early campus folk songs, and later Julie Su and Small Tiger Ruan, all used various commercial channels to enter the China market.


Even though the market initially lacked the types of music young people sought out, Taiwan's and China's youth found ways to get desirable music. Even back then - and without exactly knowing how to go about it - the fact that Teresa Teng could have such hits in China showed how Taiwan's pop music could have a profound influence in China.

近十幾年來,大陸開放後,台灣的流行歌手進入大陸演出,台灣流行音樂流傳更為廣泛,對大陸而言,音樂的技巧並不難,主要的差異來自於文字 和知識文化的門檻,因為台灣注重基本教育和知識的水平, 所以台灣可以培養出優秀的創作人,寫出詞藻優美的歌詞, 反觀大陸因為戰爭、文革,創作不及台灣有深度,這也是大陸流行音樂目前無法超越台灣的原因。

With the relaxation of travel restrictions to China over the last 10 years, and with Taiwan's pop artist now performing in China, Taiwan's pop music has become even more popular. In China's market, music skill is not necessarily the key, rather it is the difference in cultural level that has really had a major impact. Taiwan has focused heavily on education and has produced many people good songwriters. By contrast, China went through wars and the Cultural Revolution; therefore, the level of songwriting is not as deep as in Taiwan.

最原始的流行音樂基本架構其實很簡單,一個人哼哼唱唱就能產生,但現在因為媒體力量的介入,傳播力度跟音樂結合才造就新的流行音樂,好音 樂仍需經過包裝和適度的修飾才能成為流行。反觀大陸則是跳躍式,許多普羅大眾琅琅上口的歌曲,如:「兩隻蝴蝶」、「老鼠愛大米」都是發跡於網路後成為經 典,這部份在台灣是比較少見的現象。

The original pop music structures were very simple; one could humm and produce a song. However, with the involvement of today's powerful media, promotional efforts and music have merged to create new pop music. Still, good music needs packaging and a certain degree of polish in order to become popular. By contract, Mainland China has jumped ahead with highly popular songs like "Two Butterflies" and "The Mouse Loves the Rice" that become instant classics after their internet releases. This type of situation is rare in Taiwan.

大陸消費市場有雄厚潛力,這樣的市場廣度勢必會造就一些新的事物,對於音樂的包裝及商業操作技巧,大陸仿照台灣的模式已經發展成熟,但在 創作部份仍需長時間累積才可能培養人才。 雖然台灣的音樂產業人員紛紛赴大陸發展,會加速大陸市場商業運作機制的成熟,結合本身市場所製造的媒體效果也會更加強大,但創造與發明仍是台灣的優勢,台 灣具有自由的創作環境,有無限的可能性,即使做音樂並不一定賺錢,台灣仍有蓬勃的人力投入音樂產業。

The large consumer market potential in mainland China will surly create new opportunities for further market development. Yet, as the packaging of music and business operations skills - patterned Taiwan's models - become matured, Mainland China's creative talent will still take a long time to develop. While many Taiwan music professionals have gone to Mainland China and helped the mainland market accelerate its commercial business maturity, their impact will be more powerful when combined with the powerful media effects the market creates. Creation and invention continue to be Taiwan's strengths. Taiwan has a free creative environment with limitless possibilities. And even though making music may not be profitable, there are still healthy amounts of manpower entering the music industry.


Through government support and business sponsorship, South Korea's cultural and creative industry developed significantly in a short period of time. I believe Taiwan government should work to shape a fair competitive environment where talented and creative people have space to work/create. Mainland China may be slightly behind, but it has political will; with a lesser degree of freedom, government authority is relatively strong and can effectively push policies through.

Is it likely to wane in the future as China's culture sector develops?



Mainland China's pop music standards are based on Taiwan's. It also draws on Taiwan's talent to produce music. From the recent cross-straits interactions that frequently appear, it is evident that Taiwan's creative and cultural content retains its lead, but in terms of its general direction, China will remain with the greatest advantages for future development.

From the internet to mobile phones and 'Idol' competitions, the Taiwan music industry has seen many changes over those same years. Foremost have been the changes in how consumers interact with music. Do you feel that these changes have had an overall positive or negative impact to breaking talented pop artist?


音樂真正成為一個產業並沒有非常長的歷史,從愛迪生發明留聲機開始,唱片工業的發展不過百年,技術不斷推陳出新。從黑膠唱片發展至今,本質 仍然是歌詞、音樂、歌手,重大的改變在於新媒體傳播的產生,以前唱片公司整體的功能,現在個人就可以做到,工具的改變對唱片市場是很大的衝擊。

An organized functional music industry was not formed very long ago. With the invention of the first phonograph by Thomas Alva Edison, it is at most 100 years old. From the vinyl record to today, music to people, the essentials remain the same: the lyric, the rhyme and the artist. If observed carefully, it is just new means of promotion and marketing that have brought revolution to the industry. Unlike the past, artists do not need record labels to release music - they can now do it from their basements.

以往做好音樂就有一定的把握賺錢,現在卻不成立。相較於戒嚴時期因為媒體由政府控管,唱片在市場上反而有更多露出,以填滿娛樂缺乏的現 象。現今發行專輯在宣傳上需要投入更多的資源、花更多的錢才能達到預期的效果,而且難以回收。但人還是需要音樂,雖然媒介的改變影響了創作人以及從業人員 的經營模式,但商業的產值也在其他領域體現,不限於發行實體的獲利。這一個行業普遍而言,是百分之五的人賺了百分之九十五的錢,走在前端的人強勢佔有市 場,強化了娛樂產業的本質。

In the past, as long as you had good music, you were guaranteed to make money. But, this is no longer the case. During Taiwan's period of martial law, all media was monitored and controlled by the authorities. With such limitations, the marketing of music quickly achieved the best results in the shortest amount of time. Nowadays, music marketing has become far more costly and time-consuming, even while trying to achieve the same - or far less, promotional outcomes. But people still need music, and the media changes the impact to the music creator and the music business model. But the industry's value has also appeared in other areas; it is not just physical products generating revenue. Currently, 5% of the population makes 95% of the profit. So whoever leads the market occupies the greatest market share and enhances the entertainment business.

綜觀在星光大道等選秀節目的素人以及在部落格發表創作的個人,走紅方式有別於以往,選秀節目出身的藝人,其優勢在於跟媒體結合,已率先佔 有通路。 有的音樂人不喜歡站在幕前,因為追求的理念與目的不同,歌藝不好的人若懂得商業運作也有機會走紅。喜歡音樂的人自然而然會跟音樂走在一起,產生許多想法並 激盪出火花。但也不是每個例子都成能立,一切仍取決於藝人本身的特質和努力,所謂的一夕爆紅並非完全僥倖。

If we look at those artists from the pop idol shows and the individuals from blogs, the ways they have become famous are different from those in the past. The pop idol artists have the advantage of connecting with the media and have priority in terms of distribution. Some music talent does not like being on stage as the pursuits of their ideals and goals is different, while others - not as talented - may know how to use the commercial operation to make themselves famous. But, those who truly love music and who naturally go after it - will create new ideas and 'send off sparks'. Of course, not everyone can succeed; it is still depend on the artist's own character and hard work. It is almost impossible to be famous overnight.

As a president of Warner Music in the Greater China Region, you released Dadawa's "Sister Drum", the only Chinese album to have sold over a million copies worldwide. What were the ingredients to Dadawa's worldwide sucess in the mid-1990's? Will it be replicated in the coming decade?



At the time, it was mainly because I personally liked the album, plus I was working with Warner closely. I had the opportunity to present this album in Hong Kong to Warner's top executives and take advantage of Warner's complementary strengths. As a result of these favorable events, the world had chance to listen to her music and the album was later a finalist at the BBC World Music Awards in the Best Album category.

之前蘇芮、小虎隊要進大陸時,當時有個在大陸引起旋風的歌手崔健,他的批判意識和搖滾精神對剛開放的大陸造成衝擊,成為當時最具代表性的 人物,引起世界注目。相較之下,即使在台灣紅極一時的歌手,在海外不一定有人完全買帳,但未來大陸成名的歌手,其他國家卻很難忽略,這或許是大陸的優勢, 所以台灣的歌手除了要努力在台灣成為第一,也要想辦法在整個華人世界成為第一。

Previously I mentioned Julie Su and Small Tiger Ruan - during that same period there was a revolutionary artist in China, Cui Jian, whose critical consciousness and rock spirit created a great impact in China, making him the most representative figure and drawing worldwide attention. In comparison, while the top artists in Taiwan may not receive full attention from the international market, in the future if they become famous in China, they will have the world's attention. Perhaps this is the advantage China really has. So, not only must Taiwan's artists work hard to become number one in Taiwan - they must also work to become number one in the greater Chinese world.

You also arranged for Dadawa's performance at MIDEM in the 90's. What role will MIDEM play in 2011 for Taiwanese music companies and artists?



The winners from the Golden Melody Awards should have the opportunity to perform at MIDEM - this should be encouraged. Taiwan needs to showcase its good work and determine which artists should test the international market. The artists with real potential should get exposure in as many different venues as possible - MIDEM is one example - and be promoted everywhere.


My purpose in attending MIDEM is not only to speak at this Forum, but is mainly to research more new knowledge. There are a lot of unexplored areas; it would be interesting to check them out and see what opportunities develop. I do feel great an honor to attend MIDEM and speak for Taiwan at the Forum, through this my hope is that more people will recognize Taiwan.

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From NYC To SH: Tomas Doncker's Long Road To China's World Expo

by MusicDish China Tuesday 14 December 2010

Tomas Doncker's Long Road To China's World Expo by Michele Wilson-Morris

It's not every day that an American artist is invited to perform at a major festival in China. So when global soul musician Tomas Doncker "" was selected by the Chinese Ministry of Cultural Affairs to represent the U.S. at the first International New Folk Music Festival and Shanghai Performing Arts Festival "", no one was more surprised than Tomas.

It all began in January 2010 at the MIDEM conference held annually in Cannes, France. Tomas had released the "Small World" EP in March of 2009 which was brought to the attention of the Chinese delegation attending the conference. Eight months later, Tomas would be performing during the World Expo 2010 in Shanghai. "It was a whole Shanghai/China party for a week," Tomas recalls, "and we did 7 shows in 6 days, performing for over 100,000 people. It was pretty spectacular!" In addition to the two festivals, Tomas was also invited to perform at America Square, the USA's Pavilion at the Expo. So how did it all come together?

The invitation to perform in Shanghai was just the beginning of a long sequence of events that would actually make the tour a reality. "It's one thing to be invited; it's another thing to be able to actually go. With budgets the way they are, sponsorship is crucial to independent artists. I saw Eric Clapton perform at Madison Square Garden this year, and as big of a celebrity as he is, he actually had sponsorship from T-Mobile."

While the Shanghai Performing Arts Festival provided accommodations, meals and ground support, there were other considerations, foremost amongst them being airfare. But again, luck was on his side. "I was invited to perform at St Barth's BAZ BAR club in April 2010 while the Shanghai deal was still on the table. BAZ BAR owner Jean-Marc Lefranc and I were talking about both the opportunity and dilemma. He agreed to provide the airfare for the entire band. Then, I really became excited. That meant we were actually going."

"Once that was secured, one of my managers, Mark Cope called me and said "I don't really know anything about China except that it's an very emerging market for Western culture entertainment, but there's a guy whose name is Eric de Fontenay and he's amazing - the things that he's doing, not just in China but in general with his company MusicDish - I'd like to put you in contact with him."  So, when I came back from the Caribbean, we performed at the Blue Note in New York and had two sold out shows there. I invited Eric by phone to come see my performance and he did, and his response was very positive."

After a trip to Beijing and Hong Kong for the  Music Matter conference", Eric offered  MusicDish*China's official media sponsorship for the tour

"So now, we had travel sponsorship, financial sponsorship and media sponsorship. It's one thing to be invited and another to know that you're going, but it's a whole other thing for people to know that you're coming. Eric was relentless - he's like a pit bull; he goes for every possible opportunity and connection when it comes to networking."

Once word began to spread about the trip, Eric suggested that they coordinate a release in China, and introduced Tomas to Robert Singerman with Berlin-based 88tc88 that is official sanctioned to distribute and promote music foreign music in China. Singerman was not just a key player because of the album release - he also introduced Tomas to Philip Jarrell, a guitar builder based out of Shanghai who connected with Tomas' music. Tomas was equally impressed with Jarrell's guitars, stating that "His instruments are the best I've ever played - absolutely phenomenal." That introduction led to him becoming an official Jarrell guitar endorser.

Jarrell, in addition to being a guitar builder is also a high fashion photographer with many connections and served as a major liaison to Tomas and his band once they were in Shanghai. "He documented the entire tour on film. There's actually enough footage for a documentary, which we will sit down and discuss after looking at it all. Right now there is one great clip of us performing Lucky Day at the Shanghai Expo in front of about 15,000 people. The people at the Shanghai Performing Arts Festival were kind of amazed at how much we had gotten done on our own. If you're going to be successful these days, you have to make your own connections, establish relationships and then build on them. We're going back to St. Barth's in December for another performance, for example."

Tomas has signed a distribution deal with Brody/Sony/Red and is launching his new label True Groove Records in early 2011 with the release of "Small World Pt.1 - Deluxe Edition." The "Small World" tour has taken Tomas and his band to D.C., New Jersey, California, Connecticut, Georgia, Colorado  - cities they went to before Shanghai was every mentioned. They toured the Caribbean in April and May, performed in Shanghai/China in September, and are headed back to the Caribbean to in December. "It's been a very busy year. I made up my mind that I would release this album and tour behind its release. I had no idea how I was going to tour, but I just prayed a lot, put my best foot forward, and it turned into a world tour and is still going on. Maybe we'll be like Pink Floyd and be on tour for three years. The rest is still in motion."

Tomas' next project is a multi-media performance piece about the people of Ethiopia and their struggles at the time of World War II. That album is in the final stages and is entitled Power of the Trinity. "We're in the process of acquiring backing for the project and hope to launch it next summer."


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Rain Can't Stop The Pet Conspiracy

by MusicDish China Tuesday 23 November 2010

Rain Can't Stop The Pet Conspiracy @ Hangzhou West Lake Music Festival
Oct 23, 2010, early morning: We (Drummer Edo and Singer Mary) had missed our a.m. flight from Beijing to Hangzhou. Although we were all supposed to be taking the same flight to the Hangzhou music festival to work on the sound check, only Joe and Fiona made it to the airport and stood waiting for the other two guys with their hot coffee. Our producer and guitar-player Huzi was already in Hangzhou, fancifully dreaming in the beautiful city, when he received a call from Mary that quickly changed his mood from that of peace and tranquility to rage! He wanted to kill them – missing the flight was a serious matter. So serious in fact, that later, Huzi decided to let them take the soonest flight available, which happened to be first class.
When Edo and Mary arrived at the venue, it was raining cats and dogs and we saw many colorful umbrellas and raincoats as we were walking down to the electronic stage. Beautiful rain yes, but at the same time, it occurred to us that if rainwater was dripping from the rooftop onto the stage, the stage itself would be drenched and anyone on the stage would be in danger of electrocution! As the booker of this music festival, Huzi was responsible for dealing with the issues regarding safety – which he did without too much of a problem. Never, in all their performances throughout China and Europe, had The Pet Conspiracy encountered such an enormous amount of rain as they did on that day.
Although we'd already taken the stage at 7:00 pm and had already started to play, a guy named Zhang Zhen, who had only 5 minutes ago set up all our instruments on the electronic stage, suddenly changed his mind and invited us to go and play on the main stage instead. Obligingly, we took our equipment and ran over to where we found nearly 10,000 people waiting! And, the rain was actually beginning to stop. We figured the sound system was bound to be incredibly great, so without any sound check, we began to play.
As soon as we started, however, it was as if a bomb had exploded. The entire audience began to dance crazily. Perhaps there had been a nice quiet folk singer on the stage just before; perhaps The Pet Conspiracy was so completely different that we totally recharged the atmosphere and the crowd couldn't get enough. Watching the fans dancing in front of us as one huge chaotic wave, was messy but super nice! That was the third time we played Hangzhou West Lake music festival, being the only band ever to be invited back to play twice. If we are invited next year, we'll definitely be back! We love the fans there, walking around in the muddy ground and drinking hot coffee, enjoying the music, the park, the gorgeous hills and the beautiful surroundings of Hangzhou west lake. We think the Hangzhou West Lake Music festival is one of the most professional festivals in China.
In conclusion? We hope next time it will be raining even harder, that we'll get our audience even higher, and that Pet Conspiracy will be rocking heavier than ever!
[Editor's Apology: If you're wondering why the photos don't look like the Hangzhou music festival, stop scratching your head - they are not. They were actually taken at the Zippo party in Beijing by Ken Lee. We didn't have any pics from the festival and you caught me. Oh well, we do with what we have!]

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