[EDF] So let’s start with the basics. What are your department’s [International Marketing Department] primary responsibilities?
[CW] Our department is responsible for everything related to international repertoire, including publishing, production, press releases, marketing, promotions, events, and strategic marketing. It is all focused on promoting international artists on Sony Music’s roster in Chinese territory.
[EDF] And what are your specific functions as department supervisor?
[CW] My functions include everything above, with a focus on production, preparing all press releases, artist/album information and artist promotions across all media platforms. In addition, while we have a digital department, I am also responsible for online marketing as well as over ten artist global websites plus Sony Music official site updates. In short, we are a small version of a label, except for the A&R function.
[EDF] Right, your roster is given to you. But what a roster I must say! What are some of the artists/projects that you have worked on this year so far?
[CW] The releases I’ve worked on this year include Dido – Safe Trip Home, Pink – Funhouse, Oasis – Dig Out Your Soul, Beyonce – I Am.. Sasha Fierce (2CD), Celine Dion – My Love: Ultimate Essential Collection (2CD), Westlife – Karaoke DVD, John Legend – Evolver, Britney Spears – Circus, Christina Aguilera – Keeps Gettin’ Better – A Decade Of Hits, Il Divo – The Promise, Sarah McLachlan – Closer: The Best Of Sarah McLachlan, The Fray – The Fray, David Archuleta – David Archuleta, David Cook – David Cook, Kelly Clarkson – All I Ever Wanted, and Michael Jackson 4 album re-releases (The Essential Michael Jackson, Thriller, Off The Wall, Invincible)
[EDF] The biggest star in that list is Michael Jackson, who passed away very recently. How did the Chinese media react to his death? And what was it like for you as the media’s main intermediary for the story?
[CW] Yes, Michael Jackson’s death had a huge impact on us. Do you know how I found out about his death? The news was announced around 3 AM Beijing time. I still clearly remember that morning. I was waken up by a phone call from a media outlet requesting his album information.
The Chinese media was so shocked by Michael Jackson’s death. Early morning radio shows did features on him, print and internet all wrote positive reviews on his life and career. By noon, there were already programs dedicated to him on TV. So it was really widely covered and lasted for a couple of weeks. There are still TV programs rotating Michael Jackson’s stories every day. Our department provided as much as information we could to the public, including sending out press release and audio/video content to support the media’s coverage.
[EDF] The artists you work on are some of the biggest names in the music industry. So what works in reaching your chinese audience: radio, TV, print, web?
[CW] For international artists, the web naturally offers the most information, followed by radio and print. In the case of radio, despite the dominance of domestic repertoire, stations love to play the newest western music and they’ll rotate a single quite often in the first two weeks, generally. Some radio stations even follow the US or UK charts.
But with respect to the artists that attracted the most media attention: Beyonce, Britney Spears, Celine Dion, Christina Aguilera and Kelly Clarkson. They all enjoyed good levels of print coverage, which also serves an important role in reaching our audience.
In regards to TV, there’s very limited coverage for international content.
[EDF] What are some of the major Chinese media outlets that cover international artists; again in radio, TV, print, web?
[CW] Major radio stations that cover international artists include Hit FM, radio channels under Shanghai Media Group, and Guangdong Music Radio. For TV, CCTV digital channel, MTV China, and International Channel Shanghai. In the case of print, there’s Hit Music, InMusic and China Daily. And while there are many outlets on the web, the two major ones are Sina and QQ.
[EDF] People are surprised when I say, “Chinese people don’t like Western music.” Of course, it’s not that they don’t like Western music, but we in the West tend to assume they do. So I use the phrase to drive a point: international repertoire represents a sliver of the overall chinese market.
[CW] Yes, the international repertoire represents a very small portion of the overall Chinese market. The domestic repertoire is very dominant. However, Chinese consumers do like big names and established pop/ R&B artists, such as Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Backstreet Boys, Westlife, Celine Dion, Barbra Streisand, Dido, Beyonce, Avril Lavigne, and Michael Jackson, of course. In more recent years, rock bands and hip-hop artists have been gaining popularity. In terms of sales, though, major Chinese pop stars seem to attract a broader audience.
[EDF] How difficult is it to create awareness around a new project?
[CW] It is relatively easy to create awareness on a new project for a globally established artists. However, the difficulty is in broadening the audience beyond their existing fanbase, or, even more challenging, breaking in new artists. Ten years ago, the domestic repertoire market was not very well developed. There weren’t nearly as many pop stars as today. Most of the artists you’d hear of would be from Taiwan, Hong Kong or the West.
But over the past ten years, the Chinese domestic market has grown dramatically. More people are paying attention to the domestic repertoire now. This is particularly true for those with language barriers — in other words, most Chinese — who are being offered an ever-growing number of opportunities to enjoy Chinese music instead of being “forced,” out of a lack of choices, to listen to western music.
Many assume that because the market is more open than before and young people have more foreign experience through higher education, there would be a larger amount of people enjoying western music. And while It’s true that more people appreciate western music today, at the same time there are many new ways to access information and music. These people are innovative and creatively discovering unknown music. The chinese youth is more active than ever before and are finding their own cultural identity through music.
The Chinese media market is generalized and complicated; unlike the U.S. market which is fragmented along genres and lifestyles, such as, Disney Radio for pop music and The Source for hip hop. The lack of niche media markets in China makes it difficult to know which consumers you are reaching through a media outlet. This makes it particularly challenging to break new artists. For the people who like western music but cannot find a great music platform to know what is new, they tend to stick to the established names, which makes this small group of people very loyal to the artists, such as Celine Dion and Dido.
To add to the point about media, people working in the industry tend to have a preference for Chinese music. Therefore, DJs tend to play Chinese music more often and journalists are more likely to cover Chinese artists they know, rather than spending the time learning about what’s new in western music market. In order to create greater awareness among media and the consumers, education still has a long way to go.
[EDF] The key point I retained is that China is a very challenging market, in large part because it is still on a path of development, from a copyright regime to supporting creativity. There is no question that the Chinese music industry and consumers will become increasingly sophisticated over the next decade. The question is how to position oneself to be able to play a role in that development.