In a country where a large part of the population (more than 75%) listens to music, China’s music market is still very underdeveloped compared to major producing countries like the United States (1st) or Japan (2nd). Like many industries that are not mature yet in the country, music represents an incredible opportunity for those of you that are willing to play the game (by the rules!). However, Musicians and Labels that want to market music in China should keep in mind that they are a few non-negligible challenges they will have to face:
- Government regulations
- Differences in musical culture & tastes, for both providers and consumers
- Music providers need to learn how to establish themselves in the chinese music market.
But no panic, after reading this article, you’ll be up to date on the most common regulations that music labels and artists have to be aware of in China as well as important data and trends about the industry. We’ll also introduce you to China’s top music charts so you have an idea of what’s popular in the country and finally, we’ll share our best tips to market music in China.
What are the Particularities of China Music Market?
With an increasing number of young music consumers and strong moves by the Chinese government in order to prevent music counter-piracy, China has now become a fertile market especially for digital music and online content streaming, mainly powered by national companies: Tencent and NetEase.
According to 2020 China’s Online Audio Sector Report by iResearch, China’s revenue regarding its digital music market increased by 60% year-on-year amounting to 7.63 billion yuan equivalent to $1.08 billion (2018). Still, according to the report, the previous figure is estimated to hit 42.6 billion yuan by 2023.
China does not yet fully exploit its full potential for musical growth. Indeed, with a population of more than 1.4 billion inhabitants, (exactly 1,444,216,107 as of 2020), the size of the market ranks only twelfth in the music market, behind much smaller countries such as Sweden, Belgium, or the Netherlands.
However, the market is in the process of developing rapidly, indeed the industry’s value is estimated at over $ 169 million with an annual average growth of more than 60%. Moreover, the digital channels of the industry are what allow the market to pursue this exponential growth. The future of the country’s music industry will definitely be more on the digital side, therefore Chinese companies recognize the potential and opportunities of digital distribution on the market.
1. Live concert industry in China
In China, the number of large-scale concerts has been in decline ever since 2018, while there are fewer and fewer performances, the prominent Chinese artists manage to fill the biggest stadiums and the live streams of those performances attract more and more viewers. TFBOYS’ 5th-anniversary concert (2018) broke the previous year’s records, indeed the Chinese boy’s band performance managed to gather 450 million live views, while other major local artists may be popular as well none of them seem to be able to achieve success le TFBOYS do.
The digital conversion of China’s music industry might receive an extra push in the coming year’s thanks to the development of VR (Virtual Reality) live streaming, which is currently a hot topic in Chinese technology development. The large-scale performance in China might be the first part of the global Chinese music industry to turn towards live performances.
2. China’s recording industry
- According to IFPI data, China’s music industry sales generated $292.3 million (2017), which equates to a 35.3% increase since 2016
- Around 70% of the recording revenues, or $205 million, were generated by streaming, while physical sales accounted for as little as 7%.
- In 2017, the number of DSPs’ users (Demand-Side Platforms) reached 523 million with the average subscription rate of about 4%.
3. China’s music publishing industry
In 2017 music publishing generated up to $65 million in China. Revenue split between the two copyright management bodies:
- Chinese Music Industry Revenue
- The Daolu Cultural Industry Research Center Record Industry
In China out of all of the sub-industries, the record business is without a doubt the fastest-growing part of the market, the global revenues have tripled in just three years. This amounts to a CAGR of 44%, this type of increase is unique to China as you wouldn’t find such growth in any other country.
However it is necessary to note that the global revenues remain very low, indeed the retail value of the Chinese music market is only about 3% of the U.S. record industry with almost $9 billion in music sales.
This comparison is to be taken with a grain of salt of course, as it is totally unfair to compare China and the US’s music industry, with the U.S. being the biggest music market in the world, at the forefront of the industry’s development.
China Digital Music industry Explosive Growth
China’s digital music market represents more than a billion dollars. It is a market in a phase of growth that only needs to meet the supply and the demand. More than 70% of the Chinese population listens to music through digital and mobile channels. This figure rises to more than 80% when we speak of the younger generations. The average time spent listening to music per week is 16 hours compared to 19 for young people.
The market enjoys a real development that still needs to be exploited, particularly with regard to music listening applications on smartphones. 70% of Chinese listen to music through their phone so it is time for the market to be exploited and meet its new expectations.
Data about the Digital music market in China
Tencent’s success also lies in the diversity of its musical catalog, the platform offers music of national singers such as Lu Han or Tao but also international singers like Adele or South Korean K-pop superstars EXO and BTS.
- Revenues : China’s revenue in music downloads segment in 2025 will be around 37.7 million U.S. dollars.
- Users : The number of users in the music Ssreaming segment in China in 2025 will be around 212.7 million. By the end of 2020, about 66.6 percent of mobile internet users in China used mobile music streaming apps to listen to music. In a survey about the online audio market in China conducted in January 2019, about 50% of the respondents said that they preferred to watch concerts online available on music platforms. About 22% of the respondents preferred to stream sports-related content on music platforms. In a survey about the online audio market in China conducted in January 2019, about 41% of the respondents who had purchased online music services said that their monthly costs on membership and/or music package services fell between 13 to 20 yuan. Around 16% of the respondents said they spent more than 20 yuan per month.
- Dominating music apps : As of March 2021, Tencent’s music apps ( 60% of the local music market share) : KuGou, QQ, and Kuwo, were the three most popular music streaming apps in China. The monthly active users of KuGou totaled 292 million, whereas Baidu’s rebranded Qian Qian amassed around 4.5 million monthly active users.
China Digital Music market is dominated by locals services provider
The Tencent group dominates the music market because of their holding of a consequent part of the market share, indeed the group holds 78% of the global Chinese industry, thanks to all its applications such as :
The Tencent group can enjoy this leading position thanks to the user base it owns upstream of its music application. Indeed, the group owns the WeChat platform, the largest social network in the country, accounting for more than 850 million subscribers. QQ Music in a year and a half already has a user base of 200 million of which 15 million subscribed to a paid subscription per month.
Entry Barriers for International Musicians & Music labels in China
While the market has interesting growth potential for companies wishing to set up business in China. Developing yourself is likely to be more difficult than it was before. Indeed, the government has forbidden all foreign companies to share or publish digital content whether audio or video on the territory. This ban is justified by China’s dissatisfaction with the agreement known as THAAD between the United States and South Korea to protect the US allies from North Korean attacks.
K-pop, a South Korean music industry, is a market that is going to be impacted by this ban as China is a growing market for the Korean entertainment industry as it represents more than $ 5 billion a year. The dramas, the K-pop, and the Korean culinary culture are a great success among the young Chinese generation. By banning, the Hallyu wave in the country, China hopes to achieve financial harm to South Korea.
- Chinese language music dominates the market, indeed most of the best selling songs in China are written in Chinese.
- Although the usage of mobile music streaming is high among chinese consumers, most of them are not familiar with having to pay for the services. The large majority are more likely to opt for the free sources available in order to access their choice of music. In 2018, paying members made up about 5% of the total music userbase in China. Even among those who are willing to spend their moeny on online music, nearly 70% were paying less than 50 yuan per month. To address the problem, industry experts suggested raising public awareness of copyright protection.
- Very high rates of music piracy is the main reason as to why China is such an unwelcoming place for music companies. Pirated audio content is very available that the idea of buying albums or having to pay for streaming can seem ridiculous especially to consumers with less ressources. While the IFPI calls China a country with “enormous untapped potential,” it also notes that only 10% of the market goes to non-Chinese-language music.
- Government control and restrictions make it even harder for international artits to break into the market.
Difficulties to develop but certainly not impossible!
These new regulations make the market more difficult to integrate, but this is not impossible. Effectively to overcome these new government laws, international actors decided to go through local intermediaries to promote their music.
This is the case of BMG, which has partnered with the Alibaba Group, a leading player in e-commerce in China, to promote its composers within the country. The association between the two groups takes the form of an agreement that allows Alibaba to obtain digital rights on 2.5 million music from BMG. In this list, we can find the Rolling Stones, Bruno Mars, or Kylie Minogue.
To promote Music in China you need Digital marketing & Personal branding
Digital seems to be the ideal weapon for foreign actors wishing to promote and develop their music in China. For this, an effective digital marketing strategy has to be put in place.
To music market in China, create viral content
The advantage of social networks and the internet sphere is its diversity and the speed at which content can be shared and become viral. The effect of networks on the Internet makes it possible to reach a wide target of Internet users in a short time. The viral potential of a video can also affect other channels of communication if it has a strong impact. In most cases, many media relay the content via television or the online press.
In China, buzz marketing is a technique enabling the attraction of many prospects and arousing their interest. However, the main difficulty lies in creating content that is original enough to impress and capture the audience. For this, you help digital means facilitating the sharing of the video for Internet users can already be a way to make your content viral.
Market Music in China: Positioning on Chinese social media
A majority of people in China use social networks to get information, the media are no longer used only to stay in touch with their loved ones but also to search for and find out about a product, service, or brand.
Social media strategies are mostly used by players in China as they provide an interactive platform between the brand and its current and potential customers. However, if you want to succeed in developing on Chinese social networks, it is important not to replicate the strategies you have already been able to carry out in the West. Indeed, the digital universe in the Middle Kingdom operates quite differently from the one we know. The rules of the game are different, no Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat. The great virtual wall blocks all Western social networks.
Your social media strategy should focus on Chinese networks that are used differently.
- Weibo: THE place to BE for personnal Branding in China
Weibo is an open social media platform where people post, share and interact with each other but also get updated on trends and news. This is the place for content to go viral and for KOLs to build their online communities.
If you want to be a social media influencer in China, Weibo is definitely the platform for you. It has more than 500 million daily active users and gives access not only to a large audience but also rapid growth of your Chinese fan base.
Open a verified official account (it will protect you against fake accounts and give you access to more business features) and then play around with Weibo users’ favorite features. For instance, collaborate with popular KOLS and personalities in your music genre. It could be a photoshoot, a contest, a live-streaming, and so on.
If you are a famous international artist or a music label representing a famous artist, use the platform to create more proximity with the already existing fan base while working on acquiring new fans. You could even sell the online private events and sell goodies through your Weibo “store” once you are famous enough in the country!
- Douyin : short videos, very good media for personal branding.
Douyin allows users to create and share creative and trendy short videos. These short videos are optimal to increase engagement and virality. Douyin provides the ability to edit videos with engaging special effects and funny stickers to inspire its users to produce more and share more of these kinds of funny short videos with their friends. In short, Douyin is the Chinese version of Tiktok.
Live-streaming, short videos, collab, music challenges, song cover… there are many opportunities to engage with your target audience on Douyin. Leverage the creativity of Douyin users to have your songs go viral on the short video apps.
Just like Weibo, open a verified account and access business tools (such as longer videos) while making sure everyone knows you are the real deal.
- Douban: music and movies lovers platform
Douban is an extremely popular app with more than 300 million MAU (Monthly Active Users). The app, like many in China, works as an ecosystem of service. It would be hard to find it a western equivalent as the platform is mixed between IMDb, Goodreads, Facebook, Blogger, Spotify, and Ello.
Douban stands out from its competition as users do not have to register to scroll the app and it’s also available worldwide. The app is most popular with millennials and Gen Z living and 1st and 2nd tiers Chinese cities. In short, a population of educated and active consumers is looking for more than consumerism in life through experiencing culture and events.
The feature that will interest you the most outside of content marketing and cheap paid ads is Douban Music. The popular music section of Douban is a great place for new artists to get their songs heard and promoted. It’s kind of like MySpace for those of you old enough to remember ;p
In the same vein, Douban FM, a music streaming service can be extremely interesting for musicians trying to reach out to a bigger/newer audience in China.
The other tool that might be interesting for you, not to market music in China, but to promote and sell tickets to concerts for instance is the Douban city features where users can find events going on around them and book directly from the platform.
Douban is not well-known compared to WeChat, Douyin, or Weibo, yet it has much to offer for those of you that wish to market music in China. We invite you to read the full Douban Marketing Guide and see by yourself why we think this is an interesting Chinese social media.
- Bilibili : video service perfect to post music videos.
Bilibili is often considered as the Chinese version of YouTube, however, unlike YouTube or TikTok, the promotion of a video is not based on a specific algorithm to boost visibility rather it is all about community and recommendations, which can be a great opportunity depending on your local strategy.
To learn more about social networks in China it’s right here!
Market your Music in China with Press Relations
To develop your fame and make yourself a name in China, PR is the most effective communication tool. PR is effective for awareness and visibility. Generally, the goal of PR is to improve your reputation with your target audience and communities, improve your image through content delivery, and manage your reputation downstream.
In a country where the print media is heavily controlled by the government, looking into E-PRs becomes the most logical solution for any foreign brand wishing to make a name for itself. Moreover, these media are increasingly used by individuals who buy a less and less paper-based press.
Here are some PRs you can target for your content:
- Sina: the biggest Internet portal in China
- Sohu: the second most important
- 163 / Netease: news.163.com
- QQ News
Video Marketing is efficient to Market Music in China
A video is a form of marketing that more and more internet users consume. The advantage of a video is that it has a strong auditory and visual impact in contrast to written content. The consumer is able to remember a message passed through a video only on another medium. Remembering an advertising video makes it possible to remember another measure of the brand or the product.
We have seen a few videos apps above that you should absolutely consider publishing your content on. But there are a lot more. You could even consider opening a WeChat official account and start posting on Wechat Channel. The reason we did not mention Wechat as an app to be for artists in China, is because it is not the most effective tool for new personalities in China to grow in visibility. Maybe consider WeChat as step two.
Anyway, to go back to the video topic, It can be short videos, music videos clips, tours videos, making off videos… everything you could think of that could interest your fans.
Develop your presence through events
The upsurge of new technologies and their exponential growth to restructuring corporate communications strategies. Nowadays, social networks enjoy a preponderant place in the communication techniques of brands. As a result, events are increasingly used in agency strategies.
Event marketing consists of a set of techniques put in place during events, shows, events allowing the promotion of a brand and its offer to a different public. The event allows to complement its communication offer to its public and thus to develop its reputation and brand image with its target audience.
In the continuity of presenting you digital means to develop your music in China, the use of applications and functionalities allowing the direct transmission of events that you will organize is a means of gaining visibility on the country. Live event broadcasts have a strong interest on the part of Internet users. Touching your target through this channel can make your content attractive and give it a positive image.
Partner with Gentlemen Marketing Agency to Market your Music in China
The Chinese digital sphere is very complex for new entrants to the market. Setting up on it requires a good understanding of the rules and standards of the market for the success of your implementation. To increase your chances of success, we advise you to partner with a local agency that can develop your interests in the country.
Gentlemen Marketing Agency is a digital marketing agency based in Shanghai looking for long-term partnerships with companies wishing to establish themselves in The Middle Kingdom. If you have a concept for the Chinese market, contact us and one of our market experts will be in touch.
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