Apps give millions of users made-at-home entertainment
It’s the dead of night and Yang Jie is staring at her mobile phone and feeling sentimental. She puts on her earphones, swipes the screen and starts to sing to the music coming from it. “I love singing because it relieves the pressure and helps me relax, especially when I’m feeling down,” says Yang, 28, an office worker from Beijing. She particularly likes pop songs by singers such as Karen Joy Morris and Rene Liu.
“When someone clicks a ‘like’ button to my song on the app I use I feel a sense of achievement and post more songs,” she says.
Chinese have taken to using such apps by the millions in recent years as a way of providing themselves made-at-home entertainment that then allows them to earn kudos among friends and strangers alike. In the quest for plaudits and inner satisfaction they can send their performances to those they know or share it on their social media pages.
Users can broadcast through live streaming or videotape themselves and upload the clip later. If they lack the skills to sing a song in their own style they can closely follow the style of a recorded original, and if what they produce leaves something to be desired they can even modify the way their voice sounds. They can also compete with others to be in the app’s ranking list so as to draw more fans.
Some well-known singers use the apps, and their fans can interact with them.
“It’s human nature to sing,” says Chen Hua, founder and chief executive of Beijing Changba Technology Co Ltd.
“There has always been a demand for people who can sing, and there always will be. Nothing has changed except the stage on which they perform.”
Changba says its karaoke app has about 30 million active users a month on average, about 62 percent of them girls and women. Most users are aged between 20 and 25.
Chen says users are always wanting changes and new features for the app, which means the company is always having to upgrade it.
“The social aspects are important in our app. Users can interact with those who have things in common with them.”
Ji Mingzhong, product director of the digital music department of Tencent Music Entertainment (Shenzhen) Co Ltd, says: “A mobile app allows you to distribute your beautiful singing online.”
The company is owned by Chinese internet giant Tencent Inc. Tencent’s WeSing offers users a strong social network, thanks to the support of its popular instant messaging app WeChat and QQ .
“The connectivity function plays an important role in keeping app users active,” Ji says. “You can interact with friends, for example by listening to their singing and sing in chorus with them. You can also challenge your friends in singing.”
Prospects for the market are good and getting better, he says.
“It’s essential to integrate singing with other fields such as short videos and live broadcasting or expand the settings within which the performances take place and to seek out good-quality content.”
Many of those who use the app will have been influenced by acquaintances who use it, he says.
As long as you have talent you can build up a fan base through the app and even become well known, he says, even without having to take part in a singing contest on TV.
“As a singing platform, the app helps independent musicians get their original works known and improves their incomes so they can make ends meet.”
Some live stream their singing and sing or chat with fans. Their income is subject to how many virtual gifts they receive from fans.
For Liu Xingtong, 36, a mobile karaoke app is a good substitute for a karaoke bar.
“The thing about the app is that I can sing with it whenever I want,” says Liu, an office worker of Guangzhou. “Now rather than going out with friends all I want to do is sing with all my heart. It’s a bit of a difficult situation because I know that if I were in a karaoke bar with them some would be singing out of tune.”
She used to frequent karaoke bars when she was a teenager.
“It was the golden age of karaoke. Without the internet, reality shows or social media, karaoke was almost the only way for young people to have fun.”
Liu says she used to pay to record her singing in a karaoke bar but can now do so free with the app. She also likes to hear others sing.
However, for some like Yang, a mobile app cannot replace the experience of singing in a karaoke bar.
She likes spending time with her friends in a bar because of the relaxed atmosphere and good equipment such as stereo sound effects. They often choose a place that serves food, and a good time is had by all, she says.
“It’s different having someone right by your side enjoying you singing rather than receiving a ‘ like’ online. The other thing is that when I’m at home using the app it bothers me that my parents may interrupt. In a karaoke room there are no such worries.” .
In June 2014 Changba joined with Beijing Mysong Culture Communication Co Ltd to establish Changba Mysong KTV, with more than 70 chained karaoke bars in 15 provinces and cities. One store has 15 to 30 rooms, the idea being to maximize use and minimize overheads.
“It’s karaoke combined with internet thinking,” Chen says. “We’re striving to provide a great experience for customers. The bright lights, good stereo and a small catwalk in the room make them feel like superstars.”
Guests can do many things with the Changba app, including making a reservation, requesting a song to be played and paying the bill. They can also broadcast their singing live on the app.
Chen says the number of those frequenting karaoke bars is falling, but the demand for spending time with friends in such bars is still robust.
Apart from the popularity of mobile karaoke apps, there are other factors behind the decreasing popularity of karaoke bars, Ji says. Among them are the many ways entertainment can now be delivered, the economic slowdown and the fact that consumers are becoming increasingly picky.
“Going to a karaoke bar is an important social activity for Chinese. Demand is weaker now, but it won’t disappear altogether. The best karaoke bars are not affected much and still attract regular customers, but it’s different for the bars that are just run of the mill.”
In the 1990s it was common for Chinese households to sing at home using various bits of equipment.
Ji reckons those days may be about to return. It is now possible to install a karaoke app on an Android TV box, and once you have done so, the whole family can instantly be in the music business.
WeSing recently held a national singing contest in Chinese universities, and participants can stream their singing live on the app.
From left: Changba’s celebrity users get together for a singing party; Yang Jie, 28, an office worker from Beijing who particularly likes pop songs.