Having faith in music New awards aim to restore the dignity of China’s music industry, lost due to piracy. Chen Nan reports.
In 2014, Song Ke was appointed chairman of the China Music Industry Committee, a nonprofit, which has more than 100 members belonging to record labels and distributors. That year, Song turned 50. “When you’re 50, you still dream and want to do something that can be your legacy,” says Song, the former head of Warner Music China and now the CEO of Ali Music Group, a division of e-commerce giant Alibaba.
Over the past three years, he has led the committee’s discussions on recording copyright issues and promoted the government’s regulations on them.
But it seems that has not satisfied him.
Being a central figure in the development of China’s music industry for more than two decades, the dream he harbored for years was establishing authoritative awards for China’s music industry.
On July 20, he realized his dream when he hosted the first CMIC Music Awards, honoring the best achievements of the preceding year in 32 award categories.
“We want to recognize talented people in the music industry and encourage young musicians. And most importantly, we can finally regain our industry’s dignity, which we have lost,” Song said onstage during the awards ceremony in Beijing.
“We have many music awards in China now, which have celebrities, screaming fans and generous sponsors. But it’s more about entertainment. They have nothing to do with music,” Song said. “It’s time to have awards just for the sake of the music.”
That night, Hong Kong singer Sandy Lam Yik-lin was awarded the best female vocalist and Hong Kong singer-songwriter Khalil Fong won the best male vocalist award. Pianist Lang Lang’s New York Rhapsody won the award for the best classical album.
Other award winners included Taiwan pop star Jay Chou, Beijing-based folk singer-songwriter Zhao Lei and Shanghai Rainbow Indoor Chorus.
“It’s the first music award we’ve received. It’s great encouragement for a new singer,” says Xia Wenjing, the agent of folk singer-songwriter Chen Hongyu who won the best new artist award.
In the early 2000s, due to rampant online piracy, record companies considered it not worthwhile to release albums, and they turned instead to managing artists’ performances and advertising as their main source of revenue.
Song even left the industry to open a restaurant since “people are willing to pay for their food but not the music they listen to”.
But now it’s the right time to launch the award, he says.
“The music market has improved thanks to technology and new government policies,” Song says.
According to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry Global Music Report 2017, recorded music revenue grew 20.3 percent in China last year, driven by a 30.6 percent rise in streaming revenues.
In the last three years, Song attended the Grammy Awards and Taiwan’s Golden Melody Awards, which enabled him to learn how those awards were run.
Xu Yi, the former CEO of Sony Music Entertainment China, was unanimously voted president of the CMIC Music Awards Committee in March.
Although Xu and Song are longtime friends, they were also competitors in the music market. Now they are cooperating for the first time. Song is in charge of the award’s business management while Xu takes care of the voting procedures.
“It was really a tough job because no one has ever done it before in China,” says Xu, who invited Taiwan veteran songwriter and producer Jonathan Lee to be the chief consultant.
“What we needed was a music award that was fair and had authority.”
The jury panel of the CMIC Music Awards consisted of 10 key members — each invited 10 people from the music industry to assist them to vote.
“The awards are a new chapter for China’s music industry,” says Shen Lihui, one of the jury members, who is the founder and CEO of Modernsky, China’s biggest indie music label.
Although he had confidence in the CMIC Music Awards, Song also foresaw there would be doubts from the record companies, singers and sponsors as they were new.
Indeed at the ceremony for the CMIC Music Awards, few singers showed up and their awards were accepted by the record companies and their agents.
There was also no television broadcast, although the awards were streamed online by streaming site iQiyi, which attracted an audience of about 150,000.
Despite this, Song says the awards were a big success.
“It was beyond my expectations because the industry’s elite showed up, which is a great sign. We’ve done the most challenging part, making the first CMIC Music Awards a reality,” says Song.
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Taiwan pop singer A Lin performs at the first CMIC Music Awards in Beijing on July 20.
Song Ke, chairman of the China Music Industry Committee, says finally his dream has come true with the launch of the CMIC awards.