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China Daily Website

Internet revolutionizes the music industry

Updated: 2013-05-24 03:48
By Mu Qian ( China Daily)

At 8:08 pm on Sunday, folk singer Li Zhi announced on his micro blog that he would have a gig at Beijing's Mako music club at 9:30 pm.

That was less than one-and-a-half hours of publicity, yet it turned out to be a record-breaking show in the history of Mako club.

When the show began, about 1,800 people swarmed into the venue. More were waiting outside but the staff stopped admitting people because of safety concerns.

Li had this temporarily arranged gig immediately after he refused to perform at the Dreamer Music Festival on the same day in another venue in Beijing, because he said the organizer failed to give him the advance payment, according to their contract.

Without the existence of social media that made spreading of messages so instantaneous, it would have been impossible for any show to attract so many people within such a short time.

I remember in the 1990s, we relied on magazine listings and direct calls to the venues to get information about concerts. Still earlier, our forerunners in the 1980s mostly spread news about shows by word of mouth.

It is now a different age, and a new generation of musicians has emerged with the help of social media. An independent musician, Li is not covered by mainstream television and newspapers, but he has nearly 60,000 followers on his Sina Weibo micro blog.

And it is through the micro blog that his fans learned the news about the show. While waiting for the show to begin, someone in the audience screamed that Li has just had a new post, triggering everyone in the crowd to check his or her smartphone.

During the show, besides singing along with Li, many fans took photographs and posted them on micro blogs. Fans who couldn't be at the concert would see the posts, repost or comment.

Gone were the days when we had to wait until the next day or a few days later to read reviews of a concert.

Li is still not big by commercial standards, and many Chinese still don't know him, but he has found a niche market. In China, which has one-fifth of the world's population, even a niche market is quite something.

Li has a clear understanding of his audience. His team had a survey of his fans, which found that 64 percent of them are students or graduates aged from 18 to 24, and 31 percent are aged 25 to 34 who are mainly white-collar workers. Together, they account for 95 percent of his audience.

Li's songs, some about love, some about society, some about unrealized dreams, appeal to young urban Chinese who crave songs that speak of their living conditions.

Li's success started with Douban.com, a popular Chinese SNS website which specializes in sharing information about music, film and books. Like many other independent Chinese musicians, Li shared works on the website and accumulated a big fan base by doing that.

Li went on to promote himself internationally and his MP3s can now be purchased on iTunes and other similar platforms.

The Internet has revolutionized the music industry and broken barriers that used to block many musicians from getting their works heard.

But that doesn't guarantee their success. In China, where little support can be found in the music industry, most independent musicians have to be truly independent, and one has to be an entrepreneur first to become a successful musician.

Li is like an entrepreneur. He has established a team of his own. When he traveled to Beijing from his home in Nanjing, he came with a team of 14 people, including musicians, soundmen, lighting designer, cameramen, assistants and a lawyer.

I'm not a fan of Li, but I admire his abilities to make the most of the information age to promote his music. His method has become a model for young Chinese musicians.

When there is no manager, no agent, no record company to serve you, do it yourself. With the Internet by your side, you are enjoying what older-generation musicians would have never dreamed of.

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