Beijing, home of Peking opera, wants to be an ‘international music capital’ by 2025

Laurie Chen

Beijing has unveiled a plan to expand its music and creative industries to be worth 120 billion yuan (US$17.2 billion) by 2025, as part of a local government initiative to become an “international music capital”.

Its proposal released on Tuesday also called for the city to speed up development of its digital music industry, offer artists better copyright protections, and build more small-scale venues for live music.

The city’s music industry has rapidly developed in recent years, and had a total market value of more than 60 billion yuan in 2017, Wang Yezhen, an official with the Beijing Municipal Committee’s propaganda department, told Beijing Business Today on Tuesday .

“[Our research has shown that] the scope of the music industry is enormous but the [development] model is still not mature,” Wang was quoted as saying. “Creative forces are strong but resources are relatively scattered so [there isn’t] an effective system for producing high-quality music.”

While the Chinese capital is famous for its Peking opera heritage and a flourishing indie rock scene, Wang said Beijing’s music industry was unable to compete internationally for those reasons.

The proposal also mentioned promoting innovation in music technology, including projects such as “musical emotion recognition” and “AI composition”, but it did not give further details. The municipal government will now draft separate plans to implement the new policy.

Kyle Bagley, owner of Groove Dynasty, a Chinese music industry marketing agency based in Shanghai, said the plan “could not come at a better time”.

“Interest in the local market has skyrocketed in recent years, and with the success of the country’s home-grown music streaming platforms and growth in the live music sector, an initiative like this could help bring more money and stability to the budding industry, and increase interest from overseas in a major way,” Bagley said.

The plan was thorough and could provide support to the industry in several areas, he said.

“China’s local musicians could benefit a lot from government support that could provide education, venues, and other programmes to up-and-coming artists,” he said. “As compared to other major regions, Chinese fans are often focused on foreign artists, so inspiring new talent would not only draw attention of local fans, but could help make more acts accepted internationally.”

Beijing’s push to develop its music industry is not the only scheme of its kind in the mainland. Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, famous for its home-grown rap scene and classical music conservatories, has also been designated as an “international music capital” by the government.

China’s music industry as a whole was worth more than 370 billion yuan during 2019, growing nearly 8 per cent year-on-year, according to a November report from the China Music Industry Forum.

Over the years, the Chinese government has tried to expand the industry, investing in major live music venues and encouraging the growth of its booming music streaming market.

That market is dominated by Tencent Music Entertainment, a joint venture between US streaming giant Spotify and Chinese internet conglomerate Tencent, which recently bought a 10 per cent stake in record label Universal Music Group.

With China’s streaming services, musicians don't need a record label to make it big

However, the music scene in China has also been stifled by heavy-handed state censorship, which has seen politically sensitive songs frequently removed from streaming services and Western artists – including Justin Bieber, Katy Perry and Lady Gaga – banned from performing in the country.

Last year, the government also ordered broadcasters to crack down on “artists with tattoos, hip hop music” because they were not in line with the ruling Communist Party’s “core values and morals”. The crackdown came after the popular reality talent competition, The Rap of China, brought Chinese rap into the mainstream.

Some Chinese rappers like CD Rev have been backed by the party to write propaganda songs. Photo: Handout

Since then, Chinese rappers such as Chengdu group CD Rev have been backed by the party to write propaganda songs mocking Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, Western journalists and more recently Hong Kong protesters.

Other Chinese musical artists such as female rapper Vava and boy band member Jackson Yee have also been vocally patriotic on social media, posting messages of support for the government on issues such as the anti-government protests in Hong Kong that have now entered their seventh month.

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