transmitCHINA - Beijing Day 1
// by Louise Upperton, photos by Tobyn Ross / Jun 1, 2010

Today we return to where it all started – Beijing. The city of bicycles. TransmitCHINA began in this city three years ago and has since grown into a two-day conference in Shanghai and seven-city tour of China, including Guangzhou, Changsha, Wuhan, Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai and Hong Kong.

transmitCHINA's global program now includes small, localized meetings between businesses – B2B focus groups – the first of which is happening today in Beijing at Bed Bar, Jiugulou Dajie, Zhangwang Hutong. Today's topic is "Defining an Independent Music Business". The discussion revolves around a comparison of major versus independent business models; the challenges that independent companies face; new music models; and the evolution of digital and mobile content.

It's a vital conversation between independent music companies in the West, and similar companies working in China. The goal is to share and exchange information, primarily about the opportunities and challenges that independent music companies face on a day-to-day basis and what the music landscape will look like for them over the next five years.

The focus group concentrates on China and its issues with intellectual property protection and lack of infrastructure, but also on the emergence of an independent music scene and defining new opportunities for mutually beneficial partnerships between Chinese companies and Western companies. The intimate and relaxed setting allows participants to engage in a two-way dialogue and address the issues at hand. The group dialogue then encourages one-on-one conversations following the session.

There is a sense that the music landscape in China is very difficult for smaller labels and many of them are giving up or turning to creative execution and design for brands rather than releasing new acts. It is noted that major labels cover only about 40 to 45 percent of the market in China, but there are some larger independent labels with revenue streams from endorsements, public appearances and mobile music, and these labels also have substantial revenue. So, there are two ends to the scale, even when it comes to independent labels or companies.

For independent Chinese companies two of the major challenges identified were access to start up capital (or how to get revenue) and lack of funding from the Chinese government for music events and festivals (and the issue of flexibility when funding is provided).

The digital problem in China is that Long Tail does not exist. The question posed: how do you turn consumers into customers? Long Tail, popularized by Chris Anderson in an October 2004 issue of Wired Magazine, is the niche strategy of selling less of more – small volumes of hard-to-find items to many customers rather than large volumes of a reduced number of popular items. The Long Tail is the total number of sales of the large number of niche items. In his article, Anderson used Amazon and Netflix as examples.

Another challenge that arises in China is the lack of live events. There is a need for more festivals and greater competition in the live space. One of the key points made is that large gatherings of people were illegal in China not that long ago, so one cannot underestimate the power of connecting a Chinese audience with a band or artist in a live space. It's important to remember that only a very small portion of the population in China has actually seen a live band in the proper environment. The live show needs to be a part of a music culture in China – and it is happening, slowly.

At the end of the B2B focus group session, one of the Chinese delegates stands to say, "In North America, it's easy for the indie labels to meet. In China, not so much. We don't often have the opportunity to meet with other indie music companies, so we are happy for it and hope to have the opportunity to do so again."

The buzz of the B2B focus group was immediately followed by a delicious Chinese banquet dinner around a Lazy Susan (three Lazy Susans, actually). The evening in Beijing came to a close at the live venue Yugong Yishan, where The Racoons, Wil and Parlovr impassioned an audience of both fans and transmitCHINA delegates.

To view the full gallery of Beijing, visit Tobyns site HERE.

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