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Transformation of China’s classical music world Nowadays, Internet makes classical music be heard and accepted by more and more people. Will them buy the ticket?

David Garrett
李, 李 2017-04-11 Collect

“Forrest Gump’s mama has said life is like a box of chocolates and you never know what you’re gonna get. Just like every time you go home, you never know what questions your parents and relatives from all over have in store about your life. This kind of situation where you are looking forward to meeting everyone but don’t know what questions they’ll bombard you with, we call: Schroedinger’s Chinese New Year … “These funny lyrics together with an epically majestic music genre made the Rainbow Chamber Singers hit online overnight.

Since 2016, the mothballed classical music has gradually jumped upon the public with the divine comedies like “Zhang Shizhao, Where the hell did you leave my home key?” and “I feel like having been drained”, and radio programs like “Xuefeng’s Concert” and “Tian Yimiao: Is classical music difficult?” 

The 19-year-old Beijing International Music Festival operates about 20 concerts per year and each would attract 10 to 20 thousand audiences. In 2015 and 2016 consecutively, LeTV Music broadcasted online for more than 10 live concerts of the Beijing International Music Festival with nearly a million online audiences, 100 times than before.


Internet platform helps expand the niche classical music market. In the age of knowledge consumption, we refine our temperament and uplift the mind and the spirit by listening to not only the programs like “The Reader”, “Poetry Class”, but also classical music. As many people have said, to listen is better than not to do.

 However, the wider public acceptance of classical music has led to respectable opinions from experts who consider those programs not professional or systematical enough and not able to turn the millions of online audiences into consumption power.

It is also questioned whether the bonus of “Pay for Content” only belongs to the “spread superiors”. More “professionalism superiors” are bound to have nothing to do with this, so that knowledge will be spread farer from the professionalism and closer to the story.

Why is the classical music audio program so popular?

“When it comes into 2017, I started to think more about the program as the previous ones were more or less about my accumulation for decades. I think the audiences are growing up with more proper understandings and will bring me more confidence. “


Liu Xuefeng

 Since last May, Liu Xuefeng has caught new understandings on internet products after doing the audio program, “Xuefeng’s Concert”. Before, he has worked for nearly 40 years on classical music popularization and dissemination, relying on word of mouth and limited offline lectures. From the beginning of the 1990s, he started to write columns and became the general editor of “Philharmonic”, “Gramophone” and “Symphonic Music”. Traditional media and traditional communicating models are his favorite places all the way.

In December 2015, Luogic Show’s IGetGet APP went on-line to provide knowledge services through column subscriptions, paid audios, e-books, and of course the indispensable contents of classical music. Luo Zhenyu found Liu Xuefeng for cooperation about a public-customized classical music popularization program.

“Luo talked with me for several afternoons. He asked me not to introduce technical terms or primary courses but just put on a piece of music plus a five-minute interpretation. Then audiences would lose their heart to classical music with the willingness to share, which carries our points. “Liu Xuefeng said.

On May 26, 2016, the first “Xuefeng Concert” talked about George Friedrich Handel’s “D major Violin Sonata”. The 15-minute audios of music and explanation go on with the introduction of the musicians, composition background, musical forms and the briefs of instruments.

The program generated 20,000 subscribers within 20 days. 2 months later the number reached 50,000, and now is 62,000. The rapidly soaring subscriptions of “Xuefeng’s Concert” made the Himalayan FM excited but afraid about classical music users gathering largely on “iGetGet”, and began immediately to design their own related programs.

Himalayan FM selected Tian Yimiao. Previously, Ms. Tian has operated lecture series called “Listen to the classical music wearing a T-shirt” for six years. She is a doctor of composition theory, a university professor, a music writer and an internet knowledge icon with high popularity among the youngsters who love literary and arts.



Tian Yi Miao’s “Is classical music difficult?” went online following “Xuefeng’s Concert” on August 1, 2016 on the Himalayan. Afterwards, Ms. Tian with unique southern whisper has kept talking about the anecdotal stories and masterpieces hundreds of years ago with the total 44,000 subscribers so far.

Ms Tian told us, “At first I did not expect to have so many subscriptions, which may base on my previous accumulation. I wrote a lot of music columns and later published the book of “Gentle War Song”. Fans suggested me for the series of “Wearing T-shirts to listen to classical music” and now I’m running “Is classical music difficult?”. Himalayan FM chose me for my previous experiences, similar to Mr. Liu Xuefeng. How if the program cannot be sold in case you find some public unfamiliar ones? After all, a paid program needs to take the commercial value into consideration. “


Tian Yimiao

 In fact, in 2016 WeChat has passed its bonus peak and the classical music promotion programs of Liu Xuefeng and Tian Yimiao have caught up with another round of “Pay for Knowledge” retrospectively. July 2013, a WeChat official account called “Ganlan(Olive) Classical Music” went online. The founder Qin Jing is a Peking University’s alumni as the same as Liu Xuefeng, and the current director Liu Jie graduated from the Shanghai Conservatory of Music similar to Tian Yimiao.

 Ganlan Classical Music is aiming at public classical music popularization with the most common words and the most suitable online ways to communicate with the users. There was an article called “Listening to Classical Music for So Many Years Doesn’t Help Pronounce the Names of Musicians Correctly!” to express many beginners’ confusion. It connected the names of masters with the inherent meaning to help remember. Ganlan Classical Music caught up with the WeChat bonus time with 360,000 subscriptions so far.

These classical music popularization audio programs and WeChat platforms have been sought after due to their demand fulfilling contents to some extent, i.e. classical music is not an undesirable market. The Internet era witnessed greatly reduced music programs on the mainstream media and many people have lost their listening channels.

Zhang Kexin, the Managing Director Beijing Standard Artists Co., Ltd. (hereinafter referred to as “Standard Artists”), told us, “In the past there were colorful classical music promotion programs everywhere all day along. CCTV used to invite a guest classical musician in every session of a program with sincere and elaboration. At the end unfortunately it was eliminated for low audience rating. Currently there is only one radio program by Shanghai “Classic 947″ doing the classical music promotion and popularization. The fresh and short internet programs without comprehensive contents deserve applause.” 

Zong Xiaojun, an associate professor of Art Management Department at the Central Conservatory of Music and a senior art marketing expert, argues that classical music is the root of all musical forms to provide all the knowledge and accumulation. Classical music fans are majorly more than 35 years old, because many people listen to pop music in their earlier days for emotional catharsis but require sentiment convergence when they get old.

 Spread and professionalism, which is more important?

For a long time, classical music has been called “serious music” or “elegant music”, and that is why many people may feel hard to understand and choose to give up listening. However, from the high popularity of these classical music promotion programs, the audience size seems not that small.

“Xuefeng Concert” got many comments from fans, “Familiar music moved me to tears and recalled my high school memories about saving living costs to buy classical music tapes and indulging in the moonlight…””After a long time without tears, this morning I tremble and cry for the music … Thank you Xuefeng, and thank you music!”

On the contrary, other ones do not agree. “I subscribed several items on iGetGet and after two months I found all of them are quite valuable except for the “Xuefeng’s Concert”. I unexpectedly decided to book it just for the promoting advertisements of Bai Yansong and other celebrities, and looked forward enjoying elegant music as them… Listening to something else can help acquire more knowledge, but this program is totally useless to the ordinary people!”


Tian Yimiao

The whole classical music circle gets shocked by such a hot product. We also found it strange that the producers of these programs are usually not the experts in the music major. Ms. Tian is a composition professor at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music, but she graduated for her doctor degree in technique theory and high-grade tune. Liu Jie studied arts management in the Shanghai Conservatory of Music, while Liu Xuefeng and Qin Jing are further from music education. Hence, the critics from the classical music circle on the products from “non-professional” ones can be expected naturally.

Zong Xiaojun said: “The mobile Internet era of communication grasps the needs. The middle class has a certain knowledge base and would love to listen to some emotional music through new sharing tools after balancing the convenience and time costs.” Now the contents of audio programs or WeChat promotion of classical music are not recognized by the professionals. However, one thousand readers, one thousand Hamlets. We are not Beethoven and how can we confirm whether he wanted to fight? There might be other emotions inside but who knows? Moreover, some well-known music history doesn’t need to be specified and some contemporary analysis about the music history seems too opinionated and unreasonable.”

In the interviews, we found some music experts had also been invited by the Himalayan FM for the similar programs but they declined. On the one hand, from a professional point of view, they think the current programs are the products of the era of the fast-food culture, which may easily lead to a one-sided understanding of the music works. The picked-out parts for appreciation will result in the ignorance of the philosophical meanings of the whole music works. Non-professionalism contributes nothing.

 On the other hand, some people have a misunderstanding and are eager to set an abrupt environment for classical music such as a high mountain, the sea or a calm lake. Anyway, no standard exists in music. 100 people have 100 Shakespeares in mind, and 100 people also have 100 Beethovens.


Zeng Wei together with the conductor Charles Dutoit and the violinist Isaac Stern

 As a promoter and disseminator of classical music, Zeng Wei has hosted “Fever(Fancer) Clinic”, “Weekly Concert”, ” the 20th Century Music Classics” and other programs at Beijing Music Radio from 1993 onwards. He told us, “Now everyone has paid too much emphasis on the high-birth effect and star effect. Music should be shared by the professionals and experts, rather than by high-level fans. Internet does help more people access to classical music, but not yet an enough professional way. “

“Many would say the beginning syllables of Beethoven’s” Symphony of Destiny” were like the fate knocking at the door. To be the truth, Beethoven was deaf when composing it. The four notes might trace back to his feelings of insufficient force and his wish of continuous strengthening; Perhaps he wanted to express his mood at that time, but nobody would know whether that was the fighting for survival or just a normal tone. Therefore, we listen to classical music never to emphasize a symbol deliberately, and music is served for our spirits.” Mr. Zeng said.

 Of course, Liu Xuefeng has heard some skepticism. He said, “Not many ones will pay 199 Yuan for my program. They always criticize just after learning a little bit. I graduated with a professional and rigorous history training from famous masters. I think classical music is demonized by some professionals these years. Classical music is a major to the experts but to the general public is only a way of entertainment and deluxe enjoyment. Hence, we embarked from the public point of view with the most straightaway words to hope more people can come and love classical music. Classical music has never been the power of the minority. Taking some time for such exquisite music in life will make us positive, progressive and upward.”

 During the interview, Mr. Liu was pleased that he is a music fan, as fans always are much more happier than musicians because of relaxation and true love; In the current liberty times, we should cherish our chance to do what we like and respect others’ work.

Tian Yimiao said for many music teachers this program certainly does not dig deep enough but she positioned it to the public who do not need to understand too much as professionals.

Is it the live performance that generates the purchasing power on the classical music market?

In accordance with the price of 199 Yuan and 62,000 subscriptions, the program of “Xuefeng’s Concert” would get the total revenue of 12.34 million Yuan. Meanwhile, Tian Yimiao’s “Is classical music difficult?” has attracted 44,000 subscribers, which lead the total income of 8.75 million Yuan. Such a short radio program can draw in millions or even tens of millions Yuan, which is propitious to the platforms, the anchors and the whole classical music business.

But can this program cultivate the classical music market purchasing power? Zong Xiaojun, as an associate professor in the Central Conservatory of Music and an in-depth music fan, will watch about 100 concerts per year. Clearly, the classical music popularization programs are not about to satisfy the professionals like him. In his view, these programs survive without contributing to the live music consumption. The real music feelings might not generate from those 199-yuan programs but the experiences in the concert hall. Classical music goes along with pop music and the record era has passed away to welcome the new times of live performance. Great music deserves first-hand experiences.

 “It’s incomprehensible that millions of people choose to listen online but not in the theater. Part phenomena cannot complete the virtuous circle of the whole industry. The more to speak reflects the more sadness. The magic of music desires our wholehearted feelings through ears, eyes, heads and bodies. “Zong Xiaojun said.

In the years when Mr. Zeng Wei promoted classical music in the Beijing Music Radio, a group of audiences became classical music fans gradually. From his side, the most natural and balanced acoustics point in the concert and the symphony is harmony. Well, many people who listen to the album and MP3 for long will generate a misunderstanding on music level that solo instruments sound emphasized. Accustoming to the CDs would lead to fans’ wrong standard and understanding psychologically.

 Live concert is a very niche market in China even with best user experiences. Currently there are more than 60 domestic symphony orchestras and most of them are supported by the government. No more than 50% of the people will pay for a concert by themselves.


Zong Xiaojun

 Zong Xiaojun said: “Beijing International Music Festival has run for 20 years with not only governmental sponsorship but also painstaking. For the around 20 performances a year, the audience will only choose top orchestras, famous musicians, familiar masterpieces, conversant performing styles, and even the ritzy venues. Thus, live classical music seems obviously limited and slight mistakes or small factors may cause big difference on the attendance.

 We have seen from the official website of Beijing International Music Festival Art Foundation (BMF) that each of the 21 concerts in the 19th Beijing International Music Festival costed basically 80 to 180 Yuan, with some performances even for free. Lower fees fit for the festival’s beginning positioning of “public affordable”. Some big-name music festivals would get relatively higher attendance.

 So far, there are about 200 large theaters in the nationwide and each of them may cost more than 500 million Yuan on the subsidies from the government every year. Take the National Grand Theater as an example, last year’s box office reached more than 300 million Yuan and the government subsidy was about 200 million Yuan.”In China, it is the infrastructure that drives supporting facilities. However, the classical music market has not been activated as no more than 50% of the theatres will put on shows for 200 days per year. Despite the upstream of the national government support and the midstream composition and performance of the art institutions, the downstream consumer groups have not yet shaped a virtuous circle. “Zong Xiaojun said.

 Classical music currently has become a new industry called “artist management”. As a domestically-rare classical music agency, Standard Artists organized more than 140 concerts in 2016. Over the past two years, the number of classical concerts has increased a lot domestically and the world-top orchestras like Wiener Philharmoniker, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Staatskapelle Berlin, Мариинский театр‎ (Marinsky Orchestra), Mahler Chamber Orchestra and Academy of St. Martin in the Fields have come since 2014 to refresh Chinese classical music performance.

 Unlike those nameless ones, the tickets of the concerts of well-known orchestras or big musicians are like gold dust as there are only around 1000 seats for one performance. It is so-called that classical music depends on the live performing and Chinese people always take the reputation of the musicians or orchestras too much.

 In foreign countries, small concerts appear everywhere. Some clubs even provide perennial performances of a quartet with no expensive prices. Many people usually listen to these small performances often and go to a formal theater once a year, while others might only choose to enjoy the concerts in the official venues.

But in China, classical concerts are performed in the theater with high cost and regional limitations. Those famous orchestras and musicians would play for decades with high entry barriers. 640-webp-9

Zhang Kexin

 Zhang Kexin said, “Many foreign musicians who made performances in China would feel Chinese fans too picky to comment their previous mistakes continuously. That happens seldom in abroad as they would choose to admire and enjoy with happiness and warm applause but not to focus on the problems. Different musicians appeal to different kinds of audience, and what we need is to relax while listening.”

 On the contrary, domestic performance aiming at profit should be provided in the venues with the “Commercial Performances Permit” so that the foreign club performance model cannot go through successfully in China. That is why Chinese people would only listen to classical music in the theaters and why Tian Yimiao’s idea of “wearing T-shirts to listen to classical music” has drawn many different comments by professionals.

 While in Zhang Kexin’s view, wearing a T-shirt to listen to classical music is a chance to lower the threshold and break down barriers for those who do not really understand it. Nevertheless, will they really go to the concert hall with T-shirts?


British BBC Promenade Concert

 British BBC Promenade Concert and the Berliner Philharmoniker in der Waldbühne in Germany provide opportunities to the audience to stand in the concert hall, feel free to move, drink and eat, and sing or even cheer out loudly.

Is the online promotion able to drive the offline market? 

How to convert classical music popularization into market consumption so that everyone is willing to pay for knowledge, music and live concerts? This should be a step-by-step process that takes time and patience. Zhang Kexin believed listening to classical music is not impulsion and we acquire to be rational. Many people may not listen to concerts at all previously but start to go into the concert hall once or twice in a year. We encompass a large population and only a small part of them will make the difference.

During the interviews, some live concert fans also said the Internet popularization ways can help grasp the preferences, and good business models and clarified products can survive triumphantly. XING Hua, CEO of Kuke Music, told us: “Some non-professional ones will take advantages of the multimedia platforms to create products appealing to the youth. And to do is always better than never to.” We should keep an open attitude to do something for the music but not to always criticize or complain. Let the youngsters listen to classical music more and I promise they will enjoy in the charm and love it at the end. Pretty cool! The activation of the whole classical music ecosystem would in turn improve the status of works, orchestras, concerts and records.”

 “Is Classical music difficult?” has been done for more than six months and Ms. Tian believed half of the users have joined into the live concerts to have a look at whether they have more experience after her program. On the other hand, she mentioned to earn money on the classical music stays full of troubles, for the limited number of concert seats and the limited market of the workshop model of the industry.

At present, there are only two classical music agents, one is Standard Artists where Mr. Zhang works and the other is Major Performing Arts Group established by Liu Yisheng, a classical music agent. Unfortunately till now there haven’t been scaled classical music agencies in China. For decades, domestic fans have kept addicted into the old but top musicians. Young musicians are hard to jump in front of the audience, except for Lang Lang and Li Yundi. “Hope more classical music agencies can appear internally to help young musicians stride on the stage and to activate the classical music market.” Zhang Kexin said.

 In 2015 and 2016, the domestic video platform LeTV Music directly broadcasted the Beijing International Music Festival with 1 million viewers online. This was a new trial to promote classical music, which helped “move the concert hall to home” for fans to enjoy its elegance at anytime and anywhere.


Since last year, the Rainbow Chamber Singers spontaneously organized by the students in the Conducting Department of Shanghai Conservatory of Music and their songs like “Zhang Shizhao, Where the hell did you leave my home key?” and “I feel like having been drained” have welcomed extremely high popularity. In this year’s first concert, their tickets were out of sale within 2 hours, and the fresh publishing “Guide to survive in the Spring Festival” was performed twice for the unpredictable warm response. A few hours after the end of the show, the clipped version was released on the Internet.

Hit divine comedies seem to have defined the Rainbow Chamber Singers but in fact those are the surprise songs during encores and take just 10% of their contemporary chorus works. Jin Chengzhi, the leader of the Rainbow Chamber Singers said as a choir group which devotes into pure chorus art with occasional amusement, they hope the fans to emphasize more on the other 90% of the works and more people would love classical music following their funny performances. So far the Rainbow Chamber Singers’ box office income has kept satisfied and it has attracted the capital to realize the balance of arts and business.


Tan Dun

 The Internet has not only become a platform for non-professionals to popularize classical music, but also for music masters. Known as the devil musician, Tan Dun will have a spectacular 12-hour mini festival of “12-tone on the Heart Silk Road” on May 13 at the Oriental Art Center, with his twelve apprentices and the creative theme of “12 hours-12 birthdays-12 originalities-12 ethnics-12 living fossil instruments”.

 Mr. Tan is an excellent musician to always think about the spirit of the time and make various cross-border attempts with technology and music. In March 2009, Mr. Tan experimented on YouTube with the world’s first network symphony orchestra and more than 90 members from all of the world played Tan Dun’s “the first Internet symphony: Hero” with colorful instruments. Many of the selected musicians were very excited and believed the “Internet Symphony Orchestra” to be a new way to promote classical music.

Mr. Tan also expressed in the selection of “Internet Symphony Orchestra” that the Internet is like an invisible “Silk Road” to connect the world and YouTube has set up a virtual stage for the global music lovers. 640-webp-13

Tan Dun

 5 years later in 2014, Mr. Tan commanded two “WeChat Symphony” in the National Theater and the Shanghai Concert Hall respectively, where he directed the audience to subscribe his Wechat public account to access to the audio of his composition “Long Li Ge Long”. In pace with Mr. Tan’s hand gestures, the audiences clicked on to play simultaneously. The live performance was very shocking that the sounds of different mobile phones stratify the music with the symphony orchestra’s accompaniment.

 Tan Dun said in an interview: “Life is quite limited actually, but life can be extended amazingly if we can transmit the passing-away tradition and great history to the future.”

 Today, in this era of ubiquitous Internet, communication seems not difficult. Along with the spread convenience and the improvement of appreciation of classical music, probably in the next year more and more people will go into the concert hall.

This is the vol.3丨how is the classical music going around?

 Background: Classical music has a long history and a somehow complete system in China but still brisk in a small circle. How can it get closer to the youngsters and the market?

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