On July 22, the previous “China Little Jazz Queen”, Wang Ruolin (Joanna Wang), seemed to jump completely out of her image since debut in Taiwan Kaohsiung Beer & Music Festival. She was wearing a dark-blue-printed one-piece, red socks, white canvas shoes, shaking her black bob hair. It was somehow funny when she distorted her shapes along with the rapid rhythm.
This video quickly spread through Weibo. She always leaves people the impression of lazy jazz and plain and neat dressing, so that fans feel unacceptable to the current mad(kichiku) Joanna.
In 2008, Wang Ruolin released her first album “Start from Here” under Sony Music Taiwan. Since then, Sony has decorated her with very important characteristics as “Chinese Ono Lisa”.
This kind of packaging has obtained an unprecedented success and presented her the considerable influence and visibility, while she has never really accepted such a setting. From the first time as the producer of the album “The Adventures of Bernie the Schoolboy” in 2011, her music began to withdraw from jazz; 4 years later, the album “Bob Music” made it hard to recall her initial images.
Not long ago on July 17, Joanna announced the end of 12 years of cooperation with Sony Music on Facebook. In the English letter she wrote, “My world had turned upside down when I started making my first record. I felt like my body and voice and image were used to mold a wholly marketable and digestable concept personality, but something faraway from me. What followed was a very painful time, filled with confusion, rage, and despair…I knew that being myself brought a lot of disappointment to my fans and my company…though it seems abstract, I think everyone has their own version of joy and pain that no one else could exactly understand…”
△ a Facebook screenshot of Wang Ruolin
The record company tried to apply a more acceptable way to the mainstream market on her, but obviously it went not long.
“Priorily the ‘Jazz Queen’ was positioning for her voice and the market, which belonged to the A&R product of Joanna’s father Wang Zhiping and the record company but not fit for her own attributes,” said Wen Zhen, the general manager of Fuqi Cultural Development Co., Ltd. “As she grows up, the other side of her characters gradually shows, and thus might be her genuine musical attitude.”
Wen Zhen is a profesiional music producer with albums of Jeff Chang Shin-Che, Elva Hsiao, Man Jiang, Jin Haixin, Zhao Wei, Zhou Xun and so on. Besides, he also has a wealth of experiences on the artist A&R. He felt Joanna’s change not bad, “Any changes need to follow the artist’s own characteristics. Today artists are pursuing personality and we cannot create a product against their characters and attributes. For current artist packaging, the key is to explore and magnify the artist’s real personality and characters, and music works or packaging are only the channel to present them.
In recent decades, more and more artists with distinctive characters or characteristics have jumped out. Either the Japanese singer Piko-Taro who went popular last year with his original single “PPAP” or the domestic girl group Sunshine famous for ugly appearances can seize the audience’ hearts. It is an epoch to tolerate curiosities. Apart from the novelty hunting of the audience, another reason for their popularity is: artist agency has caught hold of the ture characters of the artists and magnified them.
Not only the mainstream record companies, but also Caotai Music, an independent music label which announced to get an angel-round financing from Entertainment Works last October, may be able to explain the above. At present, Caotai has artists with distinctive characteristics, such as Mr. Miss who just won the Best Jazz Vocal Group of the 28th Golden Melody Award, Yunnan Reggae band KAWA, and Yishi, a folk music band with dialect characteristics.
“A music company should at first make the market judgment, and understand what the type and capacity of an artist are and what the market share of that category in the whole industry.” Ge Fei, CEO of Caotai Music, believed that setting the characteristics of an artist should start from his own characters and then to enlarge and develop. “We especially emphasize the differentiation of artists, as doing differently is far more interesting than just doing better. Unlike those large record companies, we cannot input a lot on publicity, promotion or production. What we should do is to solve the problems on dissemination and contents with our own creativity and wisdom.”
On the other hand, to package by following the artist’s own personality and characters has also significantly further strengths. “A talent will be definitely loved by those with empathy.” Years of A&R experiences gave Wen Zhen such intuition.
△ The cover of Wang Ruolin’s 2015 album-“Bob Music”
To sum up, the artist development actually includes two paths: Firstly, the traditional record company will choose to get closer to the mainstream market no matter on the music types or the artist images; the second is to apply a more personalized and independent way. In fact, it cannot say which one is better and the focus should be the artist’s own characters and ideas.
It is not easy for a record company to find a balance between the mainstream and personality. “The priority is to get the artist’s agreement, and even if so, can we promise to succeed on the mainstream road?” Ge Fei confirmed, “To schedule characteristics, the company may give some advices such as what to do, to talk or to wear might look better. I think it is a complicated problem and sometimes we can only go along with good luck.”
The risks also locate in that the wrong positioning would leave no future room for an artist. In order to lower the risk of packaging a single artist, many companies would rather to do idol groups. “The biggest difference between idol groups and individual artists is that there is always one for you,” said Wen Zhen. “It has advantages to quickly attract most fans, and the IPs of an idol group would primarily base on the team name and no decisive influences will take place if one or two members leave (such as AKB48 and EXO).”
However, making idol groups would bring in additional financial costs and rapid updates or iterations.
In the A&R industry with high uncertainty, the core elements to package an artist should be great works and innovation, which can help obtain greater initiative in the constantly changing market at the end. Joanna’s change is a signal that artists need to retain their own characters and find the companies with appreciation to their speciality, while the record companies may also need to start from the artist’s personality to avoid to put the cart before the horse commercially.
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