The problem that Chinese music truly faced is successors. There are fewer good musicians. Excellent music production teams are still those people 16 years ago. When old musicians are at their fifties and sixties, how long can they insist on?
Zhang Jiewei is the CEO of Prodigee Media and Entertainment Company. He went through the most glorious creation time of Chinese music, and he once had online music platforms and saw the “crazy ringtone” era. Now, he devotes himself into entertainment and new media. His company has the MCN identity that is certified by YouTube and CMS administrator rights. It not only helps mainland music and films to promote abroad and manage copyrights, but also makes movies, develops programs, holds events, as well as artist agents…
“Be well prepared, because you don’t know when the opportunity will arrive.” Now, the Malaysia company, which is in the charge of Zhang Jiewei, has changed its strategic focus to mainland China. Zhang has confidence in the integration and influence among “online celebrities and entertainment content” in Asia countries. This would be a good business.
When Zhang was a teenager, he learned some basic knowledge from Malaysia music creation, and also learned guitar and piano.
In high school. Zhang won the best composer in a creation contest, which inspired his interest in music composition. After graduating from high school, Zhang’s family migrated to New Zealand. He loved to play music in his spare time. But Zhang’s parents opposed it, because they thought playing music could not earn much money.
He was admitted by a New Zealand university and majored in civil engineering after high school. Later, he gained the master’s degree in engineering management. In Zhang’s free time, he always went to the school studio and radio station to record or make DEMO. Then, he recorded his songs into CD and sent to Malaysia’s labels.
Later, Zhang received the creation copyright agreement from Warner and sent his DEMO to Hong Kong. Zhang’s first song was sold to Grasshoppers, which wasI Want to be Happyin the album –Love is not Afraid.
When graduated from college, Zhang flew to Taiwan with his guitar and keyboard. He became an assistant in the company of Jonathan Lee. Though Zhang was only responsible for purchasing lunch, this experience has great influence on his life.
The followings are the interview with Zhang Jiewei:
My first job was an assistant in Jonathan Lee’s company in Taipei. At that time, Lee’s most commonly cooperated composer introduced me to Taiwan. He also composed for Leslie Cheung, Sandy Lam and Alex To. My main job was buying lunch for them, and May Day who just signed with Lee, did the same job.
While being an assistant, I also learned how to produce music. At that time, either can I write or read Chinese, so I only can compose. However, I could not understand many things or communicate with professional problems. So what I could do was limited.
Half a year later, my teacher returned to Singapore due to his illness and I followed him. I made music in Singapore and met Sisong Li, Weisong Li and Stefanie Sun.
One day, my teacher asked me to pick up a new singer to record. She was Fish Leong, who just signed Lee. Later, there was Michael Wong and we helped him record a DEMO for a mainland costume drama. The song wasCourage.
Sisong played a DEMO for Stefanie. That song wasCloudy day. I saw the whole progress of those popular songs. Therefore, for me, music life at that time was colorful. I was learning all the time and hoped to be a producer.
In 2002, because of my understanding on music and degree on managing, I was appointed music director in a Singapore online music platform. This was the newest music platform (music4nothing.com) in Asia. It provided free MP3 downloads and signed online signers. The first to be signed was Zhang Zhicheng from Malaysia, whose masterpiece was calledBless Me.
Then, the company also signed many Malaysian producers. But due to the limitation in technology, not everyone had access to the Internet and there was little downloads. Added with large investment and slow income, the company was shut down.
We had many IP original songs for sale, though the company closed. The first song was sold to Xu Huanliang (former Founder of Ocean Butterflies). At that time, he just started and signed a new singer called Ado. The song we sold to Xu wasFuturist Remix. Ado became famous due to this song, and it also earned a lot in the mainland.
Not long ago, I established a ringtone company – Hipmobile. At that time, the largest mobile brand was Nokia. In 2001, Nokia held Asia ringtone contest. We took part in as musicians and others were technicians. We know music, so our ringtone is more musical and won the champion of Asia region.
In this way, the largest telecommunication company in Singapore worked with us. However, half a year later, the company was acquired by YTL, which was the largest company in Malaysia. I came to Kuala Lumpur with it and became CEO of a company under YTL.
By then, labels did not notice ringtone was so profitable. In 2005,Mice Love Ricebecame popular, and ringtone turned to be very complex. We made those popular songs into ringtones and applied for copyright at the same time. There were a process and a period of time to wait. We thought that we could get the copyright by the time we sold ringtone. However, labels found that ringtone was profitable and sued us, because we were the largest company that made ringtone, but some of the works did not have copyrights.
Companies that had lawsuit with us included Warner, Sony and EMI. Because ringtone was only one part of YTL businesses and it involved copyright and legal issues, the parent company closed its branch in ringtone making. I wanted to win the case at first and then bought back the company. However, it was very difficult to win and we had to pay for those labels. In fact, labels did not want money. They wanted to make ringtones themselves.
Through this, I know the importance of copyrights. If you do not have it, risks come earlier or later. Also, it was at that time that I started to own copyrights and make original stuffs. Or you have to face such problems earlier or later.
In 2005, I set up Prodigee Media Entertainment Company and my co-founder is Li Zhiqing who wroteFuturist Remix. At the beginning, our business included ringtone, writing songs, producing and selling. At that time, there were not many Chinese artists in Malaysia but only Fish Leong. Therefore, except for selling songs to Leong, we also sold to Hong Kong or Taiwan singers such as Miriam Yeung, Shino Lin, Emil Chau andVictor.
We also signed our own artists and produced original music. Our first artist is Karen Kong, a Chinese signer who released Malaysian albums. She was very successful and won lots of prizes at that time. Another is Huang Mingzhi, and he wrote songs for Karen. The songMissing Youby TFboys is written by Huang.
Later, we also started to promote our own artists and produce music. Because Huang learned film-making, we offered him chances and promoted film through music, includingLittle AppleandOld Boys. In 2010, our first movie wasNasi Lemak2.0, which luckily broke Malaysia’s box office record.
Music elements are strong in our movies.Kara King, which entered Beijing International Film Festival last year, has a theme of music. It was directed and acted by Huang Mingzi. Ng Man-tat, Tiger Huang and Gao Linfeng also joined in.Loverby Tiger is the theme song of this movie as well as her title track of the album.
In 2013, we find the influence of new media was expanding and no longer manage Prodigee in label mode. Meanwhile, in order to make a breakthrough, we decided to leave Malaysia.
Three years ago, I set up the new brand WebTVAsia under Prodigee. It faces to Asia and promotes works in Asia region.
In order to adapt to the new media, we also learned online promotion. This first thing to do when arriving in China is the oversea promotion of videos in China region. We promotedMiss PuffandSurprisefrom Youku, which had good effects. Then we had the promotion ofLittle Apple, the theme song ofOld Boys.Little Applehad been popular before the movie was released, and the movie also got a good result.
In Korea, we found T-ara to singLittle Apple with Chopsticks Brothers, and invited the MV director ofJiangnan. After the successful experience in Korea, there came Taiwan version, Hong Kong version and Malaysia version and Thailand version.
A series of online promotion is beneficial to fans’ exchange and to create large traffic and international influence. Youku also has stronger influence on the international arena. Now, besides Youku, we also manage oversea copyrights and promote music of mainland SNH48 and TFboys.
In addition to take good Chinese stuff out, we also want to bring good thing abroad to China. We can be a bridge and explore both the Chinese and oversea markets at the same time. Two years ago, I went to Thailand and explore the Thai market. And then I went to Taiwan. Recently, I was in Vietnam and Japan, and later I will go to Indonesia, Hong Kong and Singapore.
CMBN:Why did you choose Taiwan at that time? What’s your feeling towards it?
Zhang Jiewei: Though the center of Chinese music is in mainland now, but it was in Hong Kong and Taiwan 20 years ago. So, if you want to success on music at that time, you have to go to Taipei, including Michael Wong, Victor who also did the same choice.
I went to Taiwan, and understood that learning was not being taught but watching other people doing it.
When I did not know the artists, I thought they shined like gods. But when you see the whole process of making a song, you know the importance of a team. All parts, including the song, the whole process of album-making and the final package, are the effects of a team rather than a single person.
So the true musicians are people who play drum, guitar, produce, record, dub and remix. Without them, singers wouldn’t be so glorious. Everyone can see the glory side of singers, but the moment in front of the stage is the common effects of professionals behind the stage.
CMBN:Why did you decide to transit to new media? How do you define your new media?
Zhang Jiewei: In recent years, with the development of entertainment industry and the change in technology, I know that entertainment is no longer like “music is music”, “film is film”, “TV is TV”. They are a whole, no matter artists, music, film, or promotion and internet.
Because our company was small at that time, we learned many online promotion modes, and promoted our products through many new media channels. However, even artists are on the TV screen, their influences are different compared to the years earlier. Young audiences gradually transit to new media. If you want to catch them, you have to change. So we entered this business earlier than others.
In fact, media is responsible for the country, the society and sponsors. So everyone in the music industry hopes to influence audience or even creators, through our platform. When creators have higher requirements towards music, the quality of their work also improves. When music work improves, audiences will have higher tastes. So we hope to start with creation.
CMBN:What’s your opinion towards IP managing?
Zhang Jiewei: Everyone is saying that it’s hard to make money on music, but you can do it with IP. If you want to make music IP valuable, you not only have to consider things within music, but also brand promotion. Now, the most important thing is visual effect. Music can’t get popular without visual effects.
We do soundtrack because we want to attract audience with vision. In the present music industry, music should not be along for it has few effects in this way. Music should be integrated with other areas, including the integration of music and video, as well as integrations, exchanges and cooperation of artists from different regions.
Though Asian countries differ with western countries culturally, nations in Asia have similar cultural tastes, such as Korea, Japan, Malaysia and Thailand. Asia also has many good IP contents, but it’s a pity that no single platform integrates all those contents.
Recently, media platforms, publicity, distribution channels and technology are changing, but good contents do not change. I hope our company can control IP next. It might be a song or a singer, a play or a book.
Now, in China, all areas value, respect and protect intellectual property rights, which means it’s becoming more and more important. An excellent IP would be more valuable. Therefore, the Chinese market has the chance to do this, and companies that values IP like us would have certain meaning in the market. I also hope that we continue to do it better.
CMBN:How would you integrate IPs?
Zhang Jiewei: We will produce original programs. For example, we plan to film the Asian edition of Running Man. We want to gather artists from all parts of Asia in this program and catch attention in Asia.
We once had the copyrights of the most popular Thai movie and made its Chinese version. Also, we recorded the Vietnamese version of the recent hot Taiwan song. Through these IPs, we develop the market in other regions and exchange cultures among Asian countries.
CMBN:What do you think is the largest problem facing by Chinese music industry? What’s the reason?
Zhang Jiewei: Now, China attaches great importance to copyrights. The problem that Chinese music truly faced is successors. There are fewer good musicians. Excellent music production teams are still those people 16 years ago. When old musicians are at their fifties and sixties, how long can they insist on?
If those old musicians retire, musicians at their twenties only package themselves nicely on TV rather than making good music. We still hear the songs twenty years ago. There’s no breakthrough nor fresh blood. The music industry won’t keep going forward.
There are various reasons. The market does not value true music and musicians, which result in the same behavior of fans. It forms a vicious circle. If the taste of the market drops, and only putting its eyes on the package and ignoring music itself, it will be more dangerous.
If young musicians do not work hard, they just chase fame and profits rather music itself, how can music go forward? In fact, everyone knows that it’s hard to make money by music. It was same 20 years ago, but people were seriously at that time, for they loved music. Now, many young people only care about fame, and no one truly wants to produce good music.
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