On May 18, 2016, more than 400 people crowdedonto the 7th floor of the Wanda Sofitel. Some of the brightest stars, like Bo Huang, Kevin Tsai, Laolang, and Gary Cao, major record companies, like Rock, Sony, Universal and Warner, and other prominent representatives from other backgrounds in the industry, came together for the debut of the interactive entertainment platform of Ali Music: Ali Planet.
At the opening, the “Triangle” – Ke Song (former head of Taihe Rye Music), Xiaosong Gao (CEO of Alibaba Music Group), and Jiong He (Hunan TV host)– moonwalked onto the stage in spacesuits. Ke Song outlined the structure and function of Ali Planet.
Although the “Triangle” presented Ali Planet as a new service, in reality, Ali Planet was the evolution of Tiantiandongting, a music streaming app acquired by Alibaba Group in 2013. A month ago, Tiantiandongting underwent a software update, and unceremoniously was renamed Ali Planet, confusing users of the original app. During that month, Ali Planet occupied a limbo status, where it had not been publicly unveiled, but rather remained in an evaluation version.
Today, the “Triangle” finally took Ali Planet –the culmination of eight months work – out of limbo and into the public eye. China Music Business News conducted an exclusive interview with Ke Song, the CEO of Alibaba Music Group. Throughout the interview, he repeatedly told us, “Download [Ali Planet] as soon as you can! You’ll see I’ve joined, and there are more than 1,000 fans already.”
As he answered questions, Mr. Song showed us the various parts of Ali Planet on his cellphone. It became evident that Ali Planet truly lives up to its name, condensing not only the entire music industry, but also the pan-entertainment industry, into a single app.
Contained below is the dialogue of China Music Business News’s exclusive interview with Mr. Song:
China Music Business News:When did you start creating Ali Planet?
Song: Actually, the creation of Ali Planet was quick, but the concept design took much more time. When I left Taihe Rye to open a roast duck restaurant, I was always thinking about the future of the music industry. Later, I held a series of music festivals through Evergrande Music, utilizing the rural areas that encircled the city as concert spaces. Then I also released digital singles for Yuchun Li and for the digital albums of other artists such as Jingfei Xu.
At that time I came up with the idea of creating a music platform. Unfortunately, after I arrived at the concept, we stopped producing digital albums for these artists because our identity as a content provider was somewhat embarrassed. Thus, if we created a platform and preferred to provide services for our own artists first, others would question the independence of it. There would appear to be some conflict of interest in the middle.
Our understanding of copyright is so strict that many ideas cannot be developed later. In retrospect, the concept of our music platform was ahead of its time. It wasn’t until a few years ago when I really started to think about the platform. In September 2014, I discussed the idea with Xiaosong while eating in Los Angeles. However, at the time, it was still from a perspective of content.
China Music Business News: In the past, you and Xiaosong provided the content. How did you find a way to merge the content and the platform? Why did you choose Ali?
Song: We had thought through various Internet models of many industries including music, games, video, etc. Thus, we had already prepared for the Internet over many years. However since we are not from the Internet industry, it would be difficult to create an entirely new platform. That is why Xiaosong and I agreed to find and cooperate with Alibaba.
Coincidentally, we were invited by different platforms to make content extension. It’s true that the content should be attached to the platform. However, we felt we were still only working with content, and this generated a gap between our vision and our reality. We really wanted to be rid of the burden of content production, and no longer have to consider how to operate artists, which song is good, how to do an album and so on.
We still wanted to find a union of the Internet and music content, and to cooperate with a platform. Naturally, Ali was our first choice, without any doubt. In early 2015, we met with Jack Ma (founder and executive chairman of Alibaba Group). In fact, we just spoke for over two hours about what we were thinking about and what the difficulties would be.
What we thought then was that payment was the largest obstacle for music streaming services. The music industry is huge but has never been able profitable. If we only consider the copyright as an eventually condensed product, then the spreading channel of the product will be very narrow. The producing chain of the music industry is problematic and most areas have not enjoyed the benefits of the Internet. There should be transactions and capital realization if the music wants to get closer to the Internet quickly.
We hope to make a good platform for the people outside of the pyramid. Ali has all complete systems on trading, payment, big data, and even small loans. Therefore, it was certainly most appropriate to collaborate with Alibaba.
I found our goals aligned quite closely with Alibaba after talking with Jack Ma. Alibaba has a slogan: “Make business simple everywhere in the world!” Thus, cooperating with Ali would resolve the difficulties we envisioned.
China Music Business News:Ali Planet is a huge and all-inclusive system. In fact, people are more willing to start with a vertical app, which is easier to understand and more concrete. Why did you decide to instead make Ali Planet so large?
Song: Many people have asked me why I made Ali Planet a huge app. I have no choice because things cannot work well separately. We are patient in our approach to success and have thought over all of the characteristics of the industry. The music industry is the only one that is not suitable large scale production. Its products come from the collection of many people and there is no need for a large-scale super factory.
The process where fans can participate in music production is largely related to the people and things in the music industry. Especially in the current era, everyone can become an idol.
In reality, Ali Planet is not as complicated as everyone thinks it is; it contains a process of trading and producing within the industry. The logic is simple: fans can profit from all semi-finished and finished products.
Musicians are generally very petulant. Their part may not be necessarily exciting, and they ignore what they don’t care about. On the other hand, the fans’ part can be very lively. What the fans care about are the finished products, which they are willing to cultivate if they like.
China Music Business News:What will be the relationship between Ali Planet and Xiami Music?
Song: Ali Planet and Xiami Music are quite different and Ali Planet is not simply an upgraded version of TTPOD. Some people have already begun to build their own pages and we hope in the future that the more than 10,000 musicians on Xiami can “immigrate” to Ali Planet. Therefore, Xiami will return to being a pure steaming service.
China Music Business News:Since Ali Planet is still in the beta phase, which part is the focus currently? How fast will the updated versions be launched?
Song: The current version is the first one and the second will appear after this conference at the end of May. The third version will come out by the end of June and the fourth in August. Each iteration will be released rapidly. Now is the testing phase and it cannot open for large-scale operations of the business and content. The operation of businesses, artists and fans in the future will be a challenge for us.
During the Beta phase we will mainly strengthen our fans operation; this is an essential component. We use Yifeng Li and Gary Cao as cases because they have events recently. First, the fan group can be established where there is a trading platform. Second, the activities inside or outside of the group can become points to be exchanged for the fans’ favorite rewards. However, fans don’t need to buy anything; listening to music daily will make the platform a home for them, and a good thing in and of itself.
‘Unsung Hero’ is a producing process, including songwriting, music producing, professional services, performance services, enterprise promotion, show watching, KTV, purchasing of peripheral products, and more. It’s different from Taobao, where there is no cooperation between businesses; Ali Planet can help people find partners, collect songwriters, producers, musicians, advertising teams. They can locate the professional ones from different backgrounds without looking for any record companies.
China Music Business News:Ali Planet is also a live broadcasting platform. Is this because you see live broadcasting as hot right now?
Song: Our live broadcasting is quite different from other ‘shows’. There is a rigorous review process and the content must be related to music. Many musicians worked as unsung heroes before, but now they can write, produce and sing the songs on the platform and show off their content every day.
We’re not doing live broadcasting because it is fashionable right now. First, we do have concert resources. Second, both musicians and fans have a demand for it; an indie musician will attract many fans and if the fans can be increasingly cultivated, we give the musician a crowd funding online or an offline concert. Third, we decided to do the live broadcasting platform and fans’ economy last August, when it was still ahead of its time.
Ali Planet is a unique place. What Ali Planet in particular does is the flow of fans, and the improvement of the traditional buyer-seller relationship between the fans and the industry. We will put the fans into a system, not only the fans of the ‘fresh meat’ (young and handsome male stars), but also the fans of all the entertainment industries.
China Music Business News:So it seems that Ali Planet is not just a music platform, but a pan-entertainment trading platform to cover more people and areas in addition to professional musicians?
Song: The music industry only takes in 2% of musicians, and they all come from big regions. Ali Planet satisfies the need of the remaining 98%. All music related cross-border business can be done here. For example, bar singers and wedding singers are also creating music. The ones singing at music festivals are not the only musicians; there are many people living off of their music. In the future we want to improve the living conditions of all musicians, not just the ones in the 2%.
We have even have done cross-border cooperation with a lot of businesses, such as KFC. You can be a patron of both KFC and Ali Planet, thus receiving benefits for both, such as KFC breakfast vouchers from the Planet and Yifeng Li concert tickets from KFC. This is the cross-border interaction.
China Music Business News:As you just mentioned, Ali Planet is not simply an upgraded version of TTPOD, but actually, the current, main users are still from TTPOD, right? We have noticed that many old users of TTPOD were not satisfied and gossiped online a month ago. Do you know about that?
Song: Ali Planet currently has 1 million registered users, and 70% of them are from TTPOD. The other 30% come directly from the fans group, which means our operation of fans has worked well.
To the old users of TTPOD who are not satisfied, I would like to say: please don’t grumble and gripe about the changes; over the last five years, we haven’t charged you a penny; we were always respectful: if you didn’t want us to change something, we didn’t change it, and if it wasn’t enough, we would even add some more. It was always free for everyone.
Every year we spend so much money on the copyright and the network bandwidth, and hire so many technical staffs to provide services. It is not appropriate to fuss only because of a few little changes to the rules.
I used to be a content provider, so I especially despise this kind of attitude. I can accept the suggestions, the confusions about the upgrading platform, or the dissatisfactions about some aspects, but not squalling. Sometimes the Internet music service is logically problematic.
Many people don’t know exactly which part of the music industry needs the most help from the Internet. They believe a music player can solve the problem, but the player has not charged money until now! Nobody dares to charge even if he understands the situation. After being free for so many years, what music player dares to offend its users by charging? Which user has paid before? The model of paying for the copyright but providing it for free cannot stay for long.
China Music Business News:Do you think Ali Planet will change the original situation of music APPs?
Song: I am not very sure about whether it can change the original models, but the direction has changed. Unlike the ones who are crowded in the player area fighting for copyrights and users, we just want to do we can do well and simply, utilizing Ali’s advantages.
Eventually, everyone will, one by one, stop talking about copyrights, exclusive cooperation, the cost of security; Ali Planet wants to solve these sorts of problems for them.
China Music Business News:There are so many people from different institutions and sectors today. Are they the ones that Ali Planet wants to invite to join? How will you facilitate cooperation if they settle down?
Song: Yes, there will be 10 to 20 thousand musicians and several hundred business institutions, including performance companies, artist agencies, record companies, public relation firms, Karaoke stores, and professional services companies, such as the design studios or personal offices. Now thousands of companies have already come and there are dozens of fan groups.
Record companies can join for free, which is similar to the model of Tmall and Taobao with charging very low poundage (single digit). If it is an exclusive partner without high trading volume, there will be some preferential terms and better treatments after an operating period.
Currently Rock Records and Linfair Records have joined us. The copyright barrier will not exist after the record companies come. The exclusive copyright of Linfair belongs to Tencent but it will not have influences on their shops here. Without their songs, we can still sell a lot of their other things, like concerts, artist peripheral products, and professional services, such as parts of the lyrics.
There are some companies like Musikid, which have a lot of strengths offline. I think they can make good online business and that they should open their shop on Ali Planet. Many artists also want to join and they come to me for discussions. Again, I think there is no need for them to do this by themselves.
After doing this, I finally know that it is too difficult to operate a vertical app independently. There is no need to do the R&D, operations and bandwidth, which are a waste of money. Utilizing similar logic, Rock Records would like to open a shop here even though their own official mall already existed. It is not a problem if there are not many users early on. Once the number of users increases, the backstage trading system will have a variety of challenges. We still have many logistical difficulties to match with Alipay even though we are already under Ali ecology, not to mention the problem of independent operating.
China Music Business News:Now that the music industry is in the middle of a great transformation, how do you view the traditional models of the record companies?
Song: Traditional record companies are still alive and, in fact, doing well. I think the professionalism will never change. The professionalism and experience of those record companies is still there, which can never be turned over by the ‘grassroots’, even if they get stronger.
Now many people say that the anchors on live broadcasting platforms can earn a million or tens of millions. But you should know that actually 10 years ago, the super stars had already earned hundreds of millions, or ten times the income of the so-called anchors. But now even the anchors cannot compete with the Internet Icons. The reason is simply that even a truly talented, professional, fortunate person still needs a staircase to success. Thus, when we examine the situation, we should examine it from a historical perspective.
China Music Business News:How do you feel about the transition from creating the content to creating the platform?
Song: I am very happy now that I don’t worry about the problems of content creation. Previously we were caught up with whether an artist should develop through the shows, the Internet or the music of films. Now we understand that he will come out by his own way. It is not possible to promote him as an indie musician if he is Jay Chow! When Jay first came out, people thought of him as a Taiwanese indie musician, and none of the mainstream record companies would help him.
Therefore, we don’t have to worry about the value of the content, but rather just provide the platform, no matter where you come from. We will promote your trading as much as possible if you join. If it took you five years to acquire 50 customers with the traditional way, Ali Planet can help you achieve that number in one month. And this is the power of the Internet.
The Internet is not a platform for content production, but it can activate the whole economic structure without any doubt.
China Music Business News:In your opinion, will Ali Planet be able to smooth the transition of the music industry? Or make a change among the musicians and the music industry?
Song: I really cannot say whether musicians can write better songs or whether the record companies can catch better artists. But I know for sure that it will be more active. Actually the ethos of the Planet is very simple. When the traditional areas become deficient and too crowded, we want to utilize a new “Planet” where the process of “immigration” can improve the industry itself.
It cannot be called “change”, but it is at least “improvement”. Fortunately, what Ali Planet is doing is not complicated and is in line with our current capabilities
Editors:Cheng Bao, Lucy Dong, Evan Yi
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