What you need to know
How can Taiwan step up its game in promoting local pop music overseas?
By Maggie Yang
London’s cultural diversity provides rich soil for different genres of music to grow. Living here as a student provides me with the opportunity to examine Taiwan’s pop music from a new point of view.
Quite often we hear how successful Taiwanese artists are with their world tours, but 80 to 90 percent of those concerts are hosted in Asia, and mostly in the Sinophone world. The question then arises, what strategies can artists who want to enter new music markets employ, especially outside of Asia?
Having attended the concerts of HUSH and Jay Chou, two Taiwanese singers, I was able to observe these two shows in terms of their scale, organization and audience.
HUSH’s gig was held in a small live house Redon with the maximum capacity of 300 people, while Jay Chou’s world tour was held in the O2, with 20,000 attendees for two seductive nights. HUSH’s performance was organized by his record company, which made contact with the venue and confirmed the show directly. Jay Chou’s show, however, was organized by an entertainment company with hundreds of professional staff. The only similarity shared by these two gigs was the audience formation: almost everyone in the audience was from China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan, and the few Western audience were accompanied by Chinese friends.
Not every Taiwanese artist can be as influential as Jay Chou is in Mandarin-speaking markets. How, then, can those young and independent artists with fewer resources explore their possibilities overseas?
In May 2019, I organized a panel to discuss the overseas opportunities and market development of Taiwan's pop music at Goldsmiths. The panel included two experienced professionals from the Taiwan music industry— Weining Hung, the co-founder of LUCfest and Jennifer Chou, the manager of international affair of the Taiwanese band No Party for Cao dong— as well as a pop music researcher from University of Liverpool, Dr. Chen-Yu Lin.
Here are some of the thoughts I've gathered from the talk:
Knock on the door by performing in international showcases.
Music showcases are the best entry point for Taiwan’s artists to land in a new market because that is where professionals and opportunities gather.
Live performances help promoters and booking agents directly evaluate a band or an artist’s capability and interactions with the audience. The more connections that artists make with promoters or booking agents, the more likely they will be invited back for another festival or individual tour.
Taiwan’s Golden Melody Award Festival is a good example of an international showcase. Since 2014, the organizer has combined an awards ceremony, professional conferences, and showcases in one festival. It has become an innovative platform which increases Taiwan pop music’s exposure and new opportunities. International music industry professionals are invited to not only share their experiences in conferences, but also attend showcases performed by nominated artists. Showcases like this often encourage further collaborations and partnerships.
Artist preparations before entering new markets
One of the obvious reasons for the segregation of Taiwan’s pop music from Western audiences is the language barrier. Seldom do Taiwan’s artists manage their social media or streaming platform in English, not to mention other languages. Before entering an overseas market, these artists should enrich their online portfolio and make it more accessible for non-Mandarin speakers.
Meanwhile, thanks to the popularity of global music streaming platforms, artists now can easily get the data to identify the interests and locations of their listeners. This is crucial for Taiwan’s artists to locate their next potential market; they can use the online data to plan their offline live events and establish the intimate face-to-face relationship that is only possible with local audiences.
Mindset is another key factor for Taiwan’s artists in preparing for overseas markets. While Taiwan’s small and medium enterprises prefer full control of every business detail, the Western music industry has developed a highly specialized ecosystem of tour management. Promoters, booking agents, and tour managers play specific roles in the process of making a gig happen. Taiwan’s artists have to be flexible in adapting themselves to a whole new environment and be willing to trust their international partners who can better facilitate their tour overseas.
Government’s role in exporting Taiwan pop music
The Taiwanese government is aware that Taiwan’s pop music isn’t that "popular" once it steps out of the Mandarin-speaking regions. To generate exposure for Taiwan's music image, the Ministry of Culture has subsidized local artists and groups to perform in world-renowned festivals like SWSX, Glastonbury or Summer Sonic.
More than 10 artists from Taiwan have stood on the stages of Glastonbury in the past four festivals. The government's support has allowed more artists to be heard by a broader range of audiences from bigger music markets. These projects successfully achieved the government’s goal that Taiwan should "be seen" actively participating in more international cultural occasions.
However, political goals are usually unstable and short-sighted. As the government is placing more attention on its New Southbound Policy, which is aimed at South-East Asian countries, the overseas destinations to promote Taiwan’s pop music have shifted. The connections and relationships established through previous touring experiences cannot be maintained and passed on.
Many European countries have launched music expo offices that engage with their local bands and artists in promoting them internationally and strategically. A specialized department responsible for Taiwan’s pop music industry might be a good solution to develop a pop music export strategy.
More music professionals based in overseas countries are dedicating themselves to increasing Taiwan pop music’s global visibility and audibility. The three speakers mentioned above have made tremendous effort to introduce Taiwan's artists and bands beyond Asia. By working closely with artists and promoters, these music professionals will hopefully bring Taiwan's pop music to a much bigger stage.
TNL Editor: Daphne K. Lee (@thenewslensintl)