Taiwan’s Popular Music and Global Markets: A Panel at Goldsmiths

Written by Maggie Yang. 

Image credit: Untitled by ☆Nina小妮娜☆/Flickr, license: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

London’s cultural diversity provides rich soil for different genres of music to grow – living here provides me with the opportunity to examine Taiwan’s popular music from a new point of view. Quite often we hear how successful the world tours of artists form Taiwan are, however, when we take a closer look into the destinations where those concerts were held, 80 to 90 percent are 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?

By participating in the London gigs of artists from Taiwan, HUSH and Jay Chou, I was able to compare and 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 capacity of 300 people, while Jay Chou’s world tour was held in the O2, where there were audiences of 20,000 for two seductive nights. HUSH’s performance was organized by his record company, which made contact with the venue and confirmed the show directly. However, Jay Chou’s show was organized by an entertainment company with hundreds of professional staff. The only similarity shared by these two gigs is the audience formation. It is not surprising that almost every audience member I saw was from China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. The few Western audience members were accompanied by Chinese friends.

By comparing the two gigs, I found that popularity and resources are crucial for Taiwan artists who tour overseas. How can those young and individual artists explore their possibilities overseas if they are not resourceful? After all, not every artist can be as influential as Jay Chou is in Mandarin-speaking markets. In May 2019, I organized a talk about Taiwan’s popular music at Goldsmiths, with 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 one pop music researcher from University of Liverpool, Dr. Chen-Yu Lin discussing Taiwan pop music’s overseas promotion and market development, especially for those individual artists with less resources.

Knocking on the door by performing in international showcases 

One of the speakers Dr. Chen-Yu Lin wrote in her article about the Golden Melody Award Festival that

what makes a showcase different from a concert is the audience and the goal. Often in a showcase, there will be a specific type of audience in attendance, this includes various delegates  international buyers, bookers, producers, and promoters – who may be attending in order to seek new business opportunities and contacts’.

Showcases are recognized as 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 who are looking for interesting and new talent for their events evaluate a band or an artist’s capability and interactions with audiences. The more connections that artists make with promoters or booking agents, the more opportunities they might have to 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, it has combined an awards ceremony, professional conferences and showcases and become an innovative platform which increases Taiwan pop music’s exposure and explores new opportunities. International music industry professionals are invited to the festival to not only share their experiences in conferences but also attend showcases performed by nominated artists. Further collaborations and partnerships start from here.

Preparations for artists 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 need to know where they can attract online audiences to show up to 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. They have to realize that unlike Taiwan’s Small and Medium Enterprises, which prefer full control of every detail of the business, the Western music industry has developed a highly specialised ecosystem of tour management. Promoters, booking agents and tour managers play different 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

Taiwan’s government is aware of the fact that Taiwan’s pop music isn’t that ‘popular’ once its steps out of Mandarin-speaking regions. Nevertheless, for the authority it is still important to generate exposure of Taiwan’s image in iconic international music festivals such as SWSXGlastonbury or Summer Sonic. Taiwan’s Ministry of Culture has encouraged artists and groups to perform in these world-renowned festivals by directly subsidizing artists or creating bids for companies capable of organizing overseas tours for Taiwanese artists. For instance, more than 10 artists from Taiwan have stood on the stages of Glastonbury in the past four festivals. Indeed, this policy allows more artists to be heard by a broader range of audiences from bigger music markets. As a result, 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 destination to promote Taiwan’s pop music has shifted to different countries. 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 which is responsible for Taiwan’s pop music issues might be a good solution for a future pop music export strategy.

Given the reality that music promotion cannot completely rely on the government’s cultural policy and subsidy, more professionals based in overseas countries are dedicating themselves to increasing Taiwan pop music’s global visibility and audibility. The three speakers I invited to the talk were from academia and industry. What they have done in the past years has exceeded the government’s capability and had a real impact for Taiwan’s artists and the music industry. Through their efforts, and those of other artists and promoters, Taiwan’s pop music is being heard on some of the biggest stages in the world.

Maggie Yang is a MA student in Events and Experience Management, Goldsmiths, University of London.

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