Beijing Beat blog with Mark Godfrey

Beijing Beat

Battling Piracy: Starsing, A Legit Chinese Label

Jun 1

Written by:
6/1/2008 8:44 PM  RssIcon

One of China’s best legit music companies has a hard time rising above the pirates

Meet Mr. Zhou Xiaochuan, general manager of Guangzhou Starsing Culture Co. Ltd. That's the label whose release for soft-pop mistress Liang Jingru sold 200,000 units, making it one of the best selling albums of 2007.

Like most Chinese label bosses, he’s shifting he’s less worried about pirates than he is by downloads: “We bear more pressures form Internet downloads.” It’s in CD sales however that Zhou is really thinking outside the box: worried by what he sees as the reduction in numbers of shops selling original CDs he’s looking into distribution deals with “cafes, flower shops and many other places.”

Pop music accounts for between 20%-30 percent of Starsing’s catalogue. Zhou is "open" to music of different styles: the label has licensed classical, jazz and country music from foreign labels. Zhou’s marketing staff targets the 18-36 age bracket, “especially those with higher education backgrounds.”

Starsing started to cooperate with foreign musicians at the end of last year, pressing CDs locally for singers from France, Spain, Malaysia and Sweden. “We have cooperated a lot with Sony, from which we get a clear picture of foreign music.”

Not all of the label's money is coming in recording deals. The label signed contract for image rights and merchandising management with four artists. Starsing also took a cut from organizing concerts for Jiang Xin at Beijing club Starlive. The label is organizing a July 5 concert for Dou Wei, Zhang Chu, He Yong and Jiang Xin, also a Starlive.

Starsing can compete with the multinationals on home turf: Compared with companies like Warner and EMI we firmly rooted in the Chinese land, we know more about the local culture and we are much more flexible. Those big companies are aircraft carriers and we are just like a small boat. The air craft carrier can never navigate in China’s inner rivers as freely as a small boat.”

Frequent managerial shuffles also hobbles the majors in China. “That’s not good for continuity of their market strategy whereas we can implement our strategy more consecutively.” Zhou also thinks he beats multinationals by knowing the local Internet and retail scenes inside out. “We studied thoroughly about state of different media, the situation of the Internet’ development and data of sale terminals in cities at various levels in China... they cannot compete with us in this area.”

Government crackdowns on counterfeiters can have unintended effects on labels. “Pirate CDs are a problem, but not the biggest one. “It’s harder than ever to get a license to sell audio and video products, so that means less outlets for legitimate CDs too,” says Mr. Zhou.  Starsing battles pirates in the courts. “Anti-pirate technology will raise the cost and will eventually be broken by those pirates.”

Starsing has image and merchandising management deals with four mainland Chinese artists. The company’s concert management wing organized shows for Jiang Xin at Starlive in Beijing and is preparing for a Beijing show in July by Jiang and fellow folk singers Dou Wei, Zhang Chu, He Yong.

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