Sun, May 05, 2002 - Page 24 News List

Mando-pop's cheerless year

According to music critics and industry professionals, a year of lackluster sales reflects a year of similarly lackluster releases

By Yu Sen-lun  /  STAFF REPORTER

Looking at the list of nominees at this year's Golden Melody Awards, Lee Kun-cheng (李坤城), a music critic and songwriter, declared the past year as an embarrassing one for Mandarin pop music.

"To say it nicely, the list indicates an intention to ... boost the morale of the industry. But to put it harshly, as long as you made a record this year, you're likely to win an award," said Lee, who has served as a Golden Melody judge for the past two years.

Lee's sentiments are shared by many music critics, radio DJs and songwriters. The Golden Melody Awards this year reflected the slump in which Taiwan's music industry has found itself.

Normally a month before the ceremony, there would be radio shows and TV shows to charge the atmosphere. There would also be heated discussions on call-in shows and in Internet chat rooms about the nominated artists. But according to Lee, who is also program director and a host on ET FM 89.3, there was scant lead-up to the awards which received only a lukewarm response from audiences.

"This year has been perhaps the worst of the past 10 years," Lee said.

According to Lee, early in the 1990s a hot release was one that sold more than 100,000 CDs. "But now around 50,000 can be called a hit," he said.

The market is shrinking, says Knife Cheng (小刀), a songwriter and department manager at BMG Taiwan. Cheng said normally the industry cranks out a combined 2000 new songs per year, but now that number has dropped to some 400.

So, as is evident in record store sales, the new products at market are mostly collections of past hits or cover songs (Mando-pop covering Western pop), according to both Lee and Cheng. The two songwriters said that the demand for their talents continues to decrease.

"I haven't received any contracts for a while," Lee said.

For many of the music industry's employees, too, it was indeed a chilly year. Mando-pop departments of most all music companies were vastly downsized. BMG's Mandarin section was reduced to just four staff members. "We still have Mandarin singers," said BMG's Cheng, but he said the label has had to change the method by which they produce those artists.

According to Cheng, the costs of producing a Mando-pop record total around NT$17 million. "You have to make sure your western-pop sales reach at least 500,000 CDs (NT$330 per CD)," Cheng said, to ensure enough capital with which to finance the company's Mando-pop productions.

BMG's western pop artists include boy band West Life, girl rapper Pink and singer-songwriter DiDo, all of whom enjoy strong sales in Taiwan.

Multi-national record labels like BMG can depend on their western artists for survival, but local labels are faced with defeat.

Leading local label Rock Records (滾石), despite promoting popular band Mayday (五月天), laid-off fully one-third of their employees last year. The company also dismantled an entire marketing and promotional team that consisted of copywriters who were strong at packaging and promoting the artists. Even Mayday's sales of 300,000 CDs failed to recuperate the losses made on the company's other products.

Magic Stone Records (魔岩), the label that produces talents like Wu Bai (伍佰), Faith Yang (楊乃文) and Chang Cheng-yue (張震嶽) last year had to move their offices to Rock Records' building.

The current situation is very different from 10 years ago, when Taiwan's music industry was prosperous enough to lure overseas labels such as Universal, Sony, BMG, EMI and Warner to Taiwan.

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