Looking at the list of nominees at this year's Golden Melody Awards, Lee Kun-cheng (
"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 (
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 (
Magic Stone Records (
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.
According to Cheng, 10 years ago it was very easy for popular singers such as Hong Kong artist Jackie Cheung (
At that time, "making CDs was like printing dollar bills, it was a profit-guaranteed business," Cheng said.
With the overall economic environment so drab, record companies' focus has shifted from radio to the Internet, where the pirating of MP3s is seen as one of the main reasons the music industry is suffering. But for music critic Wong Chia-ming (
"Taiwan has too few music genres. It's predominantly pop, and there is only one kind of pop," said Wong, who was a Golden Melody judge two years ago.
"Young people now have greater access to different kinds of music. Through MP3 sharing and on-line CD shops they are able to find new music. Why would they want to [buy] music which isn't very good?" Wong said.
Wong predicted that this is why Jay Chou (
For Wong and songwriters Lee and Cheng, the fact that the music industry is currently depressed doesn't mean it will continue to be in the future.
"Young people are still making music and there is still creativity that hasn't been discovered by the industry," Wong said.
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