Asian Music Network Conference Examines a Fast-Growing Hemisphere

China's forthcoming entry into streaming legitimacy will bring big dollars – and its not the only one.

The first annual Asian Music Network conference was held this past weekend, Sept. 10-13, in Seoul's Digital Media City district. Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation (MBC), a major television station in South Korea, and the Record Label Industry Association of Korea (LIAK) jointly organized the event. The modest inaugural effort featured a handful of presentations, with topics including "digital music trends in Asia," "perspectives on K-pop," and "music festival trends in Asia."

More than 42 companies from around the region participated and about 50 acts played in the showcases and performed for the participants at private events.

Producer Billy Koh's keynote gave a well-informed overview of the Asia markets with an emphasis on the future of the Chinese market. Koh, originally Singaporean, has based his Amusic Rights Management company in Beijing for more than 10 years.

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"I created the event because, despite the success of K-pop, there is no real route that Korean music can take to be exported to the world," organizer Wongsuk Choi, a producer at MBC and the director of the Asian Music Network conference, tells Billboard. South Korea has a host of music conferences, including the high-profile MU:CON, a nationally-funded conference.  

"I know we have MU:CON in Korea, but since it is government-organized I am not really happy with its programming and content. I wanted to create something that focused on the infrastructure of the Korean music industry," Choi said, who stressed Seoul's increasing focus on the music industry.

In his kickoff keynote, Koh, often considered the father of (Mandarin) Chinese pop (C-pop), summarized the situation for pop music in northeast Asia, noting that both K-pop and C-pop's origins are in Japanese pop (J-pop). Koh argued, unsurprisingly, that K-pop creates a superior product to C-pop because the production values are higher, the bands' dancing and overall presentation is much tighter, and the performers display a self-assured, cool attitude. But Koh worries that K-pop is hitting a wall -- because all the performers tend to look similar due to rampant plastic surgery.

Turning to China, Koh offered bold analysis. The streaming market for music in China will soon be monetized, he says, and when it is, gigantic revenues won't be far behind. According to Koh's projections, based on the current number of users and the estimated percentage that will sign up for paid streaming, the China music streaming market will generate $495 million annually. He emphasized this did not include synch rights or licensing music through other avenues, endorsements, live performance or any other revenue stream.

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Asked by Billboard for a prediction as to when the Chinese market would produce this revenue, Koh says that, "since it's up to the Chinese government, no one really knows. If it's quick, within a year. If it's slow, within five years."

Bernie Cho, president of management and digital agency DFSB Collective, headed an informative panel on "digital music trends in Asia." He noted that the Korean digital music market grew 19.32 percent in 2014, and that Korea is the No. 1 streaming music market in Asia, as well as world's fastest-growing. Kwee Tiang Ang, regional director for Asia of the IFPI noted that of all the markets the IFPI tracks, with the exception of Thailand, grew in the same period. Chee Meng Tan, director of label relations for APAC at Spotify, noted that his company had launched in most major markets in the region, excluding Japan, and that both the Philippines and Singapore had returned to overall growth. Tan says this shows that the paradigm shift, from ownership to access, was taking place across the music industries of the world, and especially Asia.

The performance showcases of Asia Music Network offered a look at bands that could emerge as the new frontrunners in entertainment from the region. They played throughout the afternoon and evening on two stages in the Digital Music City complex. Leading the way was K-pop girl group GFriend, which Billboard picked as one of top five K-pop acts to watch in 2015. Other standout acts included the polished and funky rock of NFlying, the humorous and highly entertaining rap of Nolza, and the alluring K-pop girl group Hello Venus.