Lala Hsu and Eggplant Egg were among the major winners at the 29th Golden Melody Awards and Conference, held from June 20-23 in Taipei, Taiwan. In addition to being the Mandarin-speaking world’s principal awards, the event has hosted a key Asian music industry conference since 2014.
The gala, held at the Taipei Arena, have traditionally been seen as a way to honor legendary Chinese performers but that has started to change recently. Last year’s stunning wins by young rock band No Party for Cao Dong) is an example of the new focus on up-and-coming talent. This year that trend continued when 33-year old Lala Hsu, going up against Taiwanese legends like A-Mei and Julia Peng, won best Mandarin female vocalist. Hsu also snatched a premiere prize of the event, best Mandarin album (vocal), besting favored Singaporean superstar JJ Lin.
Jack Liao, Director of the GMA Conference explained, “the Ministry of Culture selects a committee to decide the awards every year. The members have been getting younger and more attuned to the latest trends.” Billy Koh, a top Beijing-based C-pop producer concurs. “In the past, to avoid judges having to award their own work, the committee was pop producers past their prime. However, in the last five years that’s not that the case, they’re choosing people who are more current in the industry.”
More evidence of this at the awards this year was mid-20s band Eggplant Egg. They claimed not only the best new artist trophy but also the best Taiwanese album crown, a sought after award. Primary songwriter, keyboardist and vocalist of the band Ki-pin Ng told Billboard, “I think the most important thing in songwriting is honesty, we try to express our world.”
Sandee Chan, a presenter this year and winner of the GMA for best Mandarin female vocalist in 2009, summed up the new focus of the event in her remarks on stage. “I am indie and I also produce mainstream music… this role has given me a clear and unique perspective. The GMAs invited me here today to talk about how popular music can progress in the future. We need to constantly redefine popular music.” She added, “If the behaviors of an entire generation are changing due to social media and e-commerce, do you think you can’t be changed? The answer to this question will carry pop music to an even more interesting future.”
The conference put on by the GMAs offered insight into the future of the industry in general and in Asia, including panels on AI, new trends in live music, and business opportunities in hip-hop. A panel on blockchain introduced some cutting-edge technologies.
Musicoin is a new streaming platform that is supported by its own crypto currency. It’s a decentralized service on the blockchain that offers completely free listening without ads. Because it’s supported by its own coin it tries to offer the highest rates in the industry to artists and currently has about 5,000 acts offering their music on it. Daniel Lawton, the U.K. ambassador for Musicoin, says, “We’re a non-profit platform…the participants bring their creativity and own 100% of what they do.” Recently the hot U.K. indie band Scouting for Girls signed on.
The fascinating initiative JAAK also took part in the panel. This blockchain-based company, founded in November 2015, is trying to develop a global network for musical rights registration and exploitation. It works with Beijing-based marketing and consulting agency Outdustry, among many others around the world. Vaughn McKenzie-Landell, CEO of JAAK, told Billboard, “We’ve built a team that spans technology and spans music. We get lots of interest from people at labels and at publishers. If you go to the platforms right across to the rights holders everybody is interested in this problem.” McKenzie-Landell noted, “when you talk about what blockchain is useful for ultimately it’s for organizing information that comes from lots and lots of sources, and creating order from that information. There is one part of the music industry that is so critical to everything else, and that’s rights. There’s a lot of friction in that process now and I feel if you reduce the friction you get more business flowing through those legitimate pipes.”
A panel exploring business opportunities in hip-hop in Asia featured Dana Burton, the founder of the legendary Chinese hip hop platform Iron Mic. Burton noted that there are lots of possibilities for doing business in Chinese hip-hop but there may be a conflict in values that need to be negotiated between the two communities. “Hip-hop is huge is China, it’s already been around 25 years. When the business community wants to get involved in hip-hop you have to be honest, do your research, understand what you’re getting involved with, and don’t treat it as something you can easily exploit.”