The co-organized IMS China conference and STORM Festival took place October 2-4 in Shanghai. The Ibiza and Los Angles-based International Music Summit (IMS) and A2Live of Shanghai jointly planned the two events, creating a natural synergy by having artists present at the business forum and perform at the festival. IMS kicked things off on Oct. 2, with STORM taking place in Shanghai over the weekend.
After successful turns in Ibiza and Los Angeles, this is the first IMS event to take place in China — and the first electronic music conference in the country whatsoever, though organizers plan to make it an annual event. The conference hosted 27 panelists, over 180 delegates, with 17 countries represented, taking part in 4 panels and 4 keynote presentations, offering ideas on how to penetrate the notoriously difficult Chinese market, which has the potential to dwarf even the US in market size.
Ben Turner, co-founder of IMS, explained to Billboard why they held the conference in Shanghai this year — the group founded AFEM, Association for Electronic Music, a trade body for electronic music that has helped document the monetization of the genre. They expanded to Asia with IMS Asia-Pacific in Singapore last December and “China came up so many times. When Eric approached us and said he’d like to create a business forum alongside the festival, we jumped at it.” Turner says the partnership has helped both parties. “I think putting [IMS] next to what they’re doing helps legitimize it… this is a real business that is worth 6.4 billion dollars globally.”
Kevin Watson of IMS set the scene for the summit, delivering the first “Business Report on China” from his organization. He outlined the vast potential of the market, noting that if penetration of dance music were even a quarter of the US, there would be 40 new festivals a year as big as STORM, which sells more than 30,000 tickets.
In an interview with Billboard, Eric Zho, founder of A2Live and STORM Festival and a keynote speaker who outlined the demographic enormity of China, as well as the difficulties the country presents to businesspersons looking to work in the country. Zho described how A2Live was originally a TV production company working in the music space. They acquired China West, a local promoter, and with it put on concerts by international superstars like Elton John, James Brown, and Incubus, among others. The group created A2Live to promote EDM and “it’s taken over the company,” chuckles Zho. The firm created the STORM festival in 2013. “We saw there was no big EDM promoter [in China], and there are significant barriers to entry because of dealing with the police and the ministry of Culture, so there was lot of opportunity.” He emphasizes that “part of partnering with IMS is to open that floodgate. There are a lot of misconceptions of how China is. People just don’t know. IMS can help the process, communication and dialog.” He noted in China it’s crucial to “have people in high places.”
One of the most enlightening on-stage discussions was the AFEM panel ‘Getting It Right the First Time.’ Kurosh Nasseri, attorney and manager of Paul Van Dyk; James Grant, manager of Above & Beyond; Matt Rodriguez, vp West Coast, AM Only; Robb Harker, CEO at Supermodified Agency; and Zho were panelists in a discussion moderated by Mark Lawrence, CEO of AFEM.
Grant noted that artists have to use Chinese social media. “The basic thing is to have a following in China, which artists aren’t doing. Get content up on Youkou, Tencent.” Robb Harker suggested the must-dos for China included focusing on keeping the EDM growth sustainable and creating local artists so fans feel they’re invested in the scene. Zho suggested Western artists should collaborate with local artists and use the local language as much as possible.
Nasseri told Billboard afterward: “All the standard music discovery channels don’t seem to work here, so there are huge challenges to overcome, but the market potential matches the enormity of the challenge.” Rodriguez commented to Billboard that “it’s a completely new and different landscape that doesn’t use the same mediums to penetrate, so [the problem is] adapting, knitting yourself to the market. He suggested the biggest takeaway from the conference was “this is just the beginning.”
The STORM festival, held in the center of Shanghai at Xuhui Bingjiang Greenspace, was a testament to what the executives at the conference were suggesting for market potential in China. The fest drew approximately 17,000 daily attendees and was headlined by Flo Rida, Skrillex, Tiesto, Above and Beyond, Blasterjaxx and Paul Oakenfold.
The crowd, approximately 85 percent Chinese and 15 percent expat, fomented an energy and enthusiasm that would please any festival director, and this despite a second day which brought near-constant rain.
Paul Oakenfold summarized the two events, telling Billboard: “I’ve been coming to China for many, many years and electronic music scene just keeps getting bigger and bigger.”