Universal Music China Plans Major Expansion of Local Recording Operations

Universal Music Greater China, part of Universal Music Group, has unveiled plans to significantly expand its recorded music activities in the Middle Kingdom. It aims to create a multi-label structure, intensify its focus on local artists and repertoire activities and local-language artists.

Universal Music Group is part of French media conglomerate Vivendi, which has been selling off large minority chunks of the business to international investors ahead of a planned IPO that could happen as early as next month. Chinese giant Tencent and its own offshoot Tencent Music Entertainment own 20% of Universal Music Group.

UMGC will establishment Republic Records China, EMI China, PolyGram Records China and Universal Music China as distinct label brands. Each label will operate independently with its own dedicated artist rosters, A&R and specialist marketing teams and report to Sunny Chang, chairman & CEO of UMGC.

“After 15 years of development in the local market, Universal Music is once again demonstrating its commitment to the Chinese creative community by becoming the first international major music company to launch multilabel operations here,” said Chang in a prepared statement.

“Under the new structure of four distinct labels, the star team at UMGC will be able to better support local musicians in a way that is more professional and comprehensive.  With an innovative and pioneering spirit, UMGC will develop rising stars from the Chinese market and promote Chinese pop music so that it can be heard an audience around the world.”

The new Republic Records China label will be built with the same blueprint and ethos as its Republic Record label in the U.S., which represents Taylor Swift; Ariana Grande; Drake; The Weeknd; and Post Malone. It will be headed by veteran executive Tony Wen and will focus on signing and developing “the next generation of Chinese music and C-pop talent from Mainland China, with a view to reaching a global audience.” No names were revealed.

Universal Music China will be relaunched as a newly shaped label division under the MD Garand Wu. It will represent Chinese talent including the two biggest selling breakthrough artists of 2020, Li Nong Chen and Sunnee, alongside Guo Ding, Tanya Chua, and Tifa Chen.

The UMC label will also continue to represent UMG’s international artist repertoire, including Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande, Billie Eilish, Katy Perry; Lady Gaga; Maroon 5, and Troye Sivan.

The UMC label will also house music and artists from the Deutsche Grammophon and Decca labels; leading Chinese classical talent such as Lang Lang, Yuja Wang, Xuefei Yang, Gina Alice, Chengyu Cai, Tao Wang, the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra, and Maestro Long Yu. UMC is also home to the Magic Muses label, dedicated to film soundtracks and scores.

EMI China will be relaunched under Mei Yeh, who will also continue to serve as MD, Universal Music Taiwan. It will focus on developing new talent, alongside an existing artist roster that already includes the likes of aMei, Rainie Yang and Eve Ai.

Polygram Records China will relaunch under Duncan Wong, who will also continue to serve as MD, Universal Music Hong Kong. With a focus that straddles mainland Chinese music and PolyGram’s roots in Cantopop, the label will feature artists including Alan Tam, Priscilla Chan, Lowell Lo, Kelly Chen, AGA, Gin Lee, Jace Chan, Gary Chiu, Mike Tsang and Niu Niu.

The moves come at a turbulent time for the music industry in China as it comes under increasing regulatory scrutiny. Regulators recently announced that national security concerns would be introduced into the censorship mix and that illegal songs are to be stripped from karaoke venues.

Anti-trust regulators also recently ordered an end to Tencent Music Entertainment’s domination of the music streaming scene. Among other things, that means a halt to the signing of exclusive deals between major international music suppliers and Tencent’s platforms. In August 2020, UMG signed content licensing agreements with rivals Tencent Music and NetEase Cloud Music.

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