Republic Records — home to pop superstars Taylor Swift, Ariana Grande and The Weeknd — is launching its first international division in China, as part of a broader strategic expansion by Universal Music Group in the rapidly expanding music market.
In creating Republic Records China, the world’s largest music company says it is also re-launching historical Chinese labels Polygram Records China and EMI China as “frontline labels” alongside Universal Music China.
The moves will reinforce Universal Music’s “commitment to accelerating and introducing the next wave of Chinese music talent to the world across a variety of genres,” the company says in a press release today, also noting it will be the first major label to establish multiple frontline label operations across mainland China.
Republic Records China will be based in Beijing and led by Tony Wen, a former music producer at Sony Music and executive at EE-Media, a Mandopop record label in Shanghai. He will report to Sunny Chang, the chairman and CEO of Universal Music Group China.
Universal Music’s strategic expansion comes as the growth of China’s streaming market is accelerating, and as China’s anti-trust regulator is cracking down on Chinese tech companies — including Tencent Music Entertainment and its parent Tencent Holdings — for monopolistic practices. In recent weeks, the regulator has leveled fines against the companies and ordered Tencent Music to cease its practice of forging exclusive multi-year deals to feature international catalogs from the major labels on its streaming platforms.
The regulatory action signals China’s intent to force a more level playing field for Tencent’s Chinese competitors, and a more competitive landscape for international companies like Universal.
Even before the regulatory action, Chinese streaming companies had been negotiating new deals with the major labels. Last August, Universal entered into content licensing agreements with both Tencent Music and NetEase Cloud Music. Sony Music and Warner Music have signed similar non-exclusive deals in recent months.
The more competitive landscape is providing even more incentive for the major labels to push deeper into China. Over the past five years, China’s recorded-music business has grown at an unparalleled pace: up 278% from $209.4 million in 2016 to $791.9 million in 2020, according to IFPI, with streaming accounting for 90.5% of last year’s revenue.
“This initiative recognizes the extraordinary growth in the Chinese marketplace, and its palpable influence, which has made a tremendous impact on our industry worldwide,” Monte Lipman, Republic’s chairman and CEO, says in a statement.
Republic Records China will sit alongside EMI China, PolyGram Records China and Universal Music China. Each will operate independently with their own dedicated artist rosters, A&R and specialist marketing teams. Universal hopes the new structure will accelerate the development of the “next wave of Chinese music talent to the world across a variety of genres,” the company says in a statement.
Universal Music China will be relaunched as a new label under the leadership of Garand Wu, Managing Director, Universal Music China. It will continue to represent UMG’s international artist repertoire, as well as domestic talent that includes breakthrough artists in 2020 like Taiwanese singer Li Nong Chen and Thai singer Sunnee.
The relaunched label will be home to China’s acclaimed classics and jazz division, which includes music and artists from the historic Deutsche Grammophon and Decca labels. UMC is also home to the Magic Muses label, China’s first label dedicated to film soundtracks and scores.
UMGC’s roster also includes Jacky Cheung, Eason Chan and Yanzi Sun. One talent that is no longer part of the label is Canadian-Chinese pop star-actor Kris Wu, whom Universal Music did not re-sign after Wu’s multi-year deal expired in March. Wu is currently in police custody in Beijing as part of an investigation into alleged sexual assaults by the singer.
EMI China, which has been part of China’s musical legacy for more than a century, will be led by Mei Yeh, who will also continue to serve as managing director, Universal Music Taiwan. The label’s new dedicated A&R and marketing team will be based in Beijing and report to Yeh.
Polygram Records China will relaunch under the leadership of Duncan Wong, who will also continue as managing director, Universal Music Hong Kong. The label will relaunch with a dedicated A&R and marketing team based in Beijing, alongside additional resources in Hong Kong.
Universal also operates offices in Shanghai, Guangzhou and Taipei.
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