Music awards weather the pandemic

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Zheng Jun performs in Qingdao, Shandong province, in 2013. [Photo by Yu Fangping/for China Daily]

Milestone album

The fourth edition of the CMA also saw awards presented to rock singer-songwriter Zheng Jun, who won Male Singer of the Year, and Yu Kewei, who was Female Singer of the Year. Other key winners included pop star Jay Chou and pop-rock band Mayday's lead vocalist Ashin, both from Taiwan, who co-wrote Won't Cry, which was voted Song of the Year. Mr. Sea Turtle won the Band of the Year award.

Inside the Cable Temple, an album by indie band Omnipotent Youth Society, won Album of the Year award at the fifth edition of the CMA. It was the second album for the band, which was founded in 2002. Some 50,000 copies sold in just 21 minutes of the album being released online, grossing more than 1.1 million yuan ($174,130). Inside the Cable Temple is considered a milestone for a Chinese indie band.

The Song of the Year award at the fifth edition went to Tan Weiwei for Xiao Juan, which highlights the plight of women experiencing violence and abuse. Tan also won the Female Singer of the Year award. Xue Zhiqian was Male Singer of the Year, while the Best Jazz Instrumental Album award went to 21-year-old pianist Abu, who released his third album, One Step East, last year. The song Teen Spirit, written and performed by Jiulian Zhenren, a four-piece rock band from Guangdong province, won the Best Rock Single and Best Lyrics awards.

Xu Yi, president of the CMIC Music Awards Committee, said: "What matters to us is that we need to ensure equality, authenticity and variety. These awards truly represent the music scene in China. Although we can no longer celebrate together at galas like we used to each year, we are very proud to carry these awards on, which has not been easy."

Since the fourth and fifth editions of the awards were held at the same time, the committee members worked tirelessly to determine the winners. This process, which started on Nov 17, began with hundreds of record companies, music studios and independent musicians submitting entries, covering 752 albums and 2,408 singles. The entries were then verified for eligibility and category placement.

A total of 100 judges on the CMIC Music Awards Committee and more than 100 members of the China Music Industry Committee from record labels and distributors took part in the voting process.

Before the awards were officially launched, Xu and his friends, including Song Ke and Jonathan Lee-all of them central figures in the development of the nation's music industry-spent a long time working on the rules and guidelines.

They studied how prestigious events such as the Grammys and the BRIT Awards operate. They then formed a jury panel consisting of nine influential figures in the music industry, including record company owners, conductors, songwriters, producers and sound engineers. Each jury member then selected 10 people from their own fields as consultants.

The voting process involved several rounds of discussion and was monitored by a professional audit company. The results were announced by the CMA Committee.

Xu had long dreamed of launching music awards. He has worked in the industry for three decades and was CEO of Sony Music Entertainment China before becoming president and CEO of Taihe Music Group.

"There are many music awards in China. They have nearly everything, such as celebrities, screaming fans and generous sponsors, but no music. They are pure entertainment-just a showcase. It was a shame that we didn't have any awards to provide an accurate picture of the music scene," Xu said.

"We know that people in the industry are watching and waiting to see how far these awards can go. They have questions and doubts. The awards are still very young and are growing. Our original and ultimate goal of presenting music awards for the sake of music will never change."

Following the rules

To ensure equality, Xu withdrew from the judging panel for the fourth and fifth editions of the awards, inviting two veterans from the nation's music scene, Zhan Hua and Tan Yizhe, to act as conveners.

Zhan, who directed the first three ceremonies for the awards and was among the first group of people to join the CMA committee, said, "Our job was to keep the voting process going and to stick to the rules.

"Judging by the results from these two editions of the awards, we can see that the music scene-from pop to rock, from indie musicians to record companies-is vibrant, although the industry has been heavily affected by the pandemic. Some of these works have achieved both commercial success and critical acclaim, which is a good sign."

Zhan said the awards also recognize independent artists-with many of them sharing their original material online to appeal to a large number of users.

"One of the nine jurors now gathers leaders from music communities at top Chinese universities to act as voting consultants, injecting new blood into the awards. We are happy to see these changes, which will ensure that the awards are long-lived," Zhan said.

Xu's dream and determination are shared by Song Ke, the former head of Warner Music China and now CEO of Live Nation China.

A key figure in the music industry, Song announced in 2012 that he was quitting the business to run a roast duck restaurant, shocking many people and making headlines.

Due to rampant online piracy in the early 2000s, record companies did not consider it worthwhile to release albums, turning instead to managing artists' performances and also to advertising for their main sources of revenue.

It took several years for the industry to recover from decline. In 2015, a notice was issued by the National Copyright Administration, stipulating that online music delivery platforms must remove all unauthorized songs-a key move in the fight against widespread piracy in the industry.

Song said: "We want to recognize talented people in the music industry and encourage young musicians. More important, we want to regain our industry's dignity. We want to honor the arts and the artists for what they have created, whether they are commercially successful or not. We even considered not having galas. We attach the same amount of pride and honor in announcing the winners in a small restaurant."

He added that he was happy to meet the winners of the fourth and fifth editions of the awards, which allowed him to get to know more new artists.

"The pandemic has been devastating for the music scene, especially for live music, but we are glad to see there has been no reduction in the number of new works," Song said. "I was provided with a list for the fourth and fifth editions, because some of the songs were new to me and also to audiences."

According to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, China rose to sixth place in the world's largest music markets last year.

Xu, who said the nation is expected to enter the top five, added: "Many young artists are releasing new songs every day. These awards offer them a platform and set standards."

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