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August 22, 2017

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China wanted music awards with legitimacy, so it looked to Taiwan

In 2014, Song Ke was appointed chairman of the China Music Industry Committee, a nonprofit, which has more than 100 members belonging to record labels and distributors.

That year, Song turned 50.

"When you're 50, you still dream and want to do something that can be your legacy," says Song, the former head of Warner Music China and now the CEO of Ali Music Group, a division of e-commerce giant Alibaba.

Over the past three years, he has led the committee's discussions on recording copyright issues and promoted the government's regulations on them.

But it seems that has not satisfied him.

Being a central figure in the development of China's music industry for more than two decades, the dream he harbored for years was establishing authoritative awards for China's music industry.

On July 20, he realized his dream when he hosted the first CMIC Music Awards, honoring the best achievements of the preceding year in 32 award categories.

"We want to recognize talented people in the music industry and encourage young musicians. And most importantly, we can finally regain our industry's dignity, which we have lost," Song said onstage during the awards ceremony in Beijing.

"We have many music awards in China now, which have celebrities, screaming fans and generous sponsors. But it's more about entertainment. They have nothing to do with music," Song said. "It's time to have awards just for the sake of the music."

That night, Hong Kong singer Sandy Lam Yik-lin was awarded the best female vocalist and Hong Kong singer-songwriter Khalil Fong won the best male vocalist award. Pianist Lang Lang's "New York Rhapsody" won the award for the best classical album.

Other award winners included Taiwan pop star Jay Chou, Beijing-based folk singer-songwriter Zhao Lei and Shanghai Rainbow Indoor Chorus.

"It's the first music award we've received. It's great encouragement for a new singer," says Xia Wenjing, the agent of folk singer-songwriter Chen Hongyu who won the best new artist award.

In the early 2000s, due to rampant online piracy, record companies considered it not worthwhile to release albums, and they turned instead to managing artists' performances and advertising as their main source of revenue.

Song even left the industry to open a restaurant since "people are willing to pay for their food but not the music they listen to".

But now it's the right time to launch the award, he says.

"The music market has improved thanks to technology and new government policies," Song says.

According to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry Global Music Report 2017, recorded music revenue grew 20.3 percent in China last year, driven by a 30.6 percent rise in streaming revenues.

In the last three years, Song attended the Grammy Awards and Taiwan's Golden Melody Awards, which enabled him to learn how those awards were run.

Xu Yi, the former CEO of Sony Music Entertainment China, was unanimously voted president of the CMIC Music Awards Committee in March.

Although Xu and Song are longtime friends, they were also competitors in the music market. Now they are cooperating for the first time. Song is in charge of the award's business management while Xu takes care of the voting procedures.

"It was really a tough job because no one has ever done it before in China," says Xu, who invited veteran Taiwanese songwriter and producer Jonathan Lee to be the chief consultant.

"What we needed was a music award that was fair and had authority."

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