A Cambridge University Mathematics graduate and former Brand Consultant, Nikhil has always had a passion for building brands and communities - from his first clubnight as a teenager to consulting in brand strategy for clients such as Sky, Sony and Unilever. In 2010, he was a finalist in the British Council's search for UK creative entrepreneurs of the year and visited China as part of the Young Music Stream Trade Mission to find out about developments in the music sector there.
This trip was my first experience of a trade mission and it was fairly early on in my career as an entrepreneur. It was amazing. A full on, deep-dive into the Chinese market. I got to meet a lot of fascinating people from across different sectors of the music industry in China – from live to recorded to radio.
Visiting China for a week and coming back with such a depth of knowledge on the market - as well as great stories and new friends - was an awesome experience. Certainly not something I could have done without the help of the British Council – thanks for making it happen!
Growing my network
I made some useful relationships with both the fellow delegates and the folk we met in China, and many of us have continued to stay in touch. It was great to spend a week hanging out with the fellow UK delegates, including Ian from Songkick and Jack from FRUKT. We had time to get to know each other properly and build trusted bonds.
The group of delegates was pretty diverse, which had advantages and disadvantages. On the upside, we were all exposed to conversations about the varied areas of the music business and how they all play out in the Chinese market. E.g. I learned a lot about the live music sector in particular. The downside was of course the lack of focus and sitting in on discussions that weren’t relevant to my business. Overall I look back on the diversity of the trip as a positive factor.
The bits that stand out were the casual networking opportunities - hanging out with smart, interesting people over delicious Chinese food. Often stories are the best lessons.
The music industry – censorship, piracy, leapfrogging and the digital opportunity
Stories about the implications of politics on music were interesting and eye opening. When I was there in 2010, international artists who wanted to perform live in China had to go through a vigorous visa and checking process, with the Government translating and reading all their lyrics to ensure the artist didn’t have any “controversial” political views.
The cost and delay of this bureaucracy was a significant hurdle for local promoters. Major artists often weren’t allowed into China. This had a tangible impact on the sector, to the extent that even Live Nation were forced to pull out of the market.
As predicted, piracy is rife in China. To such an extent that something like 90% of all CDs are pirated. As a result, China never really had a proper recorded music market, and were forced to develop a very different “360” business model. As is often the case in emerging markets (e.g. mobile adoption), this was a case of China leapfrogging the west – where many music businesses are still trying to figure out how to reconfigure their business models for the digital economy.
“The business model for the record industry worldwide is moving toward resembling what we see in China today,” said Jay Berman, President of the IFPI.
Speaking of digital, as someone who runs a digital business, one of the key things I got out of the trip was the realisation that China’s not quite relevant for us yet as a market. There’s a developed online ecosystem which is very homogenous across most Western markets, but that ecosystem is completely different in China – instead of Google, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, they have the likes of Weibo, Youku, Baidu and Douban.
An international outlook
This trip to China helped me develop a more international outlook to my business. It made me appreciate the value of spending a few days getting to know different markets and the key players, even if our audiences there are small. If opportunities arise in these markets as our traffic grows or off the back of specific brand opportunities, we can scale up more quickly and leverage these contacts to execute more effectively on the ground.
When I was in China, we encountered a lot of Western people producing events with Western artists for Western audiences. I since saw the same in other emerging markets, India in particular. This is one thing I would like to see change: the expat markets working more closely with the local and national scenes, as well as a more healthy global export market. Countries like China and India have massive diaspora populations, ready and primed to consume their cultural exports.
The YCE network
The most important thing about being part of a global network of creative entrepreneurs is the simple idea of karma. As per the rules of any network, you only get out what you put in; so be ready to invest, as there’s a lot you can get out of it!
Connect with Nikhil @nikhilshah on Twitter and www.nikhilshah.me
For more information visit: http://mixcloud.com
Nikhil was one of the finalists of the UK YCE Music Award 2010.