The success of free music-streaming apps, slumping CD sales, changing tastes, and the lack of new blood are all contributing factors to the downward spiral of Cantopop in Hong Kong, say industry players.

By Terri Li and Jamie Leung

In the past, radio broadcasts andTV dictated the music exposure to the public. With the internet boom, music streaming platform such as YouTube, Apple Music and Spotify led the trend to meet people’s varied music tastes nowadays, said Colin Mak, a DJ from Commercial Radio.

“These platforms opened all sorts of music genres from different parts of the world for anyone to explore, and their listening experiences are no longer confined by the DJ,” Mak added.

According to International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (Hong Kong Group) Limited, the total revenue from CD sales has dropped
significantly from more than HK$9 million in 1995 to a range of HK$1.1
million to HK$1.4 million in 2015. IFPI covers the majority of record companies that protest copyright and import music for sale under licence in Hong Kong.

Sky Music, founded in 1990, offers music albums from Hong Kong, Japan,
Korea, and other overseas countries in Sino Centre, Mongkok – a popular
shopping place for music lovers.

Patrick Choi, the owner of an independent CD store, Sky Music, said that the sales figures had dropped since the 2000s due to a change of consumer motivation.

“Before the 2000s, people were likely to purchase an album as long as
they liked the music. Nowadays, there are only two major groups of consumers: die-hard fans purchasing all products from their idols, or the middle-aged working class looking for quality music,” said the music store owner.

He said the booming popularity of K-pop among students also contributed to the Cantopop decline, and recent sales figures were “too horrible to look at.”

K-pop took the lead in the world music Industry approximately from
2010, and continued to gain popularity among Hong Kong students, who are willing to spend money on CDs.

Fans would go to Sky music to buy the latest albums from singers.

“I purchase K-pop albums to support my idol. I’d like his work to be the top-seller. I am also buying more CDs to collect the card sets that come with each album,” said Leanne Ko Lok-yiu, a 20-year-old student who has listened to K-pop music since 2010.

Ko prefers K-pop over local music for the good-looking artists and glamorous stage designs of K-pop performances. She also said she saw more effort put into the music and dance moves from Korean artists, compared to the Hong Kong musicians.

Although many share Ko’s view and shifted their support and spending power towards Korean music, some Hongkongers have an alternative opinion. They see the efforts of local musicians and remain loyal to Cantopop music by purchasing CD albums.

“I buy music albums to send a message to the musicians. I want them to know the influence of their music on their fans from the sales figures,” said Mabel Chan Kit-ling, a 20-year-old who has more than 40 CDs at home.

She said that it took a lot of time, money and effort for a CD album to be made, and everyone in the production process deserved to get paid from the “not-too-high priced” of a CD. “You have to pay for your music,” she said.

A presentation on the improvement of Cantopop held by the Hong Kong Heritage Museum in Sha  Tin in 2008 showed that the record deals had dropped from HK$17 billion to HK$560 million from 1997 to 2007, and the local music industry has never recovered.

In the meantime, Cantopop fails to maintain its competitiveness due to a lack of new talents. Statistics show a 200% decline in new Cantopop singers in the industry from 2005 to 2015; only nine artists made their debut as Cantopop musicians in 2015.

Despite the challenges, local musicians continued their efforts and devotions to keep the industry alive.

Michael Lai Hiu-yeung, a young local singer-songwriter, released his second album in December. He explained that he made Cantonese music because it is his mother tongue and that it best expresses his thoughts and feelings. All of his songs are in Cantonese. He said,“Cantopop can touch people’s hearts. Hong Kong people should support our unique local culture.”

Musicians’ efforts are not good enough on their own. Good local music needs and deserves a platform to go liveand be recognized.

1563 at the East is a new live music revenue and restaurant that opened in 2016, and one of the co-founders, Vicky Fung Wing-Ki wanted something new to create room for local music. 1563 at the East dedicates 60 to 70% stage times to Cantonese music.

Fung wants her live music revenueto be a platform where audiences willbe exposed to a wide range of Cantopopgenres and learn to appreciate. She alsobelieves that performing live is crucial tothe development of any musicians.

“Cantopop is very important to our identity as Hongkongers. And there are many people, musicians, producers and staff working very hard to preserve our local music. Buying an album or simply joining us in our live performances will mean the world to us,” Fung said.


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