Rise of online music

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Both new and well established local artists are being increasingly influenced by the emergence of the Internet as the preeminent market for promoting music


Runner-up of Vietnam Idol 2010 Van Mai Huong (R) with the mass success of her online video has given her the chance for sustainable fame. Below: Thai Trinh, still a high school student, provided further testimony to the power of the Internet when she shared her sweet voice in a cover of Australian singer Lenka's hit "The Show" on YouTube.

The second annual "Zing Music Awards" (ZMA), which wrapped up January 8, chooses nominees based on their online ratings, attracting nearly four million voters dedicated to the local online music industry.

As opposed to prestigious longstanding music awards like Lan Song Xanh (Blue wave) founded in 1997 and Cong Hien (Devotion) first organized in 2004, which were built for famous singers, ZMA nominees are often unknown to local music experts.

At the ZMA press conference held in November, journalists questioned some of the nominees like SMS band, Duong Hieu Nghia and Blue Duy Linh.

Oft heard comments included statements like, "I have never heard of him. What has he done for the music industry?"

In reality, nominated artists are adored by droves of netizens who have viewed and downloaded their songs and video clips millions of times.

The online music industry has gained official recognition from both the artists and experts as the future of music.

Noted music composer Duc Tri, who graduated from the world renowned Berklee College of Music (US) and now runs Music Faces, a local production company, said that he became a ZMA jury member to skirt the commercial imperatives of Vietnamese music, discover young singers and "to catch up with the digital era and public taste."

Music composer and producer Tuan Khanh, popular for his alternative rock hits, says that digital music will remain in vogue for some time. Khanh increased his fame through his role as a judge on Vietnam Idol in 2008 and 2009.

"Ten years ago, only ten percent of Vietnamese artists thought of posting their songs on the Internet. Nowadays, the boot is on the other foot as the Internet has become the main market. Not only have the lesser known singers, but also many famous ones have found the Internet a helpful tool in promoting their albums, instead of the long and daunting traditional format," Khanh said.

Singer Le Quyen, one of Vietnam's leading singers, remembers going unnoticed when she hit the town with pop sensation Ho Ngoc Ha. Formerly a top model, Ha turned to singing in 2005.

"Some fans came to me and asked me to take photos for them with Ha. They did not recognize me. This made me take a look back at my promotional images and the way to stand out within a crowded market," Quyen said.

Soon after, Quyen released a music video clip targeting the online market.

Well-known artists not only expose their established fans to their newest music, but also make the most of social media events to seek volunteers and dancers for live shows, and of course, increase their fan base.

Khanh also said that the exponential growth of the online music industry provides a springboard for artists to become millionaires or even billionaires from the shared and copyright profits.

Quang Chi, manager of Thuy Tien, who has become billionaire from selling her songs to websites and Internet services, said, "A singer's success can be based on only one hit on his or her whole album. Meanwhile, audiences will not spend money on an album for just one favorite song. Online music is now the global trend, not only in Vietnam."

The young artists are also jumping on the bandwagon.

It appears that "Vietnam Idol" 2010 was not the only launching pad for aspiring singer Van Mai Huong, runner-up of the contest. The 17-year-old singer's debut single featuring a vivid love song called Neu nhu anh den (If you come) with an acoustic guitar accompaniment, lit up the Internet with millions of viewings in just one month.

The mass success of her online video not only helped Huong surpass the popularity of Uyen Linh, the eventual winner of "Vietnam Idol" that season, but has given her the chance for sustainable fame.

The story of Thai Trinh, still a high school student, provided further testimony to the power of the Internet when she shared her sweet voice in a cover of Australian singer Lenka's hit "The Show" on YouTube. The attractive young singer has become a favorite at many urban bars and cabarets and has set the stage for a blooming career.

Ha Anh Tuan, a young singer of note, considers releasing songs online an effective way to fight against pirated CDs. Tuan made his project more profitable by charging fees for downloading his songs, despite Vietnamese audiences being accustomed to buckshee access to online music.

Double-edged sword

According to the 2011 Vietnam NetCitizens Report released in April, a study of more than 3,300 Internet users revealed that 78 percent of them listened to music online and 61 percent of them downloaded songs.

At present, Zing Mp3, which organizes the ZMA, tops the list of websites providing services relating to digital music in Vietnam, holding down 49 percent of the market. Music website nhaccuatui.com comes next with 17 percent, while nhacso.net has a 6 percent share. The three websites are the top choices for local singers looking to introduce their latest tracks or albums online.

According to Zing Me, one of the most popular entertainment websites in Vietnam, artists featured on their site average 28,000 followers. 22 among 330 singers have more than 100,000 admirers, drawing an average of 57 new fans each day.

In a conference about how social media affects singing careers, Tony Truong, head of the online marketing firm Golden Digital, said that the stars that have skyrocketed to fame as overnight Internet sensations can make a fortune based on their net-based notoriety.

Artists, who accumulate hundreds of thousands of followers on popular social networks such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, or MySpace, "will draw the attention of many advertising companies and brands. The star can pocket 10 dollars for each status within 140 words advertising about an item of the brand," Truong explained.

However, the fast and furious spread of the Internet has not had a singularly beneficial impact on the local music scene. It has also sowed seeds of disaster.

Songs and video clips with senseless lyrics and outrageous performances have sprung up like mushrooms. Gratuitous sex, graphic violence and sensationalized views of gender-bending (which further stigmatize the gay and lesbian community) have been featured disproportionately in free uploads, which the authorities have no way of thoroughly censoring.

These "disasters" often become hits purely because they represent curiosities, not quality productions, with singers taking advantage of risqué exploits to manufacture popularity.

Model turned singer Phi Thanh Van, who shot to fame with her stark confessions concerning plastic surgery and various love affairs, was heavily criticized for her song Da Nau (Brown skin), which contained only four mindless lines: "I have a wish; I have a desire; Brown skin, brown skin."

The song was listed one of the three most terrible songs of 2009.

However, Van paid no notice to the negative notoriety, releasing updated remixes of the song, in which she found a way to amplify its redundancy.

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