Jeroen den Hengst and Zip Records: selling jazz music to the Chinese fans

3/28/2018 2:21:04 PM

Launching international jazz artists in China is a challenging enterprise – but Jeroen den Hengst is determined to succeed. As the Artists & Repertoire Manager of ZIP Records, based in San Francisco and Amsterdam, Jeroen is carefully planning the market entry of the label’s artists, such as jazz singer Monique Klemann. As he is making progress, he learns that the Chinese music and entertainment industry has its do’s and don’ts. Next step: a China tour!

As the Chinese consumer market is developing, so is the appetite for good music. Jazz music, for example, has a small but firm and growing fan base, particularly in large cities like Shanghai. While many middle and upper class Chinese consumers discover different international music styles, clubs that offer live performances of local and international artists attract growing audiences.

A crowd in JZ jazz club

One day in October, Dutch jazz singer Monique Klemann (Jeroen’s wife, also known from the popular ‘Loïs Lane’ band) drew quite a crowd in Shanghai’s JZ jazz club. She performed songs from her new album that was partly produced with the Chinese market in mind. She performed on of the tracks - ‘Coool’ – with her Chinese partner Coco Zhao. “The audience was ecstatic, as they sang the mandarin version”, says ZIP Records’ A&R Manager Jeroen den Hengst. “It was a particularly nice experience, and a great way to connect to local jazz fans”, he recalls.

The performance at the club was part of a small tour in China, that also involved playing at a festival. “It was an opportunity to get to know the local scene and vibe. It taught us that there is definitely a market for us for jazz and for the Zip Records label.” This first experience led to the decision to take further, bolder steps to launch the label that also features hip-hop, funk, singer-songwriter, world, guitar pop, punk, rock, Afro/beat and electro artists. 

Jazz niche market in China

To Jeroen, exploring the Chinese market is not entirely a step into the unknown. “As a sinologist, I have always had a great interest in all things Chinese. Speaking mandarin is a great advantage when dealing with local management, PR officers and promotors.”

In China, jazz is definitely a niche market. In a music market that is dominated by Korean and Chinese teenage K-pop music, we also see an audience that is curious about other music styles. I would describe this audience as well-educated, with money to spend and middle class. This is the market we want to tap into. First by connecting to them in the many up-market clubs in Shanghai, Beijing and other cities. The key thing to understand: we need to work with the curiosity. Many know a little bit about jazz and are curious about new artists.”

Touring is essential

Tapping into this market requires a lot of effort, Jeroen knows. “First: you need to be there, visible and tangible, as often as possible. Touring China’s jazz scene is essential. We have plans for a second tour in spring 2018. We are putting together a group of jazz, soul and pop artists from Zip Label, with a band, th at will most certainly attract a lot of attention in Shanghai’s French Quarter clubs. In this area, there are lively venues like JZ and Heyday Vintage Jazz Lounge; in other areas, venues like The Wooden Box, a café that offers light live music like folk and jazz most evenings, are extremely popular.” The ideal tour that Jeroen and Zip Records have in mind, would most certainly involve locally popular artists like Coco Zhao.

Buzz on QQ and Xiami

The chances of success also depend in finding local representatives that know their way around the scene. “As said, drawing attention is essential. We need people that know how to bring our Zip Records artists and the music to attention of the audience. Experts that know how to create a buzz, every day, every week. Sharing info about an artist’s past, new tracks, old track that are almost forgotten, anything that helps to stir things up. We need to work China’s massive streaming services – the Spotify’s of China – like QQ and Xiami. Each click gives only small revenues, but once a song or artist becomes more popular, the number of clicks can grow quickly. Particularly in China, social media are the gateway to large audiences. Airplay on local radio stations is another key to success. We invested in getting to know influential DJ’s at popular jazz stations, that offer airplay.”

“Coool” will probably not be the last jazz song that Monique and Coco will sing in Mandarin. “Chinese-language jazz is a great way to connect to local fans. Once the plans for the tour are rock-solid, we need to see what we can do to follow up on this. Mandarin-language songs go straight into the heart of our audience. In that respect, selling jazz music is not much different from selling any product to the Chinese: make the connection and you are in business.”

Interested in Zip Records’ China Tour, want to contribute in any way? Email Jeroen den Hengst.

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