It has been two years since China IP first interviewed Ludan Bone, president of Songba Cultural Co. Ltd. (Songba). Songba has been in China since 1994, during which time not only has the company grown but China’s copyright protection has gone from an idea to reality. Songba Cultural Development Co. Ltd. (Songba Music, or Songba Professional Background Music) is the sole authorized agency for Universal Music Publishing Group (UMPG) in Mainland China, as well as the exclusive legal copyright owner of music produced by UMPG. Songba Music library includes more than 20 internationally renowned music production companies and groups from a dozen countries, such as the U.S., Britain, Australia, France and Canada.
Songba Music library is updated each year with up to 30,000 new tracks and now encompasses about 500,000 pieces with a total running time of nearly 1,000,000 minutes. The music is suitable for all kinds of programs, from film and television dramas, to documentaries, news programs, previews and advertising videos, commercials and marketing films. There is also a wide selection designed for use in hotels and clubs, businesses, public institutions, and public places.
The background music used in The Third China IP Annual Forum organized by China IP magazine was from Songba. The company attracted our attention with its extremely meticulous music categories and professionalism. At the same time, we were curious to hear from Songba about how background music is made and used. With so many questions, China IP interviewed Ludan Bone two years ago to learn more about the situation of the background music as well as the development of Songba in China. China’s copyright protection has developed greatly in that time so China IP decided to check in again with the Songba president to hear about those changes from her perspective.
Changes of China’s copyright protection
China IP: Since the interview two years ago, what have been the important changes for you and Songba?
Ludan Bone: For me, it has been about meeting the changes with constancy and still striving for the ambitions that I have pursued for twenty years. Songba has witnessed fundamental changes, not only in the increased copyright awareness of our clients, but also in the nature of the business. For example, some clients have taken the initiative to work with us, which means a lot to Songba.
China IP: In the past two years, what have been the changes in China’s copyright protection environment?
Ludan Bone: There has been big progress in this area. There has been a big improvement in the payment system in terms of the way fees are collected from broadcasters by the Music Copyright Society of China and Songba. As a result, public broadcasting fees have gradually got on the right track. But, new issues have also arisen. In the past the users asked: “Why do I need to pay to use music?” Now they ask: “Since we have paid fees to the Music Copyright Society of China, why does Songba still charge?” All of the confusions come from some clients being unfamiliar with the complexities of copyright, including the recording rights, broadcasting rights and many other rights as well as the concrete regulations on the implementation and distribution of the rights. The system now in place for collecting fees for copyrighted music is already a big step forward. So we should keep having faith in the system.
Changes for Songba
China IP: What are the changes in Songba’s main clients? Will Songba change direction?
Ludan Bone: In addition to continuing with our previous work, Songba has most significantly adapted to the “digitalization of music,” which parallels the general direction of the Internet age. In the past, Songba would begin distributing a new batch of CDs one or two months after the music was approved by headquarters. But now, once headquarters gives the go-ahead, all the music can be downloaded instantly. Digitized music can also be altered over the Internet if necessary. Expanding digitalization is not always smooth, though, and it can be hard for broadcasters in some second and third tier cities to go down this path. That’s why Songba is continually trying to make the rollout of digital music easier and more attractive with incentives like discounts.
China IP: You mentioned before about the need to spread the word about copyright among music creators and clients. And now, Songba is promoting digital music through discounts. Does that make you more like a popularizer of copyright knowledge rather than the head of a business?
Ludan Bone: I am honored to be seen as an educator because I feel a responsibility to promote awareness and understanding of copyright protection. My great interest and deep love for music makes me pour all my faith and passion into it. It has been like raising a child — I started the copyrighted music market from nothing and did everything I could to ensure its development, so that it’s now an inseparable part of me. That’s why I am persistent even amid great uncertainty. With hard work, China’s copyright protection environment has greatly improved, especially in the field of digitalization of music. “Sunshine comes after the storm,” expresses my perspective perfectly.
The future direction
China IP: After surviving the copyright chaos phase of the Chinese market, what is Songba’s next goal?
Ludan Bone: The constant improvements in the Chinese market have provided increasing possibilities for the future of Songba. Compared with the previous, relatively conservative management, Songba now is planning to increase investment in advertising to create a better brand image for the enterprise. The more practical goal is to achieve a new breakthrough in terms of efficiency. The key for Songba’s further development at this moment is to open up and enter the market of charging for production music in China’s public places. Now Songba is doing well in broadcasting, TV, new media etc. But throughout the international production music industry, 70% to 80% of revenues come from charging for music used in public places, including clubs, shopping malls, airports, hotels and supermarkets. The issue has many aspects, including government, charging for music used in public places requires coordination of the interests of the various parties and better communication between government, copyright collective management organizations and industry representatives.
China IP: What do the improvements in copyright protection in China and greater copyright awareness among users mean for Songba?
Ludan Bone: They really mean a lot for Songba. The constant improvement of copyright legislation and protection is a great help for enterprises focused on production music. In return, the development of those enterprises will promote prosperity in the marketplace for Chinese culture.
China IP: What are the highlights and regrets you have over the last 20 years?
Ludan Bone: In terms of efficiency and profit, I feel I could have been a lot better as a leader. Songba has established a wonderful reputation and worked closely with CCTV, Guangdong TV, Anhui TV and others over the two decades. My persistence and efforts over the years have greatly paid off. Exploring New Destinations China IP: You have mentioned that it is your hope to introduce original Chinese music to the world. Is this the next focus for Songba? Ludan Bone: Songba is now working in this direction, but it takes time and patience. We still have issues we need to address and the willingness of composers impedes development to some degree. For instance, many composers are very worried about how they will be compensated for the use of their music. Songba is seeking better opportunities to develop original music. We expect to attract at least 200 composers to contribute work, and expand the proportion of new and folk music.
China IP: Do you plan to introduce this music to overseas markets?
Ludan Bone: Yes, that is one of my hopes. But there are still many difficulties and obstacles. Based on my years of experience, both quantity and guaranteed quality are necessary in order to take Chinese music abroad. To be honest, there is still a gap between China and other countries when it comes to advanced music— making techniques. So far, Songba’s ideas and methods for producing music have gained public attention but some of Songba’s music-producing techniques haven’t. For example, musicians outside China think the recording technology in China is not professional enough despite the use of specialized recording equipment. All such problems hinder Chinese music being used offshore. However, Songba is on its way to prosperity and we plan to grasp this opportunity, adapt it and develop strategies to keep up with the times to continue leading the development of the industry.
China IP: Once awareness is raised in China about copyright, and the good government and market conditions are in place, Songba will be unique in the field of production music. Will you have a sense of accomplishment then?
Ludan Bone: This is what Songba has desired for a long time. But in a sense, it is my wish that more people will come into this industry because competition helps foster good prospects. I have strong faith in Songba’s formidable strength: possessing music with international authority and good quality. There’s a saying that “one prospers in worries and hardships, and perishes in ease and comfort”. We take it to heart -- competition can be the driving force for Songba to constantly improve.
(Translated by Stella Yang)