The news that Hong Kong-based Norman Cheng has decided to leave Gold Typhoon, the successful Independent Greater China-focused music company he founded over eight years ago to his partner Pacific Capital, has made many wonder about a number of things.

Does it signal the end of music companies in Asia- as we know it? Has Cheng “given up”? Has The Fat Lady sung? Is he finally off to spend more time at the track? After all, Norman Cheng has been “retiring” for over a decade. He is like the music world’s answer to Mark Twain and whose rumours of his death had been greatly exaggerated.

Apart from this somewhat expected move by Cheng,  it seems that everyone who owns a music company are doing their best to dump it to the highest bidder. Or even the lowest bidder as they look at taking a break from all the nonsense going on and wait until things start to add up and make sense once again.

Right now, too many people think they can first own and then run a music company and which is part of the reason why the music industry is down the crapper. Who mentioned Guy Hands and Terra Firma?

Norman Cheng is a savvy businessman. I should know as we have sailed through many calm and rough seas together as music executives and colleagues.

He is a former musician and with- next to his family [his son is actor-director-singer Ronald Cheng, pictured below]- music being the thing closest to his heart though the past few years this has taken a backseat role to be Chairman and CEO of his Gold Typhoon entertainment company.

He played guitar with Hong Kong’s top pop band- Teddy Robin and the Playboys-  he played session guitar while running PolyGram and where he signed up such iconic talent as the late Chinese diva Teresa Teng, Canto-Rock pioneer Sam Hui, singers Jacky Cheung, Alan Tam, Leon Lai and was the first music executive to have Cantonese singers crossover to the far more lucrative China market by recording in Mandarin. And that’s been four decades of work.

What will happen to Gold Typhoon without Cheng at its helm- the first and only Chinese music executive to run a major label- and three of them- PolyGram, Universal Music and EMI in Asia- and whose job responsibilities included the mind-numbingly difficult Japan market? Time will tell.

If the baton has been passed- and it has- to the high-profile Louis Pong, head of Pacific Capital Asia, will this see a changing of the guard and a change in the “business model”? Of course, it will.

Louis Pong is “new school”, he doesn’t come from a music background, he is no dummy and Pacific Capital has already invested in acquiring Elite Models in China, apparently one more modeling agency in Hong Kong and a television channel in China plus a new female CEO about to be named.

What does all this mean? The tail wagging the dog of a music company that now becomes somewhat of the Ugly Stepsister to the more glamourous world of fashion and models? A television channel that will bring fashion, sponsors and music together? Perhaps. Why not?

More and more, music companies are simply not looking “sexy” or “expensive” enough to many- some of whom who even invested in them thinking, well, you’ve got me there. What were they thinking? And so they have tried and continue to try to make a lemon look like a mango and taste like a banana.

It’s a “mutant thing”, it’s all about the money and, at the moment, music companies yield nickel and dime returns to those who might have been expecting to share those halcyon days when us music executives flew First Class, rubbed shoulders and other body parts with stars and bought bottles of champagne for the entire bar- courtesy of the recording company. My, how times have changed.

I was speaking with a Hong Kong musician a few days ago and was startled and yet gloomily “impressed” by his cock-eyed outlook and future for his band and which is to continue being “indie”, and with no regard for making money and with some obtuse ideas on how consumers will pay for a product by a completely unknown band- and from Hong Kong. It was pure drivel.

As I listened and nodded off, it made me realize how little people know, or wish to face the realities of life- especially life in the music world which, right now, is on a drip.

A few hours later, I met an ex-colleague from EMI who had just discovered the “opportunities” of music companies being on Facebook and then regaled me with stories of “data bases” and “friends” and other information be must have got from watching “The Social Network”.

The truth is no one knows for sure about anything- and in any industry.

There really isn’t a “music industry” -per se- anymore: It is now something completely different and maybe we should run a competition to find out what it should be called. The Mutant Industry? The Not-So-Black-and White Industry? The “Wuz Happenin’?” Industry? Industry Lost? Industry Devalued? Industry Broke?

There is, at the moment, the entertainment value of shows like “American Idol” and “The X Factor” and “Got To Dance”, but many confuse all this with the music industry.

This “music industry” is only in the business of releasing, well, music, whereas the artists use this music to pimp their brands, other people’s brands and then tour. But even touring doesn’t work for all and “touring” is another changing animal.

The dream of the 360 Degree Model never happened no matter what anyone says as this could have only- maybe- worked with A List acts. But, these acts were smarter than the music executives .They realized they could have it all by setting up their own marketing and management companies and kicked out the hands that once fed them.

So, what we have right now are the big artists getting bigger- what more can U2 do when it comes to ‘live’ performances? Implode onstage? – investors and promoters only interested in backing them, and the really big sponsors with the really big money also only wanting them.

Hey, it’s the economy, stupid, and who wishes to be a risk-taker when dealing with money?

It has all come down to quick fixes and quick returns and the bulk of the new artists having their heads buried in the sand and happy to be thirty and fortysomething “indies”. An “indie” is like a “consultant”. Someone without a steady job and income.

Wake up, ferkryingoutloud! There is nothing wrong in making money! Suffering for one’s “art” ended when Van Gogh cut off his ear.

As for Norman Cheng, he has “retired” a few times before, so I would rule out the idea of him riding off into the sunset to breed horses- though he really doesn’t need a “job” as he is certainly not short of a quid.

No, again, with the “music industry” in a holding pattern and with everyone running around like headless chickens, the odds are that he’ll take things easy, wait to see who is left standing when the referee blows that whistle and will be back in some new incarnation of an industry that is no longer a music industry though the power of music will always stay.

We live in interesting times. And changing times.

  1. Mo says:

    The 360 model was bound to fail because the record cos waited too long to react to change. Its simple; why would you as a successful act give all your rights to a co which is responsible for 20% (or less) of your income? wont you hand it over to either your manager/concert promoter who are responsible for 80% of your income instead of your record label?

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