Have you tried to listen to C-Pop songs but are unsure where to find them? Have you just moved to China and are wondering which local services to use? Here is your comprehensive guide to the most popular Chinese music streaming platforms.
While you’re probably familiar with western music platforms, you may have not heard names like Kugou Music, QQ Music, Kuwo Music, NetEase Music and Xiami Music. These are the top Chinese music streaming services by monthly active users, according to Soundcharts.
These platforms enjoy a huge market in the world’s most populous country. Some of the services, such as Kugou and Kuwo (founded in 2003 and 2005, respectively) launched before Spotify (in 2006). As the local government is putting out more and more efforts into copyright protection, the Chinese music industry has had major changes. Since the late 2000s, these streaming services have gone from fledgling platforms full of piracy to up-and-coming music empires.
Although Chinese music streaming services are not perfect yet, they may be more advanced than you think. They have many unique features compared to their western counterparts. Calling them “the Spotify or Apple Music of China” would be far from the truth. So, what are their features? And how to choose between them?
QQ Music, Kugou Music and Kuwo Music
While these are three separate platforms, they are all owned by the same company: Tencent Music Entertainment Group (TME). These three platforms are similar in the size of their music catalogs, pricing strategies and features. Thanks to its financial resources, TME secured deals with major copyright owners like Universal, Sony and Warner. As a result, they together enjoy a large music catalog that covers most mainstream songs.
The core concept of these platforms is close to that of WeChat, another star product by Tencent. They are the “super” apps, not limited to simple music streaming services. They all double as social media websites, music video platforms, karaoke sites, music blogs, ticketing sites and live streaming services. You can comment under each song, interact with musicians and influencers, sing along using the in-app karaoke feature and watch music videos.
Among the three platforms, Kugou Music focuses the most on user-generated content. Besides regular music services, it emphasizes live streaming and in-app karaoke. It features grassroots talents. It also has an innovative “ViPER” feature. The collection of audio effects allows fans to enjoy high-quality sound without professional equipment.
QQ Music focuses on professional content, letting musicians and music influencers set the trends. It has many impressive editorial playlists. Kuwo is somewhere between Kugou and QQ.
The three of them have the same pricing strategies. There are three tiers: free, premium (¥8/month) and all-inclusive (¥15/month). The free tier allows you to access limited content. The premium enables you to stream and download almost all songs. The all-inclusive has even better HIFI audio quality. They usually have subscription bundles or special discount deals with video streaming platforms such as Iqiyi, Bilibili and Tencent Video.
The three apps together make up more than 70% of the market share. They are now aggressively pushing the monetization process, meaning musicians benefit more. The Chinese music industry will soon have a healthier ecosystem.
NetEase Music (Available in English)
NetEase Music has been praised by young people who are interested in both mainstream and indie genres. Great covers and original music are much appreciated on this platform. Many independent musicians publish their music exclusively on NetEase. The platform's indie-music-friendly audience and its various support programs are undoubtedly attractive.
It was also one of the first services to use the “Daily Mix” feature. It presents algorithm-generated playlists for individual users based on their tastes. Although this feature has become a staple for every music platform, NetEase still surprises its users with its accurate algorithm.
NetEase Music is particularly famous for its high-quality fan engagement. Its users comment on songs and interact with each other as if they are on social media. Some of the comments are funny, while others evoke one’s innermost feelings. NetEase Music even had a campaign on the subway displaying some of the comments with most likes.
NetEase Music follows the standard freemium model. Compared to the TME platforms, you can listen to more songs for free on NetEase. The ¥8/month subscription package allows you to access the VIP music catalog, music download and high music quality. The ¥13/month “Vinyle VIP” package gives you extra perks such as an ad-free personalized interface and concert ticket discounts.
Xiami Music (Available in English)
Xiami Music has the most straightforward user interface among all these services. The carefully curated catalog has always had a special place among avid music fans who enjoy niche genres. Xiami has over 1000 genres, and it is the only service that categorizes music by subgenres. For example, under the Punk page, there are subgenres like Emo, Screamo and Gothic Rock. Additionally, it introduces fans to different labels by genres. This makes Xiamia a perfect place to learn about the nuts and bolts about a specific genre.
And yet, the biggest issue for Xiami is its small music catalog. It failed to achieve an agreement with major record companies due to the competition from other platforms. As a result, many songs on popular music charts such as the Billboard Top 100, Oricon Single Chart and UK Single Chart aren’t available. This sometimes causes frustration among Xiami fans.
Xiami’s pricing strategies aren’t much different than the ones of other services. It has two types of subscription plans besides the free tier. The ¥8 VIP package allows you to download 300 songs per month and enjoy SQ audio quality. The ¥12 SVIP package further includes MQA audio quality (wav/48.0Hz) and an extra 200 songs to download per month.
Since western streaming platforms don’t usually have a large C-Pop catalog, having a Chinese streaming service is great for exploring the latest hit songs. Have you decided which service is the best for you?
Before sticking to a particular platform, try out a few of them first. While all the platforms have a website and PC version, you would get the most experience with the mobile apps. For those who are considering subscription plans, the middle-tier plan regardless of platform should be enough for most users. Use the above comparison chart to help you decide!