How East Goes Global is turning US and UK artists into social media stars in China

Andrew Spalter

When it comes to total internet users, social media users, and music streaming users… China upstages the US in all three categories.

By way of comparison, the US has an estimated 312 internet million users.

China has more than 900m, 897m of which are mobile users, according to a report by the South China Morning Post published in April.

Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, has 400 million daily active users in China alone, compared TikTok’s 100m in the US.

And in China’s music streaming sector, Tencent Music Entertainment (TME) – owner of QQ Music, Kugou and Kuwo – ended Q3 2020 with 646m Monthly Active Mobile Users of its online music services.

With such a gargantuan total addressable market, and with social media platforms like Twitter, Instagram and Facebook unaccessible in China, how, as a US artist, do you grow a fanbase online in the country?

It’s a question that Los-Angeles-born social media and DSP-management company East Goes Global claims to have answered.

The company aims to bridge the social media gap between the US and China, and is led by its 27-year-old founder and CEO Andrew Spalter.

Spalter started working with British pop star Jessie J when at management firm MDDN. He ended up living in China for four months in 2018 during the filming of the market’s TV contest show Singer, which Jessie J ultimately won.

Spalter explains that while he was working on the show, he realized there was a massive disconnect between the entertainment and social media industries in the west and in China – and he decided to do something about it.

His company East Goes Global now offers account launch and verification, management and marketing across social media platforms like Weibo, WeChat, Bilibili and Douyin, and on music streaming platforms like Tencent Music Entertainment-owned QQ and Kugou Music, as well as NetEase Music.

“We’re not saying you’re going to be a superstar overnight, but people should absolutely start working this space and ultimately turn it into a thriving business.”

Andrew Spalter

Just two years after its inception, East Goes Global has secured over 30 million followers in China for some of the biggest stars in the Western world. As such, it has developed social brands for the likes of Will Smith, DJ Snake, Cloud9, Bonnie Clyde Eyewear, Nicky Jam, Omar Apollo, Yungblud, Jessie J, Bobby Berk and several others.

“We’re working with influencers, models, brands, artists, actors, celebrities, you name it,” says Spalter. “Anyone with a digital influence or anything with a digital influence.”

One case study offered by the company took place earlier year, where, through East Goes Global’s social initiatives, in conjunction with Universal Music Group, British artist Yungblud performed a livestream on QQ. This attracted over 223,000 viewers and was promoted to QQ’s 800m users, despite Yungblud having never toured in China.

“It’s phenomenal to see the size and the scale of who is actively looking to work this market,” adds Spalter. “Big or small, there is a market for everyone. We’re not saying you’re going to be a superstar overnight, but people should absolutely start working this space and ultimately turn it into a thriving business.”

Here, Spalter tells us about why he started East Goes Global, how the company grows online fanbases in China for US-based brands and artists and why artists without an online presence there are missing a big opportunity…

You started working with Joel and Benji Madden from Good Charlotte and then you ended up living in China for a bit. Tell us about how that journey ended up with you starting East Goes Global?

I worked my way up and started managing a few of their artists on a day to day TM level. Eventually I became close to Jessie J and she was going to be on this TV show in China called Singer. I moved out there for about four months to a city called Changsha, which is primarily known as a car manufacturing city. There’s 8 million people. It’s huge and very valuable to the economy, but it’s one that kind of flies under the radar. They have this massive TV and film studio out there with Hunan TV.

When we got there. I was like, “Why aren’t things like Instagram working?” I was so oblivious, truthfully. Had you never toured through Asia, or had you never been told or read about or asked around, it just became one of those things that people just don’t really know. So things like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Google, Reddit, Spotify, Netflix, everything wasn’t working.

I was like, “How is the western world connecting with the China market?” How are artists being promoted out here? How is it working? And sure enough, there’s platforms like Weibo, and WeChat, Bilibili and Douyin. Different platforms that a good majority of the population in the western world hasn’t heard of, but in China they have hundreds of millions of active users.

Jessie J won the show and once it wrapped up, I [flew] home and landed in the States. I just sat there like, “I think there’s a serious opportunity in this space. There are other teams that do what we do, but frankly, I’ve [since] hired those other teams. I’ve worked with those other teams.

No one was doing what we’re now able to do and at this scale. We preach knowledge rather than a lack thereof. That’s allowed us to scale at a massive level and especially being based in Los Angeles and having my feet on the ground in Shanghai as well.

It’s really allowed us to build the premier team in the space that’s helping on the social media manager, marketing level, ad spend level, and influencer campaigns. Another thing that we do really well is work very closely with the DSP partners in the market, alongside label teams. We’re not stepping on anyone’s toes or anything, we’re just making sure that releases get the best coverage that they can.

Tell us about the difference in scale of the user numbers on the platforms and how those numbers impact the results that you can get for the for the artists you work with?

Spotify is available in 100 countries, but what people don’t tend to realize is that 90% of the time if they’re landing [a single] on a new music Friday playlist or Pop Rising, it’s not like the New Music Friday is the same [in the US] as it is in the UK.

When you look at that scale, and you see that New Music Friday in the US is 3 million followers to the playlist, that’s .000003% of the world’s population. So is this truly a global push? Is it a global act? Is it a global success? A lot of the time that answer is no, because it’s so localized.

QQ Music, one of [Tencent Music’s] streaming channels, has 800m users. NetEase Cloud Music, their competitor, which is the newer, fresher, more engaged platform, has 600m users. Weibo, which is a social media channel has 500m users.

What a lot of people don’t realize is that it’s not only that we’re marketing to China, we’re marketing to Chinese people across the world who use these platforms to international students at UCLA, USC, NYU. Every school in the States [for example] has large international population.

where do you start when you take on an artist from the US to grow their profiles on social platforms or DSPs in China?

What we’re looking for is the overall engagement. Nine times out of 10, when they reach out, an artist here won’t have a Weibo account. They won’t have a Douyin account.  They aren’t verified artists on NetEase or QQ.

We work across some clients with millions of followers on these channels, whereas others when we’re jumping into a project, don’t even have a verified account. Looking at the breakdown of social media to DSP channels, all these different profiles [we ask], number one, “Do they have an account”?

If not, we then we move on to engagement. We see that, “Okay, this song has 10,000 comments under it, because you can comment on songs if you have a profile on the channel. That’s probably around 30 to 40 million streams if it has 10,000 comments on one song. That’s just an estimate based off of streaming reports that we’ve seen from other artists on our roster. Each comment is worth about 4,000 streams.

Then what we do is we look at engagement and we backtrack and go, “Ok, they have no channels, but the engagement is phenomenal. They’re doing well in China. They clearly have fans that are in China”.

Now it’s up to us to create those accounts, launch those accounts, manage those accounts, connect with the fans in a localized manner and localize the content. Depending on what people sign up for, we could subtitle videos, translate text posts, do playlist push, influencer campaigns ad spend campaigns. You name it.

What were the biggest challenges for you to get the company up and running in its early days in terms of relationships that you had to develop in China but also in terms of explaining to potential partners in the US what it was that you were doing?

When I first started the company, I wanted it to be more centric around Chinese artists, and developing them in America in the Western world. At the end of the day, that was my bread and butter, how to develop an artist in the West.

This was my first pitfall. The amount of Chinese artists that wanted to develop and start in a new market when they’re already so successful [in China], was relatively slim. The [number] who could write, sing, perform and travel at the drop of a hat, and write, sing and perform in English, I realized was very small.

Looking at the macro level, [I said], “Wait a minute. I was doing this and I was helping Jesse J develop in this market that was relatively new to me. I should be able to do this for other people in the States, managing these platforms and continuing to work these relationships. I fell in love with China. The people are so welcoming and nurturing and the culture overall is just one that’s very interesting to me. It’s not something that I used to deal with every day.

I built the website and the pitch deck. I reached out to a few close friends and said, “Hey, can I do this with your artists and see if we could  see if it develops so that I could have case studies. They were like, “Sure. Let’s do it, we have no idea what’s going on in that market”.

That was the initial launch. Then what happened was, I took to an artist manager Facebook page and a few different forums and places where I just simply sent around my website and said, “Hey, we do this work in China. I’m not sure if you even know what’s going on in that market, but we can help you navigate it”.

Almost immediately, I had 10 clients. It was almost overnight. This is no offence to any label, but they were like, “Hey. Our labels aren’t telling us what’s going on in China. They don’t know what’s going on in China. We’ve been never even heard of these platforms. How can we work together to make our artists big over there so that we can tour that market?”

It took two to three months, where we were at a point where we had 10 clients, a full on business. Within six months, it was when I had to bring on my first employee to help with bandwidth. Now, fast forward two years, we’re a team of seven, with an office in Shanghai and two people on the ground there.

Is it easier to grow followings for artists on platforms based in China on the basis of there being a greater number of active users on those platforms?

It depends on who you are as an artist. If you are a Justin Bieber, and you’ve never had a Weibo account, and you launched it tomorrow, I can almost guarantee you’re going to grow probably a million followers overnight.

But if you are a developing artist that has never worked the market and doesn’t have great engagement, it is definitely difficult to grow a following. If a Chinese artist decided to work the American market tomorrow, and they didn’t have a following here, chances of them coming over here and touring and working this space are slim. Chances of collaboration are slim.

With that said, it’s definitely difficult, but that’s where the beauty of ad-spend comes in and influencer campaigns, and playlisting and all that sort of stuff that really costs, compared to here in the States, fractions of a dollar.

What are your hopes or plans for the company over the next five years?

The goal is to scale. When I started I wanted this to be educational, and also available for everyone. I want [everyone] to have a Chinese social media channel. We’re developing something proprietary that’s going to be available for the masses, kind of this automated solution to our services.

But first and foremost, [we want] to market yourself and your artists and clients and your creative passions in that market. But then taking it a step further and looking at the macro of nine of the 10 brands that you have in your house, a lot of the stuff that you have sitting on your desk in your closet. They don’t have a China presence, nor do they know how to sell into the China market. And that’s something that we’re actively working to change.

We’ve on-boarded everyone from Shawn Mendes to Troye Sivan to Jeremy Zucker, to MXMToon and Imagine Dragons and all these big names. Artists that can sell 500-cap venues to artists that are selling arenas and stadiums. It’s interesting to start to see the paradigm shift.Music Business Worldwide

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