With three studio albums to his name, singer-songwriter Li Ronghao is preparing for a new album and a nationwide tour this year. However, like many Chinese singer-songwriters, Li, who was born in Bengbu, East China's Anhui province, was struggling to have his music heard a few years ago.
"I wanted to know what people thought of my songs but I couldn't find any listeners, except for people I knew, such as my classmates and neighbors,' recalls Li, aged 32, who started learning guitar at the age of 9 and began writing songs in high school.
However, thanks to the internet, he was able to find his audience and rise from being an unknown indie singer-songwriter to a pop star.
The turning point in his fortunes was in 2014 when his debut album, Model, received four nominations and won the best new singer award at the 25th Golden Melody Awards, which are considered the Grammy Awards for the Mandarin-speaking music scene.
Li shared his story at a recent news conference for the Tencent Indie Musicians Project, a program launched by Tencent Music Entertainment Group, part of China's internet giant Tencent, aimed at supporting Chinese singer-songwriters.
The company has introduced an online platform, which offers a variety of services for new singer-songwriters, including releasing songs, arranging live shows and copyright protection of their material.
"We want to help talented singer-songwriters find a market for their songs while protecting their rights," says Helen Lo, strategic development manager of Tencent Music Entertainment Group.
Tencent Music Entertainment Group was founded in July last year as a leading online music service company in China, with the merger of three major online music streaming providers, QQ Music, KuGou and Kuwo.
There are more than 60,000 indie singer-songwriters registered on the six online music sites, and they have released more than 100,000 digital albums.
According to Cussion Pang, CEO of Tencent Music Entertainment Group, the domestic music scene is going through a revival, with a growing number of singer-songwriters emerging.
"The prevalence of various music social media platforms means it's now easier than ever for the indie singer-songwriters to reach listeners," Pang says.
One who has successfully done so is singer-songwriter Liu Ruiqi, who streams her live shows and interacts with her fans via one of the online music sites. Now, the 23-year-old singer-songwriter has more than 1.2 million fans online and is preparing for her first national tour.
"During the process of preparing (Tencent Indie Musicians Project), the numbers we found out were really shocking for us, which urged us to carry out the program and benefit those hard-working indie musicians," says Pang, adding that 60 percent of indie singer-songwriters in China make about 2,000 yuan (7) a month and 80 percent of indie singer-songwriters couldn't get their songs heard.
He also adds that the company is dedicated to enforcing IP protection in the music industry, a major issue when working with indie singer-songwriters.
Despite China's huge population, it has never ranked among the top 10 music markets, largely due to the rampant piracy. However, the rise of streaming means the potential of the Chinese music market is beginning to be tapped.
According to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry Global Music Report 2017, recorded music revenue grew 20.3 percent in China last year, driven by a 30.6 percent rise in streaming.
Major and independent labels from all over the world, are now working with local partners determined to create a legitimate business delivering quality services that reward artists and rights holders.
"It's important for us to be proactive in building a real economic ecosystem for digital music in China, and contributing to a healthy digital music landscape for independent musicians," Pang says.