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High-End Instruments Strike the Right Chord at Guangzhou Music Expo

Purveyors of high-end music instruments were most in tune with the market at this year's Guangzhou International Musical Instruments Exhibition, while there was also robust demand for digital tuition and classic Chinese musical items.

Photo: The high-end KF168: Very much the forte of Guangzhou-based Pearl Piano.
The high-end KF168: Very much the forte of Guangzhou-based Pearl Piano.
Photo: The high-end KF168: Very much the forte of Guangzhou-based Pearl Piano.
The high-end KF168: Very much the forte of Guangzhou-based Pearl Piano.

As is only to be expected, a wide-range of stringed, percussive and woodwind devices – both traditionally Chinese and intrinsically occidental – were on offer at this year's Guangzhou International Musical Instruments Exhibition. In terms of overall sentiment, meanwhile, it was widely felt that sales of mid- to high-end instruments were on the rise across the mainland – a development thought to be driven by higher disposable income levels – while instruments with novel features were increasingly popular, as were traditional Chinese musical items and music educational software.

In terms of the latter, Cui Xuechao, Channels Manager of Guangzhou Pearl Piano and Cultural Education Investment, predicted that music education products were set to drive instrument sales, ultimately boosting competition within the market. In line with this, his company was showcasing two music education software suites at the event – Hello Piano Lessons and Hello Ukulele.

Outlining the utility of these packages, Cui said: "These software products use animation to stimulate children's interest. Designed to be used by both teachers and students, they take a multimedia interactive teaching approach to cultivate students' ability when it comes to listening, singing, piano playing, reading music, appreciation and composition. Students can then learn the techniques of piano playing through the programmed games with the help of their teachers. These kind of tools, which combine fun and learning, have proven very popular with many parents.

"Competition in the mainland musical instrument market has moved into the arena of music education, with more and more instrument manufacturers now venturing into this area. From our point of view, we believe that this combination of software and hardware will certainly contribute to future instrument sales."

Taking a similar approach was Beijing RDEC Music Education Technology, which was promoting its Smart Interactive Guzheng Class range at the event. Explaining the company's current strategy, Yin Ling, Marketing Manager of its franchising operations, said RDEC was now co-operating with the Shanghai No. 1 National Musical Instruments Factory (and, in particular, its Dunhuang brand), with the latter supplying guzhengs (a kind of Chinese-style zither) for use with its teaching software.

Providing an update on the company's successes, Yin said: “We have now trained about one million students across the country. Our success has been down to the integration of our audio-visual-internet teaching approach with both smart hardware equipment and smart teaching software. It has been shown that our software, which contains all the information required to master the guzheng, considerably reduces the burden on teachers.

"The software has also proved useful when it comes to helping students pass grading tests. This is largely because all its content has been produced in consultation with music schools, music therapists, child education experts and music composers."

Photo: Making music: Manufacturing masterclass.
Making music: Manufacturing masterclass.
Photo: Making music: Manufacturing masterclass.
Making music: Manufacturing masterclass.
Photo: Interactive guzheng instruction.
Interactive guzheng instruction.
Photo: Interactive guzheng instruction.
Interactive guzheng instruction.

Mid- to High-End Musical Instruments

At this year's event, mid- to high-end musical instruments were largely seen as the star performers. Indeed, a substantial number of exhibitors saw considerable promise in this section of the market, believing it to be increasingly favoured by mainland consumers.

Clearly convinced of the allure of this particular market segment, Pearl Piano had chosen to showcase the decidedly upmarket KF168 Kaiserburg piano on its stand. This largely black instrument comes with a rectangular high-definition monitor set above the keyboard and a price tag of about RMB160,000 (US$24,000). In terms of functionality, it offers auto-play, remote control, recording recovery, multi-media entertainment, online learning capabilities and the ability to simulate the sounds of 128 different musical instruments. It also comes with 4K video support, with its 1080P HD camcorder capable of capturing every detail of a performance.

Another popular feature of the piano is its mute function. This ensures that, when headphones are connected, only the player can hear the instrument, enabling students to practice at home without disturbing other family members or neighbours.

Outlining the current level of demand in this segment, Cui said: "Sales of high-quality instruments are growing and consumers are becoming less price-sensitive. Basically, there is no need to worry about sales levels as long as the quality of the product is good. For our part, our pianos are sold both online and in-store. It's primarily the latter, however, as consumers are more inclined to purchase after a hands-on experience."

A similar take on the market was reported by the London-headquartered Germany Conrad Graf Musical Instruments Group, which had a number of mid- to high-end piano series on show on its stand. According to a company representative, Graf pianos are of a distinctly high quality, with imported models priced at about RMB200,000. He also confirmed that demand for upmarket instruments was definitely on the rise, with the company's high-end TE300 upright model currently the best-selling piano on JD.com, one of the largest B2C e-commerce sites in China.

Photo: A phantasmagoria of fantastic fiddles.
A phantasmagoria of fantastic fiddles.
Photo: A phantasmagoria of fantastic fiddles.
A phantasmagoria of fantastic fiddles.
Photo: Not hard to beat: A butterfly drum.
Not hard to beat: A butterfly drum.
Photo: Not hard to beat: A butterfly drum.
Not hard to beat: A butterfly drum.

Traditional Chinese / Special Musical Instruments

This year, the event featured a dedicated zone for both traditional Chinese and special musical instruments, an innovation that apparently considerably boosted footfall. The zone enjoyed particular support from clusters of exhibitors from Jiangsu, Henan, Hangzhou, Shandong, Yunnan and Gansu among others, creating something of an event-within-an-event feel and allowing a wide range of Chinese instruments – including the guzheng, guqin, yangqin and erhu – to be showcased.

Taking an overview of this subsector of the market, RDEC's Yin said: "The market for traditional Chinese musical instruments has enjoyed robust development over recent years. As a result, our Smart Interactive Guzheng Class is proving hugely popular at the moment."

Within the zone, a number of mainland businesses – including Jinzhou Best Quartz and Glass, Guangzhou Melody Musical Instruments and Lankao Jiaotong Musical Instruments – attracted considerable attention with their ranges of high-quality traditional Chinese instruments, as well as those with somewhat more exotic origins. In the case of the latter – Lankao Jiaotong – it had chosen to showcase its vintage guzheng series at this year's event.

Fashioned from weathered paulownia wood, with their soundboards crafted from a single piece of such timber, each instrument is degreased, dried and assembled by hand. Designed to incorporate a distinctly rustic simplicity, their traditional charm is said to have wooed many consumers.

Liaoning-based Best Quartz and Glass was most keen to promote its range of Himalaya Blessings butterfly drums, exquisite dish-shaped instruments said to be easily playable, even by those with no prior musical training. The African drums on offer from Melody Musical Instruments, meanwhile, were designed with children very much in mind. Fashioned solely from eco-friendly materials and said to require no tuning, their rhythmic tones were undeniably kid-friendly.

Photo: “I’ve never felt more like singing the blues…reds, greens, oranges, purples…”
“I've never felt more like singing the blues…reds, greens, oranges, purples…”
Photo: “I’ve never felt more like singing the blues…reds, greens, oranges, purples…”
“I've never felt more like singing the blues…reds, greens, oranges, purples…”

The 2019 Guangzhou International Musical Instruments Exhibition took place from 24-27 February at the China Import and Export Fair Complex. The event attracted more than 700 exhibitors.

Jian Wei, Special Correspondent, Guangzhou

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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