Ways to Find & Listen to Chinese Music Online

March 1, 2010 at 3:49 am (Advice, Chinese lyrics, Notes, Pinyin lyrics, Tech Tools)

Though many people visit this site looking for pinyin lyrics for songs they already know, I often get asked how or where to find new music, so much that I probably should have written this post long before now. I’m lucky enough to live in Taipei, where you’ve only got to walk past a row of stores to get a decent dose of new music. Still, I do find a lot of new music online, so it’s time I share a few ways to do that.

The Legit Ways

Free Online Radio

  • I recommend Hit FM, a popular Taiwanese station that is usually playing in all the convenience stores. You can choose from 3 streams from different regions in Taiwan, which aren’t always airing the same content. Here’s the link:  http://www.hitoradio.com/showtime/onair_2.php
  • Another radio station, KISSRadio, broadcasts from central & southern Taiwan. To access KISS online, visit http://kissradio.kiss.com.tw/index.php. The title & artist will be displayed in the bar at the top of the page.
  • Finally, there’s POP Radio. Based in Taipei, it has basically the same content as the other pop stations (and you’ll notice its pop-up radio player is identical to Hit FM’s). For POP Radio, visit http://www.pop917.com/ and click “線上收聽” near the top.

Problem: The Hit FM or POP Radio players do not display song titles (at least according to my configuration on Firefox). If you don’t already understand a little Chinese, you might not be able to catch enough lyrics to figure out what the songs are called.

Solution: Get Shazam immediately! Why haven’t you already? If you’ve never heard of it before, Shazam is an app that “listens” to songs, analyzes them, then reports back to you the name of the song and artist, and even gives you extra stuff like YouTube links. There are some similar apps out there, but I’ve found Shazam to be the best for handling Chinese (& practically any other language).  It’s now available on lots of mobile platforms and can even be linked with Facebook.


Music Charts

There are scores of music charts out there, and most are pretty easy to navigate even if you don’t read 漢字. Once you sort out which column is the artist (usually the 3-character one) and which is the title, all you need to do is copy and paste the song title into KKBOX to track down the lyrics or into YouTube to find a video. Here are a few charts to get you started:

If you’re not satisfied with these, you can also Google “新歌排行” and you’ll end up with links to plenty more charts.

Videos

  • One of the absolute simplest ways to find new music is through YouTube. It doesn’t matter what language you’re using YouTube in, I guarantee that if you search “KTV” on YouTube, you will immediately get results for Chinese karaoke videos. Furthermore, most of the results will be by Taiwanese singers and will contain traditional characters for the lyrics.If you’re looking for a specific song, just paste in the “Chinese title + KTV” and you’ll likely get the official KTV video. Not sure about the song’s name? Try the “singer’s name + KTV” with the artist’s English name or Chinese name (pinyin or characters) and you’ll find what you’re looking for. A little search finesse is all you need.
  • A more unusual way of discovering songs through videos is with iKala.TV. For those in the west who  love karaoke but have never heard of iKala, this website will be shockingly terrific. It’s so fantastic that I have a post in the works about using the site, and may post some of my own iKala content here on this blog later on. But I’m getting ahead of myself here. What is iKala, anyway?iKala is, in my opinion, like KTV+YouTube+Facebook+Hot-or-Not all mashed together. Users create profiles (see above), record themselves singing along to actual backing music from popular songs (w/ or w/o webcam), upload the tracks/videos, then let themselves be rated by the masses. There are even PK competitions (head-to-head voting). While a lot of folks in other countries might find this entire concept laughable, keep in mind that this site is tailor-made for KTV-obsessed Taiwan, where microphones probably outdo microwaves in annual household purchases.

    Now, of course, the vast majority of the singers are not quite ready for their own record deals, but that’s not the point. The benefit you can get from this is that you can see which songs are uploaded most often. If you want to check it out, just click around and you’ll see the site is not hard to navigate even with limited knowledge of Chinese. And if you’re really intense about your KTV and can handle Chinese well enough to join sites and make purchases, you can buy add-ons for your iKala channel or even goods like microphones & webcams.

  • Another site, which I rarely use unless I can’t find what I’m looking for elsewhere, is Youku.com. It’s a China-based YouTube clone that is good for finding songs by lesser-known Chinese artists and videos with simplified characters. It also hosts a lot of English movie/television content (full-length Hollywood movies, anyone?) that is hard to find in Asia, which is generally what I use it for.
  • A similar product that is reportedly the biggest streaming video site in the world now (5 times bigger than YouTube, they say) is TuDou.com. I once used TuDou to download mp3’s when I was first checking out Chinese music and didn’t want to invest my limited funds in CDs I knew nothing about. However, I believe the site has gone more membership-based these days (I say this from a brief glance around the site), so it seems the days of easy downloading are over.  Of course, that takes us into different territory, and that’s…

The Less-than-Legit Ways

If you really want to own your music so that you can take it on the road, the options for buying Chinese CDs are unfortunately limited, especially if you don’t live in a city with a large Chinese-speaking population. Though services like iTunes and Amazon.com do carry some Chinese tunes, they’re usually outrageously priced imports. Also, you generally only get to choose from the biggest commercial artists like Jay Chou or Wang Leehom. While these guys are great, basing your entire Chinese music collection on them is kind of like saying you like English music while you’ve only got a Justin Timberlake album. Contrary to popular belief, Chinese music has genres – from death metal to hip hop to a whole mess of bands reminiscent of Devo – not just commercial pop music.

A few more legal options

As a friend to a fairly large number of musicians who have put out albums, I still have to encourage you to do your best to go the legal route, particularly when you find an artist you really like. Downloading mp3’s online just to check them out is one thing, but loading up on an artist’s entire collection is just digital gluttony. This particularly goes for indie performers, who can’t even make up their lost CD sales with outrageously-priced concert tickets.

With this in mind, you can pick up some albums from YesAsia.com, though they’re still priced a little above Taiwan retail before shipping. YesAsia is one of the few English site with a decent selection, and they have Chinese-language movies, plus content from other countries as well. Another option for legal purchases is Taiwan 7-11’s website, Books.com.tw. The site requires Chinese reading comprehension to sign up and navigate, but sells at Taiwan prices. For instance, a quick comparison of Rainie Yang’s latest CD shows YesAsia selling the CD at about $6 USD above the Books.com.tw price (before shipping is added). In short, if your Chinese reading isn’t bad, check out Books.com.tw, but if you’re someone who only buys one or two albums at a time and/or you cannot read Chinese, go with YesAsia.

A last resort

If you simply can’t live with any of the solutions above, then you’re going to want to download Foxy, the client lots of Taiwanese folks use to get their free mp3’s. Foxy works just like all the English download clients out there, so you should be able to download and use it just fine even without much Chinese ability. (Experience with programs like Napster or MP3 Rocket helps.) The only glitch you might have is if you don’t have Chinese language support properly installed on your computer, since the Foxy menus are all in Chinese (they’ll look like “????????” if you don’t have Chinese installed). As with all download clients, you’ll want to be extra-careful about what you download, and make sure you have excellent antivirus software.

Final bits

Needless to say, there are countless other methods out there for finding Chinese music online, especially if you’ve got some Chinese reading ability already. Those listed above are just the ones I have experience with, and most are Taiwan-centric, so they exclude a lot of music from China and other Chinese-speaking countries.

Personally, my top two online music resources are YouTube and the ezPeer+ desktop client, with KKBOX a close third. Both KKBOX and ezPeer have monthly subscriptions (at $5 USD or less per month) that give you unlimited song access, as well as KTV-like lyrics players that even let you change the song key. In Taiwan, you don’t even need a credit card to sign up, either – you just have to buy your subscription at 7-11.

I should also offer one final word of caution, and that is that, although Taiwan produces some amazing tech products used all over the world, its websites… well… they mostly suck. Many of the sites I’ve linked above are only fully functional using Internet Explorer, so you may get errors here and there if you’re using another browser. ezPeer’s web-based music player and iKala’s recording feature, for example, can only be used with IE.

Good luck, and enjoy! 加油!

1 Comment

  1. Creative commons and intellectual property « Online soul, offline body said,

    […] points out. How much do the Chinese use the internet as their only access to music? The 86% in this article is not surprising at […]

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