So, just let the music go on and on

Updated: 2016-11-17 09:58

By deng yanzi in Hong Kong(HK Edition)

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A wide array of music apps has become the must-haves in the smartphones of music lovers of various genres, but the founders of Hong Kong music streaming app HITA believe they can still offer something unique.

Instead of the latest hits, an upbeat little Cantonese song performed by a little-known band called Caravan pops up when HITA opens, singing about the delight of exploring the outdoors.

Unlike mainstream singers who are backed by record companies, independent Hong Kong musicians, such as Caravan that are not affiliated with major music labels, have very few choices to distribute their works.

Founded by a trio of music lovers in 2014, HITA - short for "Hands in the Air" - started as a free streaming app that only plays local independent music that people don't easily hear from elsewhere, hoping to offer a platform to local musicians with little access to connect with their potential audience.

By far, the app has attracted around 10,000 users to the platform, offering them 1,000 local independent works to explore, according to the company.

So, just let the music go on and on

Once part of a local busking band called Buskic, HITA co-founder Eddie Lin felt for his fellow musicians who struggle to make their music heard by the public.

Lin and his band member S.L. Ho, partnering with Ryan Wong, decided to bridge this gap for this group, and started to materialize the idea as a community project without a revenue model.

However, the value in this idea was recognized by the Empowering Young Entrepreneurs Program (EYE Program), an initiative to support local entrepreneurs powered by Google, and the team was invited to make a trip to the Silicon Valley.

"I had never heard of Mountain View (a major area in the Silicon Valley) at that time, and it was during the trip that we made the decision to turn the community project into serious business," Lin told China Daily.

As they dived deeper into the local music industry to develop a suitable business model, the company came to notice a lack of transparency in the collection of royalties.

Public spaces, such as retail stores and hotels, are expected to pay public performance royalties when they play music in the store, to organizations such as Phonographic Performance (South East Asia) Ltd, which represent record companies that legally distribute the music, according to Hong Kong's Intellectual Property Department.

However, without fully understanding whether and how much they should pay, business owners are often fined by copyright organizations.

Many businesses choose to play the same album over and over again for years as a way to avoid misuse of the music license, but it does not have to be this way, says Lin.

"It's a complicated and obscure process, and shops and businesses have no bargaining power in it."

HITA hopes to bridge the gap between these brick-and-mortar businesses, and the organizations that collect the royalties. The company aims to clear the boundaries by putting up a database of music that the stores are entitled to play, with permission already granted by distributors.

The company, now eight-member strong, started putting its new branch called HITA Box to the test a few months ago, and has received interest from the retail industry, including convenience-store chain VanGO.

HITA aims to continue expanding its list of distribution points, as well as the music contents it provides to the retail stores, and hopes to explore the possibility of bringing in advertisers to air ads in between songs in future, according to Lin.

Self-funded by far, HITA is seeking to raise funds to fast track its plan.

"With outside investment, we'll be able to build a bigger team and a stronger product," Lin envisages.

So, just let the music go on and on

(HK Edition 11/17/2016 page7)