Interview with Andrew Spalter: The Entrepreneur Connecting the Chinese and American Music Markets
Andrew Spalter is a talented entrepreneur who has successfully bridged the digital gap between the United States and China.
Spalter first realized the enormous divide between Eastern and Western entertainment industries while working with global pop sensation Jessie J in 2018.
The singer was featured on one of China's most popular competition shows, but did not yet have any social media platforms that were accessible to Chinese consumers. With his experience and understanding of Chinese consumer culture (as well as his determination), Spalter created his wildly successful company, East Goes Global.
Spalter and the company now develop social brands for many widely-known and beloved artists: Will Smith, Omar Apollo, Jessie J, Yungblud, and many more. East Goes Global has secured nearly 63M+ followers for its clients, despite the fact that the majority of the DSP and Social platforms used in America are banned in China.
Further connecting the Chinese and U.S. markets, Spalter recently partnered with CryptoArt.ai to introduce one of the first NFT (non-fungible token) auctions to China.
Numerous channels, including Rarible and Nifty Gateway, are often blocked by the combination of legislative actions and technologies enforced by the Chinese government which allow them to regulate internet use domestically. This is known as the Great Firewall, and has for the most part prevented NFT consumerism in China's market.
We spoke to Andrew Spalter about East Goes Global, the disconnect between Eastern and Western entertainment industries, social media platforms and trends, and more.
Read the full interview below:
At what age did you first become interested in being an entrepreneur?
I’ve wanted to be an entrepreneur for as long as I can remember. When I was growing up, my parents used to collect fountain pens. Every once in a while, we would have a neighborhood garage sale, and my father would ask my brother and me to sell the pens. We always tried, but no one was ever really in the market for a fountain pen… Regardless, that’s the first memory I have of selling anything. My parents are entrepreneurs, as well as a lot of other people in my family; the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
When and why did you start East Goes Global?
I used to be in music management, and I was working with Joel and Benji Madden of Good Charlotte when they started their company, MDDN. After a few years there, I started working with Jessie J as her day-to-day and tour manager. In 2017 going into 2018, she was on a T.V. show in China called Singer, which is similar to The Voice, but instead the competitors are some of the top rated artists in China. Jessie was the first international artist on the show, and we lived in China for four and a half months.
When I got off the flight when I first arrived, I didn’t understand why I couldn’t access certain apps on my phone-- Instagram, email, Netflix, and more. It was a very eye-opening experience because a lot of people don’t realize that there’s such a great digital firewall there. I started to see all the discrepancies and missed opportunities with Jessie not having access to certain channels. She was on this massive TV show, and you’d think that she would have a platform on the channels that are being run, but we really weren’t doing much outside of the show because we didn’t know that that stuff existed. I had tried to hire teams to do for Jessie what my company does now, and they all charged extremely high fees for services and tried to capitalize on the lack of knowledge our team had in the market. I was losing sleep at night thinking about how many missed opportunities there are in this market, and when I came back from China, I had the time to really think about it. I left the management space and started what is now East Goes Global. Our slogan is “your go-to partner for all things China.” Whether it’s music industry, film, trademark, licensing, IP, distribution, branding, merchandising, touring, NFT, or crypto, we kind of have our hands in everything under the sun.
"When I got off the flight when I first arrived, I didn’t understand why I couldn’t access certain apps on my phone-- Instagram, email, Netflix, and more."
How would you explain an NFT to someone who has never heard of it?
It’s like you’re walking into a store and buying a t-shirt that just so happens to be constantly and forever connected to the creator. You can sell a physical piece of art once from a gallery and resell it yourself without notifying anyone, whereas with an NFT you’re in it forever.
What was the biggest challenge or setback you faced when you first started East Goes Global?
Getting people invested. Not literally, by the sense of getting money to fund the project, but in making people aware of the opportunities in China outside of there being 1.5 billion people. It’s the equivalent of being an artist with music on Spotify, but not having a verified channel or Instagram to promote any of your work.
Tell me a little bit more about what the company does for artists on a day-to-day level.
The day-to-day is very social-based. Take Charli D’Amelio, for example, the last time I checked, she has 108 million TikTok followers. In China, she has zero followers on any platform across the board. She doesn’t have any accounts and hasn’t worked the market there, so there is nothing being done for the D’Amelio family in China. We take that and see that in China, which is more than 1/7 of the world’s population, she doesn’t exist. We look at that and help build peoples’ social presence and brand there. For an artist specifically, you can sell tickets to shows, merchandise, and get people to stream your music-- you can really market yourself.
What are two things you never leave home without?
Clothes, for one… I’d get a lot of weird looks if I went out with no clothes. I think the other thing would be whatever is next on my agenda: a map in my head for the day.
Do you have a favorite artist to work with?
I think that they’re all pretty great in their own right, so I couldn’t pick just one. It just depends on the time investment that we get from our clients. For example, we work with Jessie J to this day, and she’s always willing to do things for her market. She was just on a T.V. show recently where she sang “We Will Rock You” by Queen and surprised the audience with a finale performance.
How much of the responsibility is on the client to connect with the Chinese market? How much of it is on the company?
It’s a solid five to ten percent from our clients. We do the majority of the work; that’s the beautiful thing about what we do. 72% of our team is Chinese native, and 98% is completely fluent in Mandarin, so we really understand to a tee what is going on in China at all times.
Why do you think the disconnect between the Eastern and Western entertainment industries is so big?
I think it’s because of accessibility. Up until around five years ago, the Chinese music market was entirely pirate-based. People weren’t getting paid to stream their music and weren't getting paid when it was purchased, so there was a major disconnect in that area. We’ve really spearheaded that drive into making it available to the rest of the world. At the end of the day, we have a small shot at connecting with this billion-person population, and I think that that is where the disconnect lies. In today’s day and age, China is very accessible to us-- just like the Western world is to Chinese consumers-- and we want to help bridge that gap.
"At the end of the day, we have a small shot at connecting with this billion-person population, and I think that that is where the disconnect lies."
What was the last TV show you binged?
Sweet Tooth on Netflix.
What platforms are the most popular and where?
A lot of the platforms that are popular here (Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat, Spotify, etc.) aren’t available in China. In China, there’s Douyin; the owner is ByteDance and they also own TikTok. The founder is an algorithm coding wizard in his 30s, and Douyin is really similar to TikTok. TikTok isn’t available in China, and Douyin isn’t available here on the app store. The company revealed that they have more daily searches on the Douyin search bar than that of the Chinese version of Google. There’s NetEase Music, which is the Chinese DSP, and they have 600 million users. There’s also QQ Music, which is owned by Tencent and has 800 million users. Weibo is the oldest and most notable Chinese platform, and it has around 500 million users-- it’s essentially the FaceBook or Twitter of China. There are more and more platforms opening up day by day… Now there’s Little Red Book, or Xiaohongshu, which has around 120 or 140 million users and they were built a couple of years ago. It’s really fascinating to see the growth of these platforms, and many of them have the same characteristics of those in the U.S.
Working on social brands, what differences and similarities in trends have you noticed between Eastern and Western audiences?
In terms of trends, there are differences in terms of culture, but for the most part there are a lot of similarities. When I hop onto the Chinese version of TikTok, there are dance, food, ASMR, and so many other trends that take place here, too. People don’t realize that some of the stuff that happens on TikTok here actually started in China. For example, there’s a filter on the platform that looks like a virtual Versailles or castle run, and that started on Douyin.
"People don’t realize that some of the stuff that happens on TikTok here actually started in China."
How are the platforms themselves different?
It depends on the platform. The beautiful thing about NetEase Music and QQ Music is that they have social aspects built directly into their platforms. When you’re a verified artist on Spotify, you really can’t do anything. If you’re a fan following an artist, you just get a notification that they released new music when you log into the app. With NetEase and QQ, artists can post and interact with fans. You can post, message people, tag and hashtag people and things-- the works. You can tag specific songs or artists on your own artist page, so we can promote artists’ works directly on their channel. On top of that, you can post full length music videos; there are no licensing issues with that.
Do you think that Chinese platforms might become popular here? Will platforms in the U.S. try to offer similar services?
I think it’s more of the latter. In the West, you can’t access certain aspects of NetEase Music; you have to be in China to listen to a majority of the songs on the platform. I don’t foresee them ever really entering the U.S. market the way they’d like to. I think that Spotify sees the opportunity in long-form media, especially with the podcast acquisitions that they’re doing. I think that eventually that may transition into video formatting, but they started out as an audio-specific company, so it will be an uphill battle for them to do that. Early on, Apple Music had Apple Connect, where you could interact with fans that were following your artist page, but they got rid of that very quickly.
Do you work with artists in China to break into the U.S. market as well, or only with U.S. artists wanting to find a Chinese audience?
We work with a handful of Chinese artists, and we’re really connected to the Chinese music market through the clients we have (and them wanting to work with Chinese artists). As far as working their social media and platforms here in the States, we don’t tend to do that because the artists we work with are so big and well known in China that they’re a bit reluctant to work the Western world. On top of that, it can be harder for Westerners to consume Chinese music than that of Western music to people in China because of the language barriers. I would say that there are more people in China who know English than Americans who know Chinese.
Why do you think English is used and learned so much in other countries, but other languages are not learned in the same way in the United States?
I think it comes down to schooling. In the 90s in China, the government required schools to teach English. Millennials across the board there can speak and write in English, even if it’s at a very intermediate level, not advanced. Here, it’s just up to the schooling system, and a lot of students don’t reach that level of understanding a language or want to continue learning after they hit their requirement.
What types of content have been most effective in reaching the Chinese market?
Things that are specific to China. I remember that Will Smith’s second video that we put on his Douyin was this video of him in Shanghai. It was in November of 2019, so right before COVID-19 hit China, and he was making dumplings in traditional Chinese garb right after he did tai-chi. You could tell that his dumplings weren’t very well done, but in the end it was this rose-shaped dumpling. It was unbelievable. That video alone had around 22 million views; he used traditional clothing, food, and music for the video and people really resonated with it.
How has the market changed over the course of the pandemic?
People are sitting on their phones and computers in their houses all day long now, and people are just more inclined to learn about what’s happening in the Chinese market. A lot of the artists we work with reach out to us through their managers or record labels… someone will reach out to us and say, “my client just got an Instagram DM saying that their song is huge in China. We had no idea!” We do our research and see where the opportunities lie in that space.
Tell me about your partnership with CryptoArt.ai.
They’re the largest NFT platform in China. They started in Shanghai, and now we’re working together to bring Western artists over into the Chinese NFT market. Similarly to FaceBook, Twitter, and so on, the NFT platforms that we use daily here (in the United States) are mostly inaccessible to the Chinese consumer. Because CryptoArt.ai was launched in China, it’s thriving as more of a commodity than a crypto-currency, which is banned in China. It gets a lot of engagement. Our partnership is entirely strategic; we just help bring people to their platform, and in turn, we get amazing press and support.
Photos by Hai Min Wu
What are the most important areas of focus for new and rising artists? How can they reach the Chinese Market?
It’s really about accessibility; it’s about being available and wanting to interact more with the market. It’s really as simple as that. A lot of the time, there are tours that go through Asia, but nine times out of ten, they’re just stopping in Shanghai and Beijing. Each of those cities alone has 35 million people. The artist will go to China and have a really great show-- they could play to a couple thousand people and have a sold out show, but they could go back and have a whole run of five to seven cities in China-- or more. We want to change that mindset.