BEIJING, Nov. 7 (Xinhua) -- The excited young crowd at a recent music festival in China's northeastern city of Shenyang went silent when the 24-year-old folk musician Mu Xiaoya, donning a black bowler hat, sang her gentle song.
Only at the end of the song did the sound of applause and cheering break the intimate ambiance.
Before the concert, many of the audience members only knew Mu from online platforms. She has over 200,000 followers on NetEase Cloud Music, one of China's most popular music streaming platforms launched by Internet behemoth NetEase in 2013.
The platform has attracted more than 400 million users and 70,000 independent musicians, with about 400 million comments in total and 5 million online shares posted every day.
Thanks to the rise of online streaming media including NetEase Cloud Music, Tencent's QQ Music and Alibaba's Xiami Music, China made it to the world's top 10 music markets for the first time in 2017, according to a report released by the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry this year.
Before she worked as a professional musician, Mu was a designer at a bookstore in the eastern Chinese city of Nanjing, who had never taken having a singing career seriously.
"I've always seen music as a hobby, and every time I experience anything meaningful or a feeling inside, I write songs," she said. "However, I did not set any expectation for a music career at that time. I just found playing music a purely pleasant thing to do."
Mu started to share her own works on NetEase Cloud Music in 2016.
"At first, the platform's comment board attracted me. Then the daily recommendations and personal FM turned me into a loyal client. Then I began to share my original songs on it," she said.
To her surprise, her songs were well-received and won her the eligibility to be enrolled in Project Stone, an incubation project initiated by NetEase Cloud Music to support independent musicians.
Project Stone gave Mu a chance to collaborate with the top music producers in China and get more media exposure. With their help, Mu's songs were rearranged, re-recorded and produced into an album in a professional studio.
"Thanks to Project Stone, my musical works have gained unprecedented attention. I'm really moved when people come to listen to my music and tell me how they are refreshed or inspired by it," she said.
One of Mu's hit songs, "Is It Possible," received over 100,000 comments within a month and a total of around 250,000 remarks on its comment board to date.
New social networking services further fueled its popularity. The song quickly went viral on the popular short-video app TikTok, where it was selected as background music 55,000 times within 10 days of its release.
Mu's rapid rise to fame would be unimaginable in the traditional music market. And more and more independent musicians like her have found a niche via Internet platforms.
"The emergence of online music platforms has altered the way music is released and distributed to audiences, thus providing new options for musicians to promote their original work," said Michelle Chan, public relation manager at NetEase Could Music.
While online music platforms open up a new door for amateur musicians to become professionals, they also reshape the way music is produced by musicians, for example, through instant comments.
For music lovers, sharing their own thoughts and moods on the comment board while streaming a song is a way to find their own community and socialize with those who share their feelings.
Such sharing also inspires professional musicians to compose and tailor their work by setting up a direct link to the audience.
In March 2017, a single called "Chengnanhuayikai," which means "flowers bloom south of the town," was produced by a musician named Sanmudi and gained great popularity. The surreal, melodic song was named after the online pseudonym of a bone cancer patient.
"Thanks to Sanmudi, and thanks to everyone who cares about me; thank you all. Due to my medical treatment in the morning, I wasn't there when the song was released. Yet, I will hold on," said Chengnanhuayikai in a comment. Since then, he continued updating his struggle with the disease on the comment board until passing away in February.
The song now has more than 222,000 comments, which include not only feedback about the music and support for the cancer patient but also others sharing their experiences about fighting against illnesses for their own lives.
In January, some of the most popular comments were compiled into an anthology book by the People's Daily Press named "Like Every Song is about Yourself."
INTERNATIONAL MUSIC SPACE
China's virtual music society has not been confined domestically. Audiences can now get access to authorized digital albums from across the world on domestic music platforms.
One of the Beatles' most renowned albums "Abbey Road" has sold 1,582 e-copies on QQ Music and 201,827 times as separate singles on Netease Cloud Music.
"The awareness of copyright protection keeps growing among the new generation of Chinese music consumers. On the one hand, it is owed to the proliferation of online music products and services; on the other hand, government policies, mobile payment tools and subscription service on video websites facilitate the change," said Chan.
The improving mechanism and awareness of copyright protection give Chinese companies a ticket to be better integrated into the international music market.
In 2016, NetEase Cloud Music established a partnership with Spinnin' Records, one of the world's leading record labels of electronic music based in Holland.
"New music genres, such as electronic music, cater to the increasing demand of young people, against the backdrop that the country's overall consumption is expanding," said Chan.