Musical beginner lives the dream composing dial tone songs for phones
The trendiest mobile phone accessory on the mainland is the 'colourful dial tone' - a song or humorous sound the caller hears as the phone rings - and Beijing-based composer Zhou Xixi is one creative type who is trying to meet demand for the phenomenon. H
Q: What did you do before being a singer of 'colourful dial tones'?
A: In my second year at college, I made up my mind to become a music professional, even though I couldn't read music. I had no professional music training. But I believed I could do it, because I could write songs and because many famous singers also had no professional training. After graduation, I couldn't get a job in the music industry, so I worked at a music bar for just 600 yuan a month. The experience in the bar widened my horizons and it also helped me understand how musicians really lived. Their conditions were no better than mine at the time.
How did you hear about the dial tone business?
I quit the bar job after a year or so, partly out of financial pressure. In May 2004, I was helping out a Zhengzhou composer and heard about the dial tones, which had just come in from South Korea. They were cheap then, around 10 yuan each. Three months later, I decided to come back to Beijing, where the cultural atmosphere is richer. In September 2004, I asked my family for 10,000 yuan and set up my own studio, focusing on composing the dial tones. I had a simple idea then. I just wanted to feed myself first and then I would think about how to be a professional singer. So I worked on the dial tones, mainly out of a need to make money.
How did you get a contract with a company?
It was by chance. I initially sold my work to people who had orders from the companies, the copyright holders. Then I found my present company by myself and got a better deal. My boss thought I had great potential and liked my work, so we signed contracts. Since then, I have produced my first album, and will release a second one.
What's the difference between a dial tone song and an ordinary song?
A dial tone song is not very demanding in terms of singing, but it has to have a funny idea. When I'm composing a dial tone song, 80 per cent of my energy goes into the lyrics and the format. Is it rap or blues? And what is the most popular topic among people? You must have a unique character, but you also have to consider whether it will be popular.
What do you think of the industry's prospects?
They're very promising. This is new and fashionable. Everyone can be different with their dial tones and people love it. But my pieces are usually funny, so I target young people. I know there must come a day when I have exhausted my potential and then I will go behind the scenes or set up my own company.
Do you feel you have deviated from the college dream you had about music?
I have only adjusted my direction - in general, I am still on the right track. I proved I could earn money from music and I regained my confidence. I simply played on my strengths and avoided my weaknesses.
Do your parents support you?
They threatened to cut all ties with me when I decided to devote myself to music six years ago. But now our relationship is much better, because I proved I could do it. I can now go back home with my head held high.