What it takes to become a success story in China’s music and sound industry ― An interview with Thomas Faucheur, CEO of GUM Shanghai
One of the fastest moving industries in China is the music industry. Success in this industry doesn’t just happen. It takes years of experience to be able to think fast, find solutions, and stay ahead of the trends.
We recently had the opportunity to learn more about this industry from CEO of GUM Shanghai, Thomas Faucheur, who has more than twenty years of experience in the business. Here he explains what it takes to be successful in China’s music industry.
GUM Asia was co-founded in 2007 by Frederic Monvoisin and Fabrice Dumont GREEN UNITED MUSIC. With a fully-integrated, in-house production team of composers, musicians, sound engineers, and more, GUM offers everything from original music scores to sound design and dubbing.
What brought you to china? What is the story of GUM in China?
Thomas: We started GUM of China because both the company and I wanted to new experiences that were different from those in Paris.
Before arriving in China, I was not part of GUM. I had my own company, but I really wanted to do something else, somewhere else. At the same time, GUM started working in China so my wife and I decided to move! Five years ago, China was not on the top of his list of places to move; in fact, it was probably on the bottom of my list. But we decided to come here with GUM Paris.
The first studio was part of another post-production studio called Digital District, but they have since closed. Since the first studio, we have opened two more studios. For GUM, the decision to come to China was about finding more opportunities and expanding work, and it was the same for me.
So, it sounds like, so far, so good?
Thomas: Absolutely! It’s been an amazing experience coming to China. It’s a big change, but the good thing about living here is that the time goes very fast.
Starting a business is not the hardest part of living in China. Staying here is a bit tough, but I didn’t find it difficult to live here when I first arrived. We are also trying to expand outside of China. In China, we are in Shanghai, and we are now starting in Beijing. I also have gone to Tokyo and Singapore and will consider expanding further in the future.
What kind of projects do you work on? Can you provide an overview of the music and sound recording industry in China?
Thomas: Commercials, events, and film are the main activities we work on.
We mainly work on commercials. About 70% of work is in commercials. We started doing feature films and will finish our first one in December. After this first film is complete, I will open a new branch for films. We will represent seven film music composers for film exclusively for China.
We are also getting into more and more into events, about five to ten a year. For example, we recently worked on a Cartier job for four days working on music, sound design, sound effects, etc. for live shows. We also work on projects with designers, but these types of projects are very small.
What has been the most fun project in China?
Thomas: We worked for a Museum in Wuxi. A guy who made a fortune in clothes, who has a passion for horses, opened a stable to raise horses with a hotel and museum about horses. We created 3D film soundtrack for a film about horses set during World War I and World War II. It was kind of a historic project, and it was fun to go there. It was very interesting and took over a year to complete the project.
What kind of projects are the most challenging for you and the most challenging for the industry?
Thomas: It doesn’t matter if you’re working on commercials, feature films, or something else, it’s always very challenging. Here you work seven days a week and it never stops. You need to be careful not to get overworked and overtired. People are always calling asking you to make changes; they are even calling you at one in the morning! Now, I’m more careful so I don’t get so worn out. It can be especially challenging with commercials because the deadlines are very short. So, you must be careful.
One of the challenges is also the language. That’s why we hired a new Chinese producer. Translating common Chinese to English can be very difficult because I don’t speak Chinese. We find difficulties translating somethings from Chinese to English because the language doesn’t always translate directly. Sometimes the Chinese meaning is different than what we really want to say. We don’t want to take the risk sometimes of getting the translation incorrect, so we will use Chinese in those cases. For example, this morning we ended up using Chinese instead of English in a song, but someone will still need to determine the correct word. Cultural differences are also challenging because we need to be sure we’re expressing and explaining things correctly.
Besides that, I think everyone coming to China finds it quite easy to fit in.
When you talk about advertising are you talking mostly about sound or dubbing?
Thomas: Whether it’s music, sound affect, voiceovers, or casting video talent, everything related to sound, we do it here. We can do regular sound mix as well as for cinema. We can create original music and do music search. We also have our own music library, voiceover booth, and inhouse music composers. In Paris, GUM is a music label, so we represent artists. We are really able to do anything related to sound. It’s very broad. We also do dubbing.
When you talk about dubbing, what do you do? Can you walk us through the process?
Thomas: For example, we did an HP short film, where we had to translate from English to Chinese, and then we do a video casting to find voices for five or six different characters. From there, we try to check things like age of the main character because we need to find a similar voice. We know we will need to cast a Chinese woman who is around 45 years old to fit the voice of a 30-year-old English speaking woman. We try providing a few options for the client to choose from. Once this is confirmed, we bring the actors in the studio to do the recording. When we do the recording, we try to lip sync the recordings as much as possible. English to Chinese dubbing is something of a high demand for our business.
How do you do that?
Thomas: For example, when you say, “I’m going to work,” we might have to shorten the Chinese phrase to match the lip syn. We have to be creative to think about different ways to say things. When we get the script, we have our Chinese producer to test the translation. Then we can see if we need to adjust the Chinese because it’s typically longer. Sometimes we need just one word in Chinese because the English is so short but at the same time the Chinese needs to have the same meaning as the English. When we are happy with the script, we are able to really fit the lip sync correctly.
Dubbing is fun, especially when you have an American person speaking Chinese. If the translation is done nicely, it works! It doesn’t matter if you see an American speaking Chinese, it works.
Also, when the Chinese video talent sees the real film, the become animated, and you get that in the voice. You also see the video actors having some attitude to match the onscreen character.
So, the actors are more than happy to be animated?
Thomas: Yes, because it’s really acting. When you do voiceover like taglines, it’s a bit different. But when you’re dubbing it’s more acting, so its really fun for the actors.
What makes GUM unique?
Thomas: Here in China, GUM is unique because it’s a fully integrated, inhouse company. Apart from voiceover talent like freelancers, everything else is inhouse, like sound designers, composers, producers, sound engineers, etc. We know the team; we know the people we are working with which helps. We feel very confident when we except proposals because we know our team and their capabilities.
Also, we are coming from a musical background. Before starting GUM as an agency for music for film production, we were a music label. From the starting point, we have many many years of experience in music. The label gives us the credit to really work in the music business. The label and the music business make us really strong along with all of the inhouse things. Here in Shanghai, we have the most unique and comprehensive teams. There is only one other small company similar to us but they only have one composer compared to our four in-house composers.
When you work with film, do you compose for Chinese film productions?
Thomas: Well, 100% of the films we are working on are Chinese. We worked on a project for a company in Thailand, nearly 100% of our projects come from Chinese agencies for Chinese film production.
When you work on site for a Chinese film, do you work with celebrities to record anything in the studio?
Thomas: We’ve been working with celebrities, but not in China because most of them work all over the world. We’ve worked with Gong Lee, because she’s one of the Loreal representative. We did a couple of recording sessions with her. She was in our studio in Paris, and we were here. Using special technology, the agency was here with us directing Gong Lee. We worked with another Chinese actress when she was in Los Angeles. We had to be up really early, like 4:30 in the morning, because of the big time difference.
Other than that, in China, our voiceover talents are mainly local talent. Not all of the voiceover talent works onscreen.
How has the advancement of technology affected your industry?
Thomas: The sound technology has progressed much faster than video technology. Like 20 years ago, we were talking about home studios where composers could get their equipment to play instruments. Today, for us and the composer 99% of the music we are creating is done digitally. We call them virtual instruments. Sometimes is very hard to tell the difference between a real base and digital one. It’s a great way for the composter to get the sound without having the actual base player come to the studio.
What traits someone needs to succeed in this business?
Thomas: You need to be able to think fast and be extremely agile. You also need to think before you say something and come up with solutions very quickly because the deadlines are sometimes very short. For example, today we did a track, but it didn’t work. The client asked to hear a new track tomorrow morning. It takes a bit of time even if the track is just 85 seconds. Some of the composers and writers take their time to really think and be able to create something unique and well produced. These are very common situations and having many years of experience helps me find solutions quickly.
People here have extremely high standards, so you also need to be able to handle the stress well. Otherwise you’ll end up not wanting to be in the industry anymore. However, speed in this industry is key!
Compared to the west, what kind of trends do you see in China? How do you see them changing in the next few years?
Thomas: When I came to China, I thought the music style would be very dated or very Chinese, but it’s actually the same music we listen to in Europe and the US. Chinese people are very aware of what’s going on around the world. Two years ago, people focused on electro music. Last year it was rap, until a guy did something in here that wasn’t appropriate, and that went away quickly. The trends change fast. You can move from electro, EDM, trap music, rock, pop-rock, classical music, neoclassical. It’s really dependent on the project, but Chinese are really aware of what kind of music will work. Many clients come with a music reference from iTunes or YouTube, which is very helpful. These references can be very edgy sometimes too. Clients really go exploring!
Do you know someone looking for a translation, subtitling or voice over service to serve their clients? We have solutions. Click here if you have questions!