Gibson’s partnership with Universal Music China: what it means for the guitar giant

By February 25, 2021Guitar, Industry
Gibson, china music industry

Gibson has had a rocky recent past, to say the least. But a new business venture could see that change rapidly thanks to China’s music industry.

Guitar manufacturing titan Gibson has announced that they are partnering with UMPG (Universal Music Publishing Group) in China and Hong Kong. This arrangement will see Gibson offering ‘tailor-made support’ for songwriters, producers, and artists in China.

Gibson’s contributions to the partnership begin this year with support for UMPG’s songwriting and artist camps. Furthermore, Gibson has outfitted UMP China’s recording studios in Beijing and Shanghai and will work closely with UMP China with social media marketing, by hosting regional and national joint promotional campaigns for China-based artists.

Gibson Artists in China

UMPG China Managing Director Joe Wang and Gibson China Sales Director Wells Wang congratulate songwriting camp winners

Both Gibson and UMPG have declared a joint goal of serving and growing the music community, by seeking opportunities with major content companies such as Tencent, TikTok, and Bilibili and promoting the charitable work of various artists to the global community.

We are very excited about the emerging partnership between Gibson and UMPG China to further our support for musicians and for the broader music community in China,” says President and CEO of Gibson Brands James JC Curleigh.

Gibson’s dark past

It’s been a wild ride for Gibson recently, with the guitar company declaring bankruptcy in 2018. While the company makes up 40% of all guitars sold over USD $2000, recent purchases and acquisitions resulted in massive debt for the company.

Gibson was looking to branch out and become “the largest music and sound technology company in the world,” as stated by their previous CEO Henry Juszkiewicz in 2014. This was when Gibson purchased their largest recent acquisition, Royal Phillips’s home-entertainment systems for USD $135 million.

Gibson was then faced with $500 million in debt, at a time where major companies such as Apple, Amazon, and Google were also entering similar markets. As a result, Gibson was forced to declare bankruptcy. After discussions with its debtors, Gibson was loaned $135 million to allow them to continue constructing instruments under their major instrument labels (Gibson, Epiphone, Baldwin, etc).

Rock ‘n’ Roll revival

2019 was a new beginning for Gibson, as they escaped bankruptcy protection and returned to NAMM boasting new guitars and hosting a celebratory jam featuring long-time Gibson artists and rock legends, Peter Frampton, The Doors’ Robby Krieger, Heart’s Nancy Wilson, and more.

NAMM proved to be a deeply important event for the guitar manufacturer, as a sign of things moving forward and a way of regaining the trust of its customer base.

Robby Krieger at Namm

Robby Krieger at NAMM Jam 2019
Photo: The Music Zoo

Gibson began to reassess its goals and seek a “return to authenticity“. While branching out in the past was the root of their downfall, tapping into the Chinese music market with their UMPG partnership now may be a wise move by the US guitar company.

Wang Yezhen, a Beijing Municipal Committee’s propaganda department official told Beijing Business Today in January of 2020 that the city aimed to expand its music and creative industries to be worth USD $17 billion by 2025, and that in 2017, the industry was around half that size. The plan sets to see Beijing as an international music capital by 2025, by offering artists better copyright protection and constructing more small-scale live music venues.

Photo: UMPG

[Our research has shown that] the scope of the music industry is enormous but the [development] model is still not mature,” Wang told Inkstone. “Creative forces are strong but resources are relatively scattered so [there isn’t] an effective system for producing high-quality music.”

While the Chinese music industry has a strong domestic following, Wang states its unable to compete internationally. Gibson’s partnership comes at a time where the music industry in China is still developing internationally but is showing steady growth.

According to a report from the China Music Industry Forum in November 2019, the industry was worth $53 billion at the time, following an 8% year by year consistent growth. If this trend of growth continues, particularly as a result of the new initiatives in Beijing and around China, Gibson’s new partnership may prove to be quite successful, and see them as a key player in truly creating an international music industry.


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