Changba, a mobile Karaoke app, turns out to be one of the startup stars in China this year. Officially launched in May, it has attracted about 10 million users and much media attention. To make a long story short, Changba is a mobile version of YY Music that offers a virtual stage for “singers” and “audiences”. But YY Music was late on mobile and simply released a Changba clone, Weichang, later.

YY Music makes revenues from virtual item sales – audiences buy virtual gifts for singers. Released in March 2011 – one year before Changba, YY Music made about 53 million yuan in revenue in 2011 and twice of that in the first half of 2012. Changba also offers virtual goods, flowers — so far for free but expected to be a revenue source. Besides, it enables online singing contests — any user can be an organizer.

Chen Hua, founder of Changba, once told media that his business could be as big as YY Music’s. He made an argument that competitions within the ecosystem and music charts could bring over monetization opportunities. At the moment Changba is receiving minor advertising revenues from sponsored singing contests. Its website also features a digital music campaign by China Unicom.

The majority of Changba users are female, aged around 20. They are high school or college students, or workers in cities big or small. Chen Hua reckons that three groups of users would use Chingba: 1) who take singing as entertainment – they account for more than half of Changba user base, 2) who want to become famous singers – the most active users – or who want some fans to feel good, and 3) who like watching shows or take it as an online social occasion.

The last group, audience, is what Chen wants to expand and where revenues will come from; the second group is the key for Changba to keep attracting audiences. To make that happen, Chen is aimed to 1) making the mobile karaoke experience good enough so that good vocalists would like to share, 2) developing features to let singers feel like celebrities and 3) have singers feel that Changba stage is a place for some to become famous.

Being famous isn’t necessarily a national thing. Changba prefers to see local stars scattered in every county or town that they’d hold local concerts or do local advertising. Hence, Changba has been developing location-based features, searching people nearby, group messaging, local charts and the like.

Changba, however, know they need a real super star to have the brand well-recognized by the masses, just like what those TV stations did in the past years – producing singing programs, picking super stars from contests and making money from them. Selected clips from Changba have been sent to TV stations or labels to see who’d be perceived by the masses as super stars, by chance.

Chen made it clear that they’d not do after-services, producing songs, shooting music videos or doing marketing, after stars come out, like what those labels do for singers. He thinks it’s too hard a business. The only thing they want to leverage the successful ones is to have them tell everyone they are from Changba.

Chen Hua is a serial entrepreneur that founded two startups before Changba. Kuxun, the first one and an online travel site, was sold by investors and Chen was ousted. The second one was a shopping site founded after Chen left Alibaba as a search engineer.

(My friend Lois Wang interviewed Chen Hua lately and some information in this post is from her. Here is a great article (in Chinese) she wrote on Changba as you may be interested in.)

Tracey Xiang is Beijing, China-based tech writer. Reach her at

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