Taiwan’s Music Industry Finding its Voice through Localization and Internationalization

Taiwan’s Music Industry Finding its Voice through Localization and Internationalization

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Taiwan’s Music Industry Finding its Voice through Localization and Internationalization

In a testament to the growing recognition of Taiwanese music, six groups of Taiwanese artists—Fire EX. (滅火器), Chih Siou (持修), Mong Tong (夢東), The Dinosaur’s Skin (恐龍的皮), Gummy B (黃立堯), and Majin (Jo-Ann Ruff)—appeared on the international stage at the renowned SXSW music festival in Texas this year.  Continuing a tradition that began in 2008, this year’s SXSW selection further highlighted both the local and global appeal of Taiwanese music. This international exposure comes as the Ministry of Culture (MOC, 文化部) recently announced a revision to the “Encouragement of Participation in International Popular Music Activities” (EPIPMA) (鼓勵赴國外參與流行音樂國際活動作業要點) program, reflecting a continued focus on international exposure for Taiwanese music.

The EPIPMA Program (鼓勵赴國外參與流行音樂國際活動作業要點)

The MOC’s (文化部) EPIPMA program serves as a springboard for Taiwanese music’s global ascent. By removing financial barriers through subsidies, EPIPMA empowers musicians and music groups to participate in prestigious international events like festivals, conferences, awards, and exhibitions. The program fosters global recognition of Taiwanese music while cultivating valuable connections with international industry professionals. These connections can lead to collaborations, industry insights, and career-altering opportunities. Furthermore, EPIPMA fuels professional development through overseas training and workshops, directly enhancing artists’ skill sets and knowledge. It also tackles key hurdles like financial limitations, limited exposure, and the lack of industry connections, paving the way for sustained success in the global music marketplace.

Hurdles of Internationalization

Although the EPIPMA program provides a kickstarter for the music industry, the path to global success is fraught with obstacles for Taiwanese artists. The most immediate barrier is the language. Mandarin, the primary language of modern Taiwanese music, limits its immediate reach to a portion of the global audience. The situation is compounded by fierce competition in the international music market, where established international artists and dominant genres hold significant sway. Breaking through requires Taiwanese artists to compete with well-established international artists who already have a strong global fanbase. For instance, an artist creating Taiwanese rock music may struggle to gain traction against artists who play within the dominant genres of pop, hip-hop, or electronic dance music. Even if artists transcend the language barrier, their music may not resonate with audiences accustomed to these more popular styles.

The Balancing Act in Action

Striking the right balance between localization and internationalization is an ongoing process. Some artists may create music that explicitly blends Taiwanese elements with international sounds, while others may focus on crafting high-quality music that transcends specific cultural references. Ultimately, the potentially most successful approach recognizes the importance of a solid local foundation, cultivated through localization efforts, while remaining open to the possibilities of international appeal. This openness allows artists to incorporate elements that resonate with a broader audience without sacrificing their unique Taiwanese identity.

The Current Landscape of Taiwanese Music Culture

The current landscape of Taiwanese music culture is a tapestry woven from established and emerging trends. For decades, Taiwanese music thrived within the Mandopop landscape, producing iconic stars and chart-topping hits that resonated across the Mandarin-speaking communities. However, a recent wave of artists is integrating a distinct Taiwanese identity into their music. Listeners are increasingly encountering the use of Formosan languages (Taiwanese, Hakka, Paiwan, etc.) alongside traditional Taiwanese instruments, such as the Kó͘-chhoe (鼓吹/嗩吶), Khit-tsia̍h-khîm (乞食琴/月琴), or Kakeng (旮亙/竹鐘). They also hear Taiwan regional musical styles influencing the modern music scene, such as Hak-kâ sân-kô (Hakka Hill Songs) (客家山歌), Pòo-tē-hì (布袋戲) (Taiwanese Glove Puppetry), Kua-á-hì (歌仔戲) (Taiwanese opera), and ballads from various indigenous tribes. This trend reflects a growing cultural awareness and appreciation for Taiwan’s unique musical heritage, which continues to extend beyond catchy pop anthems.

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Image: The band Fire EX. performing at a New Year’s Day flag-raising ceremony outside the Presidential Office Building in Taipei (January 1, 2017). (Image source: Wikimedia Commons)

Localization as a Catalyst for Internationalization: Music Events for Instance

A key driver of this cultural localization movement is the growing popularity of “User-charge” (使用者付費) concerts and music events. This shift, pioneered and improved by festivals like Megaport Fest  (大港開唱) and FireBall Fest (火球祭), reflects a change in audience mindset, valuing quality music and supporting artists financially instead of mindlessly following free-entrance activities.

In a recent interview with the founder and organizer of FireBall Fest, the band Fire EX. (滅火器), they mentioned that the founding of the music fest is undoubtedly for the audience in Taiwan, but not limited to that audience. The other purpose of the “User-charging” music festival is to forward the “redirection (導正)” process of Taiwan’s music industry and market. By normalizing and rationalizing the “entertainment price” of concerts, music events in Taiwan could have more options for arranging their budget resources and plans instead of simply relying on government subsidies, which often creates an inevitable cycle of “free events & free-chasers” for event organizers and artists. According to the band, this model—as demonstrated during their tour in North America and on the way to SXSW—stabilizes the fan bases for bands and allows for better production value, a well-organized experience, fairer artist compensation, a healthier budget system, and, ultimately, a more sustainable music ecosystem where artists can thrive and continue to weave the rich tapestry of Taiwanese music. With its well-organized events like FireBall Fest, this symbiotic ecosystem could become a magnet for international artists. In turn, this would initiate cross-cultural interactions and collaboration and further internationalize Taiwan’s music scene while nourishing the local music cultures.

Building a Strong Foundation for Global Success

While discussing how to internationalize Taiwanese music, Fire EX. also emphasizes that fostering a healthy music ecosystem and producing consistently high-quality music are essential for attracting international attention, both from artists and audiences. Bands like Elephant Gym (大象體操) and Sunset Rollercoaster (落日飛車) serve as compelling examples. Although they do not primarily utilize many local materials in their music, their international success highlights the power of quality and artistry. These bands built strong domestic followings through critically acclaimed releases and years of honing their craft. Their success underlines the importance of establishing a robust local foundation before venturing onto the international stage.

Cultivating a Distinct Voice: The Power of Localization

While international exposure offers undeniable advantages, a thriving domestic music scene forms the bedrock for sustained success. Here, localization—the act of creating music that resonates deeply with local audiences—plays a crucial role. Taiwan boasts a rich tapestry of languages beyond Mandarin, including Taiwanese, Taiwanese Hakka, and multiple indigenous languages (Amis, Atayal, Bunun, Paiwan, Rukai, Seediq, etc.). These Formosan languages carry unique cultural nuances and emotional depth that can be harnessed to create music that speaks directly to the Taiwanese soul.

Government initiatives acknowledge the importance of these languages in fostering a unique Taiwanese musical identity. The “National Language Development Plan” (國家語言整體發展方案) and the “Grant for the Production and Release of Popular Music Albums in Native Languages” (本土語言流行音樂專輯製作發行補助作業要點) provide systematic support for artists who create music in Taiwanese/Formosan languages. These programs encourage the exploration and preservation of this cultural heritage. By incorporating these languages into their music, artists can tap into a wellspring of emotions and experiences that resonate powerfully with domestic audiences.

When artists weave Formosan languages into their music, it is no longer just about the words themselves. These languages carry a unique emotional weight, shaped by generations of shared experiences and cultural nuances. A song expressed in the lyrical beauty of Amis can evoke a depth of emotion that resonates deeply with Taiwanese audiences. Similarly, a powerful rock anthem sung in Taiwanese can capture the raw energy of youthful rebellion in a way that transcends translation. The raw power of Taiwanese syllables can add a distinct edge to a rock ballad, pushing the boundaries of Taiwanese music and fostering a sense of cultural ownership and pride among domestic audiences. This inherent connection to local languages strengthens the music’s impact, transforming it from entertainment into a powerful expression of Taiwanese identity. 

Amplifying Identity

The vibrant blend of Formosan languages that permeates Taiwanese music transcends mere communication. These languages become potent tools for amplifying cultural identity, deeply resonating with domestic audiences. This powerful connection is clearly expressed in the music of the band Fire EX.,  which participated in an interview for this article. 

Fire EX.’s music, primarily performed with Taiwanese lyrics, exemplifies the power of localization. It strikes a deep chord with domestic audiences, particularly the younger generation. This connection solidified during the Sunflower Movement, where Fire EX.’s anthems—especially “Island’s Sunrise”—provided powerful support and encouragement to the protestors. Their music became a source of strength and bravery for many throughout the movement.

While international recognition is still being built, Fire EX. is leading the charge for future generations of Taiwanese artists. Their recent North American tour goes beyond mere performance. It is a strategic mission to forge connections with international venues, artists, and industry professionals, essentially trailblazing a path for future Taiwanese artists navigating the international scene. This initiative (perhaps, the “Fire EX. Model”?) prioritizes cultural authenticity and fostering a supportive social network. While this model may not translate directly to the Chinese market—due to censorship related to the band’s pro-Taiwan stance on the Sunflower Movement and other cross-strait issues—it offers a valuable roadmap for artists who share these values. The “Fire EX. Model” empowers them to succeed internationally while staying true to their Taiwanese identity.


Taiwan’s music scene thrives at the intersection of international aspirations and a flourishing local identity. Here, the key lies in embracing both. Government programs like EPIPMA offer a springboard for global exposure, while localization efforts build a strong domestic foundation. By incorporating Formosan languages and regional styles, artists create music that resonates deeply with Taiwanese audiences, fostering a sense of cultural ownership and pride. Fire EX., with their Taiwanese anthems, exemplifies this power.

The most successful artists will find a harmonious blend. Some may explicitly fuse Taiwanese elements with international sounds, while others may focus on universal themes delivered with exceptional quality. Ultimately, a strong local identity, cultivated through localization, empowers artists to succeed internationally while staying true to themselves.

This synergy extends beyond music. Events like Megaport or FireBall Fest focus on redirecting the music industry’s ecosystem by normalizing paid concerts or events. The shift fosters a healthier music ecosystem, thereby attracting international artists and fostering collaboration, enriching Taiwan’s music scene, and propelling it onto the global stage. Rooted in authenticity and excellence, Taiwanese music is poised to resonate not just internationally, but also within the hearts of its people.

The main point: Taiwan’s music industry flourishes at the nexus of localization and internationalization. By cultivating a robust domestic foundation through music in Formosan languages and regional styles, and fostering a higher-quality, more sustainable music ecosystem, Taiwanese artists not only strengthen their cultural identity but also indirectly contribute to internationalization by facilitating cross-cultural interaction with the global music scene.

The author would like to thank Fire EX. (滅火器), Fire On Music (火氣音樂), and In Utero Music (子皿).