Music & Musicians

In music, East meets West, courtesy of an Austrian native

Who is G.E.M.?

If you don't yet recognize the acronym G.E.M., just wait. If Lupo Groinig has his way, the name may become a household word in the Western market.

Tang Tsz-kei—better known worldwide as G.E.M. (Get Everybody Moving)—is one of the top-grossing Asian artists on tour right now. She is also trying to be the first from the region to crack the fickle Western market, with the help of her backers at Hummingbird Music, led by Groinig.

"There's a stigma about Asian artists not being able to break into the West and that's what I want to do," said Groinig, who is also G.E.M.'s creative director and Hummingbird co-founder. "Basically, I'm trying to put different influences into the music that cater to both sides of the world."

For now, G.E.M.'s following is primarily from Asia, with 9.8 billion plays on China's QQ music platform last year, according to Hummingbird, and she has 16.6 million followers on Weibo, China's version of Twitter.

Asia's population of 4.4 billion is huge, but artists find it notoriously difficult to escape its gravity. Last year, the Taiwanese band Mayday became the first Chinese band to perform at Madison Square Garden, but as with G.E.M.'s smaller-scale concerts in the U.S., the audience was primarily Asian.

Read More Call it the Chinese Student Invasion

The stakes are high, given that Asian artists may have a receptive and organic domestic audience. There are more than 250,000 Chinese students studying in the U.S., the Institute of International Education said, with buying power that exceeded $8 billion in 2014. That's enough capital to guarantee big concert attendance for their favorite stars from the homeland, experts said.

For example, student Shi Han Zhong, 18, of Hong Kong, paid about $280 for a front-row seat at G.E.M.'s March 1 concert at Connecticut's Mohegan Sun casino. That was his third time seeing her live, he said.

Beyonce, Adele get the cover treatment

Lupo Groinig | Hummingbird

Working with Groinig has given G.E.M. a more international feel by combining both Western and Chinese elements.

In addition to Chinese pop songs arranged by Groinig, the artist has experimented with English-language hits like Adele's "Rolling in the Deep" and Beyonce's "If I Were a Boy." Those covers, and her own compositions, won her second place behind an older mainland Chinese male singer in the popular reality singing show "I am a Singer" last year.

Groinig said that, in order to create G.E.M.'s signature sound, he does something that would raise eyebrows among most U.S. recording artists.

"My unique position with producing her music is that I don't speak Chinese, so I'm not really bogged down by the lyrics. I pay no attention to the lyrics," Groinig said. "I know the story about the song, we would talk about it when she writes it, but then I'm purely working on it on the music front."

Read MoreGoogle, Michael Dell invest in a possible music future

A native of Austria, Groinig was the lead guitarist for Austrian rock band Fahrenheit and taught at Los Angeles' Musicians Institute for about 10 years. He founded Hummingbird Music in 2004 in Hong Kong with a former student, Tan Chang, who is now CEO.

Through a music competition eight years ago, Chang discovered the then-teenage G.E.M. Her two-year world tour, which will include about 80 concerts by the end of this year, will have revenue of over a billion yuan ($160 million), Chang said.

Getting to the next level

Overseas concert tours are a step, but not the key, to breaking into the Western market, according to music business experts.

Coming from the former British colony of Hong Kong, G.E.M. has an edge in being able to speak both Chinese and English. Her bilingual posts on Instagram and Facebook have a combined following of about 4 million each.

To reach the next level, industry experts say G.E.M. needs to break out into the mainstream of non-concertgoers, in part through late-night TV appearances or a joint tour with a prominent male artist.

G.E.M. has already taken steps in that direction, having performed "Lucky" with U.S. singer Jason Mraz for the launch of the iTunes store in Hong Kong in 2012.

"We have plans to collaborate with more international artists," said Hummingbird's Chang.

He added that Hummingbird is working with Live Nation for the remainder of G.E.M.'s North American tour this year and that "we have all the funding for all the things we want to do."

Such backing is essential for generating the necessary marketing power, said Casey Rae, a Georgetown University professor and CEO of the Future of Music Coalition.

"These companies don't like risk. Where they see money they'll be willing to double down," he said. The companies need a "very, very clear indicator that this has cross-cultural or broad market appeal."

Hummingbird Music itself represents a combination of cultures. Except for Groinig, all the band members hail from the United States and the backstage team is composed mostly of Hong Kong natives who have studied abroad in the West.

"Services such as Hummingbird Music make sense of this fragmentation by employing Western musical themes alongside Eastern culture and their sensibilities," said Donny Gruendler, vice president of academic affairs at the Musicians Institute. Gruendler worked with Groinig when they both taught at the school.

If Hummingbird can crack the code, a host of acts could follow. Since Mayday's MSG concert, several Asian groups have approached New York concert promoter IEM Show Place, the company's president, Yee Leung, said. "We are talking about G.E.M. and other artists performing at MSG or Barclay's (Center) in the near future." A spokesperson for Live Nation declined to comment to CNBC for this article, citing ongoing talks.

What Western music companies look for is audience and numbers, Leung said. "We have those numbers."