Merlin is taking the high road to China through a string of new licensing arrangements which could push independent music to a potential new audience of half a billion people.

In a groundbreaking set of deals, the independents’ digital rights agency has hooked-up with NetEase Cloud Music (NetEase), Xiami (Alibaba), and Tencent’s QQ Music, Kugou and Kuwo, the five leading digital music services which collectively represent about 90% of all digital music users in the world’s most populous market.

Merlin will now be “uniquely positioned to benefit from China’s growth in terms of relationships and infrastructure/foundations” says a rep for the organization, adding the indie community “will arguably take on a de facto leadership role in the China market.”

The non-exclusive partnerships, announced overnight, are uniquely structured and are incentivised to “build new infrastructures to promote future growth and provide accurate usage reporting, alongside substantial marketing opportunities for participating Merlin members.” And they represent Merlin’s first deals with Chinese DSPs.

In recent years, the major music companies all signed exclusive licensing agreements Tencent, a streaming titan that claims roughly twice as many paying customers as Spotify, with Tencent now obliged to license this content onto competitors.

The newly-unveiled pacts “change the licensing narrative, creating a new path for independent music businesses looking to enter the Chinese market,” explains a statement from Merlin.