Ramblings: Of Monies and Unions

An interesting little state of the union piece was penned today by the good folks at China Music Radar that you can read here. It’s essentially addressing the big budget shows coming up in both Beijing and Shanghai.

There is a lot to be said about these shows, especially the Metallica sellout at the Mercedez Benz Arena and the Aerosmith’s gamble playing a 24,000 seater. There’s enough industry inside-information to go around about these. One line i’m concerned with comes towards the end:

The real money needs to be spent at the grass roots level, building the stars of the future. Ticket prices need to be in line with the incomes of people that might actually go to shows (students and young professionals) and artists chosen that fit the tastes of these consumers. Yet the big promoters keep going large on artists that they themselves like or have heard of, taking little or no heed of the real needs of the people.

mixed feelings on this one!

On one hand, a level-headed person will argue that this is already done. programs and contests to find the next big superstar since Faye Wang are all over the place. Also, ticket prices are just not out of line much with what’s already happening all over the country! S.H.E’s reunion tour Beijing leg has tickets from 280 to 1680 RMB which is what promoters are charging for Metallica. Suede’s gig at the Worker’s Gym is priced between 380 and 980 rmb
The fact that these gigs sell out is encouraging and shows that there is money to be spent in entertainment here…. sure, not everyone can afford those tickets. But that’s the case everywhere else in the world. My wallet is still hurting from the 1680 rmb i shelled for my Metallica ticket and I’m not even looking at the train/hotel expenses yet.

Now, I love Split Works and what they do but in this case, there is a little bit of “the pot calling the kettle black” when this statement is made: big promoters keep going large on artists that they themselves like or have heard of, taking little or no heed of the real needs of the people. No offense but i haven’t heard of half the bands that they brought over here and i’ve also pretty much missed most of them due to no interest. The Few i did catch were ok but nothing mindblowing.

Jamiroquai might do well, Korn will do well but Aerosmith has no chance in hell to fill half those seats, especially after everyone has already spent their cash on the other bands. Still though, the market is huge and people have disposable income.

What should the promoters do?

i have no clue! I’d say: be less greedy but then again, everyone has to make a living.
On the pop side, they seem to be doing well with acts like Beyonce, Roxette, Bieber and what not.. the rock world is a little different and doesn’t have the mainstream appeal of the popsters. No chance in hell to get on TV unless you are a name.. and the big names in rock are those who have proven themselves over and over. Easier to gamble on them than on newer acts. Man, i’d love to see one of Jack White’s bands come over.. musically amazing… but who’s gonna go? They might know The White Stripes but definitely not the dead weather or the raconteurs.

Part of me thinks Shanghai is doing things right: Bringing Slash to a 1000 seater and having a local band open for him is gonna do more to promote local bands than anything else. It gives them exposure and pressure they are not used to because let’s face it, when they play in China half the time, they can get away with anything (yes i’m generalising).

The other problem is still the lack of a proper pay scale, at least in Beijing: This year, I’ve paid an average ticket price of 60 to 80 rmb regardless of who was on the lineup and that’s wrong. I should NOT be paying the same ticket money for Brain Failure as i pay for Jacky Danny just as an example.
Also, venues routinely don’t take responsibility for gigs: you wanna plan a show, go ahead. we give you the venue and take some cash but you handle everything. I’ve lost count of the number of shows i’ve been to where no one knows who’s on stage, no even the venue owners… gimme a break!

It’s not that it’s all negative! Split Works is doing their part with a couple of indie names. SX Music is also trying hard to bring some sense of professionalism to the field as we see with the Hanggai Festival or the tours they organise for foreign artists like La Pegatina.

Archie’s column has plenty of good points but at the end of the day, I don’t think it’s all about money or grassroots…. it’s about common sense and tastes… or lack-thereof for both.
As far as the money goes, there’s plenty of it around… it’s just not in rock n roll.

Just as i finished writing this, i stumbled upon this little gem:
http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/25/arts/music/25sisa.html?pagewanted=all
State of the Union: Houston, maybe it’s time to move forward, really! with the bands coming in this year, it feels like 2007 all over. How can we make sure than in 6 years, those articles are no longer relevant? that we’re not going round and round in circles?

Now that’s a question.

6 Responses

  1. jtdj says:

    Good discussion Badr, Archie

    These are valid points, but I think we’re making an assumption about the importance of ticket sales when it comes to huge shows. I’ve been to many large venue events that were half empty, both Chinese and international artists of all genres. After roughly estimating how many tickets were given away to media, government officials, companies and whole sections to sponsors, I’d think “how and why did this happen? Someone must be ready to jump from a building somewhere.”

    Maybe it’s because for the most part, I think a popular model in China is seeing large concerts as an advertising vehicle. With sponsors attaching their name early, their brand/product/service gets splashed all over media and posters for weeks and months before the event for a buzz that lingers.

    Past conversations I’ve had with prmoters have highlighted how much more importance is placed on sponsorship revenue, while ticket sales are relatively negligible, because by the time the concert is happening, the event has long served its purpose. So I’d say music is not at the top of many promoters’ agendas, but rather which artist is likely to attract sponsorship, which unfortunately leaves us at the mercy of corporate taste.

    Please someone tell me this is wrong, because thinking about this just makes me sad.

  2. Andy Best says:

    It’s wrong to say Split are ‘calling the kettle black’ on that. They have stuck in the business, learnt and improved. Their shows always include local openers, are affordable and sensibly sized – for locals, and are usually full. The bands they bring do generate interest, are typically bands with current buzz in their home countries and on net music portals that have clout. The Jue Festival works now too.

    The observations and predictions about larger shows are spot on. It only takes one over reach of that size to fail and the promoter could be sunk for ever, or to get out of music. And clearly, when talking about developing grass roots, they mean a diverse range of local bands ready to go mid-size and above, not pop idols.

    “jtdj” – you are right about the sponsor model. It is a simple idea. Set up an event, make a presentation describing your reach and demographics and then accept sponsorship deals that are equal to and then way over the total overheads. Here’s an interesting thought about that: something like the Strawberry Festival clearly achieves that so why not make the tickets cheap or the festival free? Maybe it would be overrun if free I suppose, but a nominal charge and limited amount of tickets would suffice.

    Mao Livehouse Shanghai can get 800 in, for example. And the deal where you pay a fixed amount upfront then keep 100% of what you make costs 20 000 rmb. So in theory, you could get a sponsor to cover that and the band fees then keep 100% of the tickets as profit … or collect sponsorship way over it and make the show ultra cheap with limited places. I knew someone who got Trojan to sponsor their Shanghai Sally’s basement gig (capacity 100) in 2002, with one cover band and a DJ … and Trojan threw them 12 000 rmb.

    Of course, like you said, a show planned from that sole perspective will end up choosing bands and event styles primarily to please sponsors. I think it hasn’t already gone too far down that road because of the lack of different local rock bands available to play. Although, Zebra has gone that way by making shitty idols their headliners.

    Blah blah … thanks for kicking off some debate Badr, good job.

  3. Archie says:

    I think everyone has good points. Thanks Andy for the defence. We do try and keep it developmental, although we are trying to grow out some bigger shows. Despite this, we always try and keep the ticket price at the lowest possible level – I would much rather see a full house at half the price than a half house at double. It takes a lot more work to do it like this, but I am lucky to have a team that truly love what we do and seem happy to keep doing it.

    To Badr’s point, I’m not really talking about the domestic arena shows – there is a market for that, and there are plenty of pretty talented local promoters that have that market all wrapped up. Of the international arena shows, I’d say 2 in 3 fail and cost money and jobs. It’s a huge shame because it’s mostly mens’ egos at work here – I want to be the biggest and the best. What I am saying is that it would be nice to see these (mostly) guys spend a little more time and effort in the smaller and less immediately glamorous and potentially profitable end of the gene pool. Sure, we had Slash, but that was in the middle of the Beach Boys, Tony Bennett, George Benson and the honestly quite amazing horrendous Lindsey Sterling, playing at the Mixing Room for 380RMB. Violin and dubstep anyone?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aHjpOzsQ9YI

    Holy fuck – this video has 67m views. I think we are all lost to be honest – we should stop worrying about any of this.

  4. Beijing Daze says:

    good discussion folks.. I didn’t mean to diss split.. far from that! Without Archie’s post, this discussion wouldn’t have happened.
    And that video Archie found is exactly what i’m getting at… we’re too familiar and entrenched with the underground and its lack of resources. that pop/big names field abides by different rules.

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