The music industry has only been on a downward spiral since the coronavirus outbreak.
With concerts postponed and canceled indefinitely due to the suspension of large-scale events, the live music industry is expected to lose US$9 billion in 2020 alone – which is unsurprising, given that ‘it accounts for half of the total revenue of the global music industry.
It’s unclear how long the impact and imprint will last, but damage control has since been put in place by the musicians and event organizers look alike. Artists have since turned to creating and delivering music, while event organizers are coming up with unique ways to keep their gig going – literally – by moving into the digital space.
But now that the number of infected people has shown improvement for some countries, some nations are on the road to recovery at varying speeds.
For a, Singapore started piloting small-scale gigs, and on the other hand, Japan is easing restrictions on its large-scale events, allowing up to 5,000 attendees. Taiwan saw its first concert at full post-COVID capacity with Eric Chouand will have more to come, including the music festival showcase LUCFest. The Philippines and Indonesia have no concerts scheduled until 2021, and with Koreaare channeling more efforts into virtual concerts and exhibits.
Chinathe first country to be affected by the virus, began holding large-capacity concerts and events after the number of infected cases dropped significantly.
Archie Hamiltonthe general manager of China’s first integrated music promoter Divide worksexplores what the post-COVID climate means for the live music industry in China, as well as Will be Griffith of LiveChinaMusic:
When COVID-19 officially hit China on January 24, the whole country – starting with Wuhan – has gone into total confinement. Live music around the world was among the first industries to be completely shut down and in most places it will be the last to reopen. Here in China, some cities have started preparing for reopening at the end of Marcheven if in reality the officially sanctioned concerts did not see the light of day until the end of May. After a month of finding collective feet, we were at full speed at the end of June (with restrictions of course – no international artists and only in venues with less than 500 seats).
Since July, it’s been one tour after another; and more recently a re-emergence of festivals across the country. For the most part everything went well and most shows have sold immediately, showing that there is indeed pent-up demand after the lockdown. Bands that were already attracting attention last year have seen post-COVID shows sell out immediately with organizers scrambling to put on second nights. Veteran artists who have worked on the independent circuit for over a decade are thrilled to see their hard work pay off. As always, the good is tempered by the bad – alongside the rebound in demand there is (inevitably) a sharp rise in prices. Tours now appear to have a base price of 100RMB while queues with two to three groups can work their way up to 200RMB+. NobodyThe next tour of is priced at 130RMB (just under US$20) in advance, with enough demand to add a separate afternoon show in some cities. Last weekend, Modern Sky Lab in Shanghai welcomed three relatively new groups (Wasted Laika, moon bandand Unending White) with tickets to 200RMB. The show sold out.
出海部 Wonder Sea – Guangzhou sold out show
A year ago, it would have taken a foreign act on the bill to push back the 200RMB mark for alternative artistsbut now promoters seem confident to capitalize on a burgeoning demand for local acts, with growing audiences starting to see going to a gig the same as going to the club or KTV. Party rates are also in place and seem to have settled into the 300-500RMB per day (for reference, this year Rye Music Festivals is 330RMB (more than 45 USD) in advance).
So what does it give?! Are venues, promoters and labels evolving or looking to cash in. A little from column A and a little from column B?
One of the interesting wrinkles to these developments is the post-COVID reality that most live music venues are experiencing. To know, audience capacity restrictions (which range from 70% to the extremely difficult limit of just 30%) drive ticket prices up vertically to compensate for missing buyers. It also leads to a weird side effect: shows are selling out faster than ever, which promoters use to add hype to their shows.
We wouldn’t be surprised to see prices stay at this new bar even as restrictions ease. Customers have spoken (for now).
Finally, in the big news of the pandemic, the latest in a series of music-based reality TV shows. The first season of The Big Band proved that the rock scene does have mass appeal – it just needed a little push. Season 2 couldn’t have come at a more opportune time. Every group in China seems to be interested in the promotion and many are taking advantage of it (just look at the increase in Weibo fans from before the show started to now) – from tours starting conveniently in the middle of the show to a multitude of songs versions. These tours are selling like crazy.
Fazi’s visit to China
But it’s not just Big Band bands that are strategically capitalizing on their newfound fame. Independent favorites such as Nobodyand Wonder of the Sea 出海部 have sold out extensive tours across China – the former, in what appears to be a valiant grassroots effort by the band using its artistic influence to its advantage, the most like an efficiently coordinated effort concocted by the band’s record label (though that please check out Wonder Sea’s new album – it’s damn good).
As always, it’s important to look at the other end of the spectrum as well. There’s a growing gap between trending bands and local artists who haven’t broken through yet or are just cutting their teeth. Rooms at Shanghai going from a sold-out show one night to a show with only 20 tickets sold in presale. The public no longer wants to take risks. Room fees and license fees keep many bands at bay without performing – leaving venues and bands unsatisfied. How do we continue to nurture the next generation of artists? Free concerts are a way around some costs, but for venues it’s still a tough financial pill to swallow. Either way, the current environment will likely backfire on the scene and could likely push a lot more underground (for better or worse). Venues can be satisfied right now with sold-out tours and the push that strives like The Big Band provide, but they also know it’s not sustainable and doesn’t promote any sort of long-term growth.
The Big Band 2020 – sunglasses and smiles
The Big Band unquestionably benefits from 15 years of other people’s investment in the artists they feature: from loss-making festivals to album releases that had no way of making money, to livehouses that survived on the smell of with a greasy cloth. The passion and dedication of venue owners, promoters, artist managers and the bands themselves is now radically monetized inside a select group of musicians and an even smaller group of industry giants (Taihe and modern sky represent the vast majority of these artists), and as is most often the case, this is done with short-term profits that outweigh longer-term success and maturity.
Will it last? We can turn to china rap (another one iQiyi production) for some sort of reference. Season 1 was love at first sight, a huge realization, not only that hip-hop existed in China, but that part of it was pretty good. Rap of China Season 2 and all the countless copycat shows were underwhelming by comparison, but hip-hop and its artists have benefited beautifully. hip hop festivals (pre-COVID), were attracting unprecedented audiences across the country, rappers are making huge money (and viewership), and some have gone global. Since Rap of China Season 1, hip-hop has been pushed aside to make way for the latest zeitgeist, but that short-term success has left a longer-term residue. Hip-hop might not be as mainstream in 2020, but it’s massive and growing in the underground.
The indie music that forms the backbone of the Big Band has much deeper roots and broader appeal than hip-hop at the same stage, although it is suited to an older demographic. In the months and years to come, we may see some artists truly transition from alternative to enduring popstars during this transition, which would be the first time in China’s developing music industry that this has happened.
No matter what, China’s domestic music scene now has genres and options and it’s exciting to witness that.
This article was originally published and written by Archie Hamilton and Will Griffith here.
Intro and editing by: Bandwagon