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  1. 1. The deals you get offered by promoters may vary from venue to venue. However, BT’s experience in China is that you’ll usually receive about 70 percent of the ticket sales; the other 30% go to the venue. crazy china Where to start if you want to tour China By Nina Onland 1 READING ROCKS 2010
  2. 2. Because of its communist regime China usually played one show only either in Beijing or Shanghai. The Chinese audience is just getting to is often seen as a closed community, a bit know other popular music genres, and every- hostile to other (western) cultures and very thing that comes with it is new. They hardly ever get the chance to see a foreign rock band and traditional. Not the best place to take your when they do, their enthusiasm is overwhel- rock ‘n’ roll, you would think. However, ming. With a less strict attitude towards popular music, with a population of over 1.3 billion, it of- it’s becoming easier to tour China nowadays. The fers quite an audience, so you might want market is much bigger than any other country, so there are plenty of opportunities for smaller to consider giving it a try… bands to tour extensively. Just keep in mind that According to Bjørn Tore “BT” Taranger, not everything will run smoothly. If you don’t believe us, just watch NOFX’ reality show who toured China several times, it’s not Backstage Passport and you’ll see how the as impossible as it seems: “Touring the cultural differences can create problems and misunderstandings. A musical infrastructure is United States is more difficult. But there only just starting to develop, especially in the live are certainly some aspects you need to industry. Europe and the USA are roughly half a century ahead when it comes to knowledge of take into consideration before setting up venues and organizing smaller shows and the your own Chinese tour.” Some pros & cons Chinese promoters’ lack of experience in some areas can cause some confusion. They just don’t and dos & don’ts for touring the Orient. know how everything works, or rather; how it is C supposed to work according to our standards. A good example is the InMusic festival in Beijing. ommunism kept western In the summer of 2009 InMusic Magazine influences out for a very long organized a brand new multi-day, multi-stage time. From the 1980s some music festival. Although reviews were eventually Chinese pop and rock artists positive about the music, the organization of the arose, but they remained very event ran less than smoothly to say but the least. controversial. They often used politically and On the website China Music Radar the festival is socially critical lyrics and their shows were described in a way that brings back memories of regularly cancelled or even banned by the the chaos of the festivals of the sixties, like government. This attitude only recently Woodstock and Altamont. Time schedules that started to change in part thanks to kept on changing, delays, technical difficulties, the 2008 Olympics, for which roofless stages while it was pouring with rain, the Chinese government artists that didn’t show up, bad food and even The biggest and oldest rock had to adapt somewhat to worse restroom facilities. The kind of problems and pop music festival of China is the Western ways, in order that seem to come from a lack of experience. MIDI Festival that takes place once a year to run the Games in the beginning of May. The festival started in smoothly. opportunities 1997 and is held in the Haidian Park in Beijing Since rock ‘n’ roll and It’s close to impossible to stand out in the (except for 2009, when it was moved to Zhenjiang other western music overcrowded music industry of the western due to problems with permits). In 2003, 2004 and styles were censured world. The market seems satiated and you have 2008 the festival got cancelled, also due to issues for a long time, the to make incredibly good music to get even the with the government. They were eventually moved Chinese youth are slightest bit of attention. Not in China! It’s not to October. The festival is hosted by the Beijing extremely eager to that they particularly like bad music played by Midi School of Music. Every year between 40,000 see any foreign band mediocre bands, the cream of the crop just and 80,000 people visit the festival. K-Jell will play. For a long time hasn’t taken the time yet to play in every nook be playing the festival in only huge acts like the and cranny of China, so the audience is far from 2010. Rolling Stones and blasé and thankful for every bit of rock ‘n’ roll Robbie Williams were able they can get. In other words: even when you to go to China. They haven’t hit it big yet in your home country, >> 2 READING ROCKS 2010
  3. 3. Steinar and BT rock out in the background at the Wuhan concert. In front: Kjell. BT you could still be successful there. You just gotta population between six and twelve million Norwegian Bjørn Tore be fast. The Chinese music industry is growing people. The venues we played before were “BT” Taranger plays very, very rapidly. In 2005 Shanghai had one actually quite good and pretty well organized. the drums in the band venue, with a capacity of 80. Today, Shanghai has Some were much bigger, but most venues had a Goldenboy. He also is two venues with a capacity of a 100, four in the capacity of around 500.” a regular band member 200-400 range, a 600 and an 800 venue. For the According to BT the best thing about touring in the bands K-Jell, upcoming Expo Shanghai they’re going to open China is the crowd: “People are so energized Desert Son (formerly two more venues with capacities of 4,000 and there. Many never experienced a rock show Ninth), and Steinar 18,000 this year. And that is just in Shanghai … before, so they go mental. Like kids in a candy Hjelmbrekke. He has When BT visited China he was struck by the store. They run around in circles, jump up and already toured China in willingness of music (semi)professionals to help down from sheer excitement and go insane. In 2007 and 2009. In the each other out: “There are some people from Europe the audience grew up with this music, so spring of 2010 he will Australia, the US and Europe who came on to I guess it’s less special to them.” return together with ALL the Chinese scene and they wanted to share Although getting to China is expensive, once of the aforementioned their knowledge and help get the music industry you’re there everything is cheap. You can get bands so, he’ll be going in China. With their help the Chinese great food, nice clothes and lots of drinks for playing an impressive learned more about the business and are now ridiculously small amounts of money. BT: “I total of four shows spreading the word themselves.” haven’t made much money on the tours in each night. Now, that’s The venues are springing up like mushrooms China, but I also never lost any! I made enough dedication. after rain, which gives you lots of possibilities to to pay for my ticket and my stay there. get a gig somewhere. BT: “Get in touch with the Everything is cheap, but of good quality. And the right people. The country is huge, but the scene food is simply fantastic anywhere you go…” is not that big and usually just one person can help you get booked by lots of venues. Most Difficulties bands only play Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Without the proper contacts, it’s not that easy to Kong, but China is gigantic and has many, many tour China. Not in the last place because of the other great cities to play. On our upcoming tour language and script. They’re both completely we’ll be playing cities like Wuhan, Changsha, different and you won’t be able to talk to Nanjing and Qingdao. You might never have someone, read a street sign or menu without a heard of them, but all those cities have a good translator. Hardly anyone speaks >> 3 READING ROCKS 2010
  4. 4. One of the best venues English, so preferably you get help for rock music in China is the from someone who speaks both VOX bar in Wuhan. It’s a must-stop Evidently you’ll Mandarin and Cantonese. for any band touring China. VOX bar need a bit of has a capacity of around 1,500. money beforehand With a music industry growing They have an enthusiastic audience to pay for your as fast as China’s, it also attracts plus they’ll help you arrange your plane ticket and to opportunists. It can be hard to tour and give you tips about “where cover other basic separate chaff from wheat; not the cool kids hang.” costs. You’ll need to every venue or promoter is reliable apply for a visa, which and trustworthy. You need someone for most countries who knows the right people and the right within the European Union Kang Mao/SUBS places. China is the fourth biggest and most is fairly cheap and not too Kang Mao is the singer populous country in the world, so finding the difficult to get. For other countries it can be quite of Chinese punk band good spots to play without any help, might be a hassle. For citizens of countries like the United SUBS, well-known like looking for a needle in a haystack. BT’s States, it can be very money and time consuming in China for their friend and fellow musician Kjell, of the appropri- to get into China, even on a simple tourist visa. energetic, explosive live ately named band K-Jell, got the idea to tour Of course you want to try and make some money performances. SUBS China when he came into (online) contact with on your tour, but if you want to keep things self-produced and singer Kang Mao of the punk band SUBS. They simple, don’t over-do it. Once you get so famous -released two albums: decided to help each other out and exchanged that the yuans are pouring in, you will need to Subs Life EP (2004) that tours. Later Kjell started a record label in China, get a working visa. And that’s not easy. quickly sold out, and, again teaming up with Kang Mao: October Party in September 2006, Records. However much things have changed over the the seven-track Down. BT: “I had no idea, but Kang Mao turned out to past few years, the Chinese authorities can still The band has been be extremely famous there; she is China’s leading be seen as one of the other difficulties you might on several extensive lady in punk rock. She offered to help us out and run into. They are allowing a lot more western China tours and has got us in contact with reputable people and great influences in, but in many ways they maintain a performed numerous venues and festivals. This year we’ll be playing strict regime. Shows still get cancelled because times at the annual the biggest festival of China, the MIDI Festival, permits won’t be granted or because “safety can’t MIDI Music Festival. pretty much thanks to her help.” be guaranteed by the police”… In other >> In January 2007, they were featured on the cover of Rolling Stone (China). In 2008 documentary Rock Heart Beijing, by Karen Winther, was released, which follows Kang Mao and SUBS on their tour in Europe and China. K-Jell in action in Beijing. 4 READING ROCKS 2010
  5. 5. words, if they don’t like your kind of music, or if in China. The country is too big and too different you did something to upset the local establish- from ours to try and figure it out for yourself. ment, they simply won’t let you play. And what Some things just work differently than in Europe upsets them is a hell of a lot less than what or the US and you need someone who knows the would upset the authorities in the western Chinese industry inside and out, to avoid getting world, so you kinda wanna watch your step a ripped off. For us Kang Mao’s help was essential little if you want a successful tour… on our tour. She got us the information and contacts we needed to plan our tour.” It’s easy; “To turn your tour Facebook, Tweet and MySpace your head off to get some Chinese friends who know the music business and if that doesn’t work follow BT’s into a success, you advice: “You can always contact October Party Records, they would love to help you out!” need to understand • Hire a translator/guide who speaks Mandarin and Cantonese if you want to do a proper tour… a bit of the history You really need someone with you ALL the time. This translator/guide is your best buddy on the tour, and can’t be missed. BT: “The Chinese are of The People’s very polite, and they will never be so rude to admit that they don’t understand you. They just Republic of China.” laugh and keep nodding their head. That’s doesn’t mean they agree, just that they have no idea what you’re talking about.” • Plan as many shows as possible while you’re Don’t worry; there are ways around these there. Of course you would like a day off to enjoy difficulties. Some useful dos and don’ts: the country, but you don’t get an opportunity to make new Chinese fans every week so try to get Do as much out of it as possible. You’ll be exhausted • Invest some time in finding the right people. when you get back, but it’s the best way to break BT: “Without the right contacts you’re nowhere even. >> The whole band with a fan. From left to right: Kjell Moberg, Roar Ruus Finssås, a fan, Bjørn Tore “BT” Taranger, Steinar Hjelmbrekke. 5 READING ROCKS 2010
  6. 6. • Release your album in China and get the CDs because more than half of the tickets are pressed there, it’s ridiculously cheap. You won’t counterfeit tickets. BT: “We’ve never had any make any money off of it, since the selling price issues with fake tickets or anything like that. If is also ridiculously cheap, but it’s a good way to someone tells you that that’s normal in China promote your music. Plus what you sell at don’t trust them!” concerts will easily feed you for a couple of • It may go against everything you stand for, but days… if you really want to tour China, you can’t show • Eat the local food. It’s fantastic and for €1,50 any sympathy for the Tibetan people. The you’ll get so much food you won’t be able to walk government just won’t grant you a visa if you afterwards. have a “Free Tibet” link on your website. Once you’re in China and they find some indication of SUBS – Rolling Stone you supporting Tibet, they won’t give out permits Don’t to the venues you’re planning to play, they will • Don’t upset the Chinese police, make friends cancel your shows and kick you out of the October Party with them. BT: “Because you are a Westerner you country before the tour even starts. Records Label are important to them. They assume you have founded by Kjell money and they’ll keep an eye on you everyw- Although China can be a bit intimidating for E. Moberg (of K-Jell here you go. It may feel creepy that they are foreign bands, touring this country can be very and formerly of Jeff) following you around, but it’s mainly because rewarding. With a thriving and fast growing and Kang Mao (SUBS). they don’t want anything to happen to you. music scene there are plenty of opportunities to Based in Beijing, Hotels in China have to let the police know who find. The audiences are super enthusiastic, there released albums of checks in and out and send them passport are many fantastic venues and if nothing else, it European bands in copies of their guests. Once, a hotel forgot to do will be a great adventure. China. October Party that, so immediately there were five muscular Records also sent some undercover cops in front of our door, deman- of their bands on tour ding to know why they hadn’t received a copy. over there, in 2007 and Very intimidating. Eventually, the hotel got a big 2009 and will again in fine for not sending the police copies of our spring 2010. The other passports, so you don’t want to get on their bad way around, they also side!” organize tours and gigs • Don’t trust overly nice promoters who tell you for Chinese bands in that they didn’t make any money and are unable Scandinavia/Europe. to pay you for the sold-out show you just played, Expenses for a 3-week tour United Kingdom Germany How much is touring China going to cost Plane ticket £ 550 Plane ticket € 850 you? Most bands manage to break even, Visa £ 65 Visa € 70 but you do need to invest some money Food/hotel/local transportation £ 588 Food/hotel/local transportation € 650 in basic expenses like a plane ticket, a Total £ 1,203 Total € 1,570 visa, a guide/translator, food, hotels and transportation. It all depends on where you Extra costs per band/artist: Extra costs per band/artist: live, but here are some estimates of what Guide £240 Guide € 270 you’re likely to spend when touring China: Spain New York Norway Plane ticket € 950 Ticket $ 950 Plane ticket 6,000 NOK Visa € 58 Visa $ 175 Visa 500 NOK Food/hotel/local transportation € 650 Food/hotel/local transportation $ 924 Food/hotel/local transportation 5,250 NOK Total € 1,658 Total $ 2,049 Total 11,750 NOK Extra costs per band/artist: Extra costs per band/artist: Extra costs per band/artist: Guide € 270 Guide $ 366 Guide 2,150 NOK 6 READING ROCKS 2010