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Touring in China as a band and build an audience

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You have a growing interest about touring in China with your band ?

IMPORTANT: In this post about touring in China as an artist or band and just to set the expectations of the readers, I will only talk about my experiences and interactions  with local promoters, media, distributors I met  while touring bands which is based on the last 4 years.

Some numbers to share first:

Below, you can see, in China, the number of live events (festivals) per year from 2012 and 2018. You can really see the constant increase.

Touring in China - Number of Live Festivals in China

In 2017, the box office revenue of large-scale concerts and music festivals was 3.764 billion RMB, and with regards to live-houses (venues) was 125 million RMB.

In 2018, the box office revenue of large-scale concerts and music festivals was 3.985 billion RMB, while  live-houses (venues) was 250 million RMB.

Statista/MinisterY Chinese Culture


The increase of box office revenue is related to the continuous launch of programs related to live music such as:

  • China Top Bands (中国乐队)
  • Super Band (超级乐队),
  • The Big Band (乐队的夏天),
  • Let’s Band (起乐队吧). 


These (TV)shows have a positive impact to the increase of Music Scene /Band Culture in China. The show “The Big Band” , for instance, is the most successful one among all. Many young people start to pay attention to live music. Live Music become more closed to their daily life basis.

Let's band - Touring in China
Super band - Touring in China
China Top Bands - Touring in China

As an artist/band should you invest your time in China …….or not:


Yes China is a huge territory and it can be a daunting task especially if you have no idea where to start and have little knowledge about this unusual market.


After several trips back and forth to China, I can definitely say there is no doubt this country represent a gigantic magnet. Opportunities of touring and being distributed are legion.

Over the last few years, I brought a certain number of artists (such as I Wear* Experiment, Edor, Konoba, Totemo, Vera Jonas) for touring purpose in China (and some are still coming back on a yearly basis).  

While touring with those artists, I witnessed the following:

  • Sold out shows (200 cap up to 800 cap)
  • Band being charted in the top 4 in some HIT LIST curated by major streaming platforms
  • Artists being distributed across all major streaming platforms
  • Album of an artist being streaming more than 1.5M time within a short timeframe
  • Podcast interview made with some of the artist being played more than 40.000 times
  • Important interest towards some of the artists through the local social media by local audience


As you know most probably, China has opened up their music market for the last 10/15 years ago. Fact is, they are catching up super fast.

Venues, festivals, music platforms are still spreading everywhere in China and try to satisfy the emerging and rising middle class looking for more entertainment activities.

Also because in China (unlike in Europe), touring opportunities across the country really exist as long you are not too picky and have the time for it.

A band could tour for weeks from East to West, from North to South. For instance, the Beijing band Residence A toured in 2019 around 140 gigs just in China.


 In fact, China has a large number of festivals, some allows foreign acts (such as Midi, Modernsky, Concrete & Grass) to perform and some are only focus on local acts. Keep in mind each time a foreign band play in a festival, the promoter need an authorisation from the government.



But what is the added value of touring in China:

 

Touring in China - Strawberry Fest
  • Exposure to a new and potentially bigger crowd 
  • You get paid for your gigs
  • You can build a strong fanbase from Day 1
  • Possibility to get distributed very easily
  • Increase your visibility drastically within social media in China and outside of China (through the Chinese diaspora)

What about the audience ?

 

I can guarantee you that for each shows you will go, you will get a crowd waiting for you.

Let’s be realistic and I don’t want to give you false hope: it’s not because you will play in China that you will get thousands of people waiting for you.

Instead you will have (supposing the promo was done properly)  good amount of people attending your show that you may convert to fans during and after the show (during the selfie session).


Check this video to get a feel on how is touring in China for the Estonian band I Wear* Experiment

Audience coming to your shows can be categorised as:

  • Potential fans of your music (who know your music)
  • People interested to see a foreign band (because in some cities, there are not much foreign bands touring) – those could be : university students for instance…
  • People who just want to party or have some social time and just walk in

Meeting the fans after a show.

A quick word about venues/festivals infrastructure 

Touring in China Blog Post - Chinese Festivals

 

With regards to club gigs I experienced, the venues are relatively new but not always properly maintained which should not be a showstopper if you are touring with a good sound and light engineers.

I come across venues located in some awkward area where you will never imagine there is a venue, hidden. It was the case for the one in Tianjin which was located in a tiny street, entrance was more like a cafe place who had seen better days, but once you go through that cafe area, you open a door and end up to a beautiful 1000/1500 cap venue with a huge stage, massive speakers.

In terms of festivals, overall it has been a great experience. It can be challenging from a language standpoint (I do recommend you get a local person who can help you with the communication aspect). Here again, I do recommend you travel with your own sound engineer.

For your first time in China:

It’s crucial that you work with a local partner for:

  • Booking your shows
  • Distribute your music
  • Push content on social media

It will make so much difference and will speed up the process. Local partner, ideally, should know the landscape of the music market in China. He/she has the network in place to find venues interested to welcome your band, find a support acts, but also has the knowledge to work on the promotion of the tour and get the attention it deserves.

I recommend you go through a test phase and target venue/club with a capacity of 100/150 cap.

 You can see if you can fill in this type of venue before going to the next level. I would also recommend a week tour maximum in the following cities: Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai, Wuhan, Shenzen, Ghanzou, Chengdu.

Touring in China means you will need to use local transport. I often used fast train to commute from one city to another. It’s fast, efficient and train has enough space to store your gears. You have other options such as taking planes, or eventually renting a van, it really depend on the distance.

Finally, I strongly recommend you to get your music distributed in China. You want to make sure the people attending your show can find your music on the various music platforms available in China. 

Distribution in China

I listed some platforms where your music should be:


  • Netease Cloud Music
  • QQ Music
  • Kugou Music
  • Kuwo Music
  • Xiami Music
  • QianQian Music

Social media and video platforms are huge in China: 

It’s not because you are touring in China, that your job is done. You will need to step in on local social media such as Weibo for instance.

Social media in China are part of the daily life. You can use them to do your groceries, or you can pay your electricity bill or monthly rent. Social media plays clearly a role as an active economic and social actor among anyone living in China.

 Weibo has about 445 millions active users per month (number collected for Q3 2018).

Weibo - Touring in China
Youku - Touring in China
Bilibili -Touring in China
Kuaishou - Touring in China
Tudou - Touring in China
Tiktok - Touring in China
Tencent - Touring in China
Tencent Video - Touring in China

You can forget IG, Facebook, Twitter, those apps are not allowed in China (except if you are using a VPN), instead the country has their own such as: WeChat, TikTok, Baidu, DoubanWeibo.

 I do recommend you open an account on Weibo at least. I found Weibo being very instrumental when it comes to build an audience.

Note:  Weibo has about 445 millions active users per month (number collected for Q3 2018).

Building an account on Weibo China (not international) can be challenging especially if you are not based in China. Therefore you may ask help from someone (your local partner) who is located in China to help you and push contents. This is an essential key.


To illustrate the power of social media in China, check the picture below:


Touring in China - IWE - Social Media

1 & 2: EZFM Radio through their Weibo Account: shared a message from I Wear* Experiment during the early days of the Covid crisis in China (message was played 45.000 times within the first 24 hours).

3. For Valentine Day: the band post one of their hit single Patience, post was viewed 213.000 times within the first 48 hours. 

4. Even podcast should not be neglected, the band participate to a podcast (for Mapo Radio) during their stop in Beijing and the reading version was read more than 10.000 times 

Another example, look at the number of plays the Belgian band THOT had for their podcast at Mapo Radio. 

THOT Mapo Podcast - Touring in China

Use of KOL/Influencers

I could not write a post about the Chinese touring landscape without talking about the importance of KOLs.

KOL = Key Opinion Leader

KOL or micro-KOL could be compared to influencers. They have an expertise in one area and have a community of followers. If you want to step in the Chinese market, you may consider using their service in order to reach and build an audience.

My Pros and Cons for touring in China.

Let’s start with the pros:

  • You will be playing in front of a bigger crowd than any markets in Europe you never played before.
  • Crowd can be easily converted to fans.
  • Crowd are definitely more curious open to listen new music
  • You will play in some very decent venues with top notch equipment (but not always well maintained)
  • You will probably earn more than what you get in EuropeYou may sell more merch than any other countries
  • Your presence across Chinese Social Media will certainly be boosted faster than on the Western one.
  • You will have access to higher level media attention than at home.

Cons:

  • Administrative process to enter the country as a band can be sometimes tricky and you need the support of your local promoter.
  • You never know for sure if the festival will take place, as it can be shut down at the last minute by local authorities for XYZ reason.
  • Venues (mostly in Beijing/Shanghai area) need permit to let Foreign artist play in their venue and it’s not cheap.
  • You may need a Sound Engineer to tour in China in order to be sure to have the right sound during your show.

Finally, I want to conclude this post by saying the following:

Let’s be honest, you can’t be successful after just one tour or having one single released in that gigantic market. You need to develop your presence online but also physical (through the touring activities), it means that you need to come back on a regular basis (every year) and keep providing new content each time. It may take a few years, but believe me, the progress is still way faster than in Europe.

By being steady in working your online presence and touring in China, you will notice :

  • an increase of followers on your Chinese social media (which can be converted on concerts tickets buyers), 
  • an increase of audience at your shows,
  • More invitations to play at festivals
  • Your music being ranked at HIT List curated by streaming platforms
  • More collaboration opportunities

So what do you think ?

Would you like to get more information about touring in China with your band ? If yes, you can contact me and discuss further.



Enjoyed the article? 

You can find more great content here:

How I Wear* Experiment shoot their music video on top of the Great Wall
Big in Asia as a band – Between myth and reality

About the author 

John Willame

17 years experience in the Music Industry, I worked as a promoter in Bangkok for 8 years where I set up shows for Backstreet Boys, Death Cab For Cutie, Mogwai, Diana Krall, Herbie Hancock.. In 2016, I created my own artist management agency which focus on the development of emerging artists.

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