Smallfish Agency

Residence A - Touring in China

Touring in China as a band or not ?

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:

  • 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.
The increase of box office revenue is related to the continuous launch of programs related to the Bands (live music) such as China Top Bands (中国乐队) or 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.

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 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.
 Fact is 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:

 

  • 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 categorized 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.

 

For your first time in China:

It’s crucial that you work with a local partner. 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.

 

A quick word about venues/festivals infrastructure 

 

At least the one I experienced, 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 1000/1500 cap venue with a huge stage, massive speakers…A motorbike and a basketball set are lying around the venue…. 

Social Media: 

It’s not because you are touring in China, that your job is done. You will need to work on your social media. You can forget IG, Facebook, Twitter, those apps are not allowed in China, instead the country has their own such as: WeChat, TikTok, Baidu, Douban, Weibo and I do highly recommend to get an account for each of them and deliver contents. 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.

 

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 invitation 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.

 

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