Before the battles of music festivals during this year’s May 1st holiday, many people had read the article of “Learning how to organize a music festival step by step” on their Wechat circle. It talked about the experiences from the core members of the founding team of the Shanghai Strawberry Festival and described very precisely about the schedule, venue, budget, approval application, etc. It illustrated the whole process to create a music festival and many readers said to have learnt a lot.
To some extent, similar articles reflected the booming of domestic music festival market in recent years with a lot of hot money flowing into. According to Small Antlers, the number of Chinese music festivals in these years keeps bursting. In 2014, the number of domestic music festivals has reached nearly 150; In 2015 due to limited income sources, uneasy site approvals and other factors, the number fell down but still touched 110; The figure jumped to over 200 unprecedentedly in 2016. Moreover, not only the number, but also the quality of music festivals has welcomed a very substantial increase.
However, although the great progress can be seen, many of the domestic music festivals are still inevitably facing many problems. As we all know, there are too many uncontrollable factors to hold a festival. Even if the organizers can be confident about their preparation, risks on the policy, approval, venue, technology and weather would appear more or less. Of course, if those are practical problems, music festivals in China also confront of many in-depth ideological dilemmas.
Some people might ridicule that Chinese fans are celebrating two new-year festivals within one year: Chinese Lunar New Year and May 1st Golden Week Music Festival. In this May, from Chen Li’s forgetting words on Mido Music Festival, to Zeng Yike’s scolding towards the staff on Super Strawberry Music Festival, the gossips witnessed the finish of a fresh “May 1st Battle of Music Festivals”, and introduced a new round of summary.
Dilemma: non smooth approvals, local market shrinking, unsatisfied experiences
“The main stage was semi-closed and designed like a nightclub with LED screens on both sides, quite fresh feelings.” “Artists are great including the Top DJs and the investment scale should be as the same as Budweiser Storm. Unfortunately the stage art design was a little bit out-of-date, especially for the Shanghai fans who are more accustomed to the European or American styles in Budweiser Storm.” As a Shanghai local fan and an executive director of a private performing art company, He Xiaowei (a pseudonym) participated into an newly finishing electronic music festival and estimated there were around 15,000 attending fans within two days. About 1,600 VIP + VVIP tickets were sold out while the overall festival seemed lack of preparation.
He revealed this October will be a big challenge to the music festival market, because it will be a sensitive national holiday coupled with previous negative influence of Faye Wong’s last concert and no new rules coming out. For those festivals which will take place during the Oct 1st National Holiday or plan to obtain oversea IPs by the end of September, how to grasp the approvals smoothly is still a question so that they did not dare to fully spread advertisement.
Nevertheless, despite the negative impact of approval which caused many cancellations of music festivals in the first half of the year, during the first “golden week” the domestic national music festival market still showed “prosperity”. Driven by the hot money, a bunch of new music festival brands still appeared. We made the following statistics about the music festivals held in this May (incomplete):
Compared to last year, the number of domestic music festivals in this May can be described as a victory and accessed to unprecedented 32 (25 among them are outdoor music festivals), and 21 of them concentrated in the May 1st Holiday, including some famous ones like Strawberry and Midi. From the geographical point of view, music festivals of this year are continuing to “go south”.
“Being frustrated in the north, festivals are heading for the south”
Beijing was sunny during this May 1st Holiday, particularly suitable for playing in the music festivals, while the cancellation of the Beijing Super Strawberry brought the fans a lot of sadness. Actually Strawberry, Midi and other music festivals were all absent in Beijing due to unsuccessful approvals, which harmed the painstakingly running organizers and fans.
Advertisement with wave of artists is an important point to surge hot discussion on “social media”. 2017 Shanghai Super Strawberry and Spring Wave Sunset (Shanghai) invited top DJ and overseas musicians to highlight the performing lineup. Shanghai Strawberry is still developing toward comprehensie large scale just like the “Coachella Festival” in US, with plentiful artists and diverse styles to cover pop, rock, folk, electronic, hip-hop, post-rock, etc. Hua Chenyu’s singing of “My Skateboard Shoes” pushed the fans to a climax.
As early as the end of this March, Midi announced the performing lineup and many comments and “spoof” posters jumped out on the internet to show the high expectation of fans.
However, the competition on the music festival market stays still in the early stage. As a consensus, except for several profitable ones, most of the music festivals would fall into loss. Many of the current music festivals are still hosted by the local governments and tourist attractions, with the purpose to create the name cards of the cities and attractions. An lively enough music festival can bring enough people to further drive the local industry chain. Unfortunately they don’t know much about how to operate a successful music festival, so every year “large amounts come, but large amounts out“. Only very few festivals can survive longer on the market.
Old topic: Performances confront of cancellation at the last minute before the beginning
To some electronic music lovers, following the cancellation of “2017 MYTH Festival” which was original scheduled on April 8-9 at the Shanghai Shendi Ecological Park due to force majeure, they might keep full of sorrow during this May 1st Holiday, as the Rabbit Hole Shenzhen Station which was originally scheduled on April 28 and Spring Wave Sunset Shenzhen Station which was previously planned on April 29-30 were both cancelled by the force majeure.
Spring Wave Sunset’s cancellation came out just 3 days before its scheduled opening. Rabbit Hole even called off exactly near to the start of the show, which was extremely awkward.
According to the official WeChat announcement, the Spring Wave Sunset was canceled for the approval problems: “As we all know, large-scale performances need to be approved by a lot of parties and take into account the social security and environment. Unfortunately, the endeavor of half a year might not help Spring Wave Sunset to complete its mission in the e-music history this time.” As for the cancellation of the Rabbit Hole Music Party, the organizer Jungle Culture interpreted the reason as “the occurrence of unpredictable and irreconcilable sudden situation”, while the industry speculated the approval problem was the key.
Spring Wave Sunset Festival’s earlier lineup announcement included the winner of the world Top 100 DJs such as Martin Garrix, Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike to fans caused a stir within fans; Rabbit Hole Electronic Music Party also invited NEVER SAY DIE, Zomboy, SKisM, Habstrakt, WARZ and famous DJs and gained great advertising effect from fans.
Generally speaking, Spring Wave Sunset, Rabbit Hole and the Myth Festival all have good reputations in the industry. But why would such grand and well-known music festivals inevitably suffer the fate of “cancel at the last minute” as well?
Usually in the application process of approval, overseas artists need more time than the domestic stars (such as in Shanghai, overseas artists for provincial or above performances will need the approval time for 20 days, but domestic artists only need 3 days); the organizer will also need to prepare with the artist information, songs, lyrics (including translation), 45-minute performance video / audio, fire protection qualification of the venue, event security plan and emergency evacuation plan, site confirmation letter and so on during the application. These are undoubtedly time and energy consuming seesaw battles for the festival organizers.
Often for cost-saving considerations, the organizers of the festivals will execute performance approval application process and advertisement & sales process at the same time. In other words, the organizers are gambling for the punctuality of their music festivals. Sometimes even the audiences with tickets would still face cancellations. Furthermore, because of the particularity of the e-music festivals (with majorly overseas artists), the approval risk lay higher than the general ones.
Not long ago, Shen Lihui, the founder of Modern Sky talked about the problem on the 2nd Annual Summit of China Music Business, and pointed out the current embarrassing situation of the domestic e-music festival. “E-music festivals compete extremely fiercely, as large ones have no other ways but to invite the star brands… Overseas e-music festivals would feel easy to enter our market for their top stars. While to the e-music, large overseas DJs have occupied the entire market shares but domestic artists do not have any chances.”
In any case, the cancellation finally damages the music fans, and their tons of loss cannot be made up by a simple apology or ticket refunding from the organizers.
Old topic: embarrassing experience of music festival
On April 30, Ms Sun arrived at Nanjing South Railway Station and planned to take a shuttle bus to Lishui Tiansheng Bridge for Mido Festival but encountered traffic jam. She stayed in the station for an hour without any staff to maintain orders or to apologize. Yet her suffering might only be the beginning of the embarrassing experience of the entire music festivals.
Experience of the music festival
– Congestion –
Chaos and congestion of this year’s Midi have become the main critics of fans. Beside of on-site security, the fans pushed and squeezed of each other resulted in the congestion as well. A considerable number of fans took part in this Midi for Zhao Lei, who went popular last year. Best seats were crowed ahead by his fans but caused much dissatisfaction of others.
Experience the music festival
– No Train-Driving, No Carry-Flag, No Jump-Water –…
Due to the on-site security, this year’s Shanghai Super Strawberry Music Festival took an attendance limit, while forbidding Train-Driving, Carry-Flag, Jump-Water, Death-Wall and other playing actions, which made the some fans get regrets.
Experiences of the music festival
– Sense of time –
Being late for performance is one of the critics of fans every year. Even though the timetable cannot be carried out exactly due to various reasons, fans would feel being respected if the performances can strictly follow the schedule.
Bad experiences of the music festival
– Weak signal –
The on-site service of domestic music festivals seems to have never been perfect, and the weak signal is one problem.
Despite the difficulties on the current Chinese music festival market, the good news is that during this May, the number of music festivals and commented viewers climbed up obviously compared with previous years. This time most discussions were concentrated on the hot rapper Zhao Lei. From another aspect, is this still a step forward? Though in the short term, China’s music festival market cannot avoid from the primary phrase, we can see the sincere efforts on the experience service of current music festivals.
“I think Strawberry, Midi and Spring Wave in this year were quite successful and negative feedbacks only focused on very tiny points. We are all in progress.” A music festival founder had previously said to CMBN privately, “The intersection among the music festivals is getting smaller and we can see the obvious differences from the ticket prices, the artist lineups and the crowds. Large comprehensive music festivals and the classified music festivals continue to develop into two directions. Subdivided music festivals such as electronic music ones have become more and more active, and cross-border music festivals would also strengthen further their connection point with technology.”
New trend: accelerating upgrades, more diverse models”
Today, the festival organizers are struggling to enhance the audience experience, which is reflected in the increasing professionalism of the Strawberry Music Festival. For example, in the first half of this year, the founder of the Modern Sky, Shen Lihui, held several meetings with the music festival team for improving on-site user experience.
G Festival, a science & technology temple just finished in the Beijing Bird’s Nest Stadium, highlighted the integration of electronic music and technology. More than 50 technology brands attended and DJs performed from the afternoon to the evening on the stage. Similarly, in line with the theme of “Lonely Rangers”, this year’s Strawberry Music Festival inserted an one-on-one performance called ”Lonely Concert” (i.e. choosing a lucky one from the attending audience to sing together with the star), and the Strawberry Market has also been rapidly upgraded. The VP and general manager of Lab Department of Modern Sky, Zhang Chongshuo, said in the future they will try to build Strawberry Market as an self-contained IP brand.
This year, Shanghai Strawberry attracted more than 60,000 audience and became the leader on the Weibo and WeChat indexs ahead of other brands. Zhang Chongshuo said to CMBN, “Strawberry has 3 visual teams: one for the plane, one for the stage art and the last for the multimedia and image. We enhanced the requirements on visual effects this year.” For instance, the Strawberry this time added Young Blood Stage and MDSK Stage (Hip-hop Stage), and also upgraded the previous electronic stage to MYTH stage. Those visual teams provided diverse designs basing on different stage styles.
In addition, the Banana BIG Galaxy held in Shanghai at the end of this April contained diverse sections with a theme of “Internet+ Music Festival”, such as games, animation, e-games, car culture, extreme sports and young trends. It enabled fans to experience richer amusement activities while enjoying in the music.” ”We want to build a concept of a pan-entertainment empire and Banana Culture will start from here.” The project leader Shi Xinjie (Chad) said to us, “It is the first time we try to combine games, entertainment and youngsters’ favorite things together. We believe games and extreme sports appeal to the youth.”
“This MIDI was the best one I have ever been.” Sighed Mr. Li, a music industry inside player, after participating in this year’s May 1st Taihu Music Festival. He is an experienced fan of Midi and he recalled the memory a few years ago in Haidian Haidian Park. “At that time, participating into Midi was like taking an adventure with a long queue and a lot of sufferings…”
Mr. Li’s good feelings came from the thoughtful service of Midi Music Festival, which was basing on previous adhering to the rock & roll spirit.” A lot of service facilities are designed more humane for the larger public to join.” For example, large charging area and rest area have become the standard of Midi Festival, and this time the camping area has expanded by 3 times; More mobile bathrooms and especially women bathrooms were settled to care for the needs of female fans; Brochures were not only placed in the entries but also everywhere in the venue to facilitate the audience at any time; And the direction indicating boards are also very clear…
Needless to say, the current Chinese music festival market is experiencing a “not small” upgrading.
Everything has issued such a signal: music festival market has infinite potential and music festivals are becoming a new lifestyle to Chinese youngsters. Whether there is a better operation way is still worthy of in-depth exploration to all practitioners.
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