In recent years, a number of independent musicians achieved big commercial success thanks to the growth in live music industry. Having accumulated rich experience performing in live houses, independent musicians such as Hao Meimei, Chen Li, Chen Hongyu, Zhao Lei and Zhao Zhao began to performance in the theaters and had no problem filling the seats.
Chen Hongyu just completed his first solo theater tour “The Wilderness” in the first half of the year. According to his agency’s official announcement, he toured in 13 cities and performed for a total audience of more than 22,000 people, averaging around 1,700 per stop. The highest single performance box office was 1.05 million RMB in Beijing. Jinan, Suzhou, Hangzhou, Guangzhou, Wuhan stops were sold out as well.
Just like Chen Hongyu, Zhao Lei has also graduated from live house performances and is planning his first solo tour in 10,000 seat stadiums. The investor and promoter of this tour is a company called S.A.G Stage Art Group.
Having organized live performances for Li Zhi, Chen Hongyu and Zhao Lei, S.A.G’s performance investment and service has been riding the wave of rising prominence of independent musicians. What does the industry need in order to help independent musicians up their touring game? Yang Zi, CEO of S.A.G, has something to say.
S.A.G Stage Art Group is a company dedicated to stage production, music festival/concert investment, planning and execution. The company’s recent involvements include the investment in Tianmo Music Festival, and organization of live performances for artists Zhao Lei, Li Zhi, Escape Plan and Chen Hongyu.
First, put more emphasis on quality.
Anything can happen during a live performance. I’ve heard crazy stories about people preparing no instruments on stage for the artists, or getting them the wrong instruments, lighting technicians’s programming mismatching the lighting equipment, and speakers not properly connected to the sound processors.
Most promoters these days only focuses on the very basic cost benefit analysis and getting their money back. Promoter’s know how much the fans are willing to pay for a ticket, and they know there’s only 2000 at most 3000 seats in a theater. So they would estimate the total box office number and discount it by 30 to 40% and then work their way around all the rent, transportation expenses and salaries of the stage engineers, and getting approvals from authorities. They keep stage design budget to a minimum. As long as there’s light and speaker they are good to go. That’s how the theatre performances are done. The audience wants to see better produced shows and a little more care and money spent on quality would eliminate a lot of last minute problems and improve efficiencies.
Second, create an industry standard.
Traditionally, event promoters only do the administrative work, such as setting up venues, scheduling, filing for approval, scheduling and booking for the crew. This has started to change. Artists are demanding higher quality production. Creating an industry standard for speed up the whole process and leave room for the creative demands of each artist.
Third, the industry know-how of quality of practitioners needs to improve.
The commercial prospects of the live performance market is very optimistic and the number of performances is rapidly increasing. However, we still see the same people in the industry.
To become a good lighting engineer or sound engineer takes ten to eight years of experience. The industry is getting bigger, but there are still too little people working in this industry. We need more musicians and more technicians. This is a very imminent problem.
We, as industry practitioners, hope that through our promotions of the beauty of live music, more people will get into the industry. We hope that some people will start to play guitar and then study sound engineering and then stage programming and become one of us.
Fourth, we need some surprise elements in performances, outside of the standardization.
The most valuable lesson we learned from the tour this year was how to manage the theater in every detail, not just following the standard procedures.
Most performances these days uses a time code system. Every performance has the exact same intervals and plays the exact same song at the exact moment. After doing it several times the artists get really sick and tired. Some devoted fans who go to several stops of the same show do too.
Live performances, by definition, should be dynamic. The audience will certainly get bored with the same structured content. Therefore, I think we should explore how to change things up and allow for flexibilities and improvisation of the artists. And this would definitely require a lot of coordination and careful planning at an early stage.
Fifth, we need some creativity in our cost cutting.
What’s interesting about artistic creation is that the process is always a struggle and the results is always surprising. Even when you already planned out every detail of what the performance would look like, you still get that kick of excitement after it’s done.
During “the Wilderness” tour in theater, we used stage set equipment ranging from gray projection screen and an ordinary projector to 40,000 lumens laser projectors and it doesn’t make a significant difference. We also made some luminous cubes from very simple materials, but putting them together in a innovative way looked very nice.
The beauty of stage design is that you can create very interesting effects using very common material equipments. It’s really not worth it to spend a lot of money on these things because you have to move them around and they get damaged in transportation. It’s the smart way to go.
Sixth, the industry needs to have higher level of specialization and professionalism so everyone’s talent can be utilized to the largest extent.
Working with great musicians, we get to explore different ways of touring, different content and different stage design. Even though independent musicians are producing more extensive stage effects, their tours are still far from becoming a flashy show of stage effects like the mainstream singers’ concerts. And you need different people to organize these different tours.
“The wilderness” tour was a very successful attempt at specialization. Mr. Chen Hongyu himself was mainly responsible for the track list. He has a lot of ideas, a lot of energy and rich experience working with different industries. Ding dong was responsible for the stage art design. In fact, S.A.G was not involved much in the process, we built a platform, and everyone collaborate on it.
I hope that we can be more than an event promoter to musicians. We want to play the role of a well-rounded support so that the musicians can focus on their creative endeavors.
Independent musicians are becoming more and more mainstream. This will prompt the live music industry to go a better direction.The audience, as well as the musicians themselves, will pay more and more attention to the performance quality.
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