It is a truth universally acknowledged that Sina Weibo is a homegrown marvel of the Chinese Internet. Everything from the fact that 140 characters in Chinese can express a whole lot more meaning than the equivalent letters and spaces in English, to its use as a tool of citizen journalism and documentation, have rendered Weibo an indispensible part of daily life. But even beyond a steady diet of food scandals, corrupt officials and live giraffes in trucks on the highway, Weibo has become an essential part of musicians’ daily communications with their fans from all over the country. Bands and artists use Weibo as a platform to conduct live chats with fans, post photos and videos after gigs and in the case of erstwhile Chengdu Britpoppers Mr. Chelonian, shame an event management company into paying them a long-overdue performance fee.
Mr. Chelonian or in Chinese, 海龟先生, recent signees of Modern Sky records and Chengdu transplantees, played a show for Tiger Beer’s annual Battle of Bands in Beijing this summer. AMC Group, based in Chengdu, Taipei and Southeast Asia was the events company in charge of organizing all of the Tiger Translate Battle of the Bands shows. Before their performance over the summer, according to Mr. Chelonian’s Weibo post dated November 10, AMC had transferred 10% of their performance fee into the band’s bank account, with the understanding the balance of the fee would be paid after the event had concluded. From August to the beginning of November Mr. Chelonian waited to be paid by AMC, all the while maintaining contact with the company and receiving brush-offs, excuses and delays all the while. Earlier this month, they posted a query on Weibo wondering when they would receive the balance of payment.
That’s when things got interesting. The next day, the other bands from that Tiger Translate show received money for the performance. When Mr. Chelonian called back to ask where their fee was, they first required to delete the offending Weibo post and issue another one of apology, and when the band refused, treated to quite the tongue-lashing and threats from the company who had “produced shows for Jay Chou and Faye Wong.” And instead of meekly deleting and apologizing, Mr. Chelonian produced a detailed account of their mistreatment at the hands of AMC Group, which resulted in over 2300 re-posts and over 400 comments, the vast majority in support of the band. In contrast, the Weibo update from AMC Group’s account, posted approximately 40 minutes after Mr. Chelonian’s and telling their side of the story received barely 70 re-posts and comments. The vast majority of those comments also called out AMC for their delinquency and voiced support for Mr. Chelonian.
In the pages of this blog and elsewhere, we’ve covered the struggles of independent musicians obtaining fair compensation for their time and music from faceless corporations. But as the performing-arts industry matures and more brands are recognizing the mass appeal of indie rock, we will hope to see more semi-success stories like Mr. Chelonian. A little more than 24 hours after posting the initial Weibo, the band sent another update saying that they had finally been paid in full. However, their story is still there, and even today fans are still posting words of encouragement and support.