Happy Chinese New Year! It’s been a while, but we’ve been busy. A big show at the end of January with Hard-Fi, Tom Middleton and Sasha followed by the annual Chinese shut down. Snow, death at railway stations, delayed flights and extreme cold characterized Chinese New Year 2008 for most.
Suddenly, we are into March, arguably the biggest month in China’s short live music history. With the advent of Emma Ticketmaster, China has suddenly become a viable place for big name foreign bands to add to their world tours. Bjork, Maroon 5, Harry Connick Jr, Celine Dion and the Backstreet Boys are all scheduled to play shows in the next 5 weeks. Then there’s Incubus and James Blunt who are being brought by China West Entertainment (recently shorn of 2/3 of their directors who defected to Emma). And all of these alongside regional artists like Ping Guan and Jolin Cai.
There have been regional artists touring this huge country for years. Most recently, Taiwanese star Jay Chou did a 25 city marathon, playing venues between 40 and 80,000. These tours work and they make money (at ticket prices averaging $50, you can do the maths). Lyrics are in a language that the common man understands and radio/ TV/ print media support these stars across the board. These are China’s celebrities and China, after all, is obsessed with celebrity, more so than anywhere this correspondent has ever lived.
The big question now is whether or not there is enough of a market for such a heavy influx of big name, English language artists. There are more cats of this stature coming in the month of March 2008 than came in the whole of 2007. This is a massive and very sudden leap forward, and it remains to be seen if the market will bear it.
Last October, I was chatting to my friend, the operations director for Emma. I was surprised that they were bringing Linkin Park and Beyonce in the same month to the same city. It wasn’t only those shows competing for both sponsor and consumer RMB; they were up against the Tennis Masters and a Jay Chou stadium show. Tickets generally average US$100 with best seats up near the US$350 mark. Of course, you can get a place next to the birds and sit with your binoculars for “only” US$30, but once someone has had this dubious pleasure, will they want to spend the money (not an insignificant amount for cities where the average monthly wage is still only US$150) again? Those shows worked, but both attracted very different audiences. It remains to be seen how differentiated Harry Connick Jr. and Celine Dion, Maroon5 and Backstreet Boys actually are.
Time will tell, but my gut instinct is that there are going to be some high profile casualties this year. Of the big players (China West, Emma, Split Works) all are planning festivals around the October holiday. Rumour has it that Avril is coming back along with our old friends the Black Eyed Peas and the man that is Kenny G. There’s the perennial chat about Metallica, Pearl Jam etc etc. One that amuses me is that Linkin Park are wanted back in Shanghai so soon after their success of 2007. Is the bubble about to burst, so soon after it formed…?