Deep Pockets for Dream Festivals

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By Antonia Simon

Just in the last two months, we’ve seen music festival ticket prices come close, and then breach, a once-impossible threshold.

July’s Wetware Festival in Beijing, put together by social networking site Douban, charged 889RMB for a weekend pass. Two months later, and along comes the first iteration of Summer Sonic in Shanghai, and their two-day presale price is a dizzying 1280 RMB.

Back when only a few festival giants roamed the Chinese live music landscape, ticket prices were the least of anyone’s concerns. When the first MIDI was on, a taxi ride to the venue was pretty much the only concern. For the thousand or so individuals who picked up scent, they were treated to free tickets and free booze. This was the case until 2005, where upon change of location to Beijing’s Haidian Park, the MIDI loyal begrudgingly paid 30RMB, the standard price to enter the park.

Let’s just say a few things have changed since.

As festivals have grown in size, scale and production values, ticket prices have soared. Strawberry tickets have quadruples in 8 years, from 80 RMB to 320 RMB for a single day pass. Passes less than 500 RMB for a weekend festival are the exception, rather than the norm.

But here’s a twist in the tale for you all:

These prices are, for the most part, a fair reflection of what it costs to put an event like this together.

Yes, these are the prices that we must pay for our festivals to stay in the in the bull pen. Artist costs, production costs and the larger, more ambiguous “cost of doing business” in China have all spiralled, while revenue sources like brand and venture money has tightened.

Rising costs haven’t quenched the appetite for festivals, though, as Radar’s past coverage has shown. As we’ve seen with EDM festivals, most notably A2Live’s STORM, their audience (8-10k to around 80k, adjusting for promoter hyperbole) has gone lock-step with their ticket prices (200 RMB to 380RMB to over 1,180RMB for a VIP pass).

What it has done is shifted the demographics in favour of those who can afford 1000+ RMB for some weekend fun. A sum that amounts to 15% of the average person’s monthly income in Shanghai.

This is the Catch-22 that the industry now faces. If we want our festivals to be sustainable, inclusive, and light on the branding and advertising – these ticket prices are the new normal. Cheaper tickets could mean compromised experiences, because those who bankroll the festivals may not want the same things as those who’re putting it together.

Radar’s hope, as ever, is for a more progressive middle-ground. Can we figure out a model where brands and investing entities can help alleviate the stress of ticket prices, and yet help create festival experiences that are not crassly commercial?

Festivals like Australia’s Golden Plains have done it. With Summer Sonic door tickets at 1500 RMB a pop, feels like a good time for China to get on it too.

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