How big is the fan base?
It’s hard to say, but most of the time when I promote a show for heavy metal, 90 % of the audience are local kids. If I put on an electronic show or indie rock, the crowd will be mostly expat.
Is social media important?
We use three services for promotion: Weibo, Douban and Youku. They may not mean much to you, but they are the Facebook, YouTube and Twitter of China. The originals are blocked.
What was the best show you’ve put together so far?
It’s a difficult question, since most of my shows gave been quite successful, but if I have to pick one, I’ll say Stratovarious. And I’m not saying that because I’m sitting in a hotel in Finland! They’re top musicians and passionate about investing their time in China. They’ve been there three times and draw bigger crowds every time.
Is it difficult for foreign bands to find success in China?
Very difficult for bands that are just starting out, but if an upcoming artist already has a little bit of reputation in the local scene, they have a better chance of rising to fame in China. A new band from Finland may play for 20 or 30 people. It’s a small world, thanks to the internet, so Chinese youth know how to find info about foreign artist. If we promote a new band that hasn’t released anything and we say it’s good, nobody will believe it, because they don’t see this band’s name in magazines or hear the music on the radio. A band like Negative that is already successful in Finland will have an easier time and they are also willing to invest time and effort in China, so they garner respect that way.
So media is really important?
Yes, and you need to succeed in your home country before going for it abroad.
How is heavy metal’s media presence?
That’s the beauty of it. The mainstream media never supported the heavy metal scene, so the fans spend a lot of time on the internet. Chinese music lovers are the best music lovers in the world. In Europe I can hear metal music on the radio while driving and go to a supermarket to buy magazines featuring my favorite metal artists. I may even see a video on TV. There is no media that caters to music lovers in China, so fans spend a lot of time discovering music on the internet.
China is big. What are the differences between scenes in various parts of China?
China is so huge, it’s hard to answer. If you look at the cities, there’s 20 million people living in Beijing, for example. That’s an enormous variety of people. When we introduce Western artists to China, we have to focus on the three main cities: Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou
Is selling records difficult?
Yes. Even the biggest artists, like Lady Gaga and Rihanna, will sell less than 100,000. 50,000 or 60,000 is a “hit”. New bands sell 2000.
Is piracy the problem?
The internet is the problem. Nobody buys pirate CDs anymore, because everyone downloads free music off the internet . We lack platforms for introducing music to the market and there’s no support from the mainstream media. If you want to make it in China, you can’t complain about piracy, since that’s how young Chinese people find you.
How do you see the future of music business in China?
I think record labels will suffer, because nobody buys CDs. The live music market is great. In the West bands tour to promote an album, but in China that doesn’t really make sense.
Can Chinese music make it in the West like J-rock or K-pop are beginning to?
Not in the next 5 years. Korean artists receive a lot of support from government organizations. 10 years ago the Korean government helped a lot of Korean music producers study overseas. After 3-4 years these music business people return to Korea and bring new ways ideas. The government is the driving force.
Right now, when Western people think of Chinese artists, they think of kung-fu stars like Bruce Lee, Jet Li, Jackie Chan, etc. That’s one way for people who never go to China to have a connection with China. If we think about Japan, people grow up with Japanese cars, video games and cartoons, so they’ve had a connection with Japan all their lives. I try to impress on the people at the Ministry of Culture that a Chinese superstar is a great way to introduce China to the Western world.
What’s the role of the government?
If a foreign band wants to release a record locally, the Ministry of Culture will review the lyrics and music. Any songs that involve violence, sexual behavior or drugs will not be released in China. Bands have to submit their set lists for approval, too. For our foreign bands, we have to submit a band’s videos, promo photos, video of a live performance, etc. It’s a lot of work.
Have you had any problems with that?
We are professionals and know how to do our job, so no.
How about others?
It’s the same as in any other country: there are good promoters and bad promoters. There are bad promoters that tell you that they will bring you to China for 7-city tour, but two months before they cancel and blame the government, using the Ministry as an excuse. We can’t always blame the ministry of culture.