China's Indie Music Market and Livehouse Status Quo
An interview with Meng Yuliang of Blue Stream Bar and Yuppie Monkey
"China's music market is expanding, but the bars and the livehouses are having a hard time maintaining their business," said Meng Yuliang (孟育良), owner of Blue Stream Bar in Beijing and founder of Yuppie Monkey, an artist development company, in an interview with Eric de Fontenay.
According to Meng, the current situation for livehouses in Beijing as well as China is not only due to financial pressures, but also because of the rules and restrictions from the official departments, which makes it a lot harder to pass the Government's qualifications for running a livehouse. In fact, the government policies this year have gotten stricter than ever, with Beijing's biggest metal festival 330 Festival being interrupted and called off early this year just 80 minutes after it started due to attendance exceeding the venue's capacity (a fact disputed by the organizers and prior events held). This July, two of Beijing's best livehouses, Mako and XP Club, both announced their closures due to financial and qualification difficulties respectively. To keep the livehouse in the black, Blue Stream Livehouse gives master classes and sells drinks in the day time, and holds live performances at night.
Despite the challenges faced by the live music scene, Meng is positive about the future of China's music market. In the recent years, China's mainstream media has been giving increased attention to indie music, which allows the general audience to have more exposure to the indie musicians. Hence, more and more people are going to live music scenes and music festivals today than five years ago.
Generally speaking, the well-established musicians prefer holding their concerts in larger venues such as Beijing's Tango Bar, simply because larger venues allow the artists to sell more tickets and generate more revenues. Asked about the competition between bigger venues and smaller livehouses, Meng confirmed that the former is doing better financially than the later, but he also stressed that both serve important functions in supporting different types of bands. "Smaller livehouses such as Blue Stream provide opportunities for the newer bands to develop and build a fanbase," Meng noted. "But I hope that there will be more bigger ones. It's better for the market as they offer a larger platform for those bands to grow and reach a broader audience."
In May 2015, Meng Yuliang and Li Zhenhang (李桢航), the vocalist of Hang Band, founded Yuppie Monkey, aiming to aggregate resources from their connections in the industry to help musicians develop their network and provide them with better opportunities. Thus far, Yuppie Monkey is working with Hang Band - a rising folk music band, OKSA - a Mongolian folk rock band, and two folk musicians: Ren Dong (任东) and Lao Bao (老豹).
As for foreign bands interested in exploring the Chinese music market, Meng advises that they first focus on promotion and building a substantial fanbase than profit. And most importantly, networking, which is the key to resources and opportunities in China.
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