posted on March 18, 2008 06:54
See what happened when US art-metal band Dreamtheatre didn't hand out bundles of free tickets, as is common practise for any concert organiser in Beijing - at their recent gig in the Chinese capital. The band kept the invite list tight for its show at the Haidian Exhibition Theatre. But security guards at the state-owned venue let fans in for RMB50 a head. Front rowckets for the gig were priced as RMB300.
Police and numerous local and national government bureaucrats - like the city and national ministries of culture and public security -demand tickets. "They'll say 'my son wants to go and he'll bring his friends," explains plain-talking Yang Yu, who organises tours in China for foreign rock bands. "You need them onside, so what can you do?" Many freebies end up in the hands of ticket scalps. I've seen scalpers hawk VIP tickets with a face value of EUR120 for gigs by Deep Purple and Maximo Park for less than EUR10.
Organisers of corporate-sponsored concerts - common in stadium-sized Mandopop concerts in China - often sell several thousand tickets below face value to scalps to bump up attendances. "Organisers often sell 3,000 tickets at a low price... in China you are not counting only on ticket sales."
Local officials have taken their slice from the still-nascent rock scene. Bureacrats even succeeded in cashing in on the Midi Festival, an annual experimental festival in Haidian Park. "It's a festival for poor students but visiting bands had to stay at the hotel owned by the wife of the local district governor."
A wave of concerts between 2000 and 2005 over-fed China with a glut of corporate-paid-up pop: "you could get a ticket for free just by calling up. But then there was a flood of boring shows and no one went."
Western bands struggled to persuade paying fans to come to their shows. Britpop originators Suede suffered a bad turnout at their February 2003 show because of high ticket prices, bad marketing and "because they were stupid enough to have the show really close to the Spring Festival holidays. Students were at home on holidays," says Yang.