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The Beat: Why Touring in China Takes the Cake

New columnist Allyson Toy on the benefits of musical tours across China


Despite having an infinite amount of music at our disposal thanks to digital platforms, concerts and live shows still have a constant in-real-life stronghold on today’s music world.


While the love of live music may feel universal, the practice of it is not, and touring in China differs a lot from the rest of the world. Over the last ten years I spent in NYC, I got acquainted with the US touring market from multiple angles by booking shows and producing events for artists like Björk and Chance The Rapper, working in media, leading music programs for brands and DJing on the weekends. As much as I enjoyed this, it wasn’t until coming to The Middle Kingdom last year on tour that I discovered the fresh alternative of road life in China. 


The American touring market feels over saturated at best. These days musicians can make money from many different sources, but touring is still one of the most reliable ways to make cash upfront. So in the digital age with artists releasing music faster than ever, it’s no wonder why cities small and large are seeing more shows than ever. In the West, touring musicians now have to worry about who else is playing around the same city at the same time, and it’s forced a lot of them to lower ticket prices, and ultimately their earnings, to try and beat out the competition.


While more shows certainly means more variety for fans, there are still disadvantages to this. For many, it inevitably starts to feel easier to shrug off missing that concert last week when there’s another great one tomorrow. It’s like an inflated currency; an overabundance starts to devalue each incoming live show.


Shanghai-based band Dirty Fingers at Yuyintang


China isn’t immune to the same reality of oversaturation, but it’s not quite there yet, and its show circuit still feels far from hitting the same plateau. In Shanghai alone, few-year-old festivals like Concrete & Grass, Ultra, or STORM evidence a growing appetite for live music with swelling ticket sales all around. These days, classic Shanghai live houses like Arkham or Yuyintang have more shows each month than ever before, and second or third tier cities are quickly following suit. Touring artists in China are going after a growing business, while in the States, they’re competing for a piece of a shrinking pie.


According to Chinese-American rapper Bohan Phoenix, whose recent Asia tour hit over a dozen Chinese cities, “It feels like fans in China are just more about it. They show their excitement in different ways [than in the US], but the love is real, and they don’t feel jaded like in New York.” For example, Chinese fans may not dance or jump around as much as kids in Brooklyn, but on average, they buy more merchandise and are willing to hang around an hour after the show just to say hello or take a picture with the artist.


According to Ross Miles, a London-born longtime employee of Shanghai-based promotions company Splitworks, “our shows used to be predominantly expats, but in recent years, we’ve had more locals and Shanghainese than ever.” 


While live music has been in the DNA of Western fans for ages, for many young Chinese, it’s a practice that still feels relatively fresh and not yet taken for granted. China’s youth are more keen to discover new music and spend more money on entertainment than ever. And thanks to the speed of social media and digital music distribution, they show no signs of stopping.


Written by Allyson Toy

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