When analyzing the live music scene, don't overlook venues
With the summer dearth of live music, the question of whether or not Shanghai is doomed to the boom-'n-bust cycles that have come to define the local scene is one many venues (and fans) are squirming about.
Both Yuyintang and Live Bar (see pg. 32) have provided a stable stream of gigs but with their limited capacities, neither venue can fit more than 200 people, a serious handicap for bringing in established bands. According to Archie Hamilton, the mastermind behind the Yue Festival and Split Works shows, "Every time we look to bring a decent band in, we think 'Where [are we going] to put them in Shanghai?'" he says. "The answer's that no single venue has a combination of capacity, sound, lights and tech personnel." What's needed is a viable mid-sized club to fill the void between tiny bars and the behemoth arenas.
Through the years a steady stream of much-hyped clubs from the second Tanghui and Shuffles to 4Live, Zhijiang Dream Factory and Windows Underground have tried to fill the size gap, but they were all blips on the scene. Despite the crowds in Shanghai being very receptive of bands, "small live houses in Shanghai have always had problems; they change locations so many times,"comments PK-14 vocalist Hai Song. "It's not good. A stable location would be good, like Little Bar in Chengdu, but in Shanghai this seems difficult."
The issue of supporting a live scene here is a simple test of economics. A Beijing band traveling to Shanghai spends about ￥4,000 on train tickets, hostel stay and food. If their gig attracts a respectable (for Shanghai) 150 fans that each pay around ￥40, their total door intake is ￥6,000. From there, the venue takes a standard 30 percent cut (￥1,800 for non-math majors), leaving the band with a ￥200 profit. If you (generously) say that half the crowd buys a drink, with an average bar profit of ￥10 per drink (for a total of ￥750), the venue makes ￥2,550. Considering a mid-sized venue in Shanghai would cost well over ￥40,000 a month, it would take a month straight of solid sales for a venue to come close to breaking even. For foreign bands with international airfare and visa costs to factor in, their expenditures tend to be ten times greater than a local group.
Shanghai has a long way to go before becoming a musical Mecca. Hopefully a venue will break the Shanghai curse and we will finally have a venue to brag about, but until then, we're stuck with choosing between the massive and the miniscule.