Learning Festivals The Hard Way

Music festivals are becoming commonplace in China, but promoters are still having trouble making money from them.

Chinese media reported that the Big Love Chengdu Music Festival, which took place June 21-24 at the Chengdu International Cultural Heritage Park, lost so much money the organizers didn’t have enough cash to pay for travel and accommodations for their 100 staff members.

The budget for the festival, which featured more than 100 acts, including Extreme, Suede, Lisa Ono and Cui Jian, was estimated at around 60 million yuan ($9.4 million), but it managed to bring in only 3 million yuan ($471,000) from ticket sales.

Chen Shu, president of Beijing Big Love International Media Group, told China.org his company’s losses added up to more than 40 million yuan.

“I knew we were bound to lose some money, but I never thought we would lose so big,” he said. “The reality hit me on the first day.”

Chen had to invest a huge amount on the artists, stage construction and fees for the workforce, which left nothing for his staff. He says, however, that once he receives about 8 million yuan that is owed to him, he will reimburse his own workers.

One of the main problems was the cost of bringing over international artists. Though Suede’s fee wasn’t revealed, it is believed to be in the 1 million to 2 million yuan region – and many foreign artists also brought along large entourages Chen had to accommodate.

However, the main reason for the loss was the high ticket prices and illegal sales.

Believing he had a quality product and that music lovers should pay for that, he set the ticket prices at 298 yuan for one day ($47) and 800 yuan ($126) for all four days, making Big Love the most expensive music festival in China.

Consequently, many people bought cheaper tickets from scalpers or bribed security guards to get in for free, which isn’t that difficult. The park holding the festival covers 280 acres and is difficult to patrol.

Moreover, cooperating companies and their staff allowed many friends and acquaintances to sneak in for free. Some of these companies demanded large blocks of tickets for clients and then turned around and sold them, undermining advanced sales of legitimate tickets.

As it stood, Chen estimates that an average of 50,000 people were at the festival on any one day, and yet he only sold a total of 2,000 tickets at the door. He intends to lodge a complaint with the police, which he blames for not cracking down on scalpers and other sales interference.

Another problem was the lack of advanced promotion and time to secure sponsors. Chen had to receive government approval for the festival and, by the time he received it, it was too late to do proper promotion.

That said, many who did attend found the standards of the festival higher than they’ve ever seen in China. Music producer Song Ke told China.org that the sound and visuals were first-rate. Zhang Fan, who runs the Midi Music Festival in Beijing, admired the risks that Chen took and philosophized that “a huge and unparalleled investment like this was bound to end in tragedy. [China] has only 10 years of experience hosting music festivals.”