Have you ever dreamed of starting your own band, going on tour, cutting your own album?
For a lot of indie bands in Chengdu this is their dream, this is what they live for; and their dreams of musical success and artistic expression are intrinsic to who to they are. The same could be said in almost any country, but recently – and especially with the rise of the concept of “the Chinese dream” – it invites the question: Where do the dreams of Chinese artists and musicians fit-in this new rhetoric? How does a struggling indie artist balance the need to make a living with the desire to stay true to their art?
For many artists, maintaining the balance between corporate sponsorship and artistic expression is a tight rope that one must walk in order to keep food on the table. Playing a few corporate gigs, censoring a few lyrics at that big festival to keep the sponsors happy, is considered quite normal. For some bands, making it big means tipping the balance a little further in one direction.
Will the real Fat Shady please stand-up?
Fat Shady is the perfect example of a successful musician who suddenly came to fame off the back of an appearance on zhongguo hao ge shou中国好歌手 – a show sort of like China’s Got Talent. It started with the song laozi mingtian bushang ban 老子明天不上班. (“not going to work tomorrow”), and now, with offers of corporate sponsorship coming out his ears and a beer commercial during the world cup under his belt, we’re starting to see a different side to him.
His lyrics have an extra layer of depth to them — a satirical critique of the hand that feeds him, of the direction he’s being pushed in. I really enjoy his new work and he and his crew have certainly grown as artists. (Corporate sponsorship isn’t all bad.) As a the cofounder of zaomengshe.com his lyrics resonate with me, so far as they speak of the difficulties of many artists here being caught between these two worlds. It was situations like these that made me think that “art” + “music-based crowd funding” might be able help.
Zaomengshe means “following-your-dreams society.” We’re an arts/ music based crowd funding platform which has been online for almost a year now. In fact our anniversary party is on the 1st of November (everyone is welcome). We’re not a big website and we’re not a big team. We’re a few multi-talented individuals with big dreams and a passion for the arts and technology.
Why is crowd funding a good solution for this problem?
It removes the need for one large sponsor. Let’s say McDonald’s gives you $1 million to go on tour. Presumably they won’t be rewriting your songs, but certainly they’ll want a logo on stage with you. And maybe that’s ok. But what if they want you to wear red and while performing and the bass player needs to wear yellow and the drummer is dressed as the Hamburglar. At what point is it not ok? At what point are you able to say “no?”
Now lets say you crowd-fund your tour and you get one kuai from one million fans. In return, at every stop you sign the CD of those who supported you, or something like that; but not one of the one million has the right to tell you what to wear.
Which of course invites the question: How does this work for the fans? As a fan you get to feel like you’re part of something. You’re part of the online community that likes, cares about, and supports this band. What sort of music you like is part of your identity, and as a fan chances you also don’t want to see your favorite musician dressed like the Hamburglar.
Crowd funding vs guanxi
Most people who have lived in China for a while are aware that the wheels of commerce are greased by guanxi (relationships). Having someone influential own you a favor is often worth more than money in the bank.
How does this effect the arts? I can’t really give an in-depth break down of how it effects all artists, but I think we can we’re safe presuming that those with amazing talent and fresh ideas but no guanxi fare less well than those with ok ideas + guanxi.
This sort of problem doesn’t just exist in China, of course, and artists in most countries face the same challenge. Crowd-funding, being internet-based, breaks down these barriers, as you’re no longer forced to go through the old-boy investor networks. Through the populist nature of the internet, people who give small amounts of money to people they don’t know are generally doing so because they like their ideas. In my personal experience of running a crowd-funding site, weighing-up the big names that have had events vs the great ideas/the big dreams, the most money raised and most discussion generated has always been for people who dared to dream, dared to be creative.
Our biggest event so far on zaomengshe.com was at the start of the year a new years party called Beat Chengdu.
This is a link to it if you want to check it out
This event was the first New Years’ event for these guys. They didn’t have any corporate funding, and they were determined not to compromise. The decided to crowd-fund it, with the rewards being ticket-sales. They set their goal much lower than the amount it would cost to run the event, and they had already decided that the amount of people supporting it wouldn’t be that much — they would stump-up and cover the balance of expenses out of their own pockets.
The night before the event I barely slept. We had bugs in our system, we’d only been online for two months and thought we had time to fix them. With 300 users simultaneously accessing our site our small server crashed under the weight. Later that night I went to the bar to apologize to the guys, feeling puzzled and slightly embarrassed. They bought me a drink. They were celebrating. They’d raised 38,000 RMB. Their original goal was 10,000.
That was the first time I saw the power of crowd funding in Chengdu, and it swept us all off our feet, including me.
It’s doesn’t work every time of course. Not all events reach their goals and currently (on our site) a lot of our users are simply using our electronic ticketing system, so they’re happy to put on the events even if no pre-sale tickets are sold. We’re happy to support them in any way we can.
Another of my favorite events on zaomengshe.com is this one.
“在天台走神一会” A roof top party.
A local folk musician Zhang Ruoshui 张若水 crowd-funded a folk party on his balcony. A requirement was that anyone who came also contributed in an artistic way to the event. His goal was 1000; he got 1500, with 24 people attending + a few guess appearances from the local folk community. (It’s a small balcony, so numbers were restricted.)
This was one of many events that have gone up over the past year and has left me with a smile. It was a small event but a nice idea, and an idea that people were willing to get behind.
Currently there are a few events up on zaomengshe.com which – if you want to be part of our crowd-funding community – I’d recommend contributing to.
There’s a university student who wants to make a documentary about World War II soldiers — there aren’t many of them remaining and he’s concerned that this part of China’s history could be lost forever. His campaign is called敬礼，老兵 Salute, Veterans.
This is the link if you want to support it.
BTW, we have an English/Chinese versions of our site and support Alipay + Paypal (Paypal supports both foreign and Chinese credit cards)
Also, two of Chengdu’s great local bands are crowd funding their nation wide tours.
The Hormones 荷尔蒙小姐 http://zaomengshe.com/c/37059
Stolen 秘密行动 http://zaomengshe.com/c/37244
You can support them by buying their albums; for Stolen, buy a ticket to one of their upcoming gigs.
Though also you could support them by just sharing these links and listening to their music.
Zaomengshe.com’s first anniversary is coming up on the 1st of November, and it will take place at Morning Bar in Flower Town.
We’ve had a great year and would love for you to come and join us in celebrating it. Our birthday party is a free event, and if you want you can register via our website to get a free cupcake on the day.
There are four bands playing and a few other birthday surprises organized.
To wrap this up I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all of our supporters, everyone who dared to dream and started a campaign this year and everyone who supported them. If anyone reading this article would like to launch a campaign, or just wants to get in touch, please feel free to email me: [email protected]
Source: MORE Magazine Chengdu, November 2014