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Too many venues for Shanghai music scene's own good
2013-03-22
By Brian Offenther

IT'S a great thing for the local music community that Shanghai is now dotted with rock music venues all across the city. But is there the right amount for the city?

I would argue the answer to that for right now, the answer is "no."

There are problems with too many venues. Although we are in one of the biggest cities in the world, the rock music scene here is still in very early development. Compared to Beijing, the Shanghai scene is the younger brother.

There's nothing wrong with this situation, and in some ways it allows us to have a model to the north in order to gauge our growth.

It also doesn't mean that Beijing has nothing to learn from us, as is clear from the touring success of bands like Duck Fight Goose, among other exported success stories.

Currently, though, with more than seven rock venues currently booking shows, we have a bubble market in Shanghai. More than just a bad situation if you're invested in these venues, it can be harmful in other ways.

For one, it leads to nights with empty stages, a detrimental occurrence especially on what should be active nights, such as during the weekend.

This means many, but especially newcomers, are especially less willing to just wing it and head to what should be a show without planning ahead.

It also means that bands are thrust in the spotlight before they are ready. A band needs a lot of hard work and time for it to properly develop.

There is a synergy to the fact that bands start off playing on off-nights and/or at small venues. It gives them time to gain confidence and improve on their craft. In the current situation, performances are more likely on stages with a bigger and usually tougher audience. It leads to a disappointed for everyone.

These venues exist in a free market, and they survive or not mostly on if they are able to attract an audience. They will almost always take a band to play if the alternative is an un-booked night.

Despite the negatives, there are a few positive angles to the overabundance of venues. It's currently a performer's market. As they are in more demand, they can expect to be treated better, including financially.

It also means they are less likely to play some of the less respectable venues in town, the ones more likely to double-book nights or engage in other underhanded techniques. As these are the places that are also more likely to disrespect audiences as well, this is good for everybody.

Despite some growing pains, the Shanghai music scene is developing nicely. And the consequences of this small hitch will mean either the encouragement of more musicians start bands, or the encouragement of shady clubs to close.

Both of those are fine with me.

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