'Huge challenge for live events in China, even post COVID'

Updated: May 22, 2020

EVAN MURRAY talks to SHAN WEI of Midi Music Festival, China

Shan Wei is the chief director of Midi Music Festival, the first ever outdoor music festival in China. He has been passionate about rock music for over 20 years and has become witness to Chinese contemporary music and youth culture development.

Starting as a music producer at China Radio International, then becoming an organizer of Beijing Pop Festival, and finally joining Midi team in 2009, Shan Wei expanded Midi’s territory to outdoor music festival, music education and performance management.

Hope all is well, and everyone around you is healthy. Could you tell us the status for MIDI FESTIVAL at this point of time?  Possible to give us an inside view of how things have been happening for the festival ? 

Thank you, we are all well. Now the festival is still waiting for the official full reopening of the live music section by authorities. Bars and theaters are allowed to test-run and reopen, now in certain areas of China including Beijing and Shanghai, but with the limitation not to exceed 30% of the venue‘s allowance in terms of ticket sales,  which makes commercial projects and productions impossible. So in order for the complexity of an open-air festival to function, we still have to cope with time until a full recovery of the situation. What are some of the biggest challenges the festival is facing right now?  Definitely financial aspects, without any income as a promoter for months. We can try and run at the lowest cost possible, but still, it's very very hard to cope with. Are there any plans in place now, in case this scenario repeats ? 

This year is the 20th anniversary of Midi Festival. During the long past we gained a huge community of die hard fans, so we are actually thinking about developing online activities to promote music and to interact with our fan community. Of course, this will be very different to our regular music festival, you can't replace the vibe of live shows and outdoor festivals. But taking unknown factors of this COVID19 in account, one won't know when it will end and whether it will hit back once more, hence we are keen to explore new ways.

How do you see the music industry evolving with the impact the virus has had?  To individual observations, the whole live section in China was already on a decline since a year at least. Especially, smaller live venues and club touring. Venue owners from different parts of the country were complaining about a slowly shrinking local audience for club shows. Unlike years ago, younger people seem to be less interested in club shows, and only established bands may still attract a huge crowd.

Now, with the virus situation persisting into typical touring and festival season, almost all planned shows are postponed to the second half of the year. Yet still, we can't be certain of a full reopening,  because it depends on the situation, evaluation and policies of the authorities. China has put in a great deal of efforts on all levels to stop the virus from spreading and the authorities will not run any risks for another escalation. Now we still see some local outbursts of small group infections from time to time. It looks like a long struggle.

Many industry entities and artists are trying to do something online but there are no sustaining structures and models found yet for the industry to gain a serious alternative that way. With the first half of the year basically unworkable for the entire live music industry including artists, production houses , promoters, venues, etc. it may mean a major change at some point when some are forced to head for another direction due to financial reasons. But it seems that the major part will stay and wait and rather do promotional work, meanwhile prepared for a time of full reopen.

As music trends roll, do you have any predictions of what the future holds? From your point of view, where is the live music industry headed?  That is not a new question and has been asked very often even before the pandemic. The truth is, China is changing so fast, hardly anyone can tell. You see the tendencies of more online activities with a totally different income model. Participations on hot online TV shows/Idol shows was a new trend since the show,  called Summer of Bands which boosted the popularity of participating bands in a totally unexpected way while younger generation (more cellphone and online applied entertainment than real live show activities) seem to have lost interest in those bands who don‘t have a strong presence online (TV shows, talked-about, vlogging, TikTok references, etc.).

Yet, since everyone has anticipated a reopening for so long and longing for more outdoor activities, maybe there will be a small revival of the live music glory once a full reopening is in place. But how long this will last, is a different story.  The fast and crazy pace of China's live music development within the last few years is based on floods of venture investments that went into all aspects of the industry (new venues, new festival brands, signings, copyrights, apps, ticketing, social platforms, you name it).

Now with the money machine put on hold due to COVID 19, we don’t know what will happen to that kind of growth-hungry game. Luckily, Midi has been stubborn to stay down to earth and free from such money gamers, so our own infrastructure will not be affected by an eventual collapse of these investments. Yet, if large scale festivals are still not possible or being limited in multiple ways, it will be very hard for all of us to endure.

EVAN MURRAY is Event Co-ordinator at Live at Heart, Newfoundland, Export Development Officer at Vision 360 (Canada) and Canadian Coordinator at Live at Heart, Sweden. He is also International Music Consultant at Wonderwall Media, India.