I don’t mean Chinese bands should sleep with the fishes…obviously. But I do think Chinese bands need to start thinking about the business side of things like the Grateful Dead did. Here’s a few business lessons from the Dead.
1. Live first.
Everyone loves a good album, that’s a given. But the disruptive force of the internet makes it very, very hard to make money off an album. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make them, however. Albums help legitimize and advertise your band. Every couple of years you need to make an album to let people know you’re still here. Just don’t expect a lot of people to buy it.
The Dead, for whatever reason, could never really make an album that successfully captured their on-stage magic. But it didn’t matter. The Dead put the live experience first, relentlessly touring and building a strong fan-base.
Being a live band is grueling and building a fan-base takes time, but I don’t see an alternative in China. Maybe, if you’re beautiful enough, you can become one of those pop star/actor/advertising personalities.
2. Let them tape, let them share.
The Dead didn’t build their audience through touring alone. They crowd-sourced their fans as a broad distribution network by allowing anyone & everyone to tape their shows. No Dead show was complete without a strange battery of recording equipment brought by fans who wanted to capture the Dead’s shows and share them. Slowly, a worldwide tape-trading network developed and the Dead’s music was advertised through word of mouth and a community of rabid fans. For Free.
Deadheads had to trade their shows the old-fashioned way: either you had a circle of friends that included a taper or you traded cassettes through mail-order vines. Today, the process is much easier. Web 2.0 has so many different audio/video sharing options it is pointless to list them. Anyway, you don’t need to control where your audience puts their recordings and videos. Give them the opportunity to do it and they will.
3. The connection between live first + let them tape.
The real key for Chinese bands is figuring out how to combine points 1 and 2. If you aren’t amazing live, no one will want to listen to your shows. It’s important that bands in China start working on their live shows, making them more entertaining and more unique. If every show is the same, no one really needs to trade it or come back for another bite. As a band in the 21st Century you’re making content, and like any other content, music has to be great and unique for people to share it.
4. Residence A
Residence A is a band that’s on the right track. They put on a great show and they’ve self-booked a 30 date tour. Hopefully a community of audio/video traders will develop around the band and help take them to next level.