Tag Archives: Indie Rock

Chinese Bands Should Learn to be Gratefully, Dead

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.



Leave a comment

Filed under China, Music, Not There

Kill Your Heroes

I am sick of all the genre bands in Beijing. I don’t need to hear someone’s take on the Blues with Chinese characteristics or Chinese Punk. Or ska, or “folk music” or whatever.

When you go see those bands, you’re not really listening anyway. What you’re doing is using them as a conduit to whatever the best band in a given genre is. The highest praise for one of the genre bands is something like, “Those guys are great, they sound like Oasis or the Skatalites or XXX.” There’s nothing organic about the experience at all. You might as well be drinking gin and listening to your iPod.

I’m not interested in hearing a rehashed version of the music I already like. Good music is about having something to say, not being authentic to some kind of cannon or form. The cannon is there to be learned, assimilated and then destroyed by something new. Fuck the cannon and fuck your heroes. If you can’t, then you’ll just be a pale imitation of what you like.

It’s time for musicians in Beijing to burn the fucking history books and the how-to manuals. It’s time to throw out the music that inspired you.

Leave a comment

Filed under China, Music

Please Sing in Chinese: An Open Letter

Dear Chinese Musicians:

I know you guys admire “Western Music” a lot. It’s cool that you’re inspired by what’s happening globally. From Joy Division to the Stones to the String Cheese Incident, I’ve seen Chinese bands bearing the all the hallmarks of inspiration: hairstyles, clothing, equipment and so on.

It’s cool. We all steal from what we love. I have no shame about copping the best parts of the Dead & LCD Soundsystem. However, I would like to offer you some advice.

Sing in Chinese.

Here are a few reasons why:

  1. The lyrics you write in your second language are either a) so painfully obvious that they sound like 4th grade Valentine’s Day Cards or b) make absolutely no sense.
  2. Even if your English lyrics are cool, you still need to be able to pronounce the words properly. If you don’t, it’s very hard to take you seriously. Mispronouncing words also ruins the timbre of your voice.
  3. You might think that by singing in English you’re making your band more appealing to a “global audience.” But you’re not. Truth is we’re all wallowing in an orientalist mire and not being able to understand your band in Chinese actually makes you more appealing. When we want rock with awful lyrics and terrible accents we listen to Jet.
  4. Hanggai are probably the biggest “Chinese” band outside of China at the moment. Do they sing in English? Does Lonely China Day? How about Cui Jian?
  5. You have more to say in your native language & in the end as an artist you should be making a statement.

I’m not trying to be mean, I’m just being honest. If you sing in Chinese, your lyrics will be better, the timbre of your voice will improve and you will be taken more seriously.

Please sing in Chinese. It’s a nice language and it deserves rock & roll too.

1 Comment

Filed under China, Music