Big Love: Can you spare some change?

By Mu Qian ( China Daily ) Updated: 2012-07-06 11:15:51

Big Love: Can you spare some change?

Comment | Mu Qian

A star-studded program, the Big Love Music Festival attracted considerable attention even before it started in late June. It was also the most talked-about festival afterward, but not entirely for good reasons.

There are two opposing opinions about the festival in Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province. Many of those who attended say it was the best ever music festival in China, but for some of those who were involved in organizing the festival, it was a nightmare.

Contracted companies, including the hotel, production team, and those who provided power and cars, claimed they did not get paid. Before the festival was completed, some of them had already gone on strike, and by the end of the festival, things were out of control.

The hotel wouldn't let some guests check out because the organizer didn't pay for their stays; and some artists, including Taiwan singer Lo Ta-yu, had to pay for their own accommodation to leave. The transportation team refused to take artists to the airport too. Staff members of the organizing company, which is based in Beijing, couldn't leave Chengdu because no one paid for their flights.

Director of the festival Chen Shu made a public statement after being taken to the police station to settle disputes with the contracted companies. He admitted there were problems with the management of the festival, and he would try to pay back the 8 million yuan ($1.26 million) he owes contracted companies as soon as possible.

I interviewed Chen last year, when he was preparing to hold the festival in October, in Mianyang, another city in Sichuan. He seemed very optimistic and estimated that an overall audience of 200,000 would attend the festival. That didn't work out because the local government changed its mind, but Chen was still optimistic about his festival and decided to hold it in Chengdu, in June.

In terms of lineup, Big Love was the best music festival of the year, with top-notch Chinese artists like Cui Jian, Xie Tianxiao and Miserable Faith, pop artists Chyi Chin, Alan Tam and Chang Chen-yue. There were also international acts like Extreme, Suede and Lisa Ono.

Chen had hoped to attract a huge audience by assembling the best musicians. He succeeded in this, but he failed to generate enough income.

About 30,000 people showed up on the peak third day of the four-day festival, according to an estimate from Lu Zhongqiang, director of the 13th Month music company. However, just 13,000 tickets were sold for the entire festival, according to statistics from Chen and, the online contracted ticketing company.

How did the rest get into the International Intangible Cultural Heritage Exhibition Park of Chengdu where the festival was held? According to people who went to the park, you could buy a ticket from a hawker for a small part of the original price, or you could bribe the security guards to take you in without buying a ticket.

The set price for a day was 298 yuan, and a four-day pass was 800 yuan, making Big Love the most expensive festival in China. Although the lineup was worth the money, Chen apparently over-estimated the purchasing power of people in Chengdu.

But still, the biggest problem was management. When you can bribe security guards to get in for a much-reduced price, even those who can afford tickets won't spend the money.

Almost all the artists who performed at Big Love had high opinions of the festival, because it provided the best sound equipment and rest camp, as well as accommodation at a five-star hotel.

But a music festival is not just a party, especially a festival like Big Love, for which 60 million yuan ($9.45 million) was invested. It should be run like a business, with proper budgets and execution.

Without good management, great content alone won't ensure a great festival. Big Love is an example, but it is not the only one.

Music festivals are still something relatively new in China, and generally musicians or people in music circles run them. Maybe festivals should hire people with MBAs in order to improve their management and make festivals more sustainable.

Some people are calling for donations to Big Love so that it can pay back its debts and be held again. After all, if the festival goes bankrupt, it's no good for anyone.

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