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January 5, 2012

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Tearing down walls between Chinese, expats

"IT'S another year for me and you," sang The Stooges in the classic rock song "1969." "Another year with nothing to do."

As true as the first part of that quote is, the second certainly doesn't apply to music fans in Shanghai. Just as the universe expands outward exponentially faster over time, the Shanghai music scene can expect more and more growth - very exciting stuff. Here are some other things I'm expecting or at least hoping for in the music scene for the new year.

The biggest trend to look out for is more efforts to bring together the expat and local music scene. Many promoters and performers have been trying to tear down the invisible walls that seem to keep concurrent but separate music communities in Shanghai.

If 2011 was the year of many first attacking the problem, 2012 could be the year it becomes a thing of the past. Next week in my column I'll be discussing the first stab at this problem for the year, the compilation album "We Are Shanghai."

The compilation album also targets another issue I hope the Shanghai music scene sets its collective sights on: diversity of content. Getting artists to combine efforts is a good start (viz "We Are Shanghai") but there are other avenues haven't been taken yet. Few groups have opted for more than a standard CD package, with many opting for cheaper sleeves that are pretty flimsy and almost always forgettable. (Folk group Pause is the exception here.)

There are also few or sadly no: DVDs, records, music videos, T-shirts or other clothing, patches and zines. One reason I know these haven't happened, however, relates to the next point.

I hope audiences resolve to pay a fair price for content from local musicians.

I know the economy is showing some dark clouds ahead, but sometimes demand seems disconnected from the realities of the situation.

If an audience is willing to pay more than 200 yuan (US$32) for a ticket to a mediocre international act, I would hope they would be willing to pay 50 yuan for a local act. I've seen people complain about 20 yuan door fees for shows with three bands and a DJ.

Considering all the costs that go into putting shows -- and the fact that people are very willing to spend much more than that for a drink at any club - it's kind of ridiculous. That also applies to recorded material, which many expect to be free. To quote rapper Eminem, who is cited in the book "Appetite for Self-Destruction: The Spectacular Crash of the Record Industry in the Digital Age" by Steve Knopper - available at your Shanghai Library - "If you can afford a computer, you can afford to pay US$16 for my CD." If audiences are willing to help cut sometimes substantial production costs, they can expect more and better.

Here's to a swell 2012 for the Shanghai music scene!


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