Breaking China

Funding and Managing

So, let’s pick up from the end of the last tour.  We spent a week in Saigon at Tuan’s studios putting down tracks for 11 songs. Walter (Kiess, drummer on the two Vietnam tours and Jaegermeister aficionado) was friends with a guy called Wayne Baker in Adelaide, who used to work as a studio engineer for ABC radio. Wayne expressed interest in doing some work for us and so produced “Falling in Love” (youtube, iTunes) as a try-piece. We were all blown away with how good it sounded and so commissioned Wayne to do more for us.

This is where it started getting tricky with money.  Obviously, we had to pay Wayne for his time, and there were a few other expenses to take into account. But the band has a fairly fluid line-up and each member pays their own way on the tours. So how can we ask them to contribute even more? We’re already asking members to invest a lot of time and money for the privilege of staying in a hostel, getting sick from the water, having injections, spending 12 or so hours in a cramped plane seat and trying to get around in a non-English speaking country for 3 weeks, just to play music. We don’t even come close to covering tour costs with gig payments, so how do we fund recordings and marketing?  Although there are other members who have been there for all the tours so far, none of them showed much interest in driving the direction of the band, so Peter, Patrick and I formed a kind of loose partnership where we agreed we’d all contribute the same amount when the bank account got a bit low or there was need to buy something. So far it’s worked well – having three of us means we can have a majority rule around any strategic decisions.  I guess in a nutshell, the 3 of us are funding the administrative and marketing side of this loss making Tour Company and asking other musicians to donate their time and money for the privilege of playing in some exotic locations.

When we do earn money from gigs, we count the number of players and add two for the band itself, so that a little goes back into the kitty while still paying players for their performance.  It still doesn’t nearly cover the costs that the three of us contribute towards, but it helps a little. We toyed around with a band agreement that set this out more formally at one stage, having investment rounds that would allow others to contribute to a particular project, but it got way too complicated for the size of our operation. If we start gigging more often (which will be on the cards if Peter returns to Adelaide) and the money side gets more significant, we may have to revisit this.

This year we applied for a couple of artistic grants to help promote the band and cover costs.  Obviously the Grants organisations have to weed out the time-wasters and cheats and so they’re quite particular about having certain things in place, like budgets, marketing plans, promotional collateral etc. This forced us to gather and create these things, and although it was a big investment in time, it did spur some good conversations and help us focus on what we wanted to get from the tour outside of an expensive holiday. I thoroughly recommend all artists out there considering touring to look to their local, state and federal government arts agencies and see if any grants are applicable. If you’re serious about doing this, these people are here to help, and even if you aren’t successful, the application process itself is fantastic for framing what you want to get out of the tour and the band itself.

We applied for three different grant rounds and were overlooked for all of them. While disappointing, I still consider it a worthwhile learning experience. Apart from the reasons above, I also talked to the arts people and learned why we weren’t successful. It’s hard to get past a little cynicism (that perhaps we didn’t do as well because we’re not fresh out of school or of a minority group) but there is also a strong message from the Grants Organisations that we need to do more to show we’re serious before we’ll be considered. I guess it’s kind of like how a bank should work – they shouldn’t give you a loan unless you’ve shown that you have the mechanism in place to repay it. Similarly, you won’t be considered for a grant unless you can show you’re likely to succeed anyway. Things they were looking for was to have established relationships with promotional people in the countries we’re touring and having a strong local fan base that demonstrates our appeal.

Finding gigs

[T]here are known knowns; there are things we know we know.
We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know.
But there are also unknown unknowns – there are things we do not know we don’t know.

United States Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld

We have had 11 gigs confirmed, 7 of which are in a row (that will test my vocal preparation efforts!), the payment for which are based on a percentage of door takings for many of them. The negative of this is we cannot budget on what we’ll earn. The positive is that a lot of the venues are Beijing/Shanghai ‘staple’ rock venues, meaning reasonable crowds even though we’re unknown.

It goes without saying that if we can create any buzz about the band before we get there, it will have a dramatic impact on our shows. If we get some people along who are already excited about seeing “PlanB” before they get there rather than just going to a venue to measure us against the best band they’ve ever seen there, then we’re a lot closer to converting them to fans. To this end we’ve been trying to understand Chinese Social Media and have been looking at local PR companies, but the language and cultural differences make this very difficult. So what we’ve agreed is that this is a ‘beachhead’ tour, we need to go there to find out what we don’t know and to find out about the music industry over there.

One major gig we’ve secured is the InMusic festival on the Zhangbei.  “InMusic” is the successor of the Chinese Rolling Stone Magazine. This is huge news for the band as it gives us exposure to somewhere between 10,000 and 100,000 potential fans, as well as introduces us to the local music media (which aligns really well to the ‘beachhead’ approach.

Now we just need to deliver!


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