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[Music Monday]: How To Throw Your Own Damn Show

The DIY guide to finding venues, renting gear, dealing with neighbors, charging door, and more, a.k.a. why good shows are not free.
Jun 29, 2015 | 13:25 Mon
Music Monday is a weekly SmartShanghai column, serving up songs from bands living and making music in China (or coming to China, or thinking about coming to China, or whatever). Copyright holders: if you would like your song removed, please contact us here, and we'll honor your request promptly.

All illustrations by Francine Yulo

Nothing is more noble then picking yourself up by the bootstraps and saying "I wanna be in the business of rock n roll", or techno, or trap, or whatever. Ok, doctors, aid workers, or even metro bag scanner attendees may claim more respect. Music scenes operate with symbiotic relationships between the performers, promoters, media, and audience. Remove one of those and you don't have a music scene. And the Shanghai independent rock scene has faced an uphill battle the past 30 years or so of her existence.

Little known fact that the Xinhua Lu basement CityShop used to be a large livehouse run by the current Yuyintang owners in the mid '90’s. Man, I’d pay a dollar to see a show there. Luckily, today is not a history lesson, but rather an article speaking to that voice in the back of your head that says “I could throw a better music gig”. That’s what one sassy Australian sound tech told himself a couple years back when he decided to re-tool the sound system at an aging live bar named Harley’s and started throwing monthly concerts.

Fast forward until present day when that sound tech Nathan Sidoti threw a big one–off rock show for his moving away party. How much does it actually cost to throw a party like this? This article looks at the cost of that jam to show just how much goes into doing a music event at a location that's not already set up for music events like staple Shanghai venues Yuyintang, On Stage, MAO, QSW, etc. Come on kids let’s really Do It Ourselves! Go Joe!

The article is organized into six categories: finding a venue, renting a soundsystem, renting live gear, running the bar, door policy, and dealing with neighbors / other people who might have a problem with your party.

The Venue

Cost: 0rmb And Up

One of the biggest wild cards for throwing your own gig is the venue. The options include renting an empty warehouse space that is not usually used for events, renting a space designated for events, or hosting in a club environment. While renting a remote warehouse space can be much cheaper and cooler, the dangers of something going wrong, such as shady landlords, sensitive neighbors, a shutdown by the police, and issues like broken toilets goes up a million fold. Proper event spaces in a central Shanghai location start out at around 30,000rmb per night and can go way north of 100,000rmb+. A couple years back, I threw a DJ / music event at a "designated" 300sqm event space and that cost 15,000rmb for one evening. However, the location was way out in Yangpu district and the extended travel for potential party goers was a huge risk.

Nathan chose Factory 54, which falls in between an event space and a club. Factory 54 very graciously agreed to forgo rental fees in exchange for keeping bar sales. Since Factory 54 does mainly one–off art events and eclectic parties there was no conflict of regular partygoers with Nathan’s rock show crowd.

Soundsystem / PA Rental

Cost: Free Rental + 4,000rmb Transport & Operation Fees

The PA is basically speakers and the equipment required to make them work. Since Nathan worked for a sound company, he was allowed to borrow a bulk of the PA equipment as his leaving bonus. His company does high–end events like car shows so the list rental fee for using these speakers / lights / etc would have cost nearly 150,000rmb for an evening. Let’s just say the speakers were legit. However, Nathan just had to pay for one large truck (1000rmb each way), the lighting guy (1500rmb), and little items like tape and hardware (500rmb).

I contacted a sound engineer who works for a similar company but does rentals on the side and got the following quote (Shhh the big guys don’t want you to know this quote).

Solid DJ System for 16,000RMB:
4x Dual 18" Subwoofers, 4x 15" Full Range Speakers, 2x 12"-15" Full Range DJ Monitors, Amplifier Rack with Speaker Processing (DSP), 2x CD players, 1x DJ mixer

That price is delivered and installed but mind you that is just for a DJ setup. For a live band there are so many variables and degrees of quality. It is theoretically possible to just to use DJ setup for vocals / keyboards etc, crank up the guitar amp and bang out un-mic’ed drums but this is far from ideal. Shanghai has come to expect more. Here are some quotes provided from our rogue renter. A decent sound engineer to run the mixing board costs 2000rmb, then 2000rmb for a digital mixer, 3000rmb for monitors (you want the band to hear themselves right?). Then a random assortment of mics and instrument interface boxes add another 1,500rmb. My soundman friend recently did a gig in Songjiang with just piano, violin, and a vocalist and the lowest price they could do was 30,000rmb.

Live Gear Rental

Cost: 5,200RMB

While Nathan was able to acquire the PA usage for just the transport / setup fee, he still had to rent live gear, or a back line as it’s called in the industry. His 5200rmb got him a five-piece drum kit with cymbals, two guitar amps, and one bass amp. This is a pretty common price; if you go to the practice studios like JuJu on Huashan Lu you might pay a little more. The main difference about the back line comes with the drummer factor. If you want to do the show properly, you will need to mic the drum kit (around 5-7 mics) and have a decent sound engineer running the mixer to balance the vocals and amps along with the drums. This is where shit gets expensive.

Luckily Nathan had the help of friend Raphael of the Lets Get Naked franchise to work the soundboard, which helped keep costs down. In America / Europe it’s common to make bands bring their own drums and amps, but in China this is almost unheard of.


Cost: 0rmb And Up

Running your own bar is a big decision to make when throwing a one–off music event. If you are spending a lot of money on renting a warehouse space then you might need the alcohol money on top of door money to break even. If you can find a space that will let you use the venue in exchange for bar sales then take it. Putting together a bar yourself for the night is a huge hassle and risky business (minus Tom Cruise).

First, for a crowd of around 500 people you’ll need about 15,000rmb upfront for the alcohol, mixers, limes, ice etc. However, many alcohol suppliers will buy back any unused bottles, which helps. Then you’ll need to find about 5-8 staff to run the bar. That’s another couple thousand rmb cost. And hopefully you can find trustworthy staff. I find it’s better to have two people just handling cash, 2–4 making drinks, and another 1-2 cleaning up and re-stocking. If the stars are aligned and you get a bunch of thirsty show goers then you just might make some cash, but most likely you’ll be lucky breaking even.

Neighbors And The Authorities

Cost: 300rmb

Nathan chose Factory 54 because of their interesting locale in order to provide a unique rock show for us Shanghai dregs. However, since this was Factory 54’s first live music performance on a large scale, problems started immediately. During the 5pm sound check neighbors came around and complained. The first neighbor was placated with the sum of 100rmb, but the word of "free money" got out immediately and several more lucky aunties came to put their foot down.

The police made multiple appearances, but thankfully the Factory 54 management were able to let the show continue. Let's be real -- if you bring a half–million RMB sound system to a neighborhood space you might expect a couple complaints. Not until the very last band had finished did the police finally make the party cut the sound system (luckily it was just DJs by then so who cares). If the police shut down the show during the first band or at sound check, that means sorry Charlie -- you’re out at least 15,000rmb, better luck next time.

The Door

Money Lost From Guest List: 3,300rmb (66 People)

Ahhh the guest list. Everyone wants to be on it yet no one wants to think about the collective loss accumulated that will potentially land the gig in the red. I’m guilty of it and you’re guilty too. Everyone seems to justify asking for door in their own way; “well I’m good friends with the bassist” or “I reposted on Wechat and helped promote”. Even though we can’t be bothered to spend 50RMB on four live bands or an electronic artist that flew in from Iceland, somehow we manage to get enough money together for a drink or three of that tasty lager.

Nathan’s guest list breakdown went as follow:

Bands and DJ Guests: 34 people
Helpers / Food Stand Guests: 12 people
Media / Friends: 20 people

The total came out to 66 free entries or 3300rmb that I bet any local band would be pretty stoked to receive instead of the usual few hundred rmb -- or more likely, nothing. Next time you see some princess pea holding the gig entrance line because they don’t understand why that 50rmb cover applies to them, flipping glass ‘em.

The flyer for the final Rat On show

The final count for Nathan’s last Rat On concert endeavor was 280 customers who paid the 50rmb door charge. This lead to just breaking even despite not having to pay for the venue, the main PA rental, and the bands / DJs donating their time in support of the gig. All in all a success!

Not to step onto the soapbox but we don’t even pay for music anymore. The majority of music is free online and that’s how it should be. But there are real people who work hard to put on shows for you and make that summer of ’15 something to remember. That’s right, I’m talking In Real Life, and In Real Life shit costs money.

I’d like to thank Nathan Sidoti for sharing the figures and notes on throwing his last Rat On Shanghai and wish you the best in Indonesia. Nathan wanted to share a message:

"Thanks to all the bands, DJs, and all the amazing help I got. To the awesome food stalls, Time Out for printing flyers along with sponsors DUBS acoustic filters, Craft Republic and Factory 54 for trusting us to do something they have not done before… People must realize for a scene to move forward there needs to be a community..."

Thanks again Nathan and let’s keep Shanghai DIY! Although now I’m thinking that Pepsi sponsorship ain’t sounding so bad…


This column is written by DJ Sacco, who runs Uptown Records, Shanghai's dedicated vinyl shop. Ironically, they don't sell Mp3s or dabble in anything digital, instead they have 7" and 12", EPs and LPs from rock to electronic, rare pressings, DJ equipment and band merchandise. Find them in an old bomb shelter at 115 Pingwu Lu.


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