Foreign stars remain out of reach for show organizers

By Linh Do   November 26, 2019 | 06:59 pm PT
Foreign stars remain out of reach for show organizers
UK singer Bud performs at the Monsoon Music Festival in Hanoi, 2017. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy.
Vietnamese concert organizers would like to raise their profile by bringing over international musicians, but face too many hurdles.                                               

For one thing, it takes a ton of money to get world-class artists.

Musician Nguyen Quoc Trung, who has been organizing the annual international Monsoon Music Festival in Hanoi since 2014, said for instance an organizer in Singapore had to pay American rock band Red Hot Chilli Pepper $1.5 million to perform for just one night there.

Monsoon’s organizers once invited American singer and songwriter Billie Eilish to perform but she refused saying she did not have any tour at that time.

"Now, as she has become famous and the cost of inviting her has shot up by 10 times to $13 million, it will be difficult to ger her," Trung told a recent conference on professionalism in organizing art events.

But there are also other factors at play, he said at the conference organized as part of this year’s Monsoon festival held in early November at the Hanoi Citadel.  

The underdeveloped music market, lack of large venues that can hold 30,000-50,000 people and a lack of experience in organizing shows are all hurdles, he said.

World-renowned artists cannot sell or promote their products in Vietnam, and so they prefer other markets in Asia such as Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore, Trung pointed out.

The music industry’s lack of experience and professionalism is also true of other areas of showbiz in Vietnam.

For Vietnamese show organizers, the likes of Maroon 5, Taylor Swift, Rihanna, or Katy Perry are unaffordable at $2 million plus the cost of security, hotels, transportation, and so on.

When French pianist Richard Clayderman visited Vietnam in 2014, he demanded a suite at the five-star Metropole hotel in Hanoi that cost almost $3,000 a night. Besides, the organizers had to contact his record company Universal Music Group two years in advance.

It took Trung three years to persuade German rock band Scorpions to perform at Monsoon in 2016. Besides the financial and technical aspects, he also had to show the band that the festival has experience and potential before they accepted the invitation.

In recent years, Vietnamese concert organizers have been teaming up with cultural institutions and big businesses such as banks and airlines to bring international artists in their effort to develop a vibrant cultural market.

The great advantage in getting world-class stars over, besides attracting audiences easily and raising the event’s profile, is that Vietnamese producers and artists can learn much from their high standards and professionalism.

What ails the arts scene?

Speaking to the media over the years Trung has said the music market is lacking in terms of both quality and quantity. Despite appearances, artists with limited abilities continue to churn out music that is outdated and monotonous, he lamented.

For Vietnamese audiences, it’s still better to have free music than otherwise, and even if they are willing to pay, their unique habits and tastes make it difficult to sell new or different products to them.

Thousands of audiences attend a music event in Hanoi, October, 2019. Photo by VnExpress/Dat Phan.

Thousands of audiences attend a music event in Hanoi, October, 2019. Photo by VnExpress/Dat Phan.

For many show organizers, what kind of music can be sold to Vietnamese audiences and at what price remains an unanswered question.

Another major problem in music and other arts is the pervasive copyright violations despite the country having copyright laws.

Assoc Prof. and Dr. Bui Hoai Son, director of the Vietnam National Institute of Culture and Arts Studies, said though Vietnam’s intellectual property laws are considered among the best in the world, they are not enforced effectively.  

Speaking at the same conference, he cited some sad examples of copyright violations that have been destroying Vietnamese arts in the past decade.

The lack of integrity has damaged public trust in artists so much that Vietnamese paintings are now sold at lower prices than those from Laos and Cambodia, and Vietnamese artists are unable to make a living from their profession, he said.

Many experts in fact blame the lack of professionalism for Vietnam’s inability to develop its arts scene.

In organizing musical festivals, professionalism means connecting the various players: organizers, artists, service providers, the media, audiences, sponsors, and cultural managers.

Son said in 2012 a UNESCO delegation came to Vietnam to assess the arts scene for consulting purposes and found that Vietnam had everything like music, cinema, fashion, architecture, and photography, but none were professional.

For instance, in cinema, directors knew to make movies but did not know who their audiences were, how to distribute their movies or how to build a brand around their works, he said.

After this event, in 2016 the government approved a 15-year plan to develop 12 cultural segments ranging from advertising to cultural tourism.

In recent years, cities around Vietnam have been trying to develop their performaning arts and cultural tourism with events such as the Da Nang International Fireworks Festival and Hue Festival celebrating traditional and royal Hue cultures.

In Hanoi, the Monsoon Music Festival inspired by the audience-centered, community-based Danish Roskilde Festival has also become a success. Since 2014, it has attracted around 170,000 Vietnamese and foreign visitors and 250 artists from around the world.

Notable foreign artists have included Joss Stone, Bond, Last Train, SaveUs, and Lost Frequencies.

Trung suggested the best way to get foreign stars is to catch them before they become too famous and expensive.

He has missed some such future stars himself. Besides the aforementioned Billie Eilish, he could not get the Danish singer to Monsoon in 2015 because she was sick.

Now she appears out of reach.

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