Modern Sky Is Breaking NYC Bands Into Chinese Markets

Five dollar indie shows only let you travel so far.

NYC indie bands are usually broke, and traveling to somewhere like China seems out of the question. Plus, most New York musicians bartend, freelance or have some other side-hustle to help them live their NYC dreams. But you’ll never be a rock star if you don’t travel the world.

That’s where Sijie Liu comes in. Liu, the VP in Artist Development and Strategic Partnerships at Modern Sky USA, is combining these two music scenes from around the world. Asia’s pop market is mostly EDM or remixes, almost similar to the that of the U.S. But their underground scenes tend to differ. Where the U.S. has many indie rock and garage punk bands, Asian audiences have shown far more eagerness for post-punk D.I.Y. groups and goth rock.

“In a lot of cases, bands’ popularity doesn’t transfer directly in these two markets,” Liu tells BTRtoday. “China has an entirely different music system and the way people receive news are from different channels as well.”

Liu has brought the Chinese band Re-TROS to the U.S. (Re-TROS even graced BTRtoday with a live studio session) and connected them with local bands and media. Once Chinese band’s like Re-TROS has a musical connection in NYC, NYC bands also have a connection in China. A couple other Chinese bands Liu encourages everyone to check out are Carsick Cars and New Pants.

Re-TROS for BTRtv Live Studio

“We are bringing artists to break into a new market which speaks a different language and has a different lifestyle and cultural history,” she says. “Marketing is one of the biggest challenges.”

Part of that challenge is the difficulty of predicting which bands will make a splash in China. Liu’s seen a U.S. band sell out an entire theater tour in China and another struggle to fill a small dive bar—and it’s the same for Chinese bands in the U.S.

She said it’s vital to tap into the local scene wherever the band plays and take advantage of local bands’ understanding of their networks and fan bases. China uses different social media networks than the U.S. Often, American bands’ info aren’t up on them.

“I would say it’s not difficult to book shows, but it’s hard to make it work the way people usually expect,” Liu explains. “The costs are higher than touring domestic and it’s very hard to just break even with the costs for lots of bands—this is true even for non-emerging bands.”

Liu feels like she’s been making progress introducing different kinds of American rock and punk bands to China’s mostly post-punk scene.

“I’ve noticed that the difference [in consuming music] is getting smaller now as the industry standard and system are becoming more advanced in China,” she says. “Every artist is different though, so it’s still working differently every time.”

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The Mystery Lights / Modern Sky Festival @themysterylights w projections by @bamiam

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Modern Sky USA throws a musical festival in NYC that mingles Asian acts with local musicians to provide a platform for bands who might not get this kind of exposure elsewhere. In 2016, when they showcased The Mystery Lights, Breanna Barbara and Navy Gangs along with their Asian market at the Modern Sky Festival on Governors Island NYC’s music scene show rats flocked to see something they probably would not have heard of on their own.

“The goal from my side is to let more people know about them [the bands],” says Liu.

Modern Sky brought on Mike Brandon, frontman for The Mystery Lights, for A & R in hopes of using his connections to combine these culturally-very different musical markets. They also work with other U.S. groups popular in the underground NYC scene like Futur Punx, Habibi and Cotillion. In fact, Habibi and They Mystery Lights were brought to play Shanghai last year for the Strawberry Music Festival (this year’s lineup TBD).