Apr 10

[Translation] Greed Destroyed Bob Dylan’s Concert

Written by Charles Liu on Saturday, April 10th, 2010 at 1:05 am
Filed under:-mini-posts, General, music, News | Tags:, , ,
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Recently there were some news about cancelation of Bob Dylan’s concerts in China. Not surprisingly following the usual Western media narrative the dominate theme was the Chinese government had banned Bob Dylan because of censorship, Tibet, the usual.

However, the Chinese netters have been circulating a different story that appeared February this year (UPDATE: also covered by China Music Update in March). According to a music industry insider, Sun Mengjin, cancelation of Dylan’s China concerts had to do with the steep mark up by original concert rights holder (Brokers Brothers) rendering the concert not financially viable for local promoters, and out-of-control greediness in Chinese concert promotion industry:

Greed Destroyed Bob Dylan’s Concert


The rumored Dylan concert ticket sale a month ago had suddenly gone silent. This has caused many loyal Dylan fans pain. However the real chilling fact is everyone seem to be unaware of the reason ticket sale was “canceled”.

I don’t know how many times Dylan’s visit have been promoted, or how many young music lover’s hearts have been broken. Music fans in China, their feelings, are worthless. They are perpetually cheated by a gang of greedy people, even thou the fans obligingly toil for them.

On this side of the pond, everything is an eternal mystery. Every time you are moved to tears, there are always few pairs of eyes behind you watching with glee.

Performance is a business, no doubt about it. In China there are people do concert promotion fairly, many cannot obtain 1st rights meagerly work with 2nd and 3rd rights. Take the Dylan concert as example, his agent reported fee of US$250,000, but certain Taiwan company turn around and selling the rights for US$400,000 per show. This is too black hearted! Even for international agency, the usual agency fee is 15%!

US$400,000 performance fee will not be covered by Shanghai Grand Gymnasium’s 8000 seats. This doesn’t include travel, lodging, venue and equipment rental, other expenses.

I believe there were many reasons behind this concert’s cancelation. Human nature as it was, it doesn’t surprise me anymore. Everyone talk about win-win, but the ultimate losers are the music fans. I haven’t studied much in my life, but human nature I’ve seen plenty.

There’s nothing wrong with promoting concert and making a living. But one cannot be too unethical. For example someone who doesn’t listen to jazz writes a book about it [self deprecating joke; Sun wrote a book about jazz], pretending to be an expert, it’s too perverted!

Another example. A while back in Beijing a friend mentioned he’s looking for sponsors to help out with an inflated US$300,000 fee for Leonard Cohen. I said, are you getting this thru 5 levels of resale (later turned out to be a mere 2-level resale!)

I did not see much of this before, none the less among those who claim to be music enthusiasts, patrons.

For a nation that produced Sanlu powder milk, there are many people who lack business integrity, even humanity. They hum Dylan’s “Blowing in the wind” and their dreams of fortune up their asses are also blown away when they defecate.

One day Dylan will be dead, even sooner he’ll stop signing.

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24 Responses to “[Translation] Greed Destroyed Bob Dylan’s Concert”

  1. Ted Says:

    “Not surprisingly following the usual Western media narrative the dominate theme was the Chinese government had banned Bob Dylan because of censorship, Tibet, the usual.”

    err. check wall street journal, China real time report or James Fallows. Sounds like it might have been the promoter.



  2. Stephanie Says:

    “One day Dylan will be dead, even sooner he’ll stop signing.”

    Have some respect for a legend! Your use of langauage is disgusting and very classless.

  3. Steve Says:

    Dylan Doesn’t Back Out Just Because of Weak Sales or other business problems. From reader Marc Syken, who thinks it really was about censorship:

    As someone who has seen Bob on multiple occasions, a couple of quick points – Dylan does not back out of a concert if ticket sales are light. I’ve seen Dylan in half filled venues, and he has never canceled. In fact, I know of no show Dylan has ever canceled b/c of ticket sales. His tour schedule (with set lists) is here, http://www.boblinks.com/ – he plays at least 50-75 shows a year, which is pretty good for a guy 68 years old. Dylan has played the far east before, is backed by Sony records, and obviously knows the lay of the land when it comes to the music business.

    Those facts all militate against Dylan using the history of Chinese censorship as a “cover” to back out of concerts due to his being hoodwinked by an unscrupulous promoter. Given Dylan’s track record as a concert performer (as opposed to a bunch ne’er do wells like Oasis), I would tend to believe the original version of events.

    And Andrew Sprung, to the same effect:

    it seems odd that a Dylan tour organizer would make outlandish financial requests – Dylan seats are usually pretty reasonable. I saw him in a college gym in Buffalo in about 1995, a venue that was hardly part of a get rich (again) quick scheme. I’ve since seen him 2x at moderate cost. Maybe things have changed, or the Taiwanese promoter has its own agenda, but maybe too the ‘good authority’ [who said it was all about weak sales] ain’t so good.

    Maybe All the Explanations Are True. A reader with a Chinese name at a U.S. university says this fits a familiar pattern:

    For an observer from afar, all the explanations you and others given are plausible. Here, I just want to mention one of the tactics that Chinese Government always employs. It is often the case for Chinese Government to use some technicality to hide their real reason for rejection or any other form of action. Like accusing an activist of some sexual misconduct or dissolving certain organizations with the reason of tax filing irregularities.

  4. Charles Liu Says:

    @ Ted, I supplied a Bing News search with neutural keywords “Bob Dylan China”. See for yourself what the dominate theme is. Your examples IMHO are the exception that proves the rule – has any other media outlet that made the censorship, Tibet claim follow up or develop the story?

    There are many other examples that demonstrates a pattern. Take the Lanxiang Vocational School “military hack central” claim that has since been proven bunk – has either John Markoff of NYT, or Ellen Nakashima of NY Post, retract or correct their story?

    @ Steph, you can ask the original author why he used such langauge. IMHO he’s angry with the prospect of China missing out on Dylan performance forever,

  5. Jason Says:


    I still don’t understand why an anonymous reader from an anonymous US university is even applied. It seems so out of the blue. By putting it in, Fallow is up to his sleazy self of “quick to judge” attitude because Chinese govt always act that way.

  6. Charles Liu Says:

    Jason you are absolutely right. Compare the reader comment with inside information from China’s music industry veteran Sun Mengjin?

    Sun’s bio was included in the OP (4th link). Let me translate it for those who can’t read Chinese:

    “Sun Mengjin, Poet and music, film commentator. Published poetry collection “Season For Forks and knives”, music commentary collection “Silence of Music”. Organized over 100 rock concerts in Shanghai. Currently the director of Dongfang Television music channel, director of Shanghai International Jazz Week.”

    Here’s more detail from China Music Radar:

    Classic get out clause – Bob Dylan cancelled – blame the government…

    … BBH had promised a massive guarantee for the entire 5 date run. Our initial sources put that figure at close to US$2m. At the same time, there were questions raised about BBH’s cash flow. They had guaranteed this astronomical amount in order to flip the shows to individual promoters for a vastly inflated fee. At the same time, it was rumored that the local promoters weren’t biting, particularly in China.

    And so, predictably enough, we receive word that BBH have put the blame squarely at the feet of the Ministry of Culture. A great excuse to get out of the guarantee, but another blow to the credibility of the Chinese touring market…

  7. Danielle Lago Says:

    Dylan is great. Lets get that said first. But I wonder why he did not plan to include nearby Philippines. Money I don’t think is the reason- he would be so rich he constantly tours for vocational not monetary reasons. HE WOULD BE RICH JUST ON HIS ROYALTIES. Could the reason be the Philippines is perceived as dangerous? Back to China; it looks like speculation above. Seems like a freeze out. After all he’s been knockin about from Mexico to Tibet as he said in 1978. Anyway The Philippines has a fantastic grasp of English and since Bob’s lyrics are the focus usually, one would have thought He might have gone there. Maybe coz Marcos had the Beatles beaten up there back in the 60’s

  8. Charles Liu Says:

    Danielle, do you think “freeze out” really explains what happened? The other three venues (Taiwan, Hong Kong, Korea) are not subject to Chinese government jurisdiction, but they are also canceled. And Phillipines sounds like a great substitute venue – if Dylan really doesn’t back out as claimed.

    No taker when BBH tried to flip the concerts with steep mark up IMHO is a lot more convincing. No local promoter to apply for performance license is consistent with the Chinese Cultural Bureau’s claim they never received application.

    Dylan’s cancelation story hit the news in China back in Febuary and March. Here’s another report back in March:

    Who’s Fault When Foreign Ticket Concerts Fall Thru?

    – The Killers canceled 1/26 Worker’s Gymnasium, due to death of the lead singer’s mother. Prevousely The Killers also canceled due to poor ticket sale.

    – Linkin Park canceled 10/19/2008 concert due to injury to frontman Chester Bennington.

    – Oasis canceled the 4/3 cancert not because of permit, but disagreement between the Gallagher brothers leading to the band spliting up

    – The 2010 Green Peace concert has been postponed due to schedule conflict among the acts. The promoter has also canceled ticket sale, opting to distribute the tickets thru the sponsors.

  9. m320753 Says:

    bob dylan did an outdoor concert at western ct college, it was a great concert he was talking between every song…. but a friend of mine who was in the shadows told me one day that dylan put a foot on the stage until a check for $33,000 was safe in his mamagers hand. he knows how to get what he wants in terms of money. i guess he wasn’t to keen about the other sites he cancelled. maybe for security reasons who knows why? that was for 1/4 million for 90 minutes.that’s our bob

  10. Steve Says:

    The only two people who really know what happened are Bob Dylan and the promoter. All the rest is speculation. Could have been an evil promoter? Sure. Could it have been greed? Sure. Could it have been China not giving permission to hold the concert? Sure. We just don’t know. So why can’t we say, “We just don’t know”?

    Throwing accusations around doesn’t prove anything one way or the other and by that I also mean that it doesn’t prove that the Chinese ministry didn’t approve the concerts. And do you really think a promoter who had nothing to do with the concert actually knows what happened? He’s also just speculating or repeating something he heard. This is an endless argument because there has been no evidence presented by anyone that actually sheds any light on what happened. And again, saying that the ministry didn’t approve the concert is also speculation and just as invalid. I’m not blaming anyone for the canceled concert, I just don’t know. I think making the Rashomon reference as James Fallows did is appropriate.

  11. Charles Liu Says:

    m320753, if you read all the cites, you’ll notice no one is blaming Bob Dylan. The China music industry insider, Sun Mengjin, IMHO is a reliable source, while the anon reader comments Fallows cited is truely rumor.

    The only person that knows is BBH. If BBH tried to flip the concerts with steep markup and there’s no taker, it seems entirely fitting for them to blame the Chinese government in order to get away from paying the gaurantee they promised Dylan.

  12. Steve Says:

    Interesting comment from one of James Fallows’ readers:

    Finally for now, another kind of first-hand testimony, from George Conk of New York. (Policy reminder, I will assume that I can quote or use anything someone sends in, unless stated otherwise; but I don’t use anyone’s name without specific OK to do so.)

    “I live in Washington heights and walk my dog each night about 11. So do my neighbors who also have a Labrador Retriever.

    [My neighbor] is Bob Dylan’s road manager. I bumped into him Tuesday night. He just came back from touring in Japan and Korea with Dylan.

    He says there never was a China trip planned. the whole thing is a story concocted by a promoter and that Dylan had nothing to do with planning any China tour.”

    If this is true, no wonder Dylan has no comment!

  13. Danielle Lago Says:

    Hi Charles Liu.
    Its a Dylan reference. Notice it says “seems”.
    “Seems Like a Feeze Out” is the original name of Visions of Johanna. There was a bootleg version out many years ago.
    It looks like something else is going on behind the scenes and it was convenient to blame the Government. After all they denied it and said they did not get an application.
    If he does ever go he won’t mention Tibet. He is extremely taciturn.

  14. Charles Liu Says:

    Finally a report that covered the Cultural Ministry’s statement they never received application for the Dylan concert:


    IMHO this is the exception that proves the rule. Even after the facts are clear the concerts were canceled due to jacked up reseale by BBH with no taker, our media continues steamroll the Tibet and censorship angle as the official narrative.

  15. Steve Says:

    Err… the concerts were never canceled because they never existed. Dylan had nothing to do with it. It was an unscrupulous promoter acting on his own. This is yesterday’s news.

  16. Charles Liu Says:

    Err… 4/13 is still TODAY Steve. Does yesterday’s misreporting excuse our media’s inaction today? IMHO no, if the story was wrong good journalism dictates follow-up, correcting, retraction – except when it comes to China.

    The Chinese cultural ministry issued the no application statement a while back (I read it on Baidu on 4/9, see comment 8), just this inconvienent fact does not reenforce our official narrative so it’s obligingly igored by our media.

    BTW, I don’t think any of my cites balmed Dylan, since it is BBH that tried to flip the concert with huge mark up, then turn around blaming the Chinese government to avoid paying the gaurantee.

    And since BBH’s lie is consitent with our official narrative of China, our media swallowed line hook and sincer.

  17. Steve Says:

    Gee Charles, maybe if you knew something about news that latest post would make sense. BBH gives statement, media reports statement. That’s called “news” and it’s news for one and only one reason, because Bob Dylan is involved. If an editorial writer (whether James Fallows or anyone else) makes an editorial statement saying that the government was probably involved, then we’d expect a retraction (which was given by Fallows as his readers had it sorted out in a day). Once it came out that the promoter wasn’t working with Dylan, the story became a non-story except possibly in Taiwan where the promoter’s from and in your mind.

    If you really wanted to know what was going on, all you needed to do was find a music insider (not find a story about one on the net) and ask him/her. I did, and the answer was a renegade promoter. Once Dylan was out of the story, it no longer has any interest to anyone, except you and your rants. You rant about reporters writing about things they know nothing about, yet you did exactly that. So what’s the difference between you and them? With whom did you confirm your story in the Chinese ministry, or in Dylan’s camp, or who worked or knew the Taiwan promoter? Or did YOU rely on media sources, exactly what you always rant against?

    BBH couldn’t flip the concert because DYLAN WASN’T ON BOARD! The media reported BBH’s story because the singer was BOB DYLAN! Once Dylan was out of the story, no one cared anymore except you.The only “official narrative” is the one in your mind, which sees media conspiracies behind every nook and cranny. I’m surprised you didn’t manage to work NED in here somehow.

    For your information, western promoters living in China along with Chinese music lovers were aghast to hear Bjork shout her little protest in China and then go home, while they were stuck with her mess of making it extremely difficult in the near future for any prominent overseas acts to play in China. Who did she hurt? Not herself but the people in China who just wanted to hear good music. The potential penalties and guarantees that promoters were burdened with after her incident made it all but impossible to book overseas acts. As with most things, rules loosen up over time and that’s what happened in China.

    Should they have toughened up after the Bjork incident? Personally, I think it was a major overreaction but it’s not my call. I can’t see anyone paying much attention to anything Bjork says and if she had come back to China, I doubt she would have sold enough tickets to justify the tour and it would have been canceled.

    So why are there so many unscrupulous promoters working in China? Why don’t you work on that one, and tell us why the major promoters who work the rest of the world aren’t working in China? Why don’t you research why promoters “flip” shows? Rather than just blame “official narrative”, why don’t you actually do some work and tell us all why concerts in China are subject to such unprofessional promotion?

  18. Wukailong Says:

    If this is OT, just collapse it: as for Bjork, her thing with Tibet at least wasn’t inconsistent or just a fad – it turns out she supports independence movements in general, including Kosovo, the Faroe islands and Greenland (so there she’s hurt the feelings of the Danish people as well).

  19. Charles Liu Says:

    Steve, get your facts straight. Read the China Music Radar cite, BBH negotiated a guarantee with Dylan’s agent in order to have a tour to flip. China music insider Sun Mengjin is also quoted Dylan’s agent accepting 250K per show.

    BBH then had to blame the Chinese government in order to get out of the gaurantee, because the flip was jacked up so much there was no taker. Where’s your citation Dylan’s agent didn’t agree to a deal? Cite something credible.

    My source is Chinese music critic and industry insideer Sun Mengjin, not what you accuse me of. Did you even read the OP?

    As to your media reporting BBH bit, can you explain why Chinese Cultural Ministry’s statement about no application, the other side of the Dylan concert story, is by and large ignored? IMHO there is a pattern of bias, and I’m not the only one who noticed this.

    Your rant against me is basiclly without merit. Cite something besides Fallows. Your comment above has plenty of claims without an iota of citation to back it up.

    “western promoters living in China along with Chinese music lovers were”, do you have any cites to back this up? Even a name, someone you talked to. But you provided no citation.

    “Should they have toughened up after the Bjork incident?” That’s a suposition you need to back up. Did the Chinese REALLY toughen up? Or that’s just something perpetuated by our media narrative? Read the citation in comment 8 – most of the overseas ticket falling thru are not because of censorship. As if you don’t know lots of western acts showed up for 08 Olympics.

    You have time and again accused me of being a consipracy theorist, even after I have time again repudiated you attack against me. Pattern is not conspiracy, but a tendency I and others have witnessed.

    “why are there so many unscrupulous promoters working in China? Why don’t you work on that one” – why don’t you work on story you find interesting? Are you making demand because you are admin? more superior reader? What right do you have to make demand of others?

  20. S. K. Cheung Says:

    Looks like Mr. Sun’s word is the final word, and since Mr. Sun’s word and China Music Radar refute BBH’s statement, Mr. Sun and China Music Radar must be right. Since they must be right, and since the Chinese Cultural Ministry must be believed, then the only logical conclusion must be to find BBH’s statement to be false. And since the BBH statement is thereby proven to be materially false, all news reports based on said statement should be retracted, regardless of whether one agrees with the first 2 sentences of this “logical progression”. The absence of such a retraction is further proof of…well… you know.

    Yet another example of “the more things change” (ie. whatever the subject matter may be), “the more they stay the same” (ie. the logic, and the inevitable conclusions).

    To quote from #19: “IMHO there is a pattern of bias, and I’m not the only one who noticed this.” — so true, and on more levels than the writer intended, I suspect.

  21. Steve Says:

    Rant away Charles, rant away. As usual, you use media sources to rant against media sources. To quote Gertrude Stein, “There is no there there.”

  22. Charles Liu Says:

    Steve, Sun Mengjin is a well know music critic and industry insider in China. I’ve correct you on this already.

  23. S. K. Cheung Says:

    “Sun Mengjin is a well know(n) music critic and industry insider in China.”
    — i suppose this serves as the preamble and the foundation for the “logical progression” I offered in the first 2 sentences of #20.

  24. Charles Liu Says:

    Hey Steve:


    Dylan said the Chinese government never banned him or censored his set.

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