China Music Radar recently offered some commentary on a show that was organized by Beijing-based electronic music crew The Syndicate. The crew partnered with travel app Skyscanner to offer free entrance in return for app downloads. Is this a model for the future, or is dependence on brand subsidy a risky long-term play?

You’d be forgiven for suspecting China Music Radar is attempting to become a tech blog. But the truth is, we’re just following the action. And a great deal of the action happens to be sitting squarely within the realm of mobile.

With that said, The Syndicate crew announced last week that they would be bringing Om Unit to China for a free show. To enter, simply download a free app – a pretty fair exchange.

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A number of local promoters have used similar techniques before, namely discounted entry for those who subscribe to their promotional channels. The Syndicate has gone a step further, partnering with tianxun.comand Skyscanner app – businesses with little to do with underground electronic music, but that nevertheless have an obvious link to the crowd. Skyscanner provides flight search/comparison services much like Expedia, and is probably offering flights in exchange for the exposure. At this point it’s not clear who initiated the partnership.

Whether or not it’s game changing is for you to decide; at the least, it’s a clever move because as experienced readers know, the bulk of the costs incurred in touring this region can be attributed to travel expenses. The Syndicate crowd aligns fairly well with the kinds of people the app is trying to target (young students / professionals who have a lot to get out of their systems before they settle down), so there’s an obvious win-win scenario here.

Is this a model for the future? We’ve commented previously on the dangers of depending too much on brand subsidy. We are priming our audience to expect experiences for free – the moment the support dies away, promoters are left with the full burden of the expenses, and an audience that believes a door cost is somehow unreasonable. This situation is exacerbated in the context of electronic music when you consider the number of venues offering free entrance for weekdays, free entrance for expats, free entrance if you turn up to the venue dressed like a fruit. A discerning music fan will go out of their way to support the good stuff, but for the casual dancer, paid entrance is a deal breaker.

UPDATE:

We touched base with our friends at The Syndicate to get more of an inside into how this arrangement came about. To add a little context, The Syndicate has been going since 2004, and with a growing network of supporters and members (around 27 at the last count), it’s natural that their fans will have matured, keeping the memories alive but the rambunctious nights on the low. With that said, the crew’s perseverance has allowed them to selectively reach out to businesses with similar interests and relevance to their close-knit community of electro heads, bringing about relevant collaborations as in the case of Om Unit x Skyscanner.

The key point that comes through is that while having the opportunity to bring the likes of Om Unit down is a game changer, they aren’t looking to change the paradigm. They want to give something back to their fans; this special free event is by no means the new normal. Back in the early days, The Syndicate were the guys pushing for paid entrance – even for local shows – with the understanding that this is the way it’s done, globally, and that if local players wanted to create a sustainable scene in China, they’d have to follow suit. As far as the risk of undermining paid entrance goes, for now it seems there is a middle ground to be had – crews that stand the test of time are able to play the brand subsidy game, so long as they don’t deviate from the values that helped to bring their crowds together in the first place, namely keeping the music and experience at the fore.