Manhattan-based band, PaperDoll, is about to go on a major tour in China, and it’s not their first. In fact, this is the band’s 3rd major tour in China. Fronted by Teresa Lee on vocals, with Patrick Moloney (guitar), Steve Paelet (bass), and Will Haywood Smith (drums), PaperDoll uses different marketing tools for effective fan outreach no matter the continent. Read on to learn how this energetic and dedicated band has worked hard to acquire such a following many miles away.
Without using the words “rock,” “pop,” or “alternative,” describe your sound.
So how did this New York based band get such a big following in China?
Last year we were invited to play the Shanghai World Expo. The World Expo was a big deal in China–half a million visitors a day on average so it was a huge chance for exposure. We were playing at an outdoor festival type set-up. During our first show at the Expo, I noticed half way through the set, the crowd doubled. By the end of the set, the crowd quadrupled. The next day it happened again. Eventually the crowds turned from a few hundred to a few thousand, and they had to move us to a larger stage. I’d love to say “Chinese crowds just love us!”… but here is why the crowds responded so well and grew so large:
– We work very hard at our live show.
– I sang a few lines of our song “Anything At All” in Mandarin and told people it was up (in Mandarin) on youku (chinese youtube). On that note, all our Chinese sites were updated with new music and information.
– The audience weibo-ed (Chinese twitter) during our set, attracting more and more people…we could literally see people on their phones weibo-ing, more people would show up, then they’d be on their phones, then more people would show up.
– We always made sure we had a helper in the crowd getting emails and passing out stickers, buttons, and postcards while we were playing. The idea was (and still is) that everyone in the crowd goes home with something that says “PaperDoll” on it.
– Finally, the crowds saw me (the singer) as “home-grown.” I’m Chinese American and that counts for a lot in a country that’s very proud of their culture.
During the first tour in August 2010 we ended up booking more and more shows while were there–sometimes doing 2 or 3 shows a day at the Expo and booking extra club dates at night. As soon as we got back to New York we were contacted about returning for more Expo shows in October and decided to go back and tour some other cities. It’s just the 4 of us in the band, so we just hustled as best we knew how. We ended up booking shows in Hangzhou, Suzhou, Beijing, and Tianjin as well as Shanghai, and we appeared on Shanghai TV with write ups in People’s Daily (China’s largest newspaper) and Time Out Shanghai among others. Through hustling our butts off, we grew our fan base and got a distribution deal for “Ballad Nerd Pop” with Loft Records in collaboration with General Lee Records (our own label). Now we’re going back a third time to promote the release and tour some new cities.
What differences do you find touring China vs. touring the U.S.?
I would say that Chinese crowds are less inhibited than the crowds in the U.S. or Ireland (we toured there in 2009). If they like you, they will show you by dancing and shouting almost immediately. American audiences dance, but it might take like 3 songs to get them started. Ireland…4 or 5 songs.
– Bathrooms in China are…complicated.
– It’s easier in China to eat healthy foods on the road, even at KFC! I once got a vegetable soup at a KFC in Beijing. I saw them hand-chopping fresh spinach and carrots for it.
– In China the boys in the band are “exotic.” In smaller towns, people stop them on the street to take photos of them. Especially Steve (bass player) because he has a full beard.
All in all though, it’s not that different from the U.S., but we definitely have to adjust our sleeping patterns a bit since the promotional interviews are on China time.
Do you prepare differently promotion-wise for tours in China?
We promote on social networking sites, but for China its douban, weibo, sina, etc. We post videos up on youku. Getting everything translated correctly … “correctly” being the operative word, is sometimes a challenge. You can’t just google translate directly. Besides promo material (postcards, posters, emails, stickers, etc…), this time, we have a commercial airing in Shanghai so that was a new translation element we had to deal with.
We have a bigger following in China than in the U.S., so the scale of things, I suppose, is larger.
How do you continue to engage with your fan base in Asia when in the U.S.?
I post at least once a week to weibo and we always try to give some free music away on douban every once in a while. Some Chinese fans are also on facebook which is banned in China, but people find ways around it. I always give them special attention because they’ve worked extra hard to get access to us.
I read that your music is part of a NIKE campaign now in greater China. How did that come to be?
Like with the Expo, someone working on the NIKE campaign just really liked our music and asked if they could use it. Then we hustled and made it happen. It was the same thing with the Dayquil commercial that aired in the U.S. last year. We’re totally independent so we rely heavily on word of mouth and the support of our fans. We’re not opposed to signing with a label or manager, we just haven’t found the right fit. But in the mean time, we’re not waiting around for someone else to make things happen for us. We like keeping busy.
Is your fan outreach different depending on what country they’re in?
The strategy is the same, but the tools are different (weibo as opposed to twitter etc). You just want to connect with people and to be accessible. Doing that in Chinese is sometimes a challenge, but my Chinese is getting a little better and my Chinese-speaking friends and family help a lot.
Aside from your upcoming tour, what projects do you have on the horizon?
This winter, we’re back in the studio with Michael Moloney who produced our last three singles. We’ll also be playing a few college shows. Early 2012, you’ll hear our music in a few indie films. Then it’s back to China for the festival season next Spring–hopefully promoting a new album with songs in Mandarin.