Even though Macao’s gaming market is slowing, the property market remains robust. According to the Statistics and Census Service’s data, the average price of industrial property in 2014 was MOP54,250 per square metre, compared to MOP33,721 the year before, a 61% jump. Soaring property prices and the lack of any sort of regulation of the rental market are causing a lot of pain for the average citizen and company, let alone creative groups. Both culture and commerce need physical space to develop healthily. This time we invite three different creative industries to discuss how they are coping with extortionate real estate in Macao.
Live Music Association: An Industrial Space Owner
The Revitalisation of Industrial Building Programme has been launched since 2011, with very few successful examples to date. However, this caused prices of units in industrial buildings to rapidly rise, affecting a lot of cultural groups that were based there. Vincent Cheang, who loves playing in a band, decided to bite the bullet and purchased a unit in an industrial building on the Avenida do Coronel Mesquita in the name of his company, turning it into a live music venue where his band practices. Not only that, but he also invites bands from overseas to perform there, providing a fixed venue for live music fans to watch performances.
Cheang is the director of the Live Music Association and the lead singer of local band L.A.V.Y. In 2008, he and a group of music lovers established the association, and rented a 6,000 square foot industrial space near the Avenida do Coronel Mesquita for about MOP13,000 a month. The venue was well-equipped with sound-proofing, lights, a stage and audio equipment. It also had an exhibition space. But in 2012 the group had to move out reluctantly as the landlord wanted to sell it. Cheang recalled that the landlord tried to convince them to buy the unit for MOP3.8 million, but they didn’t have that kind of money at the time so they wanted to continue renting.
“I later found out that the unit changed hands for MOP15 million! I couldn’t believe how much the price had gone up in four years. So I decided after that I would buy somewhere instead of renting, I don’t want to repeat the same mistake,” said Cheang.
After the move, the association suffered terrible losses as most of the equipment became unusable. They used about a year and a half to find a new venue nearby, though at 1,500 square feet it was much smaller than the original 6,000 square feet. Cheang said that though the new space was small, it was sufficient, but the group definitely could not skimp on things like sound-proofing.
The Live Music Association no longer needs to come under any pressure to move or pay rent, and it is developing in a stable way. The stability is extremely important to the band, said Cheang. “Many musicians and bands in Macao need a performance venue, but most of the official music venues are for more traditional types of musical performances, rather than rock and metal. In contrast, our venue allows for a much more flexible and diverse range of musical performances, from loud metal to mellow acoustic guitar shows. But the most important thing is still having a fixed musical venue. Musicians like anyone else enjoy that kind of stability,” said Cheang.
Cheang doesn’t just invest in hardware, but he’s also extremely passionate about how he operates the business. He says that musicians in Macao are very talented and stack up against professional bands, but they simply don’t do enough in the way of promotion and marketing.
“We allow bands to use the venue for free, but we don’t allow them not to do promotion. There was once when a band played a show, including the staff, there were literally just a handful of people there. It was a waste of all our efforts,” he said.
As a result, the association now buys a set number of tickets of any band using the venue for a performance, to demonstrate its commitment and anticipation of the show. It is also working hard to promote itself as a venue for musical performances. For example, in May, it held six performances by overseas bands, which was a particularly busy period. In other months they do not put on more than one show a week due to staff constraints.
Cheang believes that the government needs more policies to promote the cultural and creative industries. He says the government’s policy of revitalising industrial buildings is not well thought through. “With property prices so high, landlords are bound to take advantage of that and speculate. They’ll increase rents and prices. A lot of artistic groups have to keep moving because of this. They don’t have a home. Without that, it’s hard to talk about creative industries.”