by Trung Hieu - Trang Anh
After years of struggling, many music lounges in Ha Noi have had to close due to the lack of clientele.
Singer Thanh Hoa was one of the first to open a music lounge in Ha Noi. Located on Hang Bot Lane, the cafe and performance space - which she called Aladin - did not enjoy much success. She tried again with Aladin II at Thang Loi Hotel but this saloon also failed.
Today, few Hanoians want to visit such venues. As a result, many of them are shutting their doors for good.
Hoa invested a large sum in Aladin, hoping that the place would be a rendezvous for lovers of "red music" (revolutionary music) and semi-classical music. But she soon realised it was not as easy as she thought.
"High quality comes hand in hand with increased prices, but most clients don't want to pay any more than the price of a drink. That's why we had to close," she said.
As she still had a passion for music and a strong desire to sing, Hoa brought her "Aladin spirit" to a musical stage at 36 Ly Thuong Kiet Street last year. She called the venue "Love songs forever".
But the new place didn't last "forever". Rather, it had to close in March because of a lack of customers. Hoa recalled that some nights, there were only five clients, while the cafe employed more than 10 singers and servers.
Many younger singers have also opened such businesses. Singer Tuan Hiep opened Malaideli at 92 Tran Vu Street. It was a restaurant during the day, a business model that allowed the singer to finance two shows each week featuring star singers such as Thanh Lam, Tung Duong, Khanh Linh and Nguyen Ngoc Anh. However, after five years, he could not afford the rent and was forced to close.
"Let's make a simple calculation: if clients occupy all 100 seats and each pay an average of VND70,000 for drinks, we would earn only VND7 million. We have to pay VND2.5 million for the five-person band and pay each of the four singers VND2-3 million or more. So how can we survive?" Tuan Hiep said. "No one can maintain a music lounge for even a year without passion - and a lot of capital."
A few years after winning the Sao Mai song contest in 2007, Le Anh Dung opened Bee Club at 2B Pham Ngoc Thach along with some friends. Its sound and light systems were as good as those in other countries. Dung believed his music parlour would operate every night.
But after a short time, Dung had to turn it into a restaurant during the day to earn extra money.
"Each night show had only a few dozen clients. It cost too much to maintain," he said.
After a year, he sold the club.
The new owner invited stars from overseas such as Khanh Ha and Tuan Ngoc and domestic stars including Anh Tho, Lan Anh and Trong Tan to perform there. However, like the others, it soon closed.
Although payment for singers was not very high, just a few hundred thousand to several million dong a night, the closing of so many lounges in Ha Noi still made many singers sad.
It wasn't about losing income, but about losing a stage, one where they could perform every night for eager audiences.
"At the music lounges, the "red music" singers had many opportunities to express themselves on stage. But now their opportunities to reach audiences are very limited," said singer Dung, who is also a lecturer at the National Music Conservatory. "Without a place to sing, many young singers don't know what to do after graduating."
Why don't audiences go to these lounges anymore? The primary reason is that singers appear on TV so often that people get saturated with them and aren't interested in paying to see them perform in person.
Poor quality is another reason why music lounges can't attract audiences. As singer Phuong Thanh explained: "In the past, the music at serious lounges always met the standards of the audiences. But now, the music at many saloons is very bad. The singers don't sing but scream loudly. Many owners do not invest much, because during the current hard time of few clients, they feel that the more they invest, the more losses they will suffer. So the quality gets worse. This makes potential listeners decide they'd rather stay at home and listen to CDs rather than pay money to enjoy live music."
TV shows have also usurped the place that music lounges once occupied.
"As reality television programmes bloom, people stay at home watching TV, so they don't have any time for music lounges," said singer Lam Truong.
Audiences, particularly those who visit music lounges, do not want to listen to songs accompanied by recordings. But sometimes the singers and the band don't even practice together before their shows.
Thus, the fact that audiences have quit going to these places is understandable. — VNS