Heading Overseas

Tuesday, 05 Nov 2013

Touring overseas is a big dream for a lot of Australian musicians and songwriters but what do you need to do to make it happen? We spoke to Glenn Dickie, Sounds Australia’s Export Music Producer to get his tips on what it takes to successfully tour overseas.

Disclaimer:

Please note that the answers below are generalisations and broad brushstroke answers. Individual circumstances are going to vary and there are always exceptions to the rule. We could possibly write a whole piece on each one of these questions so if you have any queries relating to the below then best to go to the Sounds Australia website or contact Glenn direct.

 

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At what point in an artist/band’s career is the right time to try touring overseas do you think?

It’s going to be different for everyone. It depends on so many individual circumstances and variables but we use the term being “export ready” all the time as this is essentially what you’re doing, exporting your music and live performance.  Being “export ready” usually means having plenty of shows under your belt, hopefully some radio play, some genuine interest from international fans and/or industry, possibly some local and international blog and press attention and a solid local team in place and that can help manoeuvre all these elements towards international success, whatever your version of success may be.  There are ways through social media to gauge where fans exist, how many there are and their engagement levels which can help guide you towards the areas that you should maybe tour first. Support spots are always another excellent way to get overseas so maybe look at a reciprocal tour with an international artist. You should be looking to build relationships at our domestic conferences and showcase events like BIGSOUND, WAMi, AWME. This can assist in building and strengthening key local and international relationships and are a much cheaper way to access international industry and practice the art of the elevator pitch.

It’s important to ask, who is going to be your audience overseas? Who is going to come and see you?

If your overseas tour is to focus on attracting agents, labels, lawyers or managers then it’s a whole other ball game. You should have these relationships established before you or your artist plays a note. It would be cheaper to fly a couple of key people to Australia to see a cracking Australian gig than to go overseas and hope they turn up. Send a manager over to build the relationships first, participate in local conferences and do your research.

 

Showcase opportunities like CMJ and SXSW would receive hundreds of applications from all over the world – what do you think sets the successful applicants apart from the rest?

Having some sort of quantifiable success or buzz will always make it easier. Artists that have a solid team behind them including management (which can include good self managed artists), local booking agent, maybe a label, these will nearly always get looked at more favourably than those that don’t.

It might sound obvious but if you haven’t had much success in Australia either recorded or live, you might not be ready yet. Don’t expect these Festival bookers to just fall in love with your music and take you in. You’ll need to prove that you can play live, which Australians consistently do really well and have a reputation for. They want to know that you’re ready to do business and preferably hear about examples of people you plan to have at your showcase.

Please make sure all of your social media is up to date with current and relevant information. This not only makes it easier for the bookers to get information but anyone else you’re trying to attract. Make sure you have live footage available to view. You’re being booked as a live act, if you don’t have footage then make some.

What are some tips for filling out applications to play at overseas showcase opportunities?

To be honest it’s usually  through Sonicbids so there’s not much room to move but this is why having your social media up to date is so important.

What are some common mistakes you’ve witnessed in terms of bands trying to tour overseas?

Common mistakes.

  • Going over too soon. Why rush? Do your research, create your contacts, save your money, get people excited and invest in sending a manager or one member of the band over in advance so you can make informed, smart decisions and hopefully not lose too much money. Just because you get accepted to SXSW doesn’t mean you have to go or it’s the right time to go.
  • Not understanding the territory before heading into it, even if they do speak English. There are so many subtle differences between countries, including how shows are promoted, payment and taxes. Will you get accommodation and food as part of the deal? Will you get a rider at all? How old do you need to be to legally walk into a venue? And of course our favourite topic: do you need a visa? You also shouldn’t assume that other countries see you as you see yourself. The demographic of your overseas audience might be very different to at home.
  • Relying on grant money to make it happen. If you NEED a grant to make a tour happen then it’s probably not the right time to go.
  • Spending more time getting drunk and high than actually playing great shows and getting business done. This usually happens when people get to the States for the first time. It’s the easiest way to waste the opportunity. It doesn’t happen as much now but it still happens.
  • Not following up or following through. You want to try and create traction and to do that you need to be able to try and stay top of mind. If you can’t back up your first international tour with a follow up tour because of money or work commitments, or your girlfriend says no then I would question why you’re spending the money investing on an international trip in the first place. If you’re treating it like a “working” holiday then enjoy and maybe ignore point 4.

 

Do you need a manager/publisher/label to successfully tour overseas or can you do a good job independently?

The short answer is, no you don’t “need” a manager, label or publisher but it certainly helps and allows you to be a musician. If the tour is geared around wooing an international team and you don’t have a manager you need someone in the band that is taking full responsibility in the management role, or you need to split the responsibilities.  If you don’t do this then you’re more likely to miss out on opportunities. We see time and time again the positive difference having someone working the room while a band is playing or in the lead up. You don’t need a label or a publisher to tour but a booking agent is certainly going to go a hell of a long way and you probably should have something released digitally at the very least. Some people are amazing at DIY,  it’s an incredible skill but for most you’ll need a team to be effective.

 

What are some of the main challenges Australian bands face when they tour overseas and how can one overcome these do you think?

Distance is the obvious one, which then leads to money as it costs a lot to go those long distances and then there’s the ever changing exchange rates and hidden taxes that you don’t see until the last minute. There is no real way to overcome these challenges besides saving and planning well.

The other challenge is confidence. I think we’re use to feeling like the distant cousin or little sibling to the US or UK and this leads to a lot of bands and managers exuding an overly humble persona. It’s really evident in Australians and Canadians but more so in Australians. It’s not often you hear an Australian band get on stage and say they’ve travelled half way around the world to be here so we demand your respect. You wouldn’t have left Australia if you didn’t think you were good, so own it.

Americans in particular are fantastic at making you think they’re very important and amazing when often they’re not. They own their confidence though and it’s a great thing to see in action. In the UK it can almost feel like a snobbery that you have to cut through where the perception is the convicts have got off the Island, how quaint, mixed with that UK punk essence that comes from having such a prevalent class system. Trying to understand the class system might even help guide you to your audience over there. Basically, if you want to do business overseas then you have to be willing to step up to the plate, adapt and be confident. You’re probably as good as you think you are and you’re probably a better live band that most of the locals.

 

What are some tips you’d offer to bands/artists thinking about touring overseas?

Have a want to be better than every other band in the world. Practice, research, ask questions, talk to other managers, artists and tour managers who have toured OS before, about their tips and experiences, write great songs and SAVE YOUR MONEY.

I hope this is helps and remember everyone’s situation is going to be different in some way shape or form.

Check out Glenn’s work at www.soundsaustralia.com.au.


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