Tips of the Trade: Touring Internationally - are you export ready?

Thursday, 12 Feb 2015

Did you know the number of Australians showcasing overseas through Sounds Australia has increased by 439% since 2009? Given the ongoing boom in the love of Australian music overseas, it’s not that surprising. Think Courtney Barnett at Glastonbury, Sheppard on Ellen and Sia’s Grammy nominations. Australian songwriters really are pushing boundaries overseas.

Sounds Australia is an organisation dedicated to helping Australian songwriters and bands showcase at overseas industry festivals. Since 2009, the team at Sounds Australia has participated in 40 international events in 44 cities across 16 countries. With more and more Australian bands and songwriters wanting to break their music overseas, several panels at last year’s Face The Music and AWME conferences focused on this topic. We’ve summarised the top four tips we learned from attending the panel discussions

1. Start Local

Most panelists agreed the need to grow your local network and build your local story is vital, before thinking about taking your music elsewhere. Holly Brennock, a USA agent from The Windish Agency, is inundated with emails from bands wanting her support. “Having a local team already established in your home country is a key component from my perspective,” she says. “If you already have an interesting story back home, I’ll be more willing to listen over here.”

Nicky Bomba, from Melbourne Ska Orchestra, agrees. “It’s hard to blow your own trumpet and say “look at me I’m great!” You need to find a team that can represent you.” By team, we’re talking managers, publicists, booking agents, labels and fans. They are the group of people who work to support your music.

2. Be willing to go back, time and time again.

Deciding to take your music overseas isn’t the pinnacle of a career – it’s the beginning of a whole new story. That’s why it’s important to be prepared to return to the same cities, again and again. It’s an investment you’ll need to make over a number of years, if you really want to “crack” a particular overseas market. “It’s not all about showcasing,” says Millie Millgate, Executive Producer of Sounds Australia. “One piece of advice I find myself repeating to musicians is  - go without your band the first time. Go along and meet the right people. Engage with delegates and find the team of people that will help you when your band can come over.”

Grant Paley, from Canada’s Paquin Artists Agency advises, “It’s about ramping it up gradually so the next year, when you come back, you’ve really got something going.”

3. Think outside the box

South By Southwest  (SXSW) is one of the biggest industry showcase festivals in the world. Thousands of bands play with just as many industry folk attending. For that very reason, it might not be the best showcase opportunity for you. It really depends on what stage your career is at. “The smaller the conference, the easier it is to make an impact,” according to artist Henry Wagons. “You still need to have your knives out and sharpened to cut through though.” For example, Melbourne band Money For Rope got thirteen festival slots after showcasing at two smaller European conferences rather than SXSW.

“You have to be honest with yourself,” says Adam Lewis, Founder of the USA’s Planetary Group. “If you’ve already got a lot going on, go to SXSW. But if you’re just starting out, go to CMJ.”

“There’s a lot of signings going on at CMJ and not that much at SXSW. SXSW is all about bloggers and press but people actually get signed at CMJ. That’s the other thing – you have to know what you want.”

In fact, according to Jermone Williams from Earthbeat, every city in The Netherlands has a festival in summer where there are people interested in discovering new bands. Showcasing effectively is about thinking outside the box.

Grant Paley agrees. “There are about 250 festivals in Canada ranging from 500 punters to 20,000.”

4. How to stand out

How do you stand out? How do you get a festival offer? “It’s places like this [AWME],” says Grant. “AWME is a really small conference. That works in your favour - you have the opportunity to reach out and talk to people like us directly.”

Melbourne artist Nicky Bomba thinks it’s about taking risks – both on and off the stage. “We applied for grants and got nothing. So for me, it was a $100,000 investment on my part to tour the world with my band. Obviously that’s not for everyone. And not everyone has 25 people in their band. But you do have to spend money to make money sometimes.”

To that end, there’s also a need for professionalism and to have your wits about you. “If you take yourself and your music seriously, other people will too,” says Brisbane artist Jeremy Neale. “But it works in the reverse too.”

The Australasian World Music Expo (AWME) and Face The Music took place from 12 – 15 November 2014. 

Visit the Sounds Australia website for more showcase opportunities available this year. 


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