What’s your international marketing and release strategy? Do you have an international brand partner? What’s your distribution outlet in Asia? These are question rarely investigated by indie bands, while labels typically address these topics only following a domestic release. International strategy should be at the forefront of a band’s development process otherwise they’re choosing a limited career path with limited visibility with minimum payout. Here’s why:
Before exploring the “why” let’s step into the past. Twenty-five years ago, record stores showcased only a handful of genres: Rock, Classical, Blues, Jazz, Country and R&B (i.e. The Big 6). Everything was essentially crammed into the primary genres. As time progressed the genres begin to fragment into sub categories such as Classic Rock, Alternative, Hip-Hop, World, Emo, Metal, Americana, etc. Today there are nearly thousands of genres – all spawning from the previous selection of The Big 6. These “new genres” had to find a home, a core group of passionate fans. Without a home/buyers it’s impossible for sub-genres to survive. More so, it’s not practical to think all the all sub-genres could survive in the same markets as the old days. If you enjoy K-Pop, you find it in Korea, if you love Dance Band, go to Sweden, if you want commercial EDM, come to the U.S., Australian blues, go to Australia – you get the point -not all music lives in the United States. It lives in the global foothills, the hipster crevices of London and the streets of Berlin.
In 1996 I conducted independent research about the impact of international artists (i.e. – Non-American artists) represented on the Billboard charts. In 1996, roughly 2% of the Artists on the Billboard charts came from outside the United States. Around that same time, cue the download apocalypses which threatened the music industry towards near extinction. Labels, Executives, Managers, Lawyers and Artists became narrowly focused on combating the piracy epidemic. However, between 1996 and 2006, international artists begin to clutter the Billboard charts. In 2006, 22% of the Artist on the charts came from outside the U.S. In 2009, for the first time in the history of the Grammy Awards, all 5 of the nominees for Record of the Year came from outside of The United States. In 2012, as many as 28% of the Billboard artists had international ties.
What does this mean for the everyday band? Competition in the music industry is stiff. If you’re fighting to survive solely in a local market, you’ve already lost the fight. You’ve limited your potential. Now the “local” market expands from Tokyo to Toledo. Careers today need to expand globally but must attach to a niche in order to survive long term. Sometimes that genre niche isn’t in LA, rather Reykjavik. If concerts in Dublin aren’t profitable, your band may better fit the Cape Town market. Michael Wolfe, author of The Entertainment Economy, states that only 4% of the entertainment buying economy (i.e. – movies, DVDs, albums, tracks, books, electronics, etc.) comes from North America. Four percent! If you’re a band in the United States, why would you fight to survive within the U.S. when 96% of the buying market exists elsewhere? Easy in theory, however difficult in practical application. The global market is obviously big and scary. If you don’t have the right people on your team who know what they’re doing from a global perspective, your likelihood of an overseas expansion drops substantially. However, with the right international team implementing the right strategy, profits/visibility/opportunities can be literally endless.
Thinking locally equates to limited visibility. Limited visibility equals lower buying power. With limited buying power, bands can’t generate enough income to advance their craft. Now, “locally” means bands are selecting the smallest possible piggy bank. It is imperative to develop a strategy. Release strategies, marketing strategies, social media strategies and business strategies. Note, releasing music on SoundCloud and generating plays in France doesn’t mean you’re popular in France. Constantly dissect the details. Have a plan based upon popular markets, analytics, laws, incentives and distribution outlets. Don’t limit your bands success, understand your dynamics and strengths (which builds locally), but implement your craft at a much larger level – think globally and develop an expansion plan.