As we have seen over and over again, it is really hard for a band to make money, especially on tour. Overhead costs are ridiculous. But, let’s assume an artist invests the time, and the money, and begins to do well here in the States. They’ve likely accrued a lot of debt and touring becomes their primary source of income. So the artist starts their year with a tour of the major markets. Then maybe over summer they do a big festival tour. Then in the Fall they go out and tour again, this time in a position to command large guarantees from the promoter. In a period of nine months they’ve played the same market three times – and they’re only halfway through their record cycle!
There’s a lot of bands out there. Getting kids to pay money to see an artist perform once is hard enough. Three times a year is stretching it. The money is good so bands repeat the cycle, and then face consumer fatigue the following year. They go from playing to thousands of kids to hundreds. The bubble bursts, the excitement that fed the hype falls away, and everyone is on to something else. It’s probably the #1 mistake I see in the touring world.
Personally, once my bands establish a foothold in America, I try to only let them tour the States twice on an album cycle – one in the beginning and one at the end. The rest of the time, I send my band overseas. It is very expensive. As a manager, it is difficult to approach your artist – who is finally seeing a little bit of money – and ask them to re-invest that money into plane tickets to go play small clubs overseas. But if you start early enough the returns can dwarf anything you can make in America.
I met Jaddan on my couch. He pronounced things funny and added an extra ‘u’ to every other word. My roommate, Eric Tobin, had invited him to sleep over on one of his first trips from Australia. I think Jaddan was barely 22 or 23 and had just started to see some success with his indie record label and had begun doing management. Now Jaddan pretty much runs Australia.
Jaddan doesn’t sleep on my couch any more, but I had the privilege of catching him in town last week. Since Australia is so squirreled away in the corner of the world, I asked him to send me his thoughts on the international perspective of a touring artist. His notes are below.
Mining or the music business?
While having lunch the other day in Silverlake, with my good friend mike, he asked me if I’d be interested in writing a post for his blog. It was a fun lunch, where we both realized that we’d recently done things to upset the other, without thinking about it. So we called it even, ordered the same meal (he paid) and went on to talk about our cats.
Eventually, of course, we got back to business and more specifically the music business. Well we started on other business – mining to be exact – which was quite funny but probably not appropriate for this post.
Mike asked me to write something about Australia, so I guess Im best to speak from experience, as I am from Australia, where I have quite a successful group of businesses doing touring, management, merchandising, publishing, marketing, label.. and a few other things. In a lot of ways, Australia is the land of opportunities. We are a very entrepreneurial nation but at times, we can be a little relaxed and kind of wait for others to do things. My company obviously didn’t wait, and we seized the moment. I started the label right after finishing high school and after no one wanted to manage our bands, we started managing them ourselves. Then we started doing their merch. Then one of the majors saw how we were doing street marketing, and hired us to market their bands. You see where this is going….
So over a period of 10 years, we went from me releasing records in my parent’s house in my underwear, to a company with over 50 full time staff, 3 offices and what is hopefully unlimited potential.
Now the issue plaguing me at the moment, is, is the above enough? The answer is OF COURSE NOT! So the logical next step is to look overseas. Australia is the 6th biggest music market in the world, which is a huge achievement for a country of 25 million, but 6 isnt big enough for me. So like most Australians we look abroad. England, Germany, Japan and of course, the United States of America is the jewel in the crown. The one that you know if you can conquer, everything will be OK!
We release records all over the world and our bands are constantly on tour outside of Australia, but in most cases, these are cost neutral activities, at best. So where do we draw the line? Where does the dream end and we just be content with the success we have in Australia?
From an artist’s point of view, I think a band needs to own their home market before leaving to go abroad. Especially in Australia, as we are extremely blessed. It’s an expensive country to live in but we also have a high (ish) minimum wage, so quality of life is good. Further to this, the economy is good, and ticket prices, merch and records prices are high. So it is possible for a band to make quite good money in Australia. The trick is leaving Australia, which brings me back to my original point. Airfares for a 5 piece band from Australia to either Europe or North America are going to cost between $10,000 and $15,000 and by the time you do shows we usually say that just leaving the country is a $30,000 exercise at minimum. Match this with little to no income from first time trips overseas and you’re looking at a pretty big loss. Once again, we are the lucky country and we get some support from our government, but this is a re-imbursement grant in most cases, so you need to spend the money before they will pay you money.
It is similar for a business- we will strive to achieve abroad but at some point we also need to be happy with what we have in this wonderful country of ours.
It’s a similar challenge for international acts wanting to visit Australia. In one way we are lucky as we have a lot of festivals, and this is often a great way for acts to visit Australia in a less risky manner. The issue though with the festivals, is that without massive clout, young acts often end up playing to only a handful of people, and although the experience will be fun it won’t actually build a career in any way.
My favourite way to get bands in and out of Australia are tour swaps. We’ve done it successfully for years and it’s usually a surefire way to ensure your band will play to people in another country.
At the end of the day, it is going to come down to the music. If it is good or great, it will travel. Look at Gotye. We (the business) will continue to strive to set up our business in a way to ensure we can operate on a global level but after some point it comes down to the content. I’m not one of those people that thinks the business rules the world, I think some people forget that its called the music business. Without music, it’s just business, and then it’s off to the mines for Mike and I.
I really enjoyed this! I live in Australia and am trying to start working in the music industry now.. So reading things like this are extremely interesting!
Great guest post Mike and thanks for sharing your expertise Jaddan. It’s pretty easy to forget there’s a whole world out there when you’re just trying to break a band from their origin. Getting artists overseas is definitely a difficult practice, but without risk there is no gain. The future is definitely up for grabs for entrepreneurs with a DIY work ethic willing to take their piece of the cake.
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