Australian Music Office Overview
The Australian Music Office was formed in August, 2005, as a result of the expansion of resources due to the Australia/US Free Trade Agreement (AUSFTA). The Australian Music Office is a unit within Austrade, the Australian Trade Commission, and is funded by Austrade. The first office to open was the Los Angeles office, based in Century City in the Australian Consulate.
The goal of the Australian Music Office mirrors that of Austrade’s—to help Australian artists and music companies succeed in international business through innovative export initiatives. To date the Australian Music Office has been in touch with or contacted more than 500 Australian artists and music oriented companies (record labels, publishing companies, managers, radio stations, and musical instrument companies) regarding export initiatives. Last year we assisted in over 200 export deals done by Australian artists and companies worldwide.
A major focus of the Australian Music Office is artist development and export advice which includes logistics, visas, grants and funding, shopping of material to labels, publishers, booking agents, entertainment attorneys, film/tv/videogame music supervisors, film/tv pitch agents, producers, managers, internet/new media companies, press and other music industry support groups. The basic goal is to help artists export their material from Australia to other parts of the world.
The Australian Music Office website was launched in 2006, mainly as an export resource for artists that are interested in bringing their art to the world. Specific information that is most commonly accessed on the website would be specialist referrals for visa information, as well as the information regarding grants and funding options that are available to artists that are looking for additional support around touring and promotion. The site is focused on business to business, and its aim is not to compete with consumer sites for Australian music discovery.
The Australian Music Office will also engage in educating the industry through emails, video conference seminars, and handouts that will cover the finer points of visas, music conference overviews, travel, and other common questions that artists might have regarding export of music. We have found response to these programs to be positive and we continue to strive in bringing up to date and pertinent market intelligence to those who need it. Austrade has invested heavily into technology that makes this possible (including state of the art video conferencing in all offices). Currently two ‘bootcamps’ happen each year, one that covers the major conferences around the world, and one specifically to go over South By Southwest, and some of the strategies that are most useful while on the ground in Austin.
Another function that the Australian Music Office engages in is the oversight of Australian presence at many of the music conferences and festivals around the world, including South By Southwest, CMJ, MIDEM, Popkomm, NACA, NXNE, and CMW. Together, along with partners such as the Australian Independent Record Labels Association (AIR), the Australian Performing Right Association (APRA), Immedia!, The Australia Council for the Arts, and State governments from Australia, the Australian Music Office strives to provide programs and initiatives that can make artists’ trip over for festivals and conferences move more smoothly and be more productive. We often will sponsor the trade show stand, throw networking events, and invite taste-makers to shows and events, gain media exposure, and sponsor additional showcases for artists in attendance. We’ve found conferences to be an excellent way for Australians to learn about the market and make the very important connections that networking at conferences provides.
Current Climate for Export
The Australian music industry has a particular hurdle to climb when it comes to exporting music. The ‘tyranny of distance’ as it is sometimes referred to, can present massive roadblocks to networking and touring, two essential elements of the music industry. The costs associated with overcoming this distance is the main issue. Travel costs and visas can be pretty hefty, so most often we recommend that only artists that have the resources to get overseas often, for extended periods of time, attempt to come over and tackle the market. The successes that have happened in recent memory have been mainly touring stories, with such artists as John Butler Trio, Architecture in Helsinki, The Cat Empire and Xavier Rudd building up respectable fan bases over time and mainly on the road, with an absence of significant radio airplay. Other signed artists that have been radio oriented bands, such as Wolfmother and Sick Puppies, got the support of major record label deals after building significant stories thru wildly different means. In the case of Sick Puppies in particular, the band was signed after a YouTube.com video spread virally to millions of potential new fans.
For artists in today’s climate, it is absolutely essential that they build what is referred to in the music industry as a ‘story’. A story is basically a list of varied achievements that people in the industry can refer to as proof that there are potential fans waiting for new music. Some elements of a story could include number of tickets sold in particular venues, number of friends on Myspace, number of EPs or albums or singles sold, key film/tv/videogame placements, large numbers of downloads, or an important or influential executive or producer taking an interest in the project. Without a story, the artist can easily be lumped in with other artists, and is in the unfortunate position of being at the whim of whether a tastemaker likes the music or not. It’s really best to take ‘guesswork’ out of the equation—that is, prove that your songs and material is export ready, because there is evidence that suggests that it will be liked by a large number of people. In the end, a record company wants to know that they will be able to make money from the artists it signs, and what better way to show that than a clear sales ‘story’ that has been achieved outside of the record company? It will also prove in most cases that the artist is hard working, has competent management, is resourceful, and their business is in order—something that is crucial to success.
The advent of the internet has certainly broken down some of the barriers that previously tied the hands of many bands and artists. It has allowed artists to communicate and build fan bases without going thru an intermediary such as a record label. It has allowed artists and bands to sell music and merchandise direct to the consumer. It has allowed artists to build significant online databases of artists, allowing for more effective routing of tours and overall a more satisfying artist/fan relationship. The most amazing part of it all is that it is virtually free, as a cost of business. We are seeing internet marketing plans as an essential link of the story now, equal in weight to touring, radio and press. However, even with phenomena such as the enormous success of YouTube and Myspace, there is still no substitute for the live experience. The live end of the music business is booming, which would indicate that there is still very much a need for the artist and fan to communicate on a more intimate level than a computer screen or iPod. For that reason, it is still essential that artists be excellent live, and pays equal weight to there most important form of promotion, the tour.
The biggest hurdle to touring is obviously the money involved in travel. There are several grants that can be taken advantage of, most of which are outlined here.1 There is an Austrade grant (EMDG), national funding (from The Australia Council) and State funding (various2). Artists should pay close attention to deadlines and make sure their applications are professionally presented.
Visas are obviously another huge issue right now, especially when entering the United States. Our recommendation is to consult with a professional visa attorney or specialist, and work through the various aspects that are unique to each and every artist. Recommendations for visa specialists that work with US issues can be found here.3
Other very important developmental points for artist to consider before attempting export are summarized in the bullet points below.
- Have manager come over in advance of bringing the entire band over. Significant networking and market intelligence can be gained thru an informational trip.
- Make sure you appoint a competent manager with good business skills (strong international connections are a plus). An artist can then focus on performance and creative aspects, not logistics and networking.
- Online marketing presence is an absolute must (be savvy, you need to stand out). Make sure to be across new technologies and platforms.
- Have an updated website and myspace page.
- Use artist’s fan base to help spread the word. Fan can be used to do many functions of a street team, helping to spread information about the artist.
- Must have time, dedication, patience and money to invest in US market (3 or 4 visits).
- Bands should consider basing themselves in the US for 6 months – 1 year to make an impact on the market.
- Music hubs in the US are LA, New York and Nashville (for Country music).
For more information please visit the Australian Music Office website.
Tony George. Last updated 27 September 2007.