Margaret Dinsdale is an award-winning journalist and best-selling author with business and fundraising experience. Since 2008, Sugar Moon Music Inc. has been dedicated to helping Canadian artists achieve their potential through fundraising, tour planning, publishing and other activities.
Touring is not paid vacation!
Several years ago, an artist was inquiring about international touring. She said, with a dreamy look in her eye, “Yes, I’ve always wanted to visit France.”
There seems to be an impression with some people that touring as a musician/artist is a case of playing a few gigs that will pay for your vacation in the country you’ve always wanted to visit. If you want to visit France or any other country, my advice is to save your pennies and go on vacation there.
Approaching international touring starts from an entirely different perspective. In the case of the artist and France, her music was not suitable for the French market, France is one of the trickier countries for artists to tour, only certain genres are popular. I doubt she would have found many small clubs to play in, certainly not enough to cover her costs.
Identifying the market /the old business model of Europe
As a starting point, you need to have a cool eye and realistically look at countries where there is a market for your music and then consider a plan of approach, a business plan that covers all aspects. Europe still mostly has the old business model that was common in the music industry before the North American industry began to crash so badly in the 1990s. The UK is as tricky to tour as the USA, both being major music exporters, they aren’t going to let the competition in easily. But Germany, the Netherlands, the Nordic countries, and others are all solid markets where people enjoy live music and buy CDs. There are dozens of music festivals on every weekend throughout the summer and into the fall throughout Europe. For these markets, you need promotion, bookers, distribution, the whole nine yards. You can always find English speakers in these countries and culturally there are not many jarring surprises.
The emerging markets of south-east Asia
The emerging markets of south-east Asia, on the other hand, are completely different. Everything is mobile and digital, in India there is no infrastructure for the internet so everyone buys music on their phones and get their news and social media there as well. And certain genres fit different countries, jazz in Japan, male pop/rock in China, rock, electronica, and jazz in India, for example. You need solid digital distribution and someone on the ground who knows the market and likely you will need a tour assistant to help with language and cultural issues. Your income will not be as great as from European markets, but you can build in these places with a custom plan for your project.
It takes time, get organized!
Once you think you have identified markets, you will need help, you will need someone to guide you through all the work necessary. International touring can take up to a year at the very least to get organized. If you need funding, there is the delicate balance of getting some booking confirmation before the funding deadline, the bones of a tour, since most applications are made months in advance of notification as to whether you have been successful.
Tours should be timed with the release in specific markets of your current material that has been released within the past two years, with plans to return to the market you’ve chosen in the next one or two years with new product. One band in particular that I know of has been doing the same circuit in Europe every year for many years. They identified where they would find a solid niche audience for their act and have successfully worked it.
Then it is a matter of getting the appropriate visas, if needed, doing promotion that will lay the foundation for your appearances, working on your act to suit the type of tour you will be doing, clubs vs. festivals, etc. It is a long checklist for these projects, wherever it is that you intend to tour.
It takes a lot of work and time and people you can trust to help build an audience for you in another market to make successful touring as part of your career. It can be done, just be ready for hard work and have a steady and realistic focus.