8 tips for hacking the international music industry

We went along to the Hacking the International Music Industry panel at last week’s Finding the Future event in London to learn how emerging acts can break overseas markets. Here's what we found out...

Anita Awbi
  • By Anita Awbi
  • 24 Nov 2015
  • min read
The Q&A was hosted by industry veteran Alison Wenham, chair and chief executive of Association of Independent Music (AIM), and featured Daniel Miller, Mute Records’ founder and chair.

Here’s what we found out…

  1. The international music market matters

Alison: The UK is just 10 percent of the global music industry. So if you focus just on Britain, you’re missing out on 90 percent of the industry. Also consider this: the UK is one of the most concentrated music industries in the world – it’s extremely competitive.

Daniel: Not only that, but the UK is in the Top 5 most fickle music markets in the world. You might have huge success with one album, or with one artist for a couple of years, but that support can quickly disappear. International markets tend to be much more loyal and stable.

Alison: Historically, you had to break in your home market and then build on that. But it’s not like that anymore. At AIM we work with companies who avoid the UK altogether. The UK is a priority market for the majors so the airwaves are crowded and everything’s congested.

  1. Figure out your unique selling power

Daniel: There is a mushroom cloud of music out there these days. Everyone is recording music in their bedroom, making music on their laptops. The problem is, once you actually get your music out there, how do you get attention? You have to find a reason for people to listen to it.

  1. Get to know your international audience

Alison: If you don’t know your audience, you don’t have a business. Your audience can be anywhere in the world and these days, you can know them personally. You can know where they live, what their favourite food is, where they went to school, the first record they bought.

Daniel: I know it sounds cliché but you’ve got to know it and you’ve got to grow it. You need to know where your audience is and concentrate on growing it out from there. When you start a new band, there is no audience. You need to figure out who your fans are going to be and focus on small, targeted audiences.

Remember, every act is different so you need a unique approach. There’s no cookie cutter approach to marketing records these days. You have to tailor it really carefully. It’s not scientific. You can get a regional view from social media, which you can build on.

  1. Get yourself gigs overseas…

Daniel: It’s cheaper to go to Europe than America, so get out there as soon as possible. You don’t need to do a European tour – touring is expensive – just concentrate on the three or four countries or cities that are showing you the most interest and then build from there.

The classic way of getting gigs abroad is by hooking up with an agent who can do that for you. But it’s not easy. You can do it yourself – but a lot of it is down to research. Look online for appropriate venues in cities you’re interested in. Check out who else is playing there and if you think you would fit in, contact them directly with your music. Call them, send them a link. You won’t get a headline gig but you might get a support slot.

  1. …but hone your live performance before you set off

Daniel: A word of warning though - if you’re going out to play live, you have to be really good. The competition is fierce and you only get one chance – especially when you’re hitting Europe. These are venues that have people queuing up to play at them. You can’t blow it. If you go out once and do a bad show, it’s very hard to turn it around.

You need people around you who will give you the truth about your live performance. That’s how you can find out if you’re ready and if you’re not, they can tell you what you need to work on.

Brand new artists should do their first gigs at home under the radar where there’s very little audience. Use a different name and play open mic nights. Experience is key here. You can rehearse and rehearse but there’s nothing like being on stage. I would recommend doing gigs for no money and in front of no people just to experience what it’s like.

  1. Get social

Daniel: If social media comes naturally to you, and it’s what you really want to do, then have a go. You have to be really comfortable with it or it’s horrible. If you’re starting out from scratch, it’s a great avenue to try.

Alison: The whole world is available to you if you can work social media and are good with communication tools.

Daniel: Within every genre there are networks. Familiarise yourself with them. Get to know who the promoters are, the media are, the radio DJs, the venues. It will really help you target the right people with your music.

  1. Secure some export support

Alison: There’s a lot of support around for music export. There’s government money, industry funds, international showcases like South by South West – there are many organised events around the world where you can perform in front of the global industry. It’s worth doing some research into what’s out there.

Daniel: Remember that no one has much patience at these big showcases because there are 5,000 bands playing for a couple of hundred A&Rs. The A&Rs are running round show by show, catching one song from all the buzz bands. You’ve got to be ready. You’ve got to be good. If you’re going to do it, you have to do it really well. You have to grab their attention.

  1. Build a buzz overseas

Alison: Punters and A&Rs won’t turn up to see you at an international showcase if you’re completely unknown. You need to create a buzz around you. You need to find an opinion maker who loves you – it’s a gift you need to cherish.

Daniel: Find your media audience. Someone has to like your music and support it. It’s all about genres. Figure out where you most belong and target those niches first. You might cross over to other genres but initially, concentrate on contacting people within one or two musical niches. Understand the tastemakers and send your music to people who are more likely to be into you.