You need to be ready to export the moment that you start. You’re operating internationally from the moment you put a song online and to think otherwise is short-sighted.
(Interview 4, 2017)
Due to the complexity of the music industry and its utilisation of social media, streaming and technological innovation, “music export readiness” cannot be prescriptive or limited to traditional definitions of export. Austrade’s “international readiness tool” (Austrade, 2006) asks questions about the current nature of export engagement, the status of domestic market sales, production capacity, product differentiation, financial resources, management support and resources, market research, promotional materials, pricing, payment mechanism and product delivery. Given the fluctuating nature of the music industry due to technological change, the trust placed in international networks and access to globalised markets and communication, the purpose of our interviews with Australian managers was to reassess "export readiness”.
Should all Australian artists be looking to export? Export readiness in music has some differences to Austrade’s standard requirements for export. For example, while an international competitor analysis is important, it may not be as relevant, as the celebration of diversity and difference in music is a key factor in maintaining cultural and economic vibrancy. Austrade identifies the following key signs: Significant management time and strong management commitment, strength in the domestic market, the resources to succeed, business and export planning and expox-t knowledge and skills. Some Australian musicians (e.g. Gotye, Iggy Azalea and Sia) have bypassed the local market to different extents in favour of international bases, seeking US or European audiences. However, there are some factors that are just as essential, such as staffing, knowing the market, distribution and marketing.
Based on interviews with Australian managers, the following areas have been identified as factors contributing towards export readiness. In a globalised and digitised world, some would say that the playing field has been levelled. But this is not the case. Music export readiness can involve any combination of the components listed below, or just one, as the emergence of the YouTube star has shown. While access to data is now ubiquitous in a “born global” world, the awareness of hidden costs and hurdles will make or break the success of a music export. It is the facilitation and management of that music expox! within a complex ecosystem of transactions, analytics and many stakeholders. Figure 3.2 lists indicators that help define a music export readiness framework.
Depending on who that target is, having an Australian domestic track record can help. For example, an international paxtner may research the artist's Australian track record through digital analytics or domestic reviews. But it also can be the case that the sharing of an artist’s work via Facebook’s friend/fan network bypasses the need to see if the artist has been successful in Australia. Another point of difference is that it is not necessarily a competitive market between Australian artists. There is always room for new artists who have a particular sound.
Challenges and advantages
The most obvious and common challenge for artists, labels and managers is the “tyranny of distance” (Blainey, 1966) for artists based in the southern hemisphere. It can cost between $20,000 and $50,000 to take an Australian artist or band to do a two-week tour or attend an industry event, leading many managers to seek
Figure 3.2 Export readiness indicators.
bookings through media engagements or follow-up tours to help pay for the investment:
I think we’re at a severe disadvantage ... that's because of the strength and power of the media outlets in those countries, and also that’s where playlists are made ... if we were in LA right now, everyone in the world would know who we are, because all the editors to the websites that make those opinions would be coming to our shows just by virtue of the fact that we’re down the road.
(Interview 10, 2018)
To help improve the distance problem, the Australia Council for the Arts has instigated a residency programme based in Nashville, USA, for Australian songwriters, enabling them to immerse themselves into the Nashville music scene (Australia Council, 2019). Some managers have established international offices in the US or UK. Out of a total of 48 respondents from the Exports Strategy Survey who answered a question on challenges, 33 said that travel costs and time were a significant barrier to their export activities (68.75%), while 30 said that costs involved with travel to follow up an export opportunity were a significant barrier (62.5%).2
Interviewed managers had mixed responses regarding whether being perceived as an Australia act was an advantage in other territories. Most said yes, with the US market thought to be more open to Australian exports than the UK. In terms of infrastructure, it was noted that the national public youth broadcaster Triple J and other ABC broadcasting programmes helped establish a ground base. These media opportunities provide a “barometer” for national and international observers to monitor:
[Australia is] a country that people watch. America, in particular, watches Australia. I know a lot of people there will look at the Triple J additions evexy week, as a bit of a barometer. Australia has a reputation for producing great music but also embracing stuff before other places do. Like, a lot of acts will, kind of, break here before elsewhere. Whereas America, 100%, I know people watch Australia very closely. So, there’s an advantage in that sense, definitely.
(Interview 7, 2018)
The cultural value of public media and cultural infrastructure such as the ABC, Triple J and the Australia Council cannot be underestimated. Combined, they provide cultural and economic inputs which stitch together a diverse music industry, providing a valuable measure of activity:
We have a national radio broadcaster in JJJ and ABC, similarly to what BBC Radio One is for the UK, that creates significant audience spill, which leads to artists, when they get support from those single format radio platforms, particularly when they’re government backed and not purely commercially driven types of things ... I think that creates a situation where Australian artists can find audiences, and then can use that as leverage to create a bit of a runway for international export opportunities. I would probably say that’s one of our main strengths is having that platform.
(Interview 11, 2019)