A powerful example of bypassing gatekeepers can be seen in the rise of the unknown artist who reaches fame independently from traditional gatekeeping pathways. Barzilai-Nahon's (2008) gatekeeping theory accounts for the rise of the “YouTube star” phenomenon where artists (usually millennials) bypass the established gatekeeping pathways and directly connect with online audiences. For Barzilai-Nahon, there are multiple pathways once someone provides new information into a network, involving or bypassing different stages of gatekeeping. For example, the “YouTube star” relies on communities discovering and sharing amongst themselves to a point that the fan base is in the tens of millions, attracting interest from sponsors, major labels, broadcasters and other key industry actors such as influences. In a very general sense, the fan base here is also a gatekeeper, where each fan decides on whether the information should be shared: “Fans want to be able to have discovered something on their own. They want to have the ownership, to say: Hey, I'm the reason this is so successful” (Petridis, 2014). This is a useful example of value co-creation where “once it was seen as a linear process, the value chain is increasingly viewed as networked and distributed to other parties” (Choi and Burnes, 2013, p. 39). The multiple sharing of content, be it direct or repurposed, becomes a nonlinear process in which all parties identify through co-creation, creating networks within networks. Kibby (2000) succinctly sums up this sense of co-creation with the following:
The ritual exchange of information online allows fans a feeling of community between themselves and between them and the performer, facilitating a belief in a commonality, although they are dispersed geographically and disparate in needs and experiences. An electronic place in which to “gather” enables a direct link between fans, and even makes possible a direct connection between fans and performers. The link benefits not only the fans, but also the performer and the record company, in that it provides a connection to a central focus of the performer and the producer, the marketplace.
(Kibby, 2000, p. 91)
The rise of Australian artist Troye Sivan exemplifies gatekeeping bypassing cocreation, a feeling of community and how contemporary networks can be utilised to build larger audiences. Sivan’s initial fan base was constructed via appearances on Australian Idol in 2006. With the release of his single “Happy Little Pill” and later the debut album Blue Neighbourhood in 2015 (EMI and Capitol), his loyal fan base helped him achieve Established artist status, with both releases reaching number one on iTunes. By uploading his music on YouTube, he actively developed a social media network of fans and friends with whom he interacted, discussing issues such as his coming out. "He sparked his career online, expressed his deepest truths to thousands of viewers, and received enormous support from the loyal fanbase he has built over the past decade through the web” (Ampersand, 2019). Through his direct communication about personal issues, fans identified with him: “The reason why I love Troye is because he is such an inspiration to me ... and he is such a genuine person” (Don’t bore us, 2018). In a 2018 interview Sivan talks about this direct personal relationship: “I just want to provide for a young audience what I felt was lacking when I was a kid ... which was representation of someone living their life” (Bruner, 2018). In July 2020, Sivan had 17,000,000 listeners on Spotify (Spotify, 2020). His highly active engagement with audiences can be seen with the following statistic sample: 9,362,997 Twitter followers (Trackanalytics,
2020a), 7,180,000 YouTube subscribers (Trackanalytics, 2020b) aud 11,200,000 Instagram followers (Instagram, 2020).
International market events: An overview
There are a lot of conferences and showcase events around the world and unfortunately a lot of the young Australian bands go to these events before they’re ready. So they spend all their money and they go to these events and nothing happens because they’re not ready. They don’t have a network of people, it’s not that easy. You go to South by Southwest, it’s 2,000 bands. Unless you’re well connected or you're very special, you’re not even going to see the light of day.
(Interview 9, 2017)
International music market events consist of trade fairs, conferences, showcases and/or festivals and are not new to export strategies for the music industry. These industry events have long been seen as crucial in the development of an export strategy, as the primary forums containing key stakeholders, gatekeepers and intermediaries, bringing people together into one space. Strong and weak ties do exist despite the fact that everyone is in the same room. These industry events occur over a short time period where evexyone has a role and purpose. All interviewed managers stressed the importance of repeated networking by continually maintaining a presence at these events. Considering the distance and time involved for Australian-based managers, the international events enable time and travel costs to be saved in meeting potential partners, promotors, publicists, labels, etc.:
[They are] vexy ixnportant. Yes, I xnean critical. I mean you know, they bring a lot of people together in the one place. They can often be very noisy, loud events where you’re struggling to get heard but if you do get heard axtd you do seexn to have a moment then that can be enormously ixxfluential. And we’ve had some moments at South By Southwest and the Great Escape and things like that. Where you know, they really get a project properly off the ground and ruxxning.
(Interview 1, 2018)
Being selected to showcase at an international event presents huge opporhmities for artists and bands. They have the chance to perform in front of industxy professionals, network and attexxd conference paxxels, speed dating and other networking events. However, getting industry professionals to coxne to an artist’s showcase involves considerable investment: Travel expenses such as accommodation, flights and ground transport, freight for instruments and additional backline equipxnent. All these are paid for by the artist(s) including associated marketing and promotional activities independent to the festival’s contractual commitments with these artists. For many of our industry interviewees, these events were crucial in developing an international career:
I must have attended ten or 12 of them before I first took an artist to one ... I was really lucky to work for an organisation where it was part of my job to try and help other people export, before I had to do it myself, so I got to see it time and time again, how it would work. I thought we really were able to strategically launch my artists' career from two or three events.
(Interview 9, 2017)
All events have their own communities and networks which are formed over years of attendance. One manager travels to international events on average five times a year, with each visit involving months or weeks of accommodation: “It’s very important to be [at] and go to these conferences and just keep up with what's going on” (Interview 9, 2017).
A number of events were attended by the authors in order to directly observe export offices, Australian artists and related industry workers. Export offices provide an invaluable service of brokering introductions for delegates including newcomers with elite industry professionals. They facilitate business meetings between delegates with other industry professionals to help create new opportunities and fulfil export goals. The following three event observations provide a window into their activities and ambience.