Sounds Australia, networking and showcasing

For Australian artists, managers and industry workers, access to these international industiy events has been greatly aided by Sounds Australia, Australia’s national export platform, established in 2009. Sounds Australia is a joint initiative of the Australia Council for the Arts and APRA AMCOS. It provides support at international showcase market events, supported by State governments and other- music industry bodies.

The Sounds Australia stand provides delegates with somewhere to work, relax and request assistance. The team directs delegates to opportunities, panels or people who can help with specific goals. One of Sounds Australia’s main aims is to assist industry and artists attending international market events. In doing so, Sounds Australia provides a range of services and support that are essential for the music exporter. These are showcases with technical support, networking, invited lunches, networking and organising meetings, legal and visa advice and speed dating meetings

If networking is seen as the fundamental activity for making deals and creating opportunities, the role of Sounds Australia is pivotal in facilitating networking between Australian artists, industry workers and international stakeholders.

They can tap into some of the major players in the industry and put our young managers and our young bands in front of them, or get them to come and see the show, perhaps. So they build up that respect.

(Interview 9, 2017)

Sounds Australia is recognised as a market leader in bringing artists, companies and managers to key overseas markets, strategising about the best combination of events for Australian acts and adopting a collaborative approach in working with Australian music sectors and States in presenting a national structure to international territories. It has proven its worth in assisting the music industry by developing important business relationships and providing support for exporting artists.

In order to cut through the networking complexity, various State organisations use intervention strategies where artists, managers, labels, agents, etc., are placed in specially constructed environments such as showcase events and speed dating. Sounds Australia’s “AUSSIE BBQ” event is full of international industry professionals including labels, publishers, agents, festival bookers, managers and artists. Bands are provided with professional backline, sound and stage technical support. This enables a professional performance for the band to put their best foot forward. The AUSSIE BBQ has become a successful example of how an export office can assist its artists in providing access to networks and gatekeepers. Chapter 5 discusses Sounds Australia’s approach to supporting Australian music exporters in more detail.

The intensity of international events

International industiy events demonstrate a wide array of transactions that are not simply defined by attaining a deal. As a temporary cluster (Henn and Bathelt, 2015, p. 105) they are a complex space for networking, influencing, gatekeeping, collaboration and knowledge sharing. They provide excellent insights into cultural mediation when all stakeholders are in the same place.

Shoemaker and Voss’s five levels of gatekeeping, discussed earlier, can be applied to an international music festival, where there are a number of events happening simultaneously (Shoemaker and Voss, 2009). At the individual level, the musical taste of a consumer or a particular demographic exemplifies personal gatekeeping where the fan selects which act to attend. Specific technical requirements for a performance opportunity venue that specialises in a particular style and fast turnaround of acts are an example of routine gatekeeping: If the wrong technology is used, then the operators of that technology will reject the work as it will slow down or disrupt the process. Organisational gatekeeping can be the decisions made by a peer review committee (for example, a festival's programming decisions). At the institutional level, the many industiy and showcasing events exemplify their exogeneous nature, where external participants convene at one particular event. At the cultural level, the programming will reflect the changing times and emerging trends. Within any of these levels one can find intersections. For example, the musician who only likes a particular technology for a reverb sound is an example of routine, but also can exemplify cultural gatekeeping in that the technology used represents a particular sound and style.

Janssen and Verboord (2015, p. 3) identify seven types of activities underpinning the mediation of cultural products. They are gatekeeping, co-creation, networking, selling/marketing, distributing, evaluation and policy frameworks. These can all be seen to be in operation at market events. Cultural, social and economic capital conversions are rife with the desire to make a deal, lay the foundations for a future deal or share knowledge with the intention of planning a deal. Reputation, legitimacy, data analytics, impact of digitisation, audience responses, taste and value creation all come into play at these short-term events. These events show how strong and weak network links operate. They are sites fox- different types of networking, information exchange, co-creation and gatekeeping. While everyone is in the same space, there are levels of access, knowledge exchange and deal-making.

there's been probably four times in the last eight or nine years where we went in spirit [South By Southwest] with the goal of an artist being you know, really, really hotly, sort of, pursued by labels. And so then to ... be in a position where we put them in front of publishers and booking agents and promoters that could potentially also work with them. And we’ve had ... some significant moments like that where an act has gone in and they’re unsigned ... unpublished. And they came out with like five or six record deal offers, publishing offers. A bunch of agents wanting to work with them and promoters talking about how they’d be really keen to put them on at a festival.

(Interview 1, 2018)

Networking opportunities provided by international industry events enable man- ager/entrepreneurs to be strategic, adapt to challenges, be flexible and collaborate on projects with limited resources (Schulte-Holthaus, 2019). The cumulative effect of networking and its positive impacts at international industry events are commonly recognised and seen as a value intangible input. Of the 45 participants in the Export Strategies survey, when asked what had the most impact on their expox-t activities at international industry events, 51% said networking was the most positive; 41% surveyed had attended between one and five international market events; with 21% having attended over 15 international market events. Fifty-nine percent of respondents engaged in export activities primarily through existing networks:

So, I think that’s absolutely integral: if you’re at that point where you’ve just kind of stai-ted, but there’s also that point ... where you’ve got a bit of the plan in place ... It can help you finish the plan. By connecting you with other people ... And I think all managers at all levels use those platforms like Sounds Australia ... if you’re a young manager and you, literally, have no idea, to be able to go into those places with that wrapped and meet the people in the industry. And stai-t learning about the market from the ground up. There's nothing else, really, like it that exists. And, the fact that everyone has equal footing within those prograimnes. And everyone has the same access to people is just phenomenal.

(Interview 8, 2018)

All managers stressed the importance of repeated networking by continually maintaining a presence at international events seeking exposure and visibility.

attracting booking agents, label deals or digital distribution revenue streams. Finding booking agents was a common priority, particularly in the US. This helped finance further opportunities:

I was keen to hook a booking agent, because the performance fee is very integral for us ... We didn't get any label deals, so we made partnerships with digital distribution, which was good, a key income stream, particularly in North America ... The key thing for us is just establishing a partner that can get us out there on the live frontier. That’s the biggest thing you can control in terms of the income streams.

(Interview 2, 2018)

Bathelt and Schuldt (2008) argue that international industry gatherings have become central nodes connecting the global industry and provide all actors with access to new technologies, market trends and potential partners. All of the manager interviews and surveyed participants confirm their value. The Sounds Australia survey found that after attending an international music market event, 60% of participants achieved their goals and objectives, while 74% gained opportunities after attending an event.

Lampel and Meyer (2008, p. 1027) call these “field-configuring events” (FCE) that have six characteristics: They assemble in one location actors from diverse professional, organisational and geographical backgrounds; they have limited duration, normally running from a few hours to a few days; they provide unstructured opportunities for face-to-face social interaction; they include ceremonial and dramaturgical activities; they are occasions for information exchange and collective sense-making; and they generate social and reputational resources that can be deployed elsewhere and for other purposes.

An important aspect of international events is the creation or arbitration of a global “buzz” which occurs within a densely knit web of specialists, and where specialised information and knowledge flows cannot be ignored (Bathelt and Schuldt, 2008, p. 864); “Global buzz generates openness and swift access to external knowledge pools, embedded in a variety of different industiy settings and/ or world regions” (ibid.). The notion of “buzz” is key to these events, enabling disruption of codified communication protocols found within strong ties. Caves (2000, p. 181) describes buzz as “a critical mass of favorable, or at least involved discussion” where word of mouth is a powerful transmitter for creative goods, and is free and rich in information. It is “treasured among those who promote the sale of creative goods. It is also a check on them, because it mobilises many involved persons’ judgments on the worth of creative works that are subjects of serious promotional investments” (Caves, 2000, p. 181). This kind of language is not uncommon for the managers we interviewed, with one manager observing that “there was so much buzz on them around the world that everyone flew in literally just to try and sign them” (Interview 1, 2018).

This is reinforced by recent network theory which differentiates performance from success (Barabasi, 2018). While performance is determined by the ability of the "performer” and can be measured (for example revenue streams), success is open to variability and determined by a community or network’s assessment of that performer. Creating a buzz is key to success. It generates a sense of salience where an artist becomes valuable to other gatekeepers and their networks:

So, I emailed, I picked 12 labels and publishers and a lawyer, two lawyers that I thought were all people that would maybe would like what he was doing. And I sent them a personal email to say "hey, we’ve just signed this artist” and kept it really vague. And it was quite remarkable. I actually didn't expect the response to be as strong but they came back, every single person was like responding within two or three days and saying wow, this is actually extraordinary ... [and] We really, really love to see him, can you send up the dates of his shows at South By? And these people started talking about him and by the time we go to South By, there was about 150 or 160 people that were actually all going up and saying "so you’re managing [artist]?”

(Interview 1, 2018)

As intermediaries, Sounds Australia plays a number of vital roles at these events. Sounds Australia is recognised by all interviewed managers as being an important export resource. In essence, they provide access to gatekeepers through all their activities. As one artist manager states, Sounds Australia “generally, [are] providing a platform to do business, and ... able to participate in that, has been really wonderful” (Interview 10, 2018).

I think [showcase events are] particularly important at the beginning of an artist’s career, when there’s heat and an artist is exciting, it’s a marketplace for those artists. It’s a place where different stakeholders can come and join the team, join the artist, managers can build teams around their artists.

(Interview 11, 2019)

It can be argued that Sounds Australia can be seen as a gatekeeper as well as an intermediary. This is unavoidable. As cultural representatives and through then- representation of Australian export interests, they perform brokering roles in these industry environments. Sounds Australia is conscious of this potential ambiguity which is why they do not select artists to showcase. Any Australian artist selected by a festival is automatically given the chance to showcase. All interviewed managers are aware that access to these networks, while at times fortuitous, can be strategically managed. It starts with the artist's narrative, creating a story which enables product differentiation and promotion. These become the drivers for success as the artist’s reputation and narrative become salient, increasing in value each time a new gatekeeper (curator, influencer, critic, booking agent, etc.) picks up the artist, thereby enabling access to a new network of sphere of influence.

There was so much buzz ... around the world that everyone flew in literally just to try and sign them. And so we sat in a hotel, we never left the hotel and just took meetings for five days straight with different people who were pitching to sign them.

(Interview 1, 2018)

There have been many instances when a circuit breaker is needed where the artist accesses a network from a different point such as going abroad and getting established there. This is where the industry events are crucial in providing access to these networks:

I think a good example of this is ... the British band that I manage. They’re in the UK, their home territory; they’ve done a bunch of touring. They were doing okay-size shows. They weren’t getting any radio play and it wasn’t really profitable just yet. But we took them over to do a showcase at a festival called Eurosonic which is like the South by Southwest of Europe. It’s held in the Netherlands ... The band went there, played some shows, got some incredible press coverage. That led to them putting out their first single from the album. When we put it out globally, the Netherlands was the territory that reacted the most. Radio started playing the song there, and the band’s career really started to grow in the Netherlands before it grew in the UK in a really significant way.

(Interview 13, 2018)

 
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