Born global

Table of Contents:


At the beginning of this book, we posed the following questions in relation to our investigations of contemporary export activity:

  • • What are the economic and cultural contributions of the music export sector?;
  • • What are the export strategies and practices of artists, managers and related industry workers?; and
  • • What are the entrepreneurial modes of national export activity, including national music export offices and schemes?

As stated in Chapter 1, these central questions initially derived from an Australian Research Council project, with particular emphasis upon Australian practices and contexts. The project team brought different disciplinary backgrounds to the work, primarily business studies, musicology, music technology, media and cultural studies approaches. It also comprised industry surveys; attendance by project researchers at key export events; and interviews with artists, industry workers and government departments across seven countries.

As we began the project, it was quickly made clear that national boundaries were in part illusory, where music exports in this century embody an interconnected series of gatekeepers, local and national structures and a range of different music industry stakeholders. While artists (and their output) are the focus, export activity is useful to study for the range of behind-the scenes players, partnerships and ambitions that broaden thinking about entrepreneurial work related to creativity. We also undertook this work at an interesting time. At the start of the project, national music industries were still attempting to claw back revenues lost from both the Global Financial Crisis downturn and earlier illegal downloading eras. At the end of the project, industries were confronting the enormous impacts of COVID-19, underlining that there is never a “normal” or “stable” period in the creative industries. Not unrelated, artists—and their labels and managers—will increasingly look to the state for assistance, and we have charted the rise in export assistance for aspiring musicians, where our national case studies were firmly (and increasingly) “promotional” (Cloonan, 2007).

In our conclusion, we return to the central concepts and changes raised in the previous chapters. While Australia is emphasised throughout, it is important to place music expoxts within the now considerable number of nations devoting resources. The sector also resonates with contemporary discussions of technological change, and how artists, companies and managers make sense of how much effort to expend, and the most appropriate markets to which to allocate time and resources. To begin, we reassess rhetorics of globalisation raised in the process of completing the project, and by extension, ideas of the “national” in relation to expoxt activities and representations.

“Born global”?

In Chapter 1, we briefly discussed tendencies in government axxd industry reports to explicitly or implicitly invoke a “born global” approach to the creative industries that have consequences for how states and music industries organise production. Here we return to themes of globalisation across national, organisational and artist contexts. Our examination of music exports continues work that confirms (popular) music as one of the more visible economies of cultural trade. Similarly, older core-periphery models accounting for cultural imperialist dominance ("West vs. the Rest”) are ixxcreasingly redundant as xxew centres of production appear (e.g. Tomlinson, 2007; Robertson, 1992) (evident in the success of C-pop, К-pop and J-pop, for example). They are also inevitably complicated by the particular structural conditions of trade, and various “home country” advantages related to doxnestic markets in specific creative industries. While musical performers and works froxn other countries are receiving recognition on the world stage, US-based performers and works still dominate world popular music markets and the US still remains the largest consumer market for popular music.

At the same time, “an overly romanticized version of the anti-homogenization thesis tends to be blind to the issue of unequal relations among countries within a certain regional media bloc” (Naxn, 2013, p. 215). Our case study nations revealed differing levels of anxiety about their relationships to larger exporters: Canada to the US, or the Scandinavian countries in relation to their larger European counterparts, for example. How to deal with near neighbours who possess longer histories of music trade, reputational advantages within the foundational blocs of popular music genres and xnuch larger “backroom” (domestic) infrastructures is still a concern for some. As discussed in Chapter 6, nations with smaller global footprints have realised econoxnic and promotional gains through different coxn- binations of state/industry effort suited to local conditions, often accompanied by substantial re-thinking about the best uses of resources. Ultimate ambitions to achieve cultural trade parity with larger nations may be beyond them, but fox- nations such as Finland, the music export has provided a means of struggle, particularly in ensuring the prominence of local content back home, and consequent battles related to remuneration in digital environments. This, perversely, sees nation-states promoting qualified versions of globalisation—senses of being part of an active, global network that enables financial and national identity returns— if it permits them to enter the game.

In some ways, the expansion of music export activities, coupled with an increasingly sophisticated circuit of trade and showcase events, offices and personnel, is one of the outcomes of classic late capitalism: The need for advanced creative economies to dispel fears of over-saturated local markets in favour of new international horizons. The export office/scheme/programme has evolved as one of the last acceptable, practical examples of government support that has seen steady increases (as more widely, cultural funding has been reduced between the pillars of the GFC and COVID-19). The heightened role of the music export is made more acute by the gradual disappearance of some of the key furniture of national protectionism (e.g. local content broadcasting quotas). However, predictions of the demise of “the national” in its ability to collectively harness policies and resources remain premature; efforts assembled in the name of the music export are a reminder of the power nations still possess, even with structures of cultural globalisation.

In their discussion of “nationing”—the various projects involved in the formation, maintenance and discourses of “nation”—Rowe, Turner and Waterton (2018, pp. 7-8) argue that contemporary states confront the paradox of “a partnership between the internationalist embrace of a global economy and a nationalist program of modernization and cultural development”. The recent strengthening of export infrastructure in many countries has become part of “broader policy settings within which engagement with the global or the transnational has an explicitly higher priority than is applied to an earlier model of cultural nationalism" (ibid., p. 8). The interdependent networks evident in export settings have provided some spaces for fierce assertions of cultural nationalism and identity branding. And, in many cases, this has been about particular music industries suc- cessflilly providing local inflections of global sounds; “imitation being followed by innovation across cultures” (Acheson, 2011, p. 223). It has been argued that the success of South Korea’s complex integration of entertainment companies and state structures in producing К-pop is due to “wide tours, aggressive marketing, and cross-promotion” and the successful emulation of predominant US styles associated with dance and hip hop genres (Nam, 2013, p. 218). The recent success of Sounds Australia has witnessed not only the gradual increasing allocation of resources, but Australian artists’ similar abilities to tap into international genres, ranging from wry indie guitar rock (Courtney Barnett) to nostalgic psychedelia (Tame Impala).

For artists, the complexity of the current environment can be daunting. Aside from the financial investment required for exporting, new skills are required in the digital landscape including technological sawiness, literacy across platforms, being able to value-add and being entrepreneurial. As discussed in Chapter 3, the music manager/entrepreneur by necessity develops collaborative skills to access the many opportunities available to artists through team building, networks, fan development and partnerships.

Indeed, the “born global” term can be a double-edged sword. Greater accessibility can lead to an increase in the number of users. Spotify in 2019 reported that nearly 40,000 new tracks are uploaded daily (Music Business Worldwide,

2019) . While digital accessibility via analytics to a multitude of demographics is possible, the demands of such require more human and financial resources. It takes a lot of time and energy to keep one’s fans engaged. Getting access to curated playlists demands an assertive strategy in order to cut through the many millions of other artists who are also wanting to be heard when “choice is now the most defining feature of the global music industry - Artists have every imaginable route to their fans, from direct uploads to fiill sendee contracts” (Wenham cited in WINTEL. 2018, p. 7). However, these routes are not prescriptive or easily traversed.

Despite the often-stated claim that digital technologies will lead to a more level playing field, our research shows that the disparity between Epic (those with global audiences) and Emerging musicians—who are barely able to eke out a living—is still present in the “born global” world. Income distribution is highly skewed towards a small number of internationally recognised artists. Global revenue figures do not always reflect global audience figures. For example, our study showed that the audience for top Australian artists is distributed in a wide range of countries around the world; yet record sales/record sales remain concentrated in a relatively small number of countries (US, UK, major European markets). This suggests that recorded music is being listened to in many markets where it does not earn much money, or it might be that artists cannot recoup any money owing to the lack of strong legal institutions for the collection of royalties.

With streaming and tech platforms now operating as a powerhouse in the distribution of recorded music, we are still yet to see artists realise the full benefits. Copyright models and royalties are still catching up to this new digital “born global” environment. There is no international standard or monetisation framework to suppoxt a digitised music distribution model. Micro payments from online services are often not worth the time it costs to collect them. This leaves the majority of artists never seeing any substantial revenue.

Musicians are struggling to balance their passion for music with the need to be knowledgeable and vigilant about the financial rewards for their talents. Of the S15 billion in global recorded music revenue for sound recordings reported by the IFPI for 2014, only a small portion of the money beyond the initial recording advances ultimately makes its way to artists as ongoing revenue.

(Rethink Music, 2015)

To add to the current complexity facing artists, the “born global” phenomenon implies that the gatekeeper is no longer as powerful, when artists can make their work public through the uploading of files onto a platform. In 2020, Soundcloud alone had 25 million creators and over 200 million uploaded tracks (Leftronic,

2020) . With such large numbers, being discovered without any promotion or careful marketing is virtually impossible. Chapter 4 discussed some of the theories of gatekeeping and their relevance to playlists and music industry events. Indeed, accessing highly visible curated playlists is no different to getting programmed on radio in earlier times (Royalty Exchange, 2017).

While the pull of the Internet through digital marketing strategies, tagging, sharing and number of likes is fundamental, artist representation in a “born global” world still requires old-fashioned "push” techniques to attain a deal and the necessity to be entrepreneurial. Gatekeeping is still present but has expanded to include influences, curators and in some instances, cultural intermediaries such as nation expoxt offices, whose role is to mediate, introduce and promote local content in international settings. It is no coincidence that the emergence of international industry events has been concurrent with the overwhelming complexity of the digitised industry. This ever-growing complexity as well as competitiveness of the music industry has meant that networking is still a crucial vehicle for success. While digital music seems to be replacing records, it does not appear to have replaced live music, still the major income stream for most artists, and where digital technologies seem to be complementary. However, the costs for touring can be exorbitant, which is why government support is crucial. Our research found that artists with support from both government and industiy had the highest success rate in establishing deals for export. Successful music exporters across all career levels require support and assistance to realise their export strategies.

The music industry is reliant on innovations in technology. A more connected shift in music and technology industries sees new start-ups and businesses rapidly emerging. Wang (2020), writing in Rolling Slone, states that “Everyone flush with cash in the music industry is looking for the next Spotify”. Wang reports that the “Tech Stars” music-focused start-up mentorship programme has ten music tech ideas that “it believes will be key to the industry's funire” (ibid.):

The chosen startups include a machine-learning fan analytics platform, an audio/visual content company focused on audience experience, a skills-train- ing startup that teaches DJing without professional equipment, and a company making blockchain-enabled collectibles.

The constant changes with technology mean that music entrepreneurs must be on top of emerging ICT innovations. A growing music technology sector can be observed in many countries including the United Kingdom, France, Sweden and Finland. Innovative production tools, new forms of consumption and emerging interactive technologies offer new tools and oppoxtunities to musicians, songwriters and music entrepreneurs, resulting in new collaborative engagements and immersive experiences. Music Finland estimated that music technology accounted for as much as 54% of Finland’s music-related export revenue in 2017 (Music Finland, 2019).

The upheavals and innovations brought about by digitisation, the imperative to engage with an internationally focused industry, income disparities between Epic and Emerging artists and the rise of export offices bring into question whether “born global” success is a fait accompli for all artists wishing to export. Where datafication can optimistically be seen as a great equaliser, enabling increased market penetration and exposure, more resources and investment are needed to cut through a highly competitive and fluctuating environment. The datafication of music underpins streaming companies’ use of music as content to support their platform. In avoiding the problem of miniscule royalty pay-outs, Spotify’s CEO Daniel Ek believes artists need to be continually creating content.

The artists today that are making it realize that it’s about creating a continuous engagement with their fans ... It is about putting the work in, about the storytelling around the album, and about keeping a continuous dialogue with your fans.

(Ek cited in Schatz, 2020)

Apart from ignoring the problem of miniscule royalty payments from streaming, Ek's quote reinforces the shift from the creation of content from an aesthetic, social and cultural perspective to that of a sweatshop culture: Cheap labour, low wages, long hours and continual production. This is exacerbated by datafication, with its ability to call for artists to be always “on” in supporting an international presence.

The various policy models discussed in Chapter 6 show a more concerted effort by countries to export. While there are different support mechanisms fox- artists (grants, workshops, information sessions and awards), clear benchmarks and pathways are needed at various stages of an artist’s career trajectory. Some countries seem to do this more successfully than others, such as Korea’s promo- tion/assembly of its К-pop artists (discussed later in this chapter). Australia also has a good advantage with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Triple J Unearthed programme and its radio stations which have helped launch many artists’ careers (Triple J Unearthed, 2020). Being “export ready” now requires more strategically aimed infrastructures from creation and production to promotion and dissemination. Industry and government support based on an artist’s career path can be provided once specific deliverables are met that reflect that career path. The “deliverables” can be based on, for example, information acquired from digital analytics, recognition of achievement, recognition or number of fans, all of which can help identify an artist’s career stage and the support needed for future investment.

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