Primavera Pro Conference Discusses International Music Markets

Teresa Julia
Day one of the Primavera Sound music conference in Barcelona on May 28, 2015.

Asian touring, Latin American Markets, defining success among topics at Barcelona Conference

The indie perspective on international markets, the DIY side of using digital media to cultivate an audience, and defining success were themes at Barcelona’s Primavera Pro, the music professionals’ conference that coincides with the indie festival Primavera Sound.

The conference was held May 27-29 at the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art, where participants joined the usual skateboarders on the museum plaza for showcases by bands from Chile, Australia, Israel, South Africa, Poland, and Brazil, among other countries.

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Panels, which took place primarily in English, included “Asia: Making Sense of an Upcoming Market,” which gave an insiders’ view on activity in the region, particularly China. Panelists included Shen Lihui, founder of the Strawberry Music Festival organizer Modern Sky Entertainment and also a pioneer in booking Chinese artists at international festivals, and Jay Forster, co-founder and artistic director of Hong Kong’s Clockenflap Festival, which drew a crowd of 45,000 in 2014.

“After 19 years in Hong Kong, it still doesn’t make sense to me,” Forster said during the May 27 panel.

“There are no off-the-shelf solutions,” he added of the challenges of working in his adopted home. Last year, Clockenflap had to import a stage from the UK big enough for the festival’s current size. “[Brands] have no idea what a music festival is, so it’s hard to get them on board."

“You build a company to suit a market, but China is different,” concurred Split United co-founder and CEO Archie Hamilton, a Scot who has been based in Shanghai for 11 years. Hamilton organized his first festival in 2007 and "lost a lot of money." Split United now puts together about 40 tours a year through China and organizes several festivals.

Split United also runs a brand consultancy, and started a booking agency to get international artists to China and other Asian countries, motivated by Hamilton’s negative experiences with big international agencies.

"The agent sitting in London, New York, or Los Angeles say, ‘We want to run the world, we want to run your market.’ They’ve never been to Asia and they set the ticket prices the same as a show in London. And of course Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese kids cannot afford that. [But] the agent won’t let you past square one.

“I get laughed out of the room 75-80 percent of the time that I make an offer,” he added, recalling an email in which he sent an offer of $70,000 for a show by an artist handled by William Morris to the conglomerate’s Pacific Rim agent.

“She wrote back asking if I was missing a zero,” Hamilton said.

Panelists, who also included Zhang Ran of Beijing music expo Sound of the Xity and Nippon Television Music Corporation’s Nozomi Daikuhara, emphasized the strength of the existing live music market in Asia for Asian artists, as opposed to Western acts.

“Western music is still a small percentage of what people in these countries want to listen to,” Hamilton explained. “What people in the West don’t understand is how strong Japanese artists are, how strong Chinese artists are, and what a massive following they have in their own countries.”

Hamilton urged artists to create personal connections in the region. “As a band you can come on holiday and play some shows,” he suggested.

A panel on the digital market in Latin America May 29 centered on the streaming explosion that has occurred over the past few years as Spotify and other services have moved into that region.

But other speakers agreed with Bogota’s Gabriel Garcia, marketing director of the Estero Picnic festival, when he said that Colombia and other countries “are still in diapers.”

Veltrac Music’s José Velásquez from Peru and other panelists discussed Latin American consumers current dependence on "freemium," and services that come pre-installed in mobile phones.

“People in Peru are very used to getting their music for free,” noted Velásquez, referring to downloading customs that predated the legal streaming services. “If they can get free music from a service that comes with their phone, it’s logical they would use it.”

Oliver Knust, founder of the Chilean label and booking agency Discos Rio Bueno, pointed out that much of the population in Latin America still does not own credit cards.

“If the charge for the service comes as part of the phone bill, it’s better,”  he said.

Manuel Pena of Spain’s Boa Music said digital music services and, most importantly, Youtube, have made Latin America a viable market for his label for the first time.

Pena explained that 50% of his artists’ plays are outside of Spain, primarily in Latin America. His label’s earnings coming from Latin America “have been multiplied by thousands and thousands because it used to be zero.”

The panelists agreed that the Internet has increased music’s reach from one country to the other, including the U.S. Latin market. They stressed the importance of Facebook and Youtube playlists for artists to attract that international following.

“It has created more of a common market,” Knust said. “But it is now more important than ever to have label partners in the different countries in Latin America and the U.S. to reach the Latin music market."

He concluded that “the important thing is to go out and play.”

The message of a May 27 panel called “We Need to Figure Out How to Make This Work for Everyone” was summed up by the London MC Rodney P.  “Different people make music for different reasons, especially in this day and age. For some people the desire is to become famous, for others it’s to make music,” he said, setting the tone of the hour-long conversation with Iceland’s Sigtryggur Baldursson, formerly of the Sugarcubes, and Scottish musician and small label owner Johnny Lynch, who performs under the name The Pictish Trail. Ruth Daniel of UK grassroots music development agency Un-Convention moderated the panel.

“The tools that level the playing field make it easier for everyone,” Rodney P added. “But commercially, it’s the same as it’s always been.”

The British hip-hop pioneer spoke about the evolution of his vision of success since the 1980s, from more mainstream ambitions to “just having control over what you want to do as an artist. I’m more about feeding the audience that likes the music that I do.”

“The indie business has adapted better to the changes in the industry,” said Baldursson, who now heads the Icelandic Music Export Office, marketing bands from Iceland abroad, "because it’s about the art.”