When the bulk of the Band Perry's American fan base is sitting down to turkey dinners in late November, giving thanks for the good fortune that's already arrived, the Perrys will be somewhere in Europe on a mission to build their future.
The We Are Pioneers tour kicks off in Goteborg, Sweden, on Nov. 8 -- less than 48 hours after the Country Music Assn. Awards in Nashville—and keeps TBP in Europe and Scandinavia for four weeks. It's a major commitment by a group that's doing exactly what many booking agents have asked country acts to do for years: hit foreign territories early in their careers, knowing that it will pay off in the back end.
Many have ignored that suggestion. Few acts have committed as heavily as TBP, playing 20 dates on a single trip that supports a sophomore album.
"They are a band that understands you have to be present to win," Big Machine international director of marketing Brad Turcotte says. "That's what every market wants to see. They're going to invest in artists that invest in them, and the Band Perry are really, really aware of that."
It's a tough decision for many acts. Traveling for a living is physically challenging, and early in a career, there's plenty of work to do building the audience in America. Touring overseas is invariably a money-losing proposition at the outset, and it's fairly easy to table that for a future date.
But audiences in foreign markets are historically less fickle than the United States, which makes touring overseas the equivalent of establishing a 401(k) plan. The Band Perry is making the investment.
"Quite frankly, as much we like to work, we are going to need those other territories to play," Kimberly Perry says.
It's a mind-set that was instilled early—not just at the outset of their contract with Republic Nashville, but when the Perrys were just beginning to work as a band in east Tennessee. Perry and her brothers, bass player Reid Perry and mandolinist/guitarist Neil Perry, ranged 8-15 in age, and they were already trying to build for the future.
"We didn't have any money at all," she recalls. "Our dad would invest so much of his paycheck into buying instruments and sound gear and lighting so we could really set up and play anywhere and everywhere. We would have so many opportunities if we owned our own gear. That really has followed through with us our entire career. We invest so much back into what we are doing because that really pushes us to the next level and grows us. This European plan is just a part of that perspective as a whole."
"We're modeling a lot of what they're doing after what Taylor [Swift] did because she was so successful at it," William Morris Endeavor Nashville co-head Rob Beckham adds.
Following that plan, TBP's initial forays into other markets were primarily promotional, according to Turcotte. They played free showcases for media on their first visits into foreign territories, then made return trips to play ticketed dates at clubs of with capacities of perhaps 300. The rooms grew to around 700 tickets on a third visit, which escalates to 2,000-seat theaters. Eventually, they expect to play arenas.
Laying groundwork early in the career is key, because as an act grows, it becomes more difficult—financially and/or emotionally—to do all that travel and play smaller rooms overseas.
"These established acts find it very difficult to go into a market and play to 10% of what they're playing to here," Turcotte says.
It's not easy for new acts, either. "Cruise" made a lot of waves in the Philippines, a fact that should not be taken lightly. The country has the fourth-largest English-speaking population in the world, Turcotte says, and when a radio station that reaches 2 million listeners a week starts playing a song such as "Cruise," it creates demand in the market. But the act in question isn't always able to meet that demand.
"Florida Georgia Line's starting to pick up there," Turcotte says. "We were considering early on a small tour that would route them through the Philippines into Australia, but they've exploded so much [in the United States] that it's hard to find time for them next year."
And it's a taxing pursuit. Flights to the Southern Hemisphere are time-consuming. Even in Europe, where an entire country is the size of an American state (France occupies 20,000 fewer square miles than Texas), the volume of international border crossings makes it more difficult to tour. Air travel is generally better than bus transportation, but local regulations can create additional problems.
"Every two hours, [bus drivers] take a 45-minute break on the side of the road somewhere," Kimberly Perry says of one European country.
"It's a very antiquated system," Beckham says. "If you're lucky enough to have your own jet, then you're good. Otherwise, it's really a grind."
Still, country acts seem to be loading other continents onto their tour schedules in larger numbers. Tim McGraw, Rascal Flatts, Brad Paisley, Alan Jackson and Carrie Underwood are among numerous acts who've made headway in Scandinavia, Australia or Europe, following the lead of some classic country acts, and many of them have discovered they have fans in countries where they've made no radio impact, thanks in large part to Internet videos.
"When we started over there, we opened on a song called ‘Sugar, Sugar,' which literally was just on YouTube, and from the downbeat, everybody sang every word," Perry recalls.
Finding all the country fans in a foreign land is one thing. But TBP is taking a slightly different tack, making a point to hit all the media centers—not just country festivals—to break down barriers. In France, for example, the band is playing Paris—instead of Mirande, a market that has a country festival but is a seven-hour drive from the nation's media center to gain exposure with tastemakers.
"They [are creating] opportunities," Turcotte observes. "Every local market is going to initiate a marketing plan that they wouldn't have before."
The Band Perry is expanding on a game plan that some of its predecessors employed before. Dolly Parton, Glen Campbell and Kenny Rogers all built followings overseas. Bobby Bare, during his Country Music Hall of Fame induction speech, noted that he can still tour Europe nearly 50 years after he joined Jim Reeves on a string of dates in 1964.
"You cannot trade anything for going over there, playing those shows, getting the media, and really doing it the grass-roots way, the way we have done it in the States," Perry says.
But "if you build it the right way," Beckham adds, "you'll be able to do it forever."