International touring for U.S. country artists is as close as crossing the border into Canada or as exotic as performing in Croatia. Either way, the performers are in a win/win situation because they are adding to their fan base and expanding their sales of tickets, music and merchandise.
That was the consensus at the "Country Without Borders: International Opportunities in Country Music" panels at the Billboard Country Music Summit on Tuesday.
Artists should establish a fan base first in their home turf, whether it be the U.S., Australia or Europe, before attempting to take their show on the road in other countries, according to Rob Potts of Entertainment Edge in Australia.
"Once the artist has an album release, a couple top 10 singles and hopefully a number one, I might be interested in bringing them to Australia," said the man who has mounted major country music tours with Brooks & Dunn, Gary Allan, and one just announced with Dolly Parton. "The artist's team might be intimidated when it comes to finding someone who can book those international dates, but there are great resources available through the CMA and Canada's CCMA."
Taylor Swift has toured internationally with success because she was willing to work with her team to ensure ticket sales and media exposure, panelists agreed.
"Prior to her album release we invited European media to Nashville for an interview day," said Brad Turcotte, International Director of Marketing for Big Machine Label Group. "After that -- but before the tour -- she went to Europe and Canada to do more press. By the time she was ready to tour, she had done a lot of interviews and people were more aware of who she was."
Swift is not considered a country act in Europe, but Turcotte said the question about country always comes up in interviews. "She can talk about her country music and why she came to Nashville. In that way she takes country music to an international market and it reaffirms her country influences."
Social networking is also an important factor with international touring, especially in getting word out to fans that an artist is coming to their country. In most countries outside the U.S., country music is still a niche art form, and people who love it are likely to come together through social networking. Reaching this group of people can result in ticket sales and album purchases when the artist arrives in their country.
Judy Seale, President/CEO of Judy Seale International/Stars for Stripes, has been taking country music to Japan for 23 years. She also does extensive touring with country performers to entertain the military personnel stationed in countries around the world.
"I believe we are still the only country music festival in Japan," Seale said, referring to the Country Gold Festival. "The promoter was going to stop after 20 years, but he has managed to keep it going. It's a one-day festival, and the artists love to go. Brad Paisley has been twice, Dierks Bentley and Joe Nichols have gone. Sometimes I'm able to book them on a couple concerts to entertain soldiers in conjunction with the trip to Japan.
"We've been able to go into China for a one-day festival the last couple years at the same time we were in Japan. It's also a small market but it gives them one more date to go with the Japanese festival."
Seale went on to say that with imminent troop withdrawals from Iraq, where she has taken 37 tours, trips there for her will slow down. She is trying to get back into Afghanistan, and she takes artists to any country where they can entertain the troops.
Artist Tommy Emmanuel (who was honored by CMA and friend Keith Urban on Monday night) found new fans in Croatia after a promoter saw him perform in Italy. "He asked me if I would come to Croatia for a tour and I said yes," Emmanuel said. "I told him I'd do any interviews he wanted me to do, so I got on both radio and television there. The day I performed for the outdoor event, it started raining about the third song but I decided to keep playing. My manager sent someone up to hold an umbrella over me, and the audience stayed with me. It got written up in the newspaper, and the next time I went back I filled a 2,000 seat hall. Getting the press helped me establish fans and sell that second show."
Artist Joe Nichols said it's sometimes hard not to overthink performing in another country. "Some of the first trips I made, I would do interviews and a deejay would tell me he was playing one of my earlier songs, so I'd think I needed to include it in the show. I found out that didn't work. Not only was I uncomfortable playing a song I hadn't done in a long time, I'd find out that the deejay was actually the only person who knew that song! I learned my lesson. What works for me here also works for me internationally. The audience knows when you are having a good time and comfortable with your show."
The purpose of taking an artist to an international level is to bring in more revenue, but markets vary so much that great ticket sales don't always equate to a large volume of music sales. Merchandise sales, however, might go up because in many instances it is the first time that audience has had the chance to experience the music, and then buy a memento of the occasion. When Brooks & Dunn toured Australia for the first time, their per-capita sales were $68. Alan Jackson and Gary Allan's were similar; one of Swift's shows in Tokyo brought her $21 per caps.
Potts said that if an artist will take the merchandise a step further by creating items specific to that international tour, their per caps could go up even more. A secondary benefit of selling a lot of merchandise is that long after the artist has left the country, someone is wearing a shirt or a ball cap with their name on it, advertising them to the population.
Panelists agreed that it is in the artist's best interest to look at the international market as a place with potential fans and, in turn, potential sales for their product.
"I was in the elevator in Madrid and I heard Lady Antebellum playing," said Turcotte. "You have to be present to win … you have to market yourself as much as possible to reach that market. "
When asked what makes country music an international genre, Nichols replied, "We sing about real life and that is something that is relative to anyone who hears the music. It's more about the music and what it says than the sparkle and glamour of the show.
"We are a genre fueled with all kinds of talent and sounds that allows us to go to places like Australia, which to me is organic like Texas. Europe goes for the more pop sounds. There is a lot of room for us to grow internationally, so I say let's go after it."
The panel was moderated by Jeff Walker, CEO of AristoMedia Group. His company hosted a Global Showcase co-sponsored by the CMA.