The country music industry has touted through the years that the genre is moving beyond American borders, but new data lends credibility to claims that country’s foreign growth is currently through the roof.
The number of country concerts booked during the 2016-17 concert season grew 55 percent over the previous year, and that year saw a spike of 88 percent over 2014-15, Country Music Association chief marketing officer Damon Whiteside said during a series of globally-focused country panels May 17 at the Music Biz conference in Nashville. In fact, country has seen double-digit growth in international bookings in each of the last six years, with the volume of shows increasing at least 30 percent in four of those calendar frames.
In total, global bookings increased nearly 10-fold at William Morris Endeavor, talent agent Akiko Rogers said, in a scant five years. During 2011, four WME country artists played a total of 24 dates outside the U.S.; in 2016, 35 country artists played 227 international shows.
The CMA, which represents the country music industry as a whole, has been central to the increase. In recent years, the organization has booked songwriter showcases in Europe and the U.K. and initiated a Country2Country Festival that draws sell-out crowds in London. Artists such as Brooks & Dunn, Brad Paisley and Alan Jackson booked their first tours of the U.K. or Australia around 2010-2011, and the success of some of those tours was noticed by emerging artists, who committed to growing their overseas brand early.
Thomas Rhett, featured in a video package, indicated the commitment of Taylor Swift and Lady Antebellum to foreign markets was influential, “particularly for artists like me.” He used C2C as a launching pad to explore the U.K., returned several months later, and now carves global dates into his schedule routinely.
It’s expensive to tour overseas. Thus, multiple panelists suggested artists take the financial risk early in their careers, playing solo or small-band acoustic shows to keep costs down and returning yearly to keep their image alive, much as they would in the U.S.
With CMA specials now telecast in 40 countries outside the U.S., the Internet making it possible to expose the music cheaply and the Nashville TV series creating an additional impression, foreign consumers are increasingly aware of -- and open to -- country. In fact, a CMA study of six markets released in 2016 showed that the number of country listeners topped one-third in each of those territories: Canada, the U.K., Ireland, Germany, Scandinavia and Australia.
The amount of time and money required, however, means working overseas isn’t for everybody.
The commitment, said Rhett’s manager, G Major founder Virginia Davis, “has to come from the artist.”