How To Export Your Small Business: The Music Edition

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How To Export Your Small Business: The Music Edition

Millie Millgate is the Export Producer of Sounds Australia, the body reponsible for flogging our best and brightest acts to overseas markets.

This includes The Great Escape in the UK and SxSW in Austin (the tech side of which we covered recently), where the emphasis on going international is becoming of the utmost importance. The careers of some of the biggest Australian acts, including current independent superstar Gotye have been strengthened as a result of their involvement with the organisation. We sat down with Millgate over coffee to pick her brains about what challenges face the sole traders and small businesses that are our local musicians and how they will survive an enivronment where their number one product is no longer being sold in stores.

We always get this situation – and it happens far too often for it to be a coincidence – where artists have a lot of opportunities in their early days to help them.

Probably too much funding goes into that area, I would suggest; we’re talking about when people can still hold down full-time jobs and rehearse at night and do their touring in and out of major cities. But it’s once they start to become a viable proposition; touring nationally, giving up your day jobs and four members living like that…the stress at that level, when people are hearing them and the offers are coming in? That’s the hardest.

It's a lot like a start-up, you're right. But everyone is investing too much in the first wave of success rather than consolidating what comes after.

With exporting a trade generally, if people see you more than once, there’s an inherent belief in what you’re doing and people start to invest.

Certainly joint ventures are something that could work really well in this industry; musicians know how to stretch a dollar, be really mindful and do a lot with a little.

If you’re just here for the one SxSW, you can almost guarantee nothing will come of it. But if you make it part of your annual plan or business model, they see the same faces…I mean, the music scene is tiny; the Sydney scene is tiny, the Nashville scene is tiny and the same principle exists universally.

I get a bit emotional about it, but these acts, they’re our Olympians of contemporary music. They’re the ones out there and they may all be in competing sports, but they’re all batting for each other. You can just see them supporting each other and it’s amazing.     

Very early on in your career [as a band], you do have to have that conversation ‘Is this serious or are we just going to be weekend warriors?’ I think both are completely legitimate, but if you want to get out there and forge a career, you do need to be drawing up a model and understanding and educating yourself about things like copyright.

I think artists just have to generally be more savvy.

As far as I’m concerned, there’s not a single person in this country who can determine which bands are going to do well overseas.

The different pressures on those acts when they don’t have the regular income to sustain themselves, that’s where the help is needed, at that next tier. And record companies used to be able to fill that gap with tour support, but there isn’t any. We need something beyond that initial inhection.

Sure, it could be like launching an app, except you're you’re not going to have 100,000 people paying for it, because we’re almost at a zero-cost model for consumer unless you count gigs.

The distance [our musicians] drive between capital cities would be across four countries if it were in Europe. You look at some of those British bands who complain and you’re like ‘Seriously?'

The music industry in many ways has never asked for the dollars it's needed as compared to something like film. But because music people just get in and do it themselves that they’re never actually saying ‘Hey, we need this much to turn around this kind of result.’ 

To be committed to your career, people respond really positively to that – especially in North America.

[Find out more about exporting Australian music overseasat Sounds Australia online. In related news, be sure to check out our piece on Amada Palmer's musical kickstarter record.]
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