(L to R: Dmitri Vietze, Carlos Tortolero, Matthew Covey. Joining panel later: Kerry Clarke. Photo by Max Pollak of RumbaTap.)
by Dmitri Vietze, rock paper scissors PR firm
It’s never been easy for international artists to make a profit touring in North America. The costs of travel, accommodations, and visa processing are higher for international artists, yet ticket sales and booking budgets are not higher than for other artists. While international artists and their teams may face offers they consider low from presenters, here are 7 tips to increase the viability of touring in North America that came out of the Wavelengths: APAP World Music Preconference:
1. Cut Back on Your Entourage.
While you may be used to touring your home continent with multiple technicians, a tour manager, and a larger band, each person on tour becomes a multiplier on expenses including airfare, accommodations, visas, meals, and more. You crew can double the cost of your tour. Think about how you certain people can double up on roles. A combined sound person and tour manager can make the difference between making money and losing money. If you are playing festivals, remember that they often have a stage and sound crew to fill in holes. Think about bringing a pared down version of your band to North America. Additional backup singers and dancers may need to be added back in after you are further along with your reputation here and can command higher fees. Consider having certain players residing in North America come on tour versus bringing them from home.
2. Seek Out Funding (with the Help of North American Presenters).
Many countries have funds to support the export of local music around the world, including in the form of touring. If you are putting together a tour that is tight on budget, discuss with your hosting presenters if they have worked with any funding related to your country of origin. Artists willing to do a little extra work on this front, might get financial help to make a tour possible.
Though it is rare for U.S. and Canadian grants to pay for international artists, the Canada Council also has some money for artists touring Canada. Programs like Center Stage, supported by the State Department and New England Foundation for the Arts, Southern Exposure, supported by the national Endowment for the Arts and the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation, and OneBeat (for individual artists to collaborate in a specific multi-artist program), funded by the State Department, all include subsidised touring to America. But they all have very specific criteria and long timelines, that may not fit your touring goals or requirements.
3. Develop Educational Workshops and Residencies for Weekdays.
Most anchor dates happen on the weekend. Look to schools and community organizations that can host you for a residency during the weeklong gap between festival or city performances that need to take place on the weekend. It may take time to develop these relationships, but over time you might be able to develop an annual or bi-annual event that allows you to tour again and again. Educational workshops can focus on musical performance or cultural awareness. In addition, workshops can help you command higher fees within a given festival or series.
4. Fill in “World Music” Performances with “Community” Performances.
If you come from a country with a population of potential fans from your home country in North America, develop relationships with community-based leaders to present you in between your anchor festival or performing arts center dates. You may need to negotiate with anchor presenters to waive exclusivity, which is something you might consider doing in the earliest stages of an offer, saying that you can take their fee as long as you are able to perform at other community events; that if they are requiring exclusivity, you need a higher fee. You can explain that even though they are paying a good fee, it’s hard to make the tour happen at all without being able to add additional concerts within the community of your fellow nationals.
5. Get Creative with Visas.
The cost of visas and having specialists to process visas can stop a tour from happening. But there are several ways you can save money on visas:
Plan ahead. One of the most expensive parts of getting a visa is the extra $1225 “Premium Processing” expedite fee. If you plan further ahead, filing your petition early can save a bunch of money.
Don’t get a visa if you don’t need one. If you are playing academic performances or showcases, you might not need a visa! Make sure to to get good advice on this.
Get a P3 instead of an O1/O2 Visa. Many people like the sound of getting a visa for having “extraordinary abilities.” But some acts could alternately seek a P3 visa, which can cost a lot less money. Put the ego aside and get the visa that will cost less and be easier to attain.
Get a One or Three Year Visa Instead of a One Month Visa. If you can get a little more organized, you might be eligible to get your visa to last longer, up to one year for P visas and up to three years for O visas. This could allow you to come back multiple times over a longer period of time.
Save Money By Skipping an Attorney (But Be Careful!). If you are an organized person, it is possible to use the information at Artists From Abroad to handle the process yourself. Obviously, if your case is more complicated, you might need to hire the big guns to get the job done. If you get stuck along the way, Tamizdat Avail can help you at no cost.
Get Visa Help from SOME Presenters. Some presenters and festivals can help you with visas. Letters from government-related presenters have a great track record for visa approval, so consider that when building your tour. Those same presenters may go even further with becoming your anchor date and their visa savvy could be the linchpin in a successful tour. They also may be able to help you get a longer term visa (see above). Consider that when negotiating fees. That can be worth money and save you from other headaches. If you are working with a block of collaborating presenters they may be able to all chip in towards the cost of the visa.
6. Know the World Music Circuit’s Timing and Routing. Before saying yes to an individual performance, make sure you understand how you are going to route to and from that city. Newer festivals frequently book in isolation and if they are at a time period when there is nothing else going on, your tour is more likely to lose money or become impossible to fulfil. Ask the presenter who else is nearby for routing. If they have no ideas, you might consider touring at a different time or to a different region.
7. Find New Presenters That Fit Your Timing and Route. On the other hand from tip #6, there are many smaller presenters or universities that are not on the regular world music touring circuit that might book you if you ask. Universities with relevant educational departments, might be glad to host you as a special one off event. You’ll only know if you ask.
These tips came from the panel titled “Changing America’s Global Music Touring Economy: Booking for Artist Sustainability” at the Wavelengths: APAP World Music Preconference on January 6, 2017, co-organized by globalFEST and rock paper scissors. Panelists were Matthew Covey of Tamizdat Inc., Carlos Tortolero of the Chicago World Music Festival, and Kerry Clarke of the Calgary Folk Music Festival. The panel was moderated by Dmitri Vietze of PR firm rock paper scissors, inc. Videos of the preconference are archived on the globalFEST Facebook page.