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Blueprint for Development : Challenges and Rewards of International Music Agenting

International Forum of 2023 WMFT / ed. Molly Chou GIEM

 

Dear Music Lover,


How have you been? Do you still feel the lingering echoes of the 2023 World Music Festival @ Taiwan? The 2023 World Music Festival @ Taiwan, a spectacular event held from October 12 to 15, resonated profoundly with the essence of unity through the enchanting and universal languages of music. Throughout this festival, we revealed not only the beautiful, energetic, and unique music from the world, but also engaged in four captivating international forums which included exchanges among musicians, music-themed talks, and discussions from the perspectives of international festival curators and music agents.


Today, let's take a moment to rewind the memorable experience of the forum, explore the key elements and strategies toward becoming an international agent.


The last forum hosted by John Huang, Catherine and Juliana / 2023 WMFT


Speakers Intro

In this forum, we were honored to have two delegates as spearkers, Catherine Benainous from France and Juliana Volož from Estonia. Catherine is an Artist Manager and Manager of One Drop Label, who has spent 15 years in Latin America, enabling her to develop a solid professional network with which she continues to work. Another speaker is Juliana, who has been a Booking Agent and a band manager for more than 17 years, and she opened her agency, JV-Promotion since 2007. This year, she received the Estonia industry award for the best music export of the year.


They not only emphasized strategy planning and networking but also delved into cultivating global relationships, building trust, and the importance of reliable partnerships in every territory. Maintaining a symbiotic relationship between music and the industry, and methods for standing out in the global entertainment market.

What are the qualities of an international agent?

In the beginning, they discussed the qualities of an international agent. As an international agent for more than 25 years, Catherine said, “This is a 'lonely' life.”


Catherine at 2023 WMFT


The music industry undergoes constant changes, demanding awareness of evolving trends. We must always be aware of how things are coming and changing. 


Additionally, being a good agent isn't just about booking many shows. It's more about understanding the market and having reliable connections, especially in unfamiliar territories such as Latin America, Africa, and Cuba. Understanding specific rules and markets is required, also, establishing trust, and having trustworthy local partners is crucial in this industry. 


"To feel comfortable, the only thing is that you need to have 'my person' over there, and he/she tells you don't worry. If he/she tells me not to worry, I don't worry." Understanding the territory takes time and experimentation to find reliable collaborators, however, "It's always worth trying." Forming partnerships is an evolving process; sometimes it happens immediately after finding the right person, and other times it takes several attempts.


Personal connections matter because locals often have valuable market insights. Knowing the right people in a country is essential; locals are aware of key events and influential figures, making connections with them beneficial when targeting a specific market or region.


Catherine at Speed Meeting / 2023 WMFT


How to build relationships in different markets?

In Juliana's position, she mentioned that the process of building relationships in different markets involves various approaches. Managers can engage through conferences, personal meetings, contacting embassies, and she often finds contacts primarily through showcase festivals.


However, Catherine showed an opposite way of approaching different markets. She doesn't attend many showcase festivals and operates more independently. "I'm a 365-degree manager." Catherine took the initiative to learn extensively, organizing workshops and acquiring a diverse set of skills necessary for artist management.


"The key is to approach this task step by step." Managing artists is like climbing a huge mountain. It demands time, skills, knowledge, and often involves operating alone. Focusing on the most important targets and gradually progressing towards them. 


Juliana at Speed Meeting / 2023 WMFT


When discussing the relationship between culture and the industry, there is a spiritual concept they'd like to share: “Getting into culture is like having a mission.“ You engage with culture because you want to bring the artists you have chosen and present them to the public.


 

“It's not merely about showcasing the artist; it's about offering the audience the opportunity to dream, gain diverse perspectives, and enrich their understanding of different cultures. This is because the primary purpose of culture is to cultivate people.” — Juliana Volož


 

Furthermore, Juliana emphasized the importance of "Knowing your product and goals." Understanding the essence of the product you're dealing with and identifying specific targets should be your initial focus. It's not about being a boss, but working together as partners with musicians.


To share passion effectively, managers need commitment and resources from musicians as well. The ability of a manager to inspire others is deeply rooted in their own passion for music. However, this exchange requires mutual effort. Everyone involved in this relationship should not stand alone; it's a symphony of shared commitment and collaboration that creates something truly remarkable.


2023 WMFT Artists (Balakalava Blues, ADG7, MUSA)


The experience of working with artists

Juliana, the agent for Balaklava Blues, mentioned that her connection with the band started when they reached out to her. Despite not having seen the band in person initially, a compelling live video captured her interest and inspired her to take a chance.


She emphasized that the beginning of working with the artists is to TRY. “ I said TRY because it doesn't just depend on me, but on how other people will react to what I present or what they deliver to me.” Communication, trust, and aligning visions were crucial before starting.


Balaklava Blues performed at 2023 WMFT


On the other hand, Catherine shared that she has two types of relationships with artists, long-term and short-term.


Working with artists over the long term, such as managing a 77-year-old African pianist, a pioneer in African music, requires a different perspective compared to working with a 22-year-old artist. Catherine's 25-year collaboration with the pianist involves activities like attending studio recordings, providing opinions, suggesting collaborations, and offering career guidance.


On the contrary, her shorter-term engagements with artists involve working on specific events or projects, she only works for some concerts in specific countries. For instance, she worked at some festivals in Brazil as a curator, which asked her to bring some Asian bands, so she brought No Party For Cao Dong to the festival.


In discussing relationships, Juliana expressed, “We are like treasure hunters, so I am seeking out those unique bands.” When managing artists, it's essential to establish a deep-rooted partnership, much like a tall tree spreading its branches and leaves.


Discover the unique, intrinsic motivations, such as when you listen to the music and it gives you goosebumps. This is when you truly know that it's something worth pursuing.



Catherine and Juliana at 2023 WMFT


The insights on various markets across the world.

Last but not least, they shared insights on various markets across the world, highlighting the challenges and opportunities in different regions. Catherine shared her experiences working in Africa and South America, discussing the difficulties and challenges she encountered.


Africa, being a vast continent, operates differently from Europe. Targeting major festivals might be a safer entry point due to the fragmented nature of events in Africa. Establishing connections is crucial in this complex yet potentially rewarding market, which remains intriguing due to its diverse culture and people.


In South America, Brazil stands out as the only Portuguese-speaking country. Internal travel poses challenges due to its size and the absence of an extensive train network, but it's a significant music market. Brazilians are open-minded, have a strong appreciation for music, and possess a high level of musical literacy.


 

“The challenge lies in finding reliable connections; you really have to identify people you can depend on.”— Catherine Benainous


 

On the other hand, Juliana emphasized the importance of experimentation and tailoring the approach for different bands, while also seeking feedback from presenters. She advocates for persistence and trust when exploring new markets. She noted, “Sometimes, there might only be one opportunity, such as performing at a major festival, but it can provide substantial exposure and opportunities to connect with industry professionals.”


They also discussed the music markets in other countries, including Germany, Canada, Central Europe, India, and the US. Germany's music market is known for its long-term planning and conservative approach, while the Baltics feature a young, energetic audience with a strong curiosity for culture. They stressed the significance of self-identification for smaller nations.


Countries like Canada offer an accessible market with an older but inquisitive and positive audience, even though it lacks a younger demographic. Central Europe generally hosts a younger audience, providing an easy and less risky environment to work in. The Indian market remains somewhat unique and requires further understanding.


Finally, they touched on the US market. While navigating the US market can be challenging due to visa requirements and costs, it offers an excellent audience experience. Once established, the audience is great, making the investment worthwhile.


2023 WMFT artists (ANKR, Nani, DaBangNi Band and Outlet Drift)


Conclusion

In essence, each market presents its own unique challenges and rewards. The journey towards success as an international agent in the music industry involves a blend of strategic thinking, understanding the intricacies, relationship building, persistently exploring opportunities in these diverse music landscapes. 


Ultimately, it is all about a genuine passion for the incredible power of music and being fearless to try, experiment and hunt for treasure. We eagerly anticipate more international artists coming to Taiwan soon, enriching us with memorable musical experiences.


 

This article was written by Chou Fang-Chen, a student of the Graduate Institute of Ethnomusicology at NTNU.


 


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