gilli moon talks with Bernard Baur about touring Europe.
"Artists are treated way better overseas and you can get paid more than you could ever hope for in Los Angeles.”
WHAT’S THE BUZZ Brad Wilson, lead singer and guitarist for the L.A.-based band, Stone, is planning to put together a European tour for the group in the very near future. Wilson handles all the booking for the band and they’ve already toured from the West Coast to the East Coast more than once over the years. According to Wilson the band members not only make a decent living on the road, they also love playing out of town. “People are very different when you get away from Los Angeles,” he reports. “They really show their emotions and let you know what they like. In fact, the kind of response we generally get keeps everything fresh and reminds us why we’re musicians.”
This type of reaction is typical for any artist who travels outside his hometown. But what about traveling outside of your own country? “That’s why we want to set up a European tour,” Wilson responds. “I’ve heard some great things about playing overseas.”
International recording artist Gilli Moon has toured Australia, England, France, Italy and Turkey as both a signed act with Tribe Records and, more recently, under her own banner, Warrior Girl Music, which has international distribution. Moon maintains that, “Artists are treated way better overseas and you can get paid more than you could ever hope for in Los Angeles. Mainly,” she adds, “there’s a different type of relationship with the audience and the people. It’s one that,” she says, “is based on mutual respect.”
“Artists are treated way better overseas and you can get paid more than you could ever hope for in Los Angeles.”
--Gilli Moon, solo artist
That word “respect” is frequently heard when artists talk about foreign tours. It seems that people from other cultures tend to respect artists more than citizens of the United States do. In the U.S. an artist’s worth is usually judged by their commercial success, but most Europeans apply a different set of standards. Byl Carruthers, lead guitarist and producer for Cafe R&B, a blues-based R&B act situated in L.A., says, “You’ve got to go to Europe to really understand how well they treat artists.”
Over the past several years, Cafe R&B has toured Europe twice, performing in London, Paris and Spain. Presently, they’re planning a third tour and can’t wait to get back there. “They have a completely different attitude about musicians,” Carruthers exclaims, “and we felt it the first day we were there. They value art, music and family –– the core stuff. We found that in the European countries, they honor the craft itself, and you don’t have to be famous or even well-known to get that respect.”
Carruthers believes that their tour gave Cafe R&B great encouragement and a new sense of purpose. “Touring Europe not only opened our eyes, it gave us renewed hope that there is life out there even if you don’t have a major record deal. Europe was everything people said it would be, and I would recommend it to anybody.”
CHOOSING YOUR DESTINATION
When choosing a tour destination there are several important factors to consider. Language, of course, is a primary one –– unless you’re multi-lingual. However, according to Gilli Moon, “In most countries, including Turkey, I found that there’s always someone who speaks a little English. On the other hand, it’s also nice if you can learn enough to get by.” Indeed, the natives seem to like you better when you try, especially in countries such as France where they almost insist that Americans attempt their language.
Another significant consideration is currency –– money, moola, dinero –– the stuff you’re going to have to spend and, hopefully, get paid with while you’re there. The exchange rate can make or break your tour and is one of the most important things you have to examine.
“Touring Europe not only opened our eyes, it gave us renewed hope that there is life out there even if you don’t have a major record deal.”
--Byl Carruthers, artist, Café R&B
Daniel Ben Az is an international talent buyer with over 30 years of experience working with acts such as the Smashing Pumpkins, Michael Jackson, Luciano Pavarotti and Green Day. He points out, “There are tremendous fluctuations in the monetary market. In fact, we have to constantly monitor them for the best rate of exchange.”
Additionally, Steve Levine, West Coast chief of ICM (International Creative Management), contends, “The tax implications alone can make a big difference and is something everyone should consider. It hardly matters how much you make if half of it belongs to the government.” Levine suggests that artists look for countries with a depressed economy. “Australia and Canada are good markets given their depressed currency, and Europe is holding steady.”
In certain countries you should also be aware of the political situation. Ben Az, for example, wouldn’t recommend going into a hotbed that’s ready to explode, or a country that is subject to terrorist attacks. “Artists want to play their music and entertain a new audience, but they shouldn’t have to put their life on the line to do it. In addition,” he advises, “those countries that have an unstable infrastructure are also likely to have a less stable money market, making the currency rate tough to get a handle on.” When that occurs, the amount of money you receive for doing a gig may not be the amount you originally agreed upon.
In those circumstances, Ben Az strongly suggests that artists learn to roll with the market variations. “You have to take it within reason, because you can’t double your price just because the market changes,” he says. “In most foreign countries there is only so much you can charge an audience in their local currency.”
Last, but not least, is the culture itself. If you’re going to be touring for any length of time, you’re also going to be immersed in the culture of the land. For some artists, cultural differences may be disagreeable or downright inhospitable; while, for others, exploring a new culture may be one of the high points of the tour. Moon recommends doing a little homework. “Call consulates, get brochures and talk with other artists who have toured there. Learn everything you can about your destination, the cities and the culture you’re going to visit. That way you won’t be surprised when you get there.”
“We book corporate events for our clients worldwide, from the U.S.A. to Hong Kong. At this time, there are about 25 companies that control 90 percent of the corporate business in the world, and those are the people we deal with.”
--Brian Goldman, agent in charge of corporate events, ICM
Talk about surprises –– how about censor boards? Daniel Ben Az relates, “There are some countries and regions that have censor boards. Most are in Asian territories, but a few also exist in certain parts of Europe. They have the authority to approve or reject set lists and lyrics. In fact,” Ben Az states, “they even have the right to come to rehearsals and sound checks to see what the artist is wearing and what their act looks like.” Naturally, some artists have problems with that, while others go with the flow.
KNOW YOUR MARKET
Very few artists find acceptance everyplace they go –– even superstars. Some locales are hot and some are not, but most of the time it depends on the type of music you play. According to Rod Essig, a tour agent with CAA (Creative Artists Agency) in Nashville, “Country music is on the rise because it’s viewed as pop on the foreign circuit. It’s just starting to get a foothold and is doing very well in England, Australia and Brazil.”
On the other hand, according to Ben Az, rap is a hard sell except for specific pockets in metropolitan areas. “In the Asian countries,” he says, “it’s almost impossible to book.” Phil Casey, urban tour agent with ICM, agrees, “Urban music, including rap and hip-hop, is difficult to place overseas, but it’s currently hot in the big cities like Amsterdam and Paris. It’s also starting to grow in the United Kingdom where it’s going to be huge.”
However, pop, rock, and even heavy metal are hot in almost every market according to our experts. But, they still advise artists to check out the scene before committing to it. Byl Carruthers of Cafe R&B relates that they studied the music scene in each country. “We wanted to go to places that had an appetite for the kind of music we do. That’s why we chose France and Spain. They’re more blues-driven and we knew they would appreciate our music. As for the United Kingdom, well, that was an easy call because we always fantasized about going to England. It’s the flagship country of Europe and I think most American bands would love to go there.”
AGENTS, PROMOTERS & TALENT BUYERS
“Urban music, including rap and hip-hop, is difficult to place overseas, but it’s currently hot in the big cities like Amsterdam and Paris. It’s also starting to grow in the United Kingdom where it’s going to be huge.”
--Phil Casey, urban tour agent, ICM
Most people will tell you that you need an agent, or some sort of connection, to get a European gig. And, for most artists it’s probably good advice. After all, you’re an unknown commodity in a strange land, and in most cases you’ll have no idea what a venue is like or where it might even be located. That’s when the right connections can be very helpful.
A representative is retained to protect an act’s interest. They will not only set up the bookings and collect the money, but most of them will also handle the production, travel arrangements and housing accommodations. “Most importantly,” declares ICM’s West Coast chief, Steve Levine, “we know the marketplace. We know the changes taking place. We know what acts are worth. Our whole division works as a team with an agenda to represent our artists. In essence,” he concludes, “we know what’s going on.”
For their services, agents, promoters and talent buyers charge a percentage in the form of a commission taken out of any money earned. In California that commission is regulated and may not exceed 10 percent. However, when international bookings are involved the percentage may go higher, or be enhanced by additional costs. Some promoters may ask for as much as 50 percent, while others may reduce the amount to 30 percent. Most will fall somewhere between 10 percent and 30 percent.
But, getting someone like that to represent you if you’re an unsigned artist isn’t an easy task. Most of the time they deal with big name stars and acts that are getting radio play in the territory. But, almost every rep interviewed said they might consider an unsigned artist if they believed their act was good enough. John Pleeter, an agent at Artist Direct, claims that he would absolutely work with an unsigned act. “It’s on a case by case basis, of course, but there’s always room at [our company to arrange European bookings for] a great act –– signed or unsigned.”
Pleeter points out that artists like Dave Matthews and Phish were building large tour bases years before they ever got signed. “All you have to do to get a rep,” says Pleeter, “is work very hard and build a buzz. When you think of the acts who have done that, you’ll realize that they were on the road most of the time.”
“It’s on a case by case basis, of course, but there’s always room for [our company to arrange European bookings for] a great act––signed or unsigned.”
- John Pleeter, agent, Artist Direct
You can also find connections the old fashioned way –– by simply networking. Gilli Moon scored many of her foreign gigs through people she met at various workshops, conferences and festivals. “Playing festivals has been very helpful,” she says. “I’ve met many of my contacts at MIDEM (a record industry convention held annually in France) and songwriter showcases around the world.”
In fact, Moon has organized a large network of resources that she utilizes whenever she wants to tour. “Now, I know enough producers, promoters and agents that, if I’m interested in playing someplace, I can call them and at least ask for their advice.” Of course, just as Pleeter advised, Moon works intensively on her career and unless you’re willing to do the same, you can’t expect the same level of benefits.
DOING IT YOURSELF
There are some people who are hearty souls and are able to pioneer a trail to Europe on their own. Sometimes it’s out of necessity because they can’t find the right representative, while at other times, it’s simply because they’d rather do it themselves. Byl Carruthers of Cafe R&B is one of those people.
“Everyone told me that we had to get an agent or a local rep for every territory we wanted to tour. They said I couldn’t possibly book my own gigs –– that it doesn’t work that way. I even compiled a large list of names that people gave me,” recalls Carruthers. “But when I talked with them, I found that I either got a lukewarm response or that they were a small operation without much of a reputation.”
Eventually, Carruthers decided that the club scene overseas couldn’t be so much different than the one he was familiar with in Los Angeles. So, he started reading magazines and papers from the cities the band wanted to tour and, in the process, discovered a blueprint for success.
“The first thing I noticed,” Carruthers reveals, “is that the listings looked almost exactly like those you see in the L.A. papers. So, I got a Pollstar guide with international numbers and started calling venues to get the names of the bookers. My thinking was that I’d rather spend money on phone calls and postage than put my faith in some guy I don’t know and who doesn’t know us.”
Cafe R&B Carruthers’ search focused on three publications: Melody Maker (similar to Music Connection), Time Out (similar to the LA Weekly) and the New Musical Express. “These three papers gave me everything I needed to set up tours in London and France. I also found out that their clubs are comparable to the venues here.”
Carruthers sent 20 packages to London clubs and 10 to Paris venues. “At first, I’d Fed Ex them so that they would get priority attention, but later I found out that the bookers would open a package from America before they would open one from their own town. They thought the grass was greener elsewhere. In that regard, they’re just like the bookers here.”
Less than two months later, Cafe R&B was offered five dates in London, several in France and one in Spain. “They weren’t looking for exclusives,” Carruthers explains, “and the money they offered wasn’t great ($300 to $700 a night with a $150 to $500 guarantee), but it was fine because the money market worked in our favor.”
SINGING FOR YOUR SUPPER
Byl Carruthers and his band planned a five-week tour, during which they secured additional gigs to help pay for the trip. “We discovered that quite a few clubs would offer American bands a residency which could last anywhere from a few days to a week. That helped a lot, since the gigs I booked in London only yielded about $4,000.”
That realization caused Carruthers to conclude, “As an unsigned act, you’re not likely to make enough money to cover your expenses.” But, he found ways to cut the costs so that they wouldn’t kill the tour. “A few places in London offered bed and breakfast with a smaller direct payment. However, we wanted to make as much money as possible, so we didn’t accept the accommodations.”
Instead, Carruthers went online and found vacation rentals and townhouses that the band could rent for a week or two. “We saved a lot of money doing it that way,” he says. “We have five members in the band and had three bedrooms and a kitchen, which saved us a lot on food and hotel expenses. It’s very cost effective, if you’re playing around the same geographical area.”
When negotiating your overseas deal, you also have to consider equipment and backline. “Some of the clubs had a backline we could use,” Carruthers reports, “but for others we had to rent it. For that I looked in the trade journals from the area and cut a deal for the time we were there.”
According to Carruthers, once the club bookers see your act, some will offer a residency when you return. “They get to know you and see what you can do and will offer a better deal the next time.” Those deals can include air fare, accommodations and payment. “You know,” Carruthers laughs, “I found out that it’s easier to pull better terms as an unknown American band in a foreign city than it is to get the same deal as a known American band in your own town.”
Even with their perseverence and luck, however, Cafe R&B did not make a profit on their first European tour. “The first trip was a loss,” Carruthers reports. “But with the second one, four months later, we broke even. With the third, though, we plan to extend our stay and will be making money.” In fact, within a year Carruthers believes that the group will be able to support themselves without outside jobs, simply by touring Europe.
Gilli Moon in St. Mark's Square, Venice Italy. SPECIAL GIGS
In order to supplement their tour income, many artists look for that special gig –– the one which pays extremely well. Gilli Moon discloses that every time she tours overseas she tries to secure a corporate gig or two in the area. “They’re very lucrative,” she says. “You can make several thousand dollars for a night’s work. With many you can even get an advance, which helps with the cost of getting there.” And at these events, Moon reports that everything is taken care of including backline, instruments and even players, if you need them. “It’s a great way to fill your time between club gigs.”
Moon’s idea is exactly what Brian Goldman, an agent in charge of corporate events at ICM, specializes in. “ We book corporate events for our clients worldwide, from the U.S.A. to Hong Kong. At this time, there are about 25 companies that control 90 percent of the corporate business in the world, and those are the people we deal with.”
Booking corporate gigs around tours, Goldman makes sure there is very little down time for the artist. “We let the companies know when our artists are going to be in the area and when they’re available. We try to keep our artists as busy as possible.”
Goldman says that financial and pharmaceutical companies are hot right now, as well as casinos, and that most will provide airfare, accommodations and ground transport. “There’s absolutely no risk with these gigs,” he claims, “because there are no tickets to sell. All the band has to do is show up and play.”
YOU’RE NOT IN KANSAS ANYMORE
Because Europe is not the United States, the culture shock is sometimes unsettling. “Getting used to the differences in other countries is one of the biggest problems we see,” claims Phil Casey, urban agent at ICM. “American acts are used to a certain level of comfort, and when they travel overseas it may not be there.”
Hotel rooms are smaller and not as comfortable. The hot water may only run for minutes, resulting in cold showers when only a hot one will do. The food is different, the transportation is sometimes less reliable and the level of service is, well, foreign.
All of these differences, according to Casey, cause grief for some artists. “It’s difficult for them to adapt,” he says. But, if you take it in stride and look at it as an adventure, Moon maintains that, “you could have fun with it.” She recommends spending a bit of time soaking up the local culture and the new nightlife. “Learn a little and enjoy your time off. You don’t want to be the ‘Ugly American,’” she warns, “because, after all, most people travel overseas for a holiday, so there’s no reason for any artist to worry about the differences.”
Byl Carruthers confides that, like many unsigned acts in the States, Cafe R&B was a money pit. But, after two trips to Europe, he believes his band is on the right path. “It gave us a fresh lease on life and a new reason to exist. Now, I can conservatively say that in the year 2001, we will be operating at a profit –– and it’s all due to our European tours.”
By opening up Europe as a market place, Cafe R&B extended their fanbase, made international contacts and are selling more records than ever. “It was the best decision we ever made,” Carruthers declares, “and we can’t wait to go back.”
Indeed, acts such as Cafe R&B and Gilli Moon have made overseas touring a regular routine. It’s something that they go back to time and time again, not only for the money and exposure, but rather, as Moon says, “When you do it right, it can be the experience of a lifetime.”
CONTACTS FOR THIS ARTICLE:
AGENTS & TALENT BUYERS:
Steve Levine ICM (West Coast Chief) 310-550-4000
Phil Casey ICM (Urban Agent) 310-550-4000
John Pleeter Artist Direct Tour Agent 323-634-4000
Brian Goldman ICM (Corporate Agent) 310-550-4000
Rod Essig CAA (Nashville) 615-383-8787
Daniel Ben Az International Talent Buyer 310-271-5171
©2001 Music Connection Inc.
INTERVIEWS WITH GILLI