Wall Street Journal: Uncle Sam Helps Indie-Rock Bands Drum Up Fans Abroad
As U.S. Sales Shrink, Small Labels Look Abroad for Revenue; Seeking Countries Where Listeners Still Pay for CDs
The federal government has helped American exporters sell telecommunication systems to Macedonia, tractors to Chad, and elevators to Japan.
Now, the U.S. government is helping push a different kind of export: rock music.
For the first time, the U.S. government’s trade arm is stepping in to help the music business, funding trade missions to Brazil and Asia in recent months for the heads of a dozen independent music labels, which make up one-third of the U.S. music market.
It is a departure for the International Trade Administration, which has been spending $2 million annually to boost exports for the past two decades under its Market Development Cooperator Program but has never before given one of its $300,000 grants to the music industry, instead favoring sectors like machinery, technology and engineering services.
Until last year the agency hadn’t received a music-industry application worthy of the award, an ITA spokesman said. Indeed, it hadn’t received an application at all.
“We need to find new revenue streams,” said Rich Bengloff, president of the American Association of Independent Music, whose idea it was to apply for the grant. He led the trips and arranged meetings with local distributors, mobile-phone carriers, booking agents and ad agencies. “We now need to adjust to a smaller monetization at home.”
Indie labels see big opportunities in Latin America and Asia—and visiting in person pays off, especially in markets such as Japan, where fans favor foreign artists that spend time in their country engaging with locals and making TV appearances.
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