How to pursue a music career overseas

Posted on 10 August 2011

Write good music, network and play a lot of gigs. You might just earn a following – and maybe a big break.

By Belmont Lay

Based in Perth, The Optimist are playing gigs regularly to gain a reputation as a compelling live act.

Recently, Singaporean musician Inch Chua left her broken bleeding heart out to dry by writing a personal Facebook note saying that she is leaving Singapore to pursue her music career overseas due to a lack of local support for artists who compose original material.

Her note resonated with a lot of readers who liked what she said and sent their well wishes.

But what does it mean to pursue a music career overseas? How does a musician starting out accumulate attention, experience and fans? Is a mature music market important?

Well, there’s only one way to find out: Ask a young band starting out overseas, experiencing the culture and community of the music trade first-hand, about what they’re doing to get noticed.

So here I present to you, The Optimist.

They are Australian, slightly more than half-a-year-old, having played their first live show in December 2010. (Check out the track Ain’t No Better. It’s twitchy and riffy!)

Based in Perth at the moment, the three core band members consist of 21-year-old vocalist-guitarist Chris Burke, his drummer-brother Pat, who is two years his senior, as well as 23-year-old bassist Dave Van Niekerk.

They recently won a university band competition and might be heading to Melbourne for the finals, which will be their first outing playing outside Perth.

So how is The Optimist going about getting known?

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I spoke to front man Chris Burke, and here’s what he has to say:

As far as promotion goes, the best way to promote yourself is obviously to play live, where people who have never heard your music have a chance to hear it for what it really is.

In the beginning, however, simple things you can do to get started include setting up a Facebook page/ myspace/ website for the band, and doing so with a decent amount of professionalism.

Getting some decent band photos taken helps, and also recording some tracks to put up so that people can hear you.

It’s worth spending a bit of money and getting tracks done that are of decent quality, as no one’s impressed by crappy sounding demos.

As far as breaking into the music scene and getting started, that takes time. It’s all about who you know, and whether or not they like your music.

There are local music magazines released around Perth, so I started by getting those and searching through for any contacts available.

These included venue owners, promoters, and even other bands. I then went about emailing them a track and a request to play if they need someone. And that’s pretty much how we got started. You have to ask a lot of people, and be persistent.

The main ways that bands get noticed in Perth are as follows:

1. You know someone that has the necessary foot in the door and is willing to promote you.

Some bands I know have made the right contacts and gained the favour of the right people, and this can be a good launching pad for your career.

However, making such contacts and getting them on your side can be difficult.

2. You record something that’s particularly brilliant, and the right person hears it.

This has happened for artists such as Tim and Jean, and Tame Impala. Both of them basically got discovered when the right producer/ manager heard their recording, and they pretty much got signed really quickly.

However, to do this, you need to be writing some music that’s really cutting edge, that a producer would jump at. You also need to have it recorded really well.

With this, it comes down to the basic rule that if you’re writing really good music and putting it out there, the right person will eventually hear it. But you do need to be writing something exceptional.

3. Develop a reputation as a good artist via your live performance.

This happens when a band has exceptional live presence and music quality. It can also happen when a band is able to play very regularly, such as a band that is requested by a well known band to do support for a tour.

Some artists get established and really make it as a result of doing support for a well known national or international artist. As a general rule, the more you play, the better. Every gig you do, more people know who you are. Exposure is always good.

But are Australians supportive of musicians from overseas?

With foreigners, yes, but at times Australians may be more supportive of other Western foreigners (those from England, America, etc) as opposed to foreigners that are from cultures that are exceptionally different from our culture.

They may be slow to take to a Singaporean artist, although this is not a strict rule.

Also, Australia has a diverse cultural makeup, and so within Australia, an artist coming from Singapore, for example, could probably find a large number of Singaporeans here that would be keen to follow them. This could serve as a good starting ground for a fan base, and from there expand.

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