By Martin Frascogna
In a time where globalization is so prevalent, governmental policies and the U.S. music industry are inadvertently stomping the globalization brakes with a heavy foot.International musicians are dominating the Billboard charts, global artists are in high demand in American stores, and fans demand tour dates in the States, however with all that said there is about to be a tremendous decline in international music and it starts with immigration visas and its effect on touring.
Some procedural background: International bands looking to tour/play in the United States can’t just jump on a plane and hit up the club circuit, rather they must first obtain a visa. Despite having a slew of visa options for U.S. non-citizens, the visas relevant to international musicians are often types “O” and “P.” Varying slightly in some specific areas (most commonly in the length of time a musician can remain in the U.S.), one thing remains consistent – visas can cost a lot of money, and burn up time, energy, and patience in order to acquire. International musicians, American labels focusing on international bands, domestic/international agents, and overseas labels rely heavily upon a slow and steady grassroots marketing approach to develop a fan base. This technique could potentially be butchered. Here comes the boohoo bad news: The U.S. Citizens and Immigration Service (USCIS) is now imposing stricter application requirements, along with stringent procedures that will severally limit the flow of international musicians. This will ultimately lead to 2 sets of problems: (1) touring effect and (2) a consumer market effect.
As the new visa requirements will eventually cripple both international musicians and U.S. bands, here are the immediate effects, especially for oversea musicians:
1. An attorney relationship is required
Type O and P visas require a U.S. based “sponsor” that must vouch for the international parties visiting the States. Prior to the immigration amendments, musicians typically relied upon an agent, manager, label, or venue/concert representative to serve as a sponsor. Now the USCIS is limiting who will be considered “sponsors” or a “qualifying agent” by relying on more reliable and testable sources. Attorneys are now seen as the major component to maneuver the USCIS red tape OR, the unrealistic candidate of management companies who have deep relationships with the USCIS. For international musicians, teaming with a U.S. attorney is now an essential element of touring in the States.
2. Diluted Number of International Bands Performing at U.S. Music Festivals
Due to the new harsh visa procedures, visa sponsors are now required to strictly detail where and when the international band will perform. This component essentially eliminates international acts picking up random U.S. dates or returning for follow up shows once a successful tour is finished. Further, popular U.S. music festivals like SXSW, which carve out a specific number of slots for international musicians, will soon dwindle. For an international musician who relies upon U.S. exposure generated from domestic festivals, the risk/reward and financial component involved is now a savings account suicide. Labels will unlikely bankroll for a band to come play one festival without a significant number of set concerts following the date.
3. Social Sanctions are a B*tc*!
American musicians may not feel the immediate effect of strict visa requirements for international musicians, but in the world of international law social sanctions are soon to follow. If the U.S. continues to keep its talent in house by limiting the exposure of international acts, the world’s entertainment economy will follow suit which will severely impact American talent (more specially, mid level bands). For example: If Greek musicians are in immediate demand on American soil but they are unable to tour in the U.S., Greece will see a decline in their entertainment exports. If Greek musicians don’t have the opportunity to tour in the U.S., they can’t build a fan base, which means they can’t sell albums, partner with U.S. companies, or establish beneficial licensing agreements. This all causes a slight ding in entertainment exports. The way the international community typically works, instead of changing particular laws, which can take years to accomplish and are often seen as drastic, countries take calmer approaches and issue indirect social sanctions. In the example above, Greece may issue incentives for Greek musicians/labels that play festivals and concerts in their homeland OR issue penalties/special taxes for venues that book American bands. This is essentially what the movie industry has been experiencing with state incentives for filming in particular states. So to American bands, in short, if there isn’t opportunity to international musicians in the States, in the future your opportunity to play outside of American borders may be limited. Call it a social sanction backlash thanks to your governmental policies. Regardless, it’s how the international community responds to a disapproving black-eye.
4. Less Cross-Over Appeal
When there are less international musicians being exposed at American festivals, this equates to less airplay on American radio, less exposure to potential fans, which trickles to limited market demand, promotions, marketing, and eventually album sales. When there isn’t a demand, cross-over marketing opportunity with businesses and products come to a halt. This model swings both ways, as American musicians looking to partner up overseas will see limited opportunity because the markets will be saturated with domestic musicians.
UPDATES (as of 3/9/10) The backlash has begun and it starts in the world’s hottest upcoming market – Australia. The Department of of Environment, Water, Heritage, and the Arts, headed by minister Peter Garrett highlights plans for “Bringing Aussie Musicians Centre Stage.” Under the plan, if international touring artists (currently heavily saturated with American acts) perform in Australia, the plan allegedly assures Aussie musicians the opening act. On the surface, the plan promotes Australian bands by teaming with better known acts. Although not new to the industry by any means, the strong push to implement the plan is seen as backlash to the recent U.S. immigration policies making it harder for international musicians (more specifically the growing Aussie market) to tour in The States.
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Written by Martin Frascogna for Music Globalization
The Hit Music Academy | 2010
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