Greetings from a van racing across Switzerland to our next (House Jacks) concert.
I'm gonna save you an email right now, because I know what you want to ask:
"How can my group tour overseas?!?"
Well, obviously there are no guaranteed methods or procedures I can offer, but there are a few specific steps you can take:
* First, you need a great recording and even more importantly a great video. Each are a separate topic of their own, worthy of much focus and consideration: you can learn much about recording from Bill Hare's blog and several articles here on casa.org, and an entire instructional video on how to make a great video will be launching soon in the CASAcademy.
* Next, try to get an agent overseas. There is no better way to tour a foreign country than to have someone in that country organizing concerts, hotels, transportation, etc. You may well have to strike a deal to break even on your first trip(s) to the country, but together you're working toward a greater goal... and it is always better to have someone say "these guys are amazing!" than "we're amazing!" (and if it's in the local language, even better).
How do you find an agent? Well, search the web, and vocal groups' web sites for starters. Whereas it is possible to contact agents that have other similar a cappella groups on their roster, you'll find most agencies are not looking for duplicates, so you might do well to find one with a very different group, or perhaps no a cappella group at all. Obviously at this point you see the incredible importance of a great video, as you'll at best have 30 seconds to convince them you're worth their time.
It's also important for you to contact friends, family and business associates, wherever they may be. Often a first gig results from an existing relationship. Hand out lots of tickets, send around lots of CDs, and make sure to speak with everyone you know about potential gigs, agents, opportunities.
* If you're not successful in finding an agent, which is likely the case for many of you (as they're often most interested in your group once they've seen you live), your next best bet is to find some kind of anchor date to get your group into the country, around which you can build some additional dates to make your own first tour. For this, a cappella festivals are a great possibility (again, do a web search, or check out other a cappella groups' calendars to see where they've played), as are choral/vocal festivals and general festivals (which tend to be organized by theme or musical style, so if you're a jazz group, look for jazz festivals, etc).
What you want from a festival is airfare and an audience primarily, so don't be pushy about your fee after expenses. Remember, you contacted them. Be friendly and accommodating, realizing you're using them to get to the country, and from there you can:
* Contact local groups and ambassadors to set up additional gigs. They will likely not pay enough money to cover airfare on their own, they'll certainly at least pay for your ground transport, hotel and meal, which is why having a good anchor date is key. You can search the acapedia for groups in a particular region, and then start writing those emails!
And be sure to post on rarb.org, and write a blog here on casa.org letting people you're looking for gigs and hosts in a specific country. You'll find the international a cappella community to be very friendly and willing to help with advice. Oh, and don't only ask for help... be prepared to offer it when you hear from someone who is looking to come to your country. Sharing the stage with them at a concert in one of your favorite venues, along with a split of the door and a couch to crash on can quickly turn into a reciprocal offer in their country.
* If you're willing to invest a little of your own money, you can always fly yourself to a competition (like the Harmony Sweepstakes in America) or a vocal music festival, using the experience to make fans and friends, and perhaps an agent. There's no guarantee you'll make your money back in future touring, but if you're interested as much in the travel and experience as well as how it bolsters your resume back home ("international touring sensation...") then it can be money well spent. A vacation you can write off.
Now, a tiny bit of potentially helpful perspective:
The US is the #1 music market in the world, and is a great place to tour... but know that our country is wide and vast in contrast to Europe (making driving sometimes impossible) and that our music market is hungry for "world" music, but our fellow countrymen aren't too likely to spend money to hear American pop tunes in foreign accents (to be blunt). Bring to the US something you can't easily find in the US.
Also, I find many a cappella groups outside the US believe our country to be filled with a cappella groups and fans. Fact is, a cappella is a small niche market in the US, and Americans are notoriously difficult to get off their couches and into clubs or theaters to hear a band they don't know. Pairing with American groups that have an audience is a great way to make new fans here.
Japan is the #2 music market in the world, and a cappella has taken root there recently in a way reminiscent of American the early 90's: most a cappella comes in the form of male close harmony pop ballads (imagine a finger-snappin' Boyz II Men-esque slow song in Japanese). This doesn't negate the possibility for other a cappella groups there, but it is good to know the predominant flavor.
When it comes to Japan, an agent or contact within the country is essential, as Japanese business practices are more formal and nuanced than most Westerners are able to navigate without experience.
Germany is #3, and perhaps the single country in the world responsible for supporting the most full-time professional a cappella groups. The Comedian Harmonists (imagine the Kings Singers in the 1930s, with a piano) were the Beatles of their day, having created a culture of vocal harmony and a cappella that pervades the music scene. Add to that a densely populated country centered around cities and towns all with small and large theaters, a populace that is happy to go see whatever act is playing their local theater, and state sponsorship of the arts, and you have the "perfekt sturm," as it were.
Other countries with great a cappella scenes are... well, find out for yourself! Read the news on this web site, learn about the groups with albums at a-cappella.com, etc. I'll give you one more: Singapore. Amazing. One of the most vibrant a cappella scenes in the world. Go there.
And if you have any thoughts, ideas, tips, leads, please post 'em below: