Music for the masses: Latin America gets onto the itinerary

Mark Hillary

Major acts from the USA and the UK are starting to include Brazil in their international tours. Not only are the bands themselves realising that there is a lot of money to be made from these live concerts – their governments back home are starting to recognise the ‘soft’ diplomatic boosts generated by media coverage of these bands, with tourism benefiting particularly 

Ask anyone what they know about Brazil and the usual stereotypes will be forthcoming – the beach, the love of football, the carnival atmosphere full of people dancing to samba. Brazil has all of this and more, but despite its love of indigenous art and music, international rock and pop are extremely popular too. 

At the FIFA World Cup opening ceremony in São Paulo this June, the musical act before the football starts will be Irish rock legends U2. Festivals are springing up across Brazil, offering fans the chance to see dozens of artists across a weekend and many of these festivals are transplanting a proven formula from overseas – like Lollapalooza or the Monsters of Rock formats. 

It used to be quite rare for big international artists from the USA or Europe to include Brazil on the tour itinerary, but now it’s seen as a far more desirable destination. Artists can earn a lot in Brazil as concerts are expensive.

Seeing an international band play a gig here can be as expensive as attending an opera in London. Ticket agencies have adopted easy payment strategies, allowing fans to break the ticket cost over 12 monthly payments – so by the time you’ve paid for the show, the band might be back in town. 

Promoters and taxes may be absorbing many of these costs, but it cannot be denied that artists see Brazil – and Latin America more generally – as a growth market for live entertainment. In June last year, American rockers Bon Jovi only included Madrid on their European tour because they wanted to appear there for the fans – they waived their fees for the show. Originally it wasn’t scheduled, because the promoters did not expect crisis-hit Spanish fans to buy tickets anyway – far from the situation in Brazil where fans are hungry for big-name stars to visit. 

Charlie Charlton is the managing director of Interceptor, a UK-based artist management company representing acts such as Suede, Simple Minds and Mick Hucknall of Simply Red. He thinks that Brazil is now a very attractive destination for his acts: “Any market with a growing economy and population of 200 million should be of interest to a touring band. Outsiders have an awareness of the cultural and musical history of Brazil because of events, for example on Copacabana beach, that make news even on the other side of the planet. 

“Our recent visits have shown the audiences to have an appetite for music from overseas of all genres and the levels of production and technical expertise locally are now on a par with any other major territory in the world,” he says. “There is also a general need to develop new markets as traditional revenues in older markets falter. I see no let-up in the number of artists wanting to tour Brazil.” 

In the past decade, the entire music industry has shifted to a touring model, where artists generate most of their revenue from performance and merchandise rather than just selling records. In the current climate, where music is streamed and shared online, the records themselves are almost little more than promotion for the shows, so a market like Brazil is attractive for bands that may never have played to a South American audience. 

Daniel Hunt, principal songwriter, producer and founder member of British electronic band Ladytron, is now based in São Paulo. He believes that we are about to see an explosion of artists visiting Brazil: “In the past, you would rarely see even commercially successful acts appear live in Brazil or South America for a variety of reasons, mainly routing and label priorities, in addition to misconceptions about safety. An example would be Blur, who have just played for the first time in Brazil despite being massively popular here for 20 years,” he says. 

Hunt has observed that most of the larger acts have visited for festivals or other heavily sponsored shows and sponsorship issues have caused the cancellation of some events, but a trend is developing where smaller acts are now including Brazil on their tour schedule: “Smaller acts are coming to play shows in key cities and smaller festivals on small budgets, offering a far more sustainable model for those wanting to play in Brazil and enhancing the likelihood of this turning into a territory they can revisit for greater returns later on,” he says. 

“Based on my own experiences, I would have loved the opportunity to play down here earlier in my career than I have, and with my partner, Steve Miller of Evol [one of northern England’s biggest independent show promoters], I have been looking to assist in ways to make this happen by building reliable routing in Brazil and elsewhere, and reducing the overhead of coming down to South America, through local expertise and co-promotion. We are also working on a showcase programme specifically for cutting-edge music from our own city of Liverpool. Our objective is to make touring in Brazil and South America as simple and painless as it can be in Europe or North America,” he adds. 

With Brazil becoming a more important destination for bands at various stages in their career, there is an opportunity to showcase different regions and to promote diplomacy between nations. Since last year, the UK embassy in Brazil has been working on a ‘soft power’ programme that targets ways to promote relations with the UK, simply by helping British artists to be more visible in Brazil. 

Richard Turner is the UK deputy consul general in São Paulo and also the deputy head of UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) in Brazil. Turner believes that music can help the UK in a number of ways globally:

“Brazil is a large market of almost 200 million people and they love music. Classic British artists from a variety of genres, from The Beatles to Pink Floyd to Iron Maiden, are treated with even more reverence in Brazil than they might receive back home. This does mean that there are enormous opportunities for soft diplomacy, because when artists like One Direction visit Brazil – as they are in May 2014 for a stadium tour – the media will not only focus on the band, but where they come from. 

“The UK was the featured country at Rock in Rio 2013 and this gave some great additional opportunities to artists such as Florence Welch and Muse. This is a great opportunity for VisitBritain to promote tourism to the UK as well as more familiarity with the UK, which in turn can help British business leaders working here with our team from UKTI.” 

The USA and the UK produce a disproportionate number of popular artists appreciated all over the world. There are probably more Beatles tribute bands in Brazil than there are in the UK. This shared appreciation of music creates an opportunity for governments and diplomatic missions to work with artists to help promote their home country or region. Many artists would recoil in horror at the thought of working with their government. But if soft diplomacy is explained to artists’ management in a way that helps them understand that by promoting the band, they are promoting a region – without any need for government endorsement – then it is likely this avenue will be explored by many diplomatic missions in future. Will the British ambassador to Brazil, Alex Ellis, be joining One Direction on stage for a karaoke version of one of their new songs this May? I hope cultural diplomacy doesn’t go that far! 

About the author:

Mark Hillary is a British writer and blogger with a focus on technology, work and globalisation. He is based in São Paulo, Brazil


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