SOUTH BY SOUTHWEST: BRITISH MUSIC EMBASSY SHOWCASE

An interview with the popular—and essential—SXSW showcase’s producer P-C Rae.

BY ROBIN E. COOK

Each year, the British Music Embassy showcase introduces dozens of UK artists to new potential fans and opportunities at South by Southwest. As producer P-C Rae explains, the showcase is a collaboration between disparate UK government offices and private industry. This year Austin’s Latitude 30 was transformed into headquarters for afternoon and evening performances by British rising talent. Rae explained the logistics of bringing dozens of artists to the States, as well as what they can once they’re here (e.g., a lot of time on the road).

BLURT: Could you tell me about your role with the British Music Embassy showcase?

RAE: I coordinate this event with the massive government and rights-holder organizations that help put it together. It’s funded by BBC and the PRS, PPL, AIM, and the UK government – and lots and lots of other people that all put in money to bring sixty-something UK bands over here for a week to South by Southwest and hopefully give them the best showcase platform in town.

So basically you’re working with the British government?

We don’t have a music export office like France or Canada or Australia. They have a dedicated export office. Ours is a bit more of a mish-mash of people. But we’re all working together to do the same thing. And we’re also supported by UK manufacturers. So our desk is a British desk from Allan & Heath, and our PA is British speakers from Tannoy. And our crew, they’re all British, ‘cause we want to give the full British show experience. And our stage manager is British. The only thing that we don’t have that’s British is microphones. There is no British microphone manufacturer. Very sad.

What exactly do you hope to accomplish with showcases like this here at South by Southwest?

The artists come in here. Some of them come as part of an album campaign. They have a release out that they’re looking to promote here. Other artists come in because they want to try and fill out their team. They’re looking for a booking agent or a publicist or a record deal. I’ve brought artists here for both of those reasons or just one of them. Lots of people have different motivations. Some of these artists, they’re on a tour. But a lot of them, it’s their first ever show in the United States.

What specifically do you do to help the newer ones who are playing here for the first time? What do you hope to accomplish for them?

We hope to help them get a foothold in the US so they can come back and do repeat business here. We have a little book that we distribute that has all the info about the acts—who their management is and how to get in touch with them. We have a publicist that blasts all this stuff and helps us get listed in all the right places.

I’m curious—when you’re dealing with American bookers or American businesspeople, do you find that there is any sort of culture clash between, say, you and them?

That’s a little bit of a tough question, because we’ve been doing this for eleven years. I think maybe there was a culture clash in the beginning and we just got used to the different way that you approach things, perhaps a little bit, in the US. And every market has its nuances, you know. The way you talk to people, the way you interact with people over time becomes natural.

I remember reading interviews with Radiohead, for example, and they had to get used to things like meet and greets, back when there were still the big box record stores, going in and doing the signings.

That kind of stuff, that’s changed a little with the way the music’s distributed now, very digital. Big box stores in Europe, they’re not really a thing so much anymore. We’re very about Swedish streaming services in particular–one that just launched on the stock exchange here to some great fanfare. You can’t really sign something over Spotify, you know? But I think what artists do have to get used to here is distances. That’s the number one hurdle. An American artist driving themselves, they’ll be used to doing an eight-hour drive. Eight hours, you can drive from one end of the UK to the other. You can’t drive from one end of Texas to the other in eight hours.

Also with the American audiences, I imagine for them it’s kind of overwhelming to be playing in some cases their first international audiences.

Well, we try and give them a soft landing and one of the things an artist is going to worry about most is their technical setup. And if the technical setup is good and stress-free, then that’s going to make them comfortable playing to anybody. Also, we try and make sure the room is full all the time, so they’re not looking out at an empty at their first ever US show, playing to two men and a dog.  To try and make the artist comfortable with the technical setup and they’re playing to a nice, full room, then it doesn’t really matter whether they’re American or European people. Those worries for an artist are exactly the same.

You want to present a specific image of Britain or its music scene at showcase like this?
Our music is good. Please buy it.

That sounds pretty basic!

That’s what it is! It is a capitalist thing, even though it’s art. You are trying to sell something and I think one in six records sold around the world is a British record. So there is a global market for every kind of artist, every shape and color and sound that there is.

How do you think Brexit will affect how British artists and people like you do business in the music industry?

Brexit is the dumbest thing in human history. Well, perhaps not quite the dumbest thing in human history, but near enough. And a lot of people are gonna have to work very, very hard to try and make sure the kind of barriers that UK artists have coming into the States–like with immigration and visas and all that stuff, which is very expensive, and time-consuming, and sometimes doesn’t work–that we don’t have that situation where artists try to go to Germany and they also have fill in thousands of dollars’ worth of paperwork. That’s gonna put a kibosh on a lot of people’s touring setup.

 

 

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