HIVEWIRE #03: How Public Policy and Funding Drives the Internationalisation of Local Scenes

Emerging markets will only shine brighter when various scenes, authentic and local to the market, find the opportunity to shine. Public Policy and funding have an essential part to play, but more importantly, they have the power to change the soundscapes of the global music industry.

HIVEWIRE #03: How Public Policy and Funding Drives the Internationalisation of Local Scenes
John Matychuck

By Aranyaka Verma

In a previous newsletter, How 'Glocalisation' and 'Internationalisation' have distinct approaches to emerging cultures, Srishti spoke about how streaming services have adopted a glocalised approach in each region, giving visibility to various music cultures within each emerging market. Access to distribution and the constant localisation of distribution networks is helping regional artists find their niche and creating / opportunities for them to build communities that have given birth to new music cultures such as Desi Hip-Hop, Romanian Techno, Amapiano and many more. However, as more and more of these subcultures find space in the network, we must aid the creation of sustainable ecosystems for their creators. While labels, distributors and promoters can be a part of the solution, they are frequently limited by their imaginaries, business objectives, and, ultimately, the curation strategies of consumption platforms. On the other hand, public programs and grants can be driven by the aim to preserve and promote diverse traditions and cultures within each society.

Cutting Through the Fragmentation and Saturation

Consumption patterns and charts over the past decade show that markets love going local. Domestically, each of these new and different markets also has different independent music movements that are bubbling. However, the cross-over of these genres as movements into global markets such as the US and UK requires active information exchange between the market and diaspora communities to drive discovery. For example, Afrobeats travelled from Nigeria to the UK first through their immigrant communities and with second-generation artists incorporating those sounds into their music. Latin music saw a boom in the United States first, with the second and third-generation Latin population finding their hybrid identity in contemporary Latin music such as Reggaeton.

Suppose a genre is gaining recognition but is only moderately popular in the country of origin. Capital is a requirement to drive awareness and consumption in a world of information overload and an attention economy, first domestically and then internationally, starting with the diaspora, especially in countries with large populations living abroad. This is not different from traditional marketing spending required to scale artists. In the age of algorithms, it’s easy to hit the ceiling with ‘audience building’ if you cannot reach new audiences and bring them into the fold. This is where marketing and advertising spending come into play. Programs such as FACTOR (Canada) have shown the exponential difference these grants can make, with the success of The Weeknd and Canadian artists in global charts as prime examples. So many prominent names in music from the past two decades are Canadian and have received a grant from the Canadian government at some point in their careers - Carly Rae Jepson, Arcade Fire, Metric, Jessie Reyez, and the list goes on. These grants helped them scale in the nascent stages of their careers and helped them bag label and distribution deals. Artists and independent labels who received this fund, invariably talk about being able to hire the right people, scale marketing campaigns or create live experiences to support their music - all of which contribute to cultivating a fanbase.

Cultural microcosms can blossom only when communities are created

Effective and sustainable communities require multiple touchpoints to thrive. If you look at significant movements like Hip-Hop or K-Pop, they all give their audiences experiences and communities to buy into through tangible experiences and consumer products associated with the genres. K-Pop and K-Drama have created a massive market for Korean cosmetics and beauty brands (K-Beauty) as people gun for their favourite stars’ aesthetics. Cognac has become synonymous with Hip-Hop, a seemingly unlikely association created by colonial history and fortified by rappers in recent decades. Producing these experiences and establishing ancillary associations with a genre requires the creation of a scene. Creating the collective experience then requires a significant amount of capital. The Canada Music Fund enables such funding beautifully by recognising two layers of funding in music - the individual and the collective.

When scenes receive public funding, two things happen. First, they raise capital to combine such experiences and build an ecosystem servicing multiple artists. Second, they are legitimised in the collective imagination as a part of the culture, making them more accessible to a larger population, including diaspora communities and other traditional cultural exchange programs with other countries. While not every scene needs to scale like K-pop, glocalisation has shown that everyone can find their niche, and sustainability can be achieved with smaller highly engaged consumer bases across territories.

Preserving and Propagating Culture Simultaneously

Public funding in the arts is driven by the aim to preserve indigenous art forms that are under threat due to the nature of globalisation that prevailed through the 80s and 90s. Many emerging markets have a rich musical heritage to lean into. In many countries, grants are provided to purists adhering to the traditional renditions of these forms. This preserves the art form in the short term. But over time, the consumers for the form keep decreasing because it no longer speaks to the experiences of younger populations growing up in a world of hybridity. The youth is willing to engage with and preserve traditional systems through a contemporary lens that also caters to their own identity and in a context that resonates with them.

This is not to say that traditional public funding systems should be overhauled entirely. Still, there is definitely a need to direct a part of the funding to more effective programs geared towards long-term preservation and, subsequently, the propagation of the art form. For example, the Korean government’s strategy to use their media industry to create demand for their exports across industries is perhaps the most airtight case of why governments should lean into contemporary versions of their cultures. Imagine the impact on Nigerian and South African youth if government programs and policies also infuse funds into the burgeoning Afrobeats and Amapiano communities. Currently, these communities are seeing grants and funds from successful artists and media companies who recognise that their value only increases with a scene growing around them.

We’re in exciting times where effective public programs can be designed using cross-platform data that was not as accessible before. A balance of quantitative and qualitative analysis of this data can help create flexible programs that meet domestic communities' needs and fuel exports of entire subcultures from emerging markets.

Informed data-driven decisions can change the global music soundscape

While streaming services have created a more democratic playing field, the volume of music being put out daily makes it harder to cut through the saturation and fragmentation at scale. Glocalised strategies are working well. However, it makes it hard for new cultures within emerging markets to gain the attention of local curators over established genres and get the marquee or global placements they may need to scale. This has created a growth opportunity for these ever-evolving cultures. Public policy and funding will increasingly be vital in plugging the gap if decision-makers make informed decisions using real-time data collection enabled by streaming consumption.

Emerging markets will only shine brighter when various scenes, authentic and local to the market, find the opportunity to shine. Public Policy and funding have an essential part to play, but more importantly, they have the power to change the soundscapes of the global music industry.

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Srishti Das is a music industry professional focused on bringing more light from new music markets and cultures.