Sound & Vision: The Financial Benefits of Being a Band Down Under

Sound and Vision
Emily Fox

KEXP's Sound & Vision airs every Saturday morning from 7-9 AM PT, featuring interviews, artistry, commentary, insight, and conversation to that tell broader stories through music, and illustrate why music and art matter. You can also hear more stories in the new Sound & Vision Podcast. New episodes are out every Tuesday. Subscribe now.

Australia’s federal government will spend more than three times as much money on artists and musicians as the U.S. will this year. Most of that money will come through grants from the Australian government, which will cover everything from hiring a tour manager to working with producers to booking hotel rooms. All in all, It can give a band a leg up and help them reach an international audience.

One group that is benefiting from their country’s funding model is Haiku Hands. The groups three core members are Beatrice Lewis and sisters Claire and Mie Nakazawa. Working with other performers, producers and beat-makers, Claire Nakazawa considers the band a collective. “We write in a really collaborative way,” says Claire Nakazawa. “It comes together well because we in the room have shared values like inclusivity and empowerment. We want to feel empowered so that’s how we deliver our music.”

Beatrice Lewis says this positivity coupled with their sound have made them favorites at home. “I guess there isn’t a lot of acts like this,” she says, “women on stage, with really powerful, electronic, punk-y, dance music.”

Grants from the Australia National Council for the Arts kick-started all their artistic careers before Haiku Hands. Lewis used her grant for her first solo EP. Grants paid for two of Mie Nakazawa’s art exhibitions. “I don’t think I would have been able to do it otherwise, if I didn’t have this grant,” she says.

The grants have given the band members more financial freedom to start Haiku Hands, but Lewis says she’s still had to put all her savings into the band. “It’s definitely not what I was earning before,” she says. “It’s building a small business and that’s a really big risk.”

Last year, Haiku Hands got a $20,000 grant from the Australian government. They used it to perform as part of an Australian music showcase during The Great Escape – a UK festival and music conference. They also used some of that money to cover a small UK tour, where the grant covered flights, accommodation, a car-rental and employing a tour manager. 

“Now, a lot of the grants are given to artist that just need this additional leg up,” says Glenn Dickie of Sounds Australia, an organization that helps promote Australian music overseas. “That’s going to push them from a small band to a superstar band or get them into a market that they wouldn't normally be able to get to financially.”

When Haiku Hands returned home from their UK tour, they built on this momentum and headlined their first tour across Australia. Then, earlier this year, they were invited to another Australian music showcase – this time at SXSW. Haiku Hands used earnings from the Australian tour to fund their travels to the US.

Glenn Dickie says touring internationally, especially in the U.S. is expensive. When you factor in costs for visas, flights, food and lodging. “Each individual is going to be investing no less than $5,000 per person – probably more. It’s probably closer to $10,000,” he says.

For a band like Haiku Hands, that’s a total cost of $30,000 to perform in The United States, but the appearance is about more than just the money. According to Dickie, it’s also about networking with key business people in the U.S. industry from touring agents to booking managers. “We invite the Australian industry to have a proper sit-down meal with the U.S. industry,” he says, “shere they can have a two-hour meeting with food and drink and they can establish these relationships in a more fulfilling manner than just running around the streets of Austin.”

Exposure is important for Australian bands to build a U.S. following. American bands can have a career just touring at home. Australia is the geographic size of the U.S. but has a population the size of Texas. Australian musicians need to tap international markets and the U.S. is a lucrative one.

For Haiku Hands – the experience of playing SXSW created a noticeable spike in streaming numbers and more fans following them on social media. Claire Nakazawa says it was an eye-opener. “SXSW was so amazing. I didn’t have expectations because I knew how many bands there are there,” she says, “but playing all the shows and most of them being full of people, it was incredible. I think, for me, that was the moment when I was like ‘woah, we could definitely have a career in America.”

When Haiku Hands wrapped up their shows at SXSW, they followed it up with a U.S. tour. They even opened for an Australian band that has made a name for themselves globally— Coachella-headliner, Tame Impala. Also on their post-SXSW tour, they met their US-based management team in California and worked with two notable LA-based producers. The grant money from the Australian Government hasn’t ended, either. They have a new $20,000 grant from the Australian Council for the Arts to tour in the U.S. again next month.  

Now, with the support of an international team — taking care of the business side with visas and grant applications, Claire Nakazawa feels they can concentrate on the things they love. “Being able to focus on the music, focus on the touring, focus on the creative feeling— that’s a dream,” she says.

Celine Teo-Blockley reported this story. You can catch Haiku Hands in Seattle, at the Showbox SoDo, on Oct 7. 

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