How to break through to the international market?

Petr dorůžka’s interview with Arnulf Den Boesterd

The Benelux countries are one of the best European regions for music making, and also for listening. That would not be possible without venues, festivals, knowledgeable journalists, and also distribution. Xango music is one of the most active distributors focusing on fields ignored by others. Just check their website, featuring more that 200 items from Hungary and almost one hundred from the Czech republic. We are very happy to have the founder Arnulf Den Boesterd as a guest in the Crossroads conference, you can hear his presentation on Wednesday 13 July in the morning. Recently we talked to him at the Babel Med music fair in Marseille – here is the result.

What was the first impulse to start your own distribution?

I was not satisfied with what I was able to find in other world music shops – and I knew I can do better. First I started a CD shop 20 years ago, and soon after I found out there is more available than other distributors offer, so I also started a distribution company.

The name Xango is I presume the African god of thunder?

Yes, from the Yoruba religion. I decided to use the Portuguese transcription because X is nice for logo. Later we also started an agency to represent bands from all over the world in Benelux. It’s the territory we know, it’s small, but we know our partners – the shops, the press.

Do just sell records or also MP3s?

Only physical distribution, no downloads, we are the old school.

Since you also do concerts, what comes first, the album or the tour? Many bands know this obstacle: We shall take your CDs only after you tour. And the promoter says: We can not do a tour when your CDs are not distributed.

It’s the same as with chicken and egg. They both need one another. An album available in the territory can make it easier to do a concert. But concerts also increase sales.

For an unknown band, what is your advice?

Distribution first. Find a chance to perform at a festival. Clubs and other venues won’t take you if you are unknown.

If you work with a foreign label like the Indies from the Czech republic, do you have any criteria what to look for and what to avoid?

Just the feeling. Can we sell this in our territory?

Difficult to explain in words. During years of listening you develop some instincts.

Can you offer any plan or strategy, once the band breaks through?

If you want to tour on regular basis, you have to release albums on regular basis. Every year and a half a new album. You should have full control how you present yourself. Make available fresh videos, and I do not mean video clips. The programmer from a venue should see how you play live – not edited scenes from a clip. You have to show the band on stage and also how the audience reacts. How is your music presented. And you shouldn’t have too high expectations about the fee. If you want to end up playing sold out venues, first you have to accept to play for 10 people. That’s the reality – but of course, I wish it would be different.

There are hundreds of CDs in your distribution database. But is also your agency looking for new bands?

At this moment we have 14 bands, and that is quite lot. We are 2 people in the office. We also have African bands but they all live in Europe. Before we worked with bands living in Mali, but the problems with visa made that very difficult.

What about the charts, awards or critics polls?

I use this for publicity, but it doesn’t help that much. What helps is a review in a daily paper. I’ve seen it many times: the sales increase immediately the day after.

But is this always possible? How difficult it is to have foreign band like Tara Fuki reviewed in a Dutch daily paper?

It is possible. Tara Fuki, Iva Bittova – they all were reviewed in a daily newspaper. We have some good writers like Ton Maas who is also a fan of both of them. As distributors, we know the taste of our journalists, so we send the CDs directly to the ones who will review them.

What are the mistakes the young bands do most often?

Here at Babel Med I talked to a French band, they asked me if I want to distribute them, so I asked them for the CD – and there was not a bar code on the cover. Many see this as a detail – but for distribution this is crucial: the cover should contain catalogue number, label, contact, bar code.