The Independent Fight Below the Belt – How South American Independents are Organizing

Being in Colombia for 3 weeks has given me an amazing picture of what it’s like on the other side of the equator, especially for independent artists and aspiring people all together.

There are a couple more limitations there than in the U.S., but for the most part, we all have the same problems. Even the solutions we have in the U.S. don’t solve our problems, so though South American countries may be farther behind, the same problems are left without solutions.

For example, in Colombia they don’t have iTunes. In fact, they don’t have any major website for them to sell their music to their fans in Colombia, and even if they did, most people don’t have credit cards, so it’s hard for them to pay.

In America, we have iTunes, and a 1000 other websites that allow you to sell your music, in exchange for one high percentage or another, and the people here do have credit cards, but they still don’t buy their music. The problems are the same, but they are not so apparent at first glance.

Even if Colombia had iTunes they would still have problems. They need a website that allows them to make money from their music not directly from their fans, but through advertisements or sponsors. That way people not having credit cards would not matter.

The big problem though, here and there, is promotion. iTunes, nor any of the other websites I’ve seen (and I’ve just about seen 85% of them, including a lot of start-ups that are in, or almost in beta) provide a practical and efficient form of promotion for independent artists that is both free and incredibly effective.

That’s what we all need! We in the U.S., though we like to think the opposite, are still very far from realizing any real solutions.

What Colombia does have, that the U.S. doesn’t to the extent, is the organization of the independent artist communities. There are thousands of creative and amazingly talented independent artists in Medellin, Colombia, where I was primarily, and their drive is incredible.

There is not really a want in the artists to get signed there, though they do have some small independent and some major label recognition. The artists there however, do a pretty good job at realizing other ways to get paid, and they also take the independent artist title pretty professionally.

There’s one group of indie artists in particular that I was introduced to, who meet weekly to develop strategies for how independent artists can stabilize themselves in their community and support themselves. They also have a publication that they developed to keep people in the loop. It is called Revista Musica, or translated, Music Magazine. They refer to themselves as an amalgamation, not just a group. It’s really that simple.

This is their Vision, as translated by Google:

Use Music Magazine as a means to enable the production of national and international concerts of national artists, from the understanding of our musical expression as a competitive resource and a chance for social development.

I filmed an interview with one of the key members of the organization, and I will post it sometime this month for sure. There is actually a LOT of great footage from my whole trip that I will definitely share on this blog.

One great strategy that this group brought up was for the whole team of independent artists to talk with their local government officials about merging the independent music of the city, with the tourism of the city. Their idea was to use the artists as another resource to draw people in. Anywhere there is a public tourist spot, there should be independent artist’s music playing…Museums, Mono-Rails, Parks ect..

This was one of the most brilliant ideas I’ve heard in a long time as a strategy to proliferate the music. It seems like the people there just think harder about the issues, maybe even because there aren’t as many other options available. I think the lack of a cloud of options around them is actually more beneficial to them getting the desired results.

I talked to another artist who was telling me about trying to get his band’s music to play before a movie starts, or in elevators, or certain public bathrooms. Their thinking is very multi-dimensional.

It’s awesome that they’ve discovered the practical perception that the music itself can be a tourist attraction. And it turns out that selling that idea to their local government, being as it does make a lot of sense, isn’t really all that hard. They are in talks with them now, and plans seem to be moving forward.

I will most certainly track the progress of this awesomely innovative independent artist movement going on in Medellin. I am sure that they are not the only ones around the world banning together like this. After all, the problems are the same everywhere, but I would hope that we in the U.S. try to look past the fog of bad options that can sometimes cloud our view, and I hope we embrace measures to ban together in order to accomplish our true, shared goals, and learn a lesson from our peers in other countries.

Written by: Dante Cullari Founder & President Beat-Play, LLC

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5 responses to “The Independent Fight Below the Belt – How South American Independents are Organizing

  1. I think one of the big problems we have in the US is somehow being a musician (or any type of artist) has become synonymous to being lazy & of no account. This is part of why people don’t care about artists making a living. I don’t think I’ve been to another country where I’ve been presented as a musician & they asked, “But what’s your real job?”

  2. That is a very big problem. People are unable to see past what’s there now, to what is possible. Because there are no real opportunities for artists right now means in there minds that there never can be, when that could not be further from the truth, especially now with the internet and the amazing opportunites that are present.

    However just because the internet offers this potential doesn’t mean it’s been realized yet. But it’s only a matter of time before this potential for artists to actually make a living off of their art is realized, and once it is, that problem will go away on its own.

    People not being able to see past current circumstances is a huge problem, and a big reason why things don’t seem to change. However the solution lies in providing alternatives that prove people wrong, and that cannot be refuted. People will realize, if you make them.

  3. Dante,
    South America is not alone in this idea. Here in Portland, OR we have organized a few hundred musicians around this idea through Fair Trade Music. Our goal is slightly different, we are trying to shift the local market of concert venues to actually pay the musicians they hire to promote their business and entertain their customers. At the moment most places that regularly have live music are forcing their employee costs and what little promotion they do on the artists. Keeping the lion’s share of money from ticket sales and considering the artists lucky they get what’s left. The problem Brian mentioned is a HUGE one and as you said it makes the artists not think of themselves as professionals and behave in a professional manner. Imagine if a bar or restaurant made it a condition of their contract with a beer distributor that the distributor pay their bartenders wage. How nice do you think that conversation would be? Have a look at, I would love to hear your thoughts on the matter.


  4. Pingback: RE: Fair Trade Music – The Responsibility of Indie Artists to Act « Beat-Play Press Machine

  5. Pingback: A World-Wide Movement – Beat-Play Interview with Alejandro Velasquez from Artefacto – Medellin, Colombia « The Beat-Play Experiment

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