Case study: Australia

Table of Contents:


We have examined the changing landscapes for the music industries, and music export in particular, in prior chapters. Here we begin to examine the specific national contexts of music exports, and related government and industrial positioning. In this chapter, we examine the broader histories of Australian music export initiatives that reveal a gradual recognition of its potential, and since the 1980s, have also aligned with senses of cultural identity.

Australian music export policy, like much of music/cultural policy more broadly, reflects the governance history of a settler society that has borrowed widely and often from the British Westminster system, with attendant arts policy machinery, funding models and discourses. Australian policy contexts share much with other Commonwealth nations such as New Zealand and Canada. Citing McCaughey (2005), Craik (2007, p. 35) notes the larger nations (e.g. Germany, France, the Scandinavian countries) where arts/culture is “a core priority for government policy and expenditure ... and those for whom it is a footnote or marginal responsibility (Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and Switzerland)”. Yet as this book shows in the following chapter, this is changing, where nations notice particular comparative advantages in promoting popular music in other territories and have invested accordingly.

Post-war Australia was primarily known for “excellence” in opera and classical music; Joan Sutherland, Percy Grainger, Peter Sculthorpe, Margaret Sutherland and others enjoyed extensive domestic and international careers. By the 1960s, popular music had obtained a foothold, especially in UK markets:

Australasian artists such as The Seekers, The Bee Gees, Frank Ifield, The Easybeats, John Rowles and Rolf Harris have achieved international success. The forecast growth of the music industry in Australasia ... should parallel the great expansion of growth predicted by the leaders of the industry and closely related to the enormous investment and talent which is available to bring about an expanded acceptance by the world's people of the pleasure available to them thr ough the media of music.

(Frederick C. Marks, Festival Records Australia and New Zealand delegate, cited in Marks, 1969, p. 230)

For all of Mr Marks’ enthusiasm, the Festival Records Manager noted the historical problems facing both Australia and New Zealand popular music: The large distances from other key markets; the small population sizes of both nations; the intrusion of government in terms of tax, trade and public broadcasting policies; and the high costs of production and distribution (ibid., pp. 233-235). This comment—uttered in 1969—predicts much later concerns from Australian labels and managers about the challenges in later decades.

In this chapter we examine the emergence of different strands of policies and regulations as successive governments since the 1970s began to acknowledge how popular music might accord with wider political and industrial ambitions. This included a parallel acknowledgement of the potential of music expoxts, which reveals a sharper profile in industry and government thinking in the 1980s. The rest of the chapter is devoted to examining the development of Sounds Australia, the nation’s export programme, and its contemporary operations. In particular, we will look at how Sounds Australia operates in the same ways or differently from its overseas counterparts, and how Australia’s music export programme became embroiled in wider cultural funding battles and debates in Australian politics. Sounds Australia is offered here as an extended case study that prefigures similar examinations in Chapter 6 which looks at the governance and operational contexts of other leading music export nations.

Policy histories

While the federal Whitlam (Labor) and Fraser (Liberal/National) governments of the 1970s had expanded the range of arts activities within Australian government structures and funding, the real policy work to accommodate popular music within traditional funding structures began in the 1980s. A 1986 House of Representatives’ report, Patronage, Power and the Muse: Inquiry into Commonwealth Assistance to the Arts, acknowledged that “cultural value is not limited to any narrow range of activities” (Breen, 1999, p. 101). This opened funding support for “contemporary” music, with report recommendations fox- training, education and recording assistance, along with a blank tape levy to fund Australian composers (ibid., pp. 101-102). A later Australian Trade Coxnmission report recoxnmending export assistance seemed sensible to then (Labor) federal Minister for Trade, John Dawkins: “There is a depth of talent in the Australian music industry which, given expert advice and marketing assistance, can, I am confident, earn valuable export dollars for Australia” (cited in Breen, 1993, p. 75).

Arguably the world’s first cultural policy programme (preceding the Blair Government’s UK Creative Industries Taskforce of 1997), the Keating Labor Government’s Creative Nation was a bold vision that comiected media axid other technological industries with a less traditional arts policy. It also heralded a decisive shift froxn culture to creativity as the defining locus of support axxd policy forxnation (see Throsby, 2015). In axmouncing a new suite of Cultural Industry Development funding, the Prime Minister situated cuhural exports as a prominent means to lixxk ixxterdepexxdent discourses:

Australia stands to benefit greatly from sharing the best of its culture with the rest of the world. First of all, there is the economic argument. Cultural industries create wealth and provide employment, but there is only so much economic sustenance which a population of 17 million can provide. For the Australian cultural industries to flourish, they must look out towards the markets of the world ... A confident international projection of Australia’s culture will greatly enlarge and enhance our national life: it will improve our domestic employment rates, our balance of trade, our position in the world and our understanding of what it is to be Australian. Culture is one of Australia’s most intelligent exports.

(Keating, 1995, pp. 4, 6)

While the Labor governments of Hawke (1983-1991) and Keating (1991-1996) maintained support for the high arts, the recognition of popular culture's potential (such as gaming, the book and music industries) was harnessed to an explicit international outlook that was expected to simultaneously assist GDP and the formations of a new national identity. In 2007, Jennifer Craik established a typology of policy models as a means of identifying much larger shifts of intent in policy directions, and the extent of federal resources attached to them. For Craik, Australia was moving from a “Patron” model (with the older shibboleths of “excellence” and “international standards”) towards some forms of the “Architect” model (incorporating elements of industry assistance) (Craik, 2007, p. 81) (we return to elements of the Craik typology in the next chapter).

The Labor Govermnent backed an Export Development Strategy from Austrade in 1986, arguing that traditional support at music trade fairs like МЮЕМ, complemented by more targeted activities, should produce results. In the same year, Export Music Australia (EMA) was launched to promote Australian popular music in select markets, co-flmded by APRA, AMCOS and ARIA. In time, EMA would produce an Export Market Development Grant Scheme, export marketing guides, workshops and industxy fairs. This timed well with Ausmusic, the government-funded body established in 1988 to oversee education, training, policy and advocacy. However, substantial conflict about policies (and their implementation) between Ausmusic, Austrade, industiy sectors and government departments (Breen, 1999, pp. 81-87; 160-161) prohibited a truly coordinated series of strategies that could be effective. In addition, statistics on outcomes diverged enormously. MIDEM coordinator for Australian participants, Phil Tripp, estimated $63m royalties for nine companies as a result of their presence at MIDEM in Cannes in 1988, while Austrade in the same period estimated returns of $lm per year from export investments (ibid., pp. 85-86). The problems in deploying a reliable economic method are evident in a 1987 Economic Evaluation of the Australian industiy, which stated exports to be worth $ 18m in 1984/85 (Hoegh Guldberg, 1987, p. 129) that included musical instruments, “recorders and reproducers”, and “other” recording media (ibid.).

hi 1997, a federal government initiative, Contemporary Music Export Marketing Advances, offered loans for bands and management for promotional activities overseas (Elder, 1997). Two Sydney’Morning Herald articles in 1997 revealed the diversity of opinions about the increased drive to supporting export initiatives. Advertising the Pacific Circle Convention, a “fair, festival and convention” of Australian talent and the local music industry, promoter/manager Michael Chugg spoke of the need to lure key recording company and promotion executives to Australia “to show what’s going on here” (cited in Martin 1997, p. 13). Chugg cited the recent international successes of Peter Andre, Silverchair, Savage Garden and Deni Hines as reasons why ARIA was providing $4 million in support (ibid.). In the same year, the newspaper's music editor Bruce Elder remained deeply sceptical of the federal government's recent Contemporary Music Export Marketing Advance scheme:

The biggest problem with government initiatives in pop and rock is that, as a general principle, they do not work. Popular music is one of the last bastions of laissez-faire capitalism. It succeeds in the marketplace (which most people in the record industry believe is the only aesthetic criterion) because of a mixture of accessibility, style, hype and marketing.

(Elder, 1997, p. 17)

The export sector (in general) is one of the most scrutinised: Between 1977 and 2008, 12 reviews were conducted by different internal and external bodies (Coimnonwealth of Australia, 2008, p. 38). In 2005, Austrade announced renewed efforts to tackle the US and British markets, with an increased presence at events such as South by Southwest (with the claim of ten acts achieving international label signings after attendance) and a new Manchester office established (Eliezer 2005, p. 18). By 2008, Austrade pointed to successes: “its 60 international offices helped broker 211 music deals in 2007, up from 114 in 2006 and 68 in 2005” (Eliezer, 2008, p. 21). In 2007-2008, 131 artists/businesses received an Export Music Development Grant, with Austrade administering $3.4m to the music industry (Murfett, 2008, p. 1). Further, “In 2008-09, 98 music industry expoi-ters received $3.08 million in EMDG grants. These companies generated around $8.64 million in exports” (Austrade, 2010, np).

However, the Australian Music Office (established in 2005 in London, Los Angeles and Frankfurt) services were criticised for seemingly duplicating expertise to little effect (Murfett, 2008, p. 1). Concerns were beginning to be expressed in public about a perceived lack of coordination between the Australian Music Office, which also charged artists and managers for their “matchmakers” services that did not amount to more than “superficial” support, according to one artist manager (ibid.). After a review and restructure, the offices were closed in 2011. In addition, the defeat of the Keating Labor Government in 1996 saw the incoming Howard Coalition Government end Ausmusic funding. In hindsight, it has been argued that the Australian Music Office concept was not fully appreciative of the particular needs of cultural industry exports:

I think the problems there were that it was very much run like any other industry, except this is an industry that didn’t have money to invest in the same way. People in meats and wine are used to paying for that kind of service. There was no way an artist’s manager was going to pay an unknown person in government something like $140 an hour to maybe set up some meetings. There’s nothing about that you could get across the line.

(Interview 16, 2018)

In 2008, the Australia Council announced its “Track Record” programme, providing successful manager applicants with $40,000 over two years to develop the international profile of their bands. This was deemed to be part of a wider export development push, “responding to current global interest and demand in rock/pop and Indigenous music from Australia” (Australia Council, 2008).

The lack of industry coordination was confirmed in a 2005 report, Let’s Get The Show on the Road, that outlined the obstacles to a “cohesive contemporary industry”, emphasising the lack of coordination between Australian States, with a “highly fragmented” music sector that was failing to present a unified voice to government (Allen Consulting Group, 2005, pp. v-vi). However, external contingencies began to produce some agreement within music sectors and broader government policy, reflected in a range of reports assessing technological, cultural and industrial change. The Rudd Labor Government's 2010 Strategic Contemporary Music Industry Plan saw the need to “encourage ongoing exposure and increased diversity of Australian contemporary music across various platforms” (Commonwealth of Australia, 2010, p. 12), and sought views on “financial support to assist new and emerging artists and bands to produce broadcast-ready, and commercially viable, products for radio” (ibid.). A 2012 Convergence Review proposed that major media companies (“content service providers”) pay into a “converged content production fund”; Australian contemporary music would be one of the beneficiaries in the production of new local content for a platform age (Commonwealth of Australia, 2012, pp. ix-xii). In the same year, a review of the Australia Council found that both Canada (0.156%) and New Zealand (0.198%) spent more than Australia (0.084%) on arts/culture (Trainor and James, 2012, p. 22), and that the considerable lack of funding for “contemporary” music should be addressed by a new funding stream of $ 15b for "unfunded excellence” (ibid.).

Sounds Australia was

... instigated by the Australia Council for the Arts in 2008, and it became a joint partnership between them and APRA. I think what’s important to note is that our creation came out of the market development section of [the] Council.

(Interview 16, 2018)

Originally conceived as an appointed role within the Australia Council, Millgate’s position was ultimately (and literally) situated closer to industry sectors, with the office created within APRA AMCOS’s Sydney building.

As the Gillard Labor Government was preparing its own update to the Keating Government’s Creative Nation, Australian music sectors made clear that further investment was required for export activity to match the scale and purpose of overseas competitors. Succeeding Peter Garrett as Arts Minister, Labor veteran Simon Crean released Creative Australia in 2013. Those on the Minister's advisory committee stated that Crean wanted a “joining the dots, bringing culture into contact with the ‘education revolution’, with technology and innovation, and with its role in binding the social fabric of the nation” (Bakhshi and Cunningham, 2016, p. 7). While much of the policy document simply re-heated existing cultural programmes and visions (Homan, 2018), the internationalisation of Australian content was re-emphasised. Sounds Australia was regarded as part of a set of initiatives driving “cultural diplomacy and the creative economy” (Australian Government, 2013, p. 117), with the added obligation of popular music to assist in growing connections between Australia and Asia in the “Asian Century” (ibid.). $ 1.75m was provided for Sounds Australia for four years (part of the funding had begun in 2012).

Government lobbying also derived from a recognition that more could be done in articulating an Australian voice within particular markets:

When I used to go to South by Southwest, you’d watch a manager... It’s very isolating, but I think there was this idea that if I introduced you to this person, they’d ran off with you, but now there’s this amazing camaraderie. You can see the managers supporting each other ... It’s all by example, everyone walking through the doors together; it’s so intangible, but it’s effective and contagious. You can start to see that people knew where the Australians were.

  • (Australian export manager cited in Homan et al.,
  • 2016, p. 67)

We went to play in Nashville in 2006 and went to this terrific festival called the Americana Festival, which is where they divide their music up to try and brand themselves. So country music is a dirty word for the Americana folks, because when they say “Americana”, they’re talking about the traditional people, you know, the Johnny Cashes and Willie Nelsons and all of those people, plus the roots and blues end of the spectrum. Country music is now the “Nashville pop” thing, you know, Keith Urban and Taylor Swift and all that sort of stuff. Anyway, of course we don’t make that differentiation here, because it’s just all country; it’s just that pop's at one end and the roots thing's at the other. So I went to this festival and saw all these amazing people who were performing under this Americana banner, and I thought to myself, (a) gee, I’d love to come here and play, but (b) this is where Australian country artists, or a lot of them anyway, should be focussing their attention, ’cause it was a growing event and a growing genre.

(Australian artist cited in Homan et al., 2016, p. 67)

Yet history seemed to be repeating. As with Creative Nation, much of Creative Australia was not implemented due to the demise of the Gillard Government, and the disinterest shown by the incoming Abbott Coalition Government. The new conservative Arts Minister. George Brandis, had promised before the 2013 election to eradicate “fashionable” cultural funding, with “the pursuit of excellence across all of the artistic genres [to] be the central value of cultural policy under a Coalition Government” (Brandis, 2013). Beyond re-shaping funding in highly controversial ways (see, for example, Eltham and Verhoeven, 2015; Mendelssohn, 2015), Sounds Australia’s funding was not renewed within the Minister’s new Catalyst fund in May 2016, where “organisations like Sounds Australia were invited to apply for a share of $12 million per year over four years” (Carter, 2016). After considerable media reportage and lobbying by industiy bodies, by November a new Arts Minister, Mitch Fifield, had found $1.16m for Sounds Australia over four years (Crittenden, 2016).

With the 2019 election looming, Labor and Coalition parties promised bipartisan commitment to furthering the potential of Sounds Australia. In October 2018, the Labor Opposition announced a “new Sounds Australia” that with the existing Live Music Office would have a combined budget of $ 10m over three years if elected (Shorten, 2018). In March 2019, the Coalition government announced a further “$1.6 million to expand the [Sounds Australia] program to assist the Australian music industry to capitalise on emerging markets in Asia” as part of a $30.9m “Australian Music Industry Package” (Fifield, 2019). The bipartisanship was partly facilitated by submissions and hearings of a federal parliament Inquiry> into the Australian Music Industry> in 2018. Central industry bodies, including ARIA and APRA AMCOS, spoke to the need for a further concentration on expoxts performance.1 Of the Inquiry Report’s 16 recommendations, 3 focused upon exports:

  • • "The committee recommends that the Australian Government invest in Sounds Australia to enable it to expand its music exports program” [Recoimnendation 8];
  • • “The committee recommends that the Australian Govermnent implement policy to prioritise and promote the use of Australian music and the hiring of Australian artists for government activities, events, and promotions, both in Australia and at Australian-hosted functions and events overseas” [Recoimnendation 9]; and
  • • “The coimnittee recommends that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade work with the United States of America to develop mutually beneficial visa arrangements that allow artists from both countries to more easily showcase and tour” [Recommendation 10] (Commonwealth of Australia, 2019, pp. xviii-xix).

The call for an expanded Sounds Australia was also placed within the context of a local industry goal of “gaining a five per cent market share of the global music market by 2030”, where this “would generate a $5 billion export market” (ibid., p. 60). This was based on ARIA CEO Dan Rosen extending the authors’ estimation of local exports to be $195 million, that “is 20 per cent of the Australian music industry’s revenue. So we need to switch it around by 2030, where exports are 80 per cent” (Eliezer, 2019). This represents much wider collective ambitions for the country. It is now pertinent to examine the recent operations of Sounds Australia in terms of their industrial and national ambitions, the allocation and uses of resources and their position within the global circuit of other national schemes and activities.

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