State-industry collaborations

The development of artist managers (see Chapters 3 and 4) is one of a number of issues relating to how the music industries arrange themselves across seven State goveruments/territories simated within a federal government system. Prior to the formation of a national export organisation, Australian State govermnents were engaging in some forms of export activity. Queensland is thought to have first assembled a policy linking arts and trade strategies:

Trade Queensland had some pretty great initiatives. They had engaged a company in the US to work with them and had two Queensland acts every year on the MUSEXPO showcase. They had the same deal in place with the Great Escape [UK event] and two Queensland artists would be on the Great Escape, and they also had the same with Music Matters (Singapore event], but I think just one artist. They also engaged a publicist that would work with those artists in the region, and they also had funding quarantined for showcase event participation. And they also contributed some inbound to BIGSOUND, bringing additional key buyers in ... the funding for the acts came from Axis Queensland.

(Interview 16, 2018)

Western Australia also began funding expeditions to SXSW, and Victoria started to support international tours (ibid.).

In its ten-year history, Sounds Australia has been primarily funded through a combination of state (Australia Council, Department of Communications and the Arts, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, NSW, Queensland, South Australia and Victorian governments) and industry (APRA AMCOS, PPCA, AMPAL, AMIN) sectors. Where relevant, industxy and Australian State bodies have worked together at specific events and locations, such as AMPAL with MIDEM in Cannes, AIR/PPCA with A2IM in New York and the Australian Music Centre with ClassicakNext and Jazzahead!. APRA AMCOS has been crucial in providing infrastructural support (including office space), and the Australian Music Industry Network (AMIN) assists in working across State and industxy sectors, with the Australian Association of Managers (AAM) liaising with Australian artist managers.

Some Department of Foreign axid Trade (DFAT) funding axid in-kind support (such as the use of High Commission offices) have also been provided for work in emerging markets axid related events. DFAT currently funds a trade mission to South America and has worked with Sounds Australia across a nuxnber of different countries, including the London High Commission and offices in Los Angeles, New York, Houston, Chile, Brazil, Argentina and Berlin. It has been suggested that greater branding strategies with DFAT and a raxige of related Australian products axid media, “where music fits in with that as the soundtrack of export” (Interview 18, 2018), could be explored.

As discussed above, Sounds Australia’s activities are not directly aligned with a specific grant scheme. Beyond invitations to international showcase events, artists, managers and companies are encouraged to examine the range of assistance available across federal, State and Territory schemes (see Figure 5.1). This has imposed expectations upon Sounds Australia that it perhaps camiot deliver:

It’s very much become now, “we need to see what you’re doing for Victorian artists”, for New South Wales artists, for Queensland artists. It’s a much harder sell; we’re very much a round peg in their square binding models. And it’s really hard as a national body to ... Everything we do and speak are in national terms, and so to really start to draw out, “okay, this is what’s going to happen exactly for Victorian artists...”

(Interview 16, 2018)

Sounds Australia

Figure 5.1 Sounds Australia: Governinental/industry funding relationships.

Nation, identity, sounds

As briefly discussed in Chapter 1, national export strategies (to differing extents) draw upon existing global understandings of particular national markers of identity. At the larger showcase events (Reeperbahn, South by Southwest. Primavera, Music Matters, The Great Escape), “THE AUSSIE BBQ” nights have been established by Sounds Australia as distinctive events that draw upon Australian branding that is readily identifiable. They have proven to be an effective drawcard at particular events:

THE AUSSIE BBQ started as an idea in 2003 to throw together a little BBQ for the Australian bands at South by Southwest Music Festival. It has now grown to become an international circuit of shows that includes Argentina, Austin, Barcelona, Brazil, Brighton, Chile, Kansas City, London, Nashville and Singapore. In most instances, THE AUSSIE BBQ showcases are full band performances rather than solo artists. Back line is shared, changeovers are extremely tight and Australian-Style Hot Dogs aka “Aussie Tacos” are served.

(Sounds Australia, 2018b)

As noted in Chapter 1, “culture” and notions of local identity are almost invariably invoked by governments in cultural policy announcements or plans, increasingly married to economic goals. The problems in articulating a cohesive national identity through particular artists, or even a genre, have been discussed elsewhere (e.g. Turner, 1992; Homan et al., 2016). Yet as one music writer has obseived, “the Australian musical export [is] reshaping stereotypes of a sunburnt country where sweaty bands once played rock 'n' roll in pubs carpeted with sawdust” (Brandle, 2016), with Australian acts finding overseas markets across pop, indie and mainstream rock, progressive rock, country and electronic-pop. For Sounds Australia, this becomes

... a more compelling conversation now with a commercial sponsor, because we can actually show, and we can talk about certain acts. You’ve got a Vance Joy or a Chet Faker or a Flume or a Courtney Barnett to reference, whereas starting out you don’t have those things.

(Interview 16, 2018)

At the same time, the organisation recognises that problems remain in terms of profile:

I’ve just got back from Jazzahead in Germany, and ... You go overseas and people go, “oh, you’re Australian”, but they don’t know what that means ... If you’re in the UK, fair enough, you know what it means, or if you’re one of the Commonwealth countries. But you even go to certain parts of America and ... they’re familiar with Crocodile Dundee, and that’s about it. If you’re talking about actual music and culture and you start talking about the artists that they might know, they go, “oh, are they Australian?”. Politically, no idea. They would have no idea of the politics of Australia. Us being in these markets is just... As a little country, you’re just trying to jump up at the table of... Sitting around the family table of nine kids and you’re the four-year-old who’s just trying to get fed. You’re just jumping up.

(Interview 20, 2018)

Rather than promoting a settled idea of an “Australian sound”, Sounds Australia have instead attempted to construct a series of embodiments of nation, and national structures in relation to successes, where governments and publics have to be made aware of the difficulties local artists face in complex global markets:

I constantly go back to a lot of the sporting analogy, but it’s almost ... Do you remember when Australia Post let you write telegrams to your favourite sports heroes? I think of our artists in that same vein. You want people championing them and really cheering for them because they're out there, but you’re not going to get this big wave of general public cheering for Alex Lahey. It’s just not going to happen.

(Interview 16, 2018)

In a forum discussion on global understandings of “Australian” popular music at the BigSound festival in 2014, it is interesting that industrial contexts were highlighted, rather than an argument for the connection of particular sounds to ways of life. The discussants—artist managers, recording label executives and festival owners—believed that Australians’ ability to deliver good live performances (in relation to international acts), and the relative isolation of Australia provided a good “incubator”, where by the time overseas audiences were “finding” Australian artists, they had considerable experience playing to large venues and working out their recordings/sounds (Radio National, 2014). As discussed below, one means of evading constructions of “the national” as a framing mechanism for exports is to instead investigate the various local scenes and exchanges that are providing innovation.

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