Music export activity forms part of longer debates about the effectiveness of export promotion schemes, and the role of Austrade in Australian contexts (cf. Brewer, 2008). As with much activity in the creative industries, industries and governments have experienced difficulties in properly assessing Sounds Australia's relationships with existing industrial networks, and accounting for its impact within the range of activities designed to bring artists to market:
You know that we’ve created situations and enviromnents where people have met who otherwise would not have met, and it might not have happened then. But it’s that third and fourth year where you can draw a line and go, I know how that’s happened, and I know how that happened, and I know how that happened [as outcomes] ... when people are at an event together, and you’ve both been at a number now, you’re all on an equal playing field. It doesn’t matter if you're the first-time manager of your act, you’re standing there in exactly the same position. And you’re having conversations with other Australians that you never would get if you tried to cold-call them here. And as a community, there’s a real cultural community of Australian industry that are exporting. It’s really intangible, I don't know how you ... But I think it’s made them very formidable in that place to do business.
(Interview 16, 2018)
While much has been done in constituting a sense of national cohesion, difficulties remain in terms of placating various stakeholders and funding partners. A recurring problem is that networked State grants don’t often accommodate an organisation such as Sounds Australia. For one State funding organisation, there was no recognition of Sounds Australia as a body that interlinked multiple sectors and activities—that it facilitated cultural outputs, rather than producing them:
The feedback we got for this last round from them ... “it seems like you’re travelling around the world networking and you haven’t created any new works” ... I really have no words for this. This feedback is absurd.
As examined in Chapters 3 and 4, repetition (of media promotions, live peifor- mances, courting targeted markets) is a key feature of export strategies that are usually determined by longer-term engagements. Another State funder on one grant round informed Sounds Australia that “we want to see something new; we just don’t want you to do the same thing again” in relation to the core activities (ibid.). This is complicated further by particular expectations by independent States directly relating to outcomes for their home-grown artists.
Such opinions speak to continual misunderstandings of the primary facilitation role of Sounds Australia, which we also examine in relation to other national schemes in Chapter 7. The organisation “directs traffic” for a wide range of industry activities and actors. Yet problems remain in making connections to the range of business meetings, showcase peiformances, scoping visits, “speed networking” and business stand representations. As artists and managers have pointed out elsewhere in this book, these activities often do not have immediate outcomes or cultural/economic benefits; these might be evident years later. While strong industry representations in recent years have enabled Sounds Australia’s budget to be defended as a series of business investments to federal governments, the wider issues of discussing value (in ways that are different to the usual music industries’ definitions) still remain to some extent.
Scenes and genres
Some interviewees reflected on the kinds of domestic infrastructure required to ensure that Australian acts are sufficiently equipped to explore overseas territories. The ability of the national public broadcaster’s youth station, Triple J, to "break” acts, especially for the under-30s and teen markets, has been discussed elsewhere (e.g. Lancaster, 2018). For many managers, national tours are not viable without solid Triple J airplay. One interviewee believed that such “Triple J bands” worked well overseas, as they had time to develop experiences and strategies, and displayed readily evident “indie” credentials (Interview 20, 2018). This reflected the maturity of local rock and pop, particularly in “indie” scenes constructed within the larger Australian capital cities. Conversely, the relative lack of scenes for other genres was provided as one of the reasons for less visibility, and by extension, international success.
The immigration policies of Australia after the Second World War have provided diverse mixtures of sounds and micro-scenes that have drawn upon city populations of mainly southern European migrants (Scott Maxwell, 2008). More recent arrivals, however, have implications for shifts in genre, where it is perceived as a potential export strength: “We would maybe know that there’s a great hip hop scene in Africa and Sudan, because there’s a huge Sudanese population in Melbourne, there are those kinds of tie-ins that are more likely to happen” (Interview 20,2018). Local hip hop scenes reflect the inflections of African styles, in turn providing the potential for migrants to lead innovations that can be transferred to international scenes. Interesting translocal music is evident, for example in the Amaru Tribe, a group of Australian, Colombian, Argentinian, Chilean and
Venezuelan musicians based in Melbourne, and their genre of "Cumbia Oceanica”, and Takudzwa “Tkay” Maidza, a Zimbabwean-born Australian singer-songwriter and rapper.
How to translate the Indigenous music sector into meaningful export activity has long featured in policy discussions. Making the case for the cultural, social and economic benefits of improved visibility of Indigenous performers and communities, a 2008 report argued for international marketing strategies in conjunction with Austrade so that Indigenous exports could align with the then-Commonwealth Strategic Contemporary Music Industry Plan. This included improving business skills, and strategies to increase exposure through the “development of strategic international and domestic touring circuits” (Cultural Ministers Council, 2008, p. 12). In addition, the 2013 Creative Australia repoxt noted that the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Music Office, со-funded by the Australasian Performing Right Association and the Australia Council, provided “coordinated and centralised support to assist Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander musicians by driving initiatives with key stakeholders to overcome barriers, address the engagement gap and increase market penetration” (Australian Government, 2013, p. 86).
As a 2019 election promise (part of its Australian Music Industry Package), the Coalition Government has provided $2.7m for its Indigenous Contemporary Music programme, “to establish a national development program for Indigenous musicians and bands for touring, recording and planning effective touring circuits” (Fifield, 2019).3
There’s a great scene in the new Gurnnnul film where he’s playing at a New York record store, and you just see people walk in and going, “I don’t know who this guy is, but it sounds [amazing]” ... They literally stopped filing through the records and just... And within ten minutes, you’ve got everyone just around him, just watching him. He was like a three-piece band; he was phenomenal.
(Interview 20, 2018)4
In January 2016, Sounds Australia announced the position of First Nations Export Producer, with Leah Flanagan, a Darwin-based Alyawarre singer- songwriter, to “provide decision-making, advice, engagement and guidance to Sounds Australia’s export strategy, ensuring cultural protocols and processes in promoting Indigenous artists internationally is practiced” (Sounds Australia, 2016), with plans to establish a First Nations international bursary programme. Historically, Yothu Yindi (1990s) and Gurrumul (2000s) have proved the exceptions as Indigenous acts with significant international audiences and recording sales. Sounds Australia has assisted a new generation of Indigenous performers at international showcases including Gurrumul, Mojo Juju, Dobby and A.B. Original. With other performers (Briggs, Baker Boy, Thelma Plum) also finding national audiences, hip hop in particular seems rich in export potential. The additional funding delivered to Sounds Australia in 2019 provides the organisation with the means to address the specific federal government brief "to assist the Australian music industry to capitalise on emerging markets in Asia” (Fifield, 2019).