In this section we briefly outline the challenges confronting Sounds Australia, ranging across related cultural sectors and activities. Much of what is discussed here arguably also speaks to issues for other creative industries and is explored too in the following chapter examining other national programmes and activities.
In relation to common complaints that industry sectors can be poor at working with each other, how the music export sector can leverage input from across other government and industry sectors has been little explored. An Australia Council report indicated that arts tourism has increased for visitors to Australia in the past five years, growing at a higher rate than international tourism overall (Australia Council, 2018). While visits to museums and galleries were the highest reported activity, festival attendance had grown by 61% since 2013 (ibid., p. 5). While there were no data provided as to types of festival attendance, such statistics point to the potential for music festivals to be considered as an important part of export strategies. The report also cited 2016 Screen Australia data revealing “that around 230,000 international tourists are esthnated to visit or extend their stay in Australia each year as a result of viewing Australian film and TV content” (ibid., p. 7). Similar research is required in assessing the extent to which music influences the choices (and perceptions of Australian music) for in-bound tourists. Unlike other countries (e.g. New Zealand, United Kingdom, Canada) Australia lacks a cohesive branding strategy linking its music expoxt activities with tourism and related plans.
In relation to ongoing “datafication” and the implications for reconnaissance discussed in Chapter 1, several interviewees observed that Sounds Australia’s “hands-on” reputation and presentational emphasis upon live performances and showcases should be increasingly matched with an emphasis upon digital cura- tion. For example, digital shifts also have implications for traditional presentational modes:
I think Sounds Australia has been built around export of the live product. Obviously, people have done subsequent deals on other types of rights and recording and publishing, but the shopfront is the live performance. I think now that [Digital Export Producer] Dom Alessio is in the team and looking at how to program recordings into playlists, the shop front is going to be the sound recording.
(Interview 21, 2018)
In relation, the website as “shop front” could evolve as a more holistic centre for multiple channels of information, and also as national site of branding and discovery:
Our website was very much done as a resource for exporting artists going out. Where do I find funding? What are the due dates for things? Where do I find visa information? ... I think we’ve got the potential to change that now, because there’s an understanding of Sounds Australia and that’s where you will be introduced to these artists ... I think there's definitely options for us to create a content-type discovery portal.
(Interview 16, 2018)
Such options also have to consider other audiences for the site apart from aspiring artists, and the extent to which the web can be utilised for promotion to international territories. As with much of this chapter, how and where resources can be allocated to this—parallel to discussions about how much Sounds Australia should engage with activities usually allocated to labels—remain in play, particularly as data about enduring and breaking markets become more accessible.
Established in 2009, Sounds Australia has evolved in a different form to other- national export programmes. Like many other national schemes, it has steered clear of “picking winners” to present on global promotional circuits; unlike other programmes, it has no input or control of related funding measures designed to assist artists or managers. Recent funding battles—where it was implicated in wider federal government moves to radically realign priorities and reduce arts funding overall—have seen the organisation achieve increases and some stability of funding after strong industry intervention.
Continual anxiety about the certainty of even shoi-t-term funding has perhaps led to less reflection on Sounds Australia’s structure and the potential fordoing things differently; its staff are clearly comfortable in fulfilling a series of intermediary roles based upon specialist expertise, including deep knowledge of different markets (and their related intermediaries). And, as with other national contexts, concrete outcomes could be better defined and explained. Other possibilities could be countenanced. For example, are there synergistic benefits to be gained through greater involvement in funding decisions, bringing their experience in different definitions of “export ready” to bear on funding applicants at the Australia Council and State government levels? Some of the more innovative grants emphasising track records rewarding momentum and experience in export spaces existing elsewhere (see Chapter 7) are not evident within Australian structures. In relation, advantages may accrue in attempting a more streamlined funding model where expertise is shared across governmental tiers and is more apparent to aspiring artists. As a national project, Sounds Australia is arguably hampered in not exercising its expertise through a nationally recognised export body incorporating all stakeholders, aggravated by the nation’s tripartite system of governance and funding. However, an expanded set of aims and activities also requires an accompanying will of the States and federal governments to restructure in the name of greater collaboration.
In relation, the organisation is also at the centre of much greater ambitions for Australian popular music, with plans to capture 5% of the global music sector by 2030, equating to a “$146 billion industry” including recording, live music and publishing revenues “that would mean an AS7.3 billion music export market” (Eliezer, 2019), as noted above. For one industry figure, growth is to be achieved by pursuing structural reform that involves greater state-industry partnerships, and firmer strategies that proceed well beyond singular artist successes:
[Sounds Australia] needs to now grow up, and be let loose a bit, and established as an entity that has the right mix of investment and stakeholder representation. Part of that would be cross-government relationships. You ensure that this thing has connections into all of the right government agencies and portfolios, the right breadth of stakeholder representation and investment. So I do think the model going forward should still be co-industry-government investment.
(Interview 22, 2018)
This would see Sounds Australia moving closer to other overseas models in entrenching a cross-portfolio approach to strategy and resources. The ambitious economic targets have been partly based upon the consistent growth evidenced by other national export programmes:
As I’ve said ad nauseam, look at Sweden. It’d be nice to be looking at, what’s the potential to move closer to being a net exporter? Maybe that's unrealistic from where we sit now, but you need a bit of a sense of where you want to get to in order to move the dial. I think the gap is being clear on that vision and working out, how am I going to get there? And then, what’s it going to cost? A failure at govermnent level is to get all excited and proud because we have one artist doing exceptionally well overseas and riding the back of that. That’s not the right thing to be excited about.
This is also related to an acknowledgement that domestic structures (and goals) are more strategically aligned with international arrangements. It is instructive that the Labor Opposition’s 2019 election platform included not only the provision of greater funding for Sounds Australia, but that it would be merged with the federal Live Music Office in recognition of the importance of the live sector to artist development. Imposing a sense of “the national” in terms of shared goals and interlinked structures remains a challenge.
One interpretation of the findings of our Bom Global industry report placed music exports on a wider footing, with Australia as a land of “Beef, coal and hot tracks” (Qian, 2019). This can be regarded as a victory of sorts for the local industries, who have persistently briefed federal governments that popular music possesses the same potential as (for example) the beef or wine industries. Returning to Craik’s (2007) observation of arts/cultural funding as historically a “marginal” concern for the state, the local music industries have shared other national rhetorics in emphasising export support as a series of investment strategies. Future challenges remain in ensuring that Australian music export activity is not bracketed off as simply a series of commercial exchanges, but that its more complex components as symbolic production are recognised beyond its commodity forms.