Long before streaming became a thing, much of the music industry ran out of the back of old Kombi vans and Kingswoods. It was a simpler time. Going from gig to gig, we’d grab our stuff from the boot, plug in and play. It was glorious.
From beer-stained carpets to wooden floorboards, we would tour in rooms across the Tasman and then eventually to the US and Europe. For me, it was first with the Crocodiles, QED, INXS, Prince and solo.
The Kid Laroi is part of the new generation of Australian musical artists who have achieved international success.Credit:Getty
When I started my career, government policy would have been the furthest thing from my mind. But with the closure of so many venues (particularly in Sydney in the ’90s) and then the threat to intellectual property from sharing platforms in the 2000s, the role of government suddenly became serious business.
Whether it was another live-performance regulation or a reckless change to copyright, bureaucrats in Canberra, Collins or Macquarie Street could send tremors through our entire industry with one flick of a pen. Livelihoods would be threatened, our workplaces shut down.
Governments have never really understood the ecology of the music industry and that has been a big problem for us. Whether it was live venues, writing, recording, producing, teaching, music for screen, the broadcast and streaming of our songs, there was an invisible cloak over our work that not only undervalued our industry, but ignored our role in the economic, social and cultural life of the nation.
Tkay Maidza is another rising star of Australian pop music, supporting Billie Eilish on her recent tour.Credit:Rick Clifford
Fast-forward to 2023 and things couldn’t be more different. With the launch of the national cultural policy this week, the Albanese government has announced the establishment of Music Australia – a national music development agency – together with $70 million in funding. It’s like Screen Australia but for the music industry. This announcement cannot be overestimated.
For the last century, Australian music has been pretty much absent in cultural policy. Literature funding started way back in 1908, and then the Australia Council and the old Film Commission were founded in the ’70s.
A Goldman Sachs report into the international music market estimates a booming decade for the industry, with total revenue to double to about $131 billion by 2030. Most of our growth will be in the digital consumption across the emerging markets of Asia, Latin America and Africa as the traditional markets of the US and Europe begin to flatline.
Australia, as an English-speaking nation, anchored by the extraordinary sounds of First Nations artists and framed by the beauty of music from across the multicultural strengths of our nation, is in pole position to capitalise on that growth.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese launches the federal government’s new arts and culture policy at the Esplanade Hotel in St Kilda.Credit:Scott McNaughton
Once, it took years and years for Australian artists who had been successful locally to break internationally. Now, our global popularity multiplies every year with the likes of 5 Seconds of Summer, Alison Wonderland, Courtney Barnett, Flume, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, Sia, Tame Impala, Tash Sultana, The Kid Laroi, Tones And I, Troye Sivan and Vance Joy all leading the charge. We had serious presence at the Grammys last year with Rufus Du Sol, Mitch Wong, Sampa The Great and Elizabeth Younan. This success looks set to continue at Monday’s Grammys with multiple nominees including Rufus Du Sol (again), George Nicholas, Tim Nelson and jazz musician Linda May Han Oh.
First Nations artists Aodhan, Baker Boy, Budjerah, Electric Fields, Leah Flanagan, and Sycco have all had major success touring internationally since our borders reopened, and an extraordinary 21 Australian acts appeared across Coachella, Lollapalooza and Primavera stages over the last 12 months.
Then there are artists like Tkay Maidza who has been supporting Billie Eilish. Gang of Youths have landed their first top-10 record in the UK, screen composers such as Antonio Gambale have picked up Emmy nominations and Mark Benedicto has co-produced and co-written the song Hero – a collaboration with global artists Martin Garrix and JVKE – which was featured as the anthem track for Marvel game SNAP which won Mobile Game of the Year at The Game Awards for 2022.
Jenny Morris is a singer/songwriter and Chair of the Australasian Performing Right AssociationCredit:Alex Ellinghausen
Tones And I and Gotye are sitting at No. 1 and No. 3 respectively of the Top 100 most Shazamed songs of all time with Dance Monkey and Somebody that I Used to Know. Tones and The Kid Laroi, both have songs included in the Top 10 Most Streamed Songs of all time on Spotify with Dance Monkey at No. 3 with 2.726 billion streams and Stay at No. 10 with 2.313 billion.
In 2020, I gave an address to the National Press Club where I articulated a 10-year vision for Australian music around four key goals: make Australia a net exporter of music; provide equity of access to music in schools nationally and have songwriting as part of the national curriculum; protect and promote live music venues; and ensure local music is prominent across all media platforms.
The government’s decision to also establish a Centre for Arts and Entertainment Workplaces as part of the policy addresses many of the fears and frustrations of music industry workers who face systemic discrimination, bullying, harassment or assault.
Even just the announcement of a national cultural policy is like a strong mental health tonic and will be part of the positive recalibration of the collective music industry mindset. Recent events have been debilitating, and many artists have not felt seen or supported for decades. Rebuilding the industry for the better will let us all regain not just our mojo but our self-worth and confidence, and that will lead to even greater creative output.
The establishment of Music Australia opens up the opportunity for government policy to reflect the cultural, social and economic potential of our industry – and get serious about the business of music and the skills needed to realise its potential.
The alternative is that this generation of kids grows up not knowing the sound of their own country. We are already the world’s ninth-largest music market. The question is: what do we want to be listening to? The possibilities for our industry are enormous, but we really do need to put our shoulder to the wheel and invest in the creativity of the next generation.
They are born global and the world is ready to listen.
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