Bright lights, fast cars and lumps of silicone for everyone! The United States of America has always been Australia’s cooler, louder, stronger big brother, especially when it comes to music. It is the golden land of opportunity, a destination that is being frequented by more and more Australian musicians nowadays. But when our home grown superstars turn to the dark side and make the move to America, just like INXS, Keith Urban and AC/DC have all done in the past, we are left with a music industry filled with Australian artists that don’t want to be ‘Australian artists’.
“Every new big band, singer or rapper seems to be coming from the states. It’s hard to become a globally recognised name unless America takes a liking to you and then the rest of the world will follow suit,” says local Brisbane uni student and music lover Sam Flanagan.
“Take Iggy Azalea for example; I mean it’s hard enough for rappers in Australia, let alone a female one. And she wasn’t going to catch people’s attention if she stayed in Mullumbimby,” Sam argues.
Sam raises an important argument in the particular case of Iggy Azalea. Amethyst Amelia Kelly (AKA Iggy Azalea) was born in Sydney and raised in Mullumbimby. Iggy began rapping at the age of 14 with some neighbourhood friends in Mullumbimby; however she soon dropped out of school and moved to Miami, Florida at the age of 15. Since moving to America Iggy has had a lead single peak at No.1 on the US Billboard Hot 100 charts, with a second hit she featured on reaching No. 2. Iggy joins The Beatles as the only acts ever to reach No.1 and No.2 on the same week for their first two Hot 100 hits.
Iggy explains her methodology in moving to America in her biography; “I was drawn to America because I felt like an outsider in my own country. I was in love with hip-hop, and America is the birthplace of that, so I figured the closer I was to the music, the happier I’d be. I was right.”
But why is there this mystical attraction to America and what is wrong with Australia’s music industry?
Leah Martin-Brown (AKA Lilly Rouge) is an Australian rock musician who has recently made the perilous journey to the mean streets of LA where she has performed at an industry gig with her new band, Evol Walks.
As an Australian artist now living in America, Leah feels similar to Iggy in her attraction in making the move to the United States, “Americas market for music really is the centre of the universe and they are the taste makers for the rest of the world, including Australia,” she says.
Leah (pictured at MusicOz Awards) has found in her experience performing in both America and Australia that Australian music is struggling to keep up with its flashy pop counterpart.
“This is what I have learned from being over there, I don’t know how accurate it is, but America seems to be about five years ahead of Australia with their taste. So what we’re into now, America was into about five to ten years ago,” the twenty-two year old rock musician explains.
This cultural gap that divides the American and Australian music Industry is causing Aussie artists that are musically ahead of the curb in their own country, to make the move to America to gain recognition and exposure.
“There are so many examples of artists just falling flat in Australia and then going to America, particularly for rock, and breaking over there, then all of a sudden they’re back here and its bang!” Leah says.
The Australian music industry shouldn’t cop all the blame though, for where would any artist be without their fans?
“Yeah we all want to support Aussie artists,” says music lover Sam Flanagan “but if you’re listening to the radio or hear a new song on circulation through social media they are nearly always American, its difficult trying to listen to anything else unless you put in the effort yourself to explore.”
Although there are many talented Australian musicians that deserve our support, our music scene is constantly flooded with their American counter parts, causing Australian music lovers to take sides. To some music lovers in Australia, this seems to almost create a taboo surrounding Australian music.
“I don’t know, it’s like there’s this secret attitude we have towards Australian music where American artists are the cool kids in the class and Australian artists are like the slow kids that try too hard,” Sam says.
Local Gold Coast Blues singer Sarah Frank can also see the influence American music has had on the Australian music industry.
“The Americanisation of the Australian music scene is a result of globalisation. We have hence developed the notion that America is “cool”, because we have been fed so much of their music and their trends infiltrate our society,” Sarah says.
Sarah Frank has not yet made the move to America but definitely shares the same enthusiasm as Leah and Iggy in her desire to soon take on the neon icon.
“As a Blues musician, it would benefit my career greatly to move to the country where the Blues was born,” Sarah explains.
So what then can be done to help the Australian music Industry to pick up the slack and catch up to America in terms of taste and exposure in the music industry?
In 2013 the Australian government launched a new cultural policy called Creative Australia. This policy had five listed goals it aimed to achieve, one of them being; “Ensure Australian creativity thrives here and abroad in the digitally enabled 21st century, by supporting innovation, the development of new creative content, knowledge and creative industries.”
Although this policy is now more than a year old and claims to be providing “$60 million in critical funding for artists and art organisations,” according to the policies guideline document, little change is visible when observing the current impact and influence of Australia’s music industry in relation to America’s.
Sarah Frank offers an alternative direction to support the industry in Australia.
“Live shows are essential in connecting with audiences. I believe that if we work on this connection, the result will be a stronger Australian music scene. This means people need to get out of the house and to a gig every now and then. Perhaps some sort of initiative that encourages citizens to attend at least one live and local gig per month?” Sarah suggests.
Live gigs still play a vital role in an artist’s progression to fame in the Australian music scene; once they have created enough of a buzz the artist might even get radio airplay. Though, this is still no instant guarantee of success as Sam explains, “I listen to the radio a fair bit and when I hear a song I like I’ll take note of the name of the artist and go and look up some of their stuff. But I have to admit if the artist has a small following and no mainstream releases it makes it difficult to stick by them or promote them to friends.”
So maybe for now the Australian music industry has artists stuck in a bit of a rat race, where you should aim to produce music like Americans but you cannot produce music better than Americans.
There’s also no real sign of the Australian music scene closing the cultural gap and catching up to our flashy popular cousins in the wild west, but as is the attitude of more and more Aussie artists today; if you can’t beat em’ join em’.