As we immerse ourselves in an ever globalised world where do Australian musicians sit within the cultural spectrum? And more to the point, what are the challenges facing our artists as they strive to be heard and seen in the never ending digital universe of the internet? This topic was pondered at Bigsound 2016 by a panel that included Charles Caldas (CEO of Merlin, a global digital rights agency for independent labels); Dean Ormston (Head of the Member Services Group for APRA/AMCOS); Jodie Regan (Manager for Tame Impala); Millie Millgate (Executive Producer, Sounds Australia) and Nick Yates (Head of Artist Management for Unified, one of Australia’s fastest growing independent music companies). The session was chaired by Radio National’s Paul Barclay.
While Paul Barclay doesn’t place much stock in the Grammys per se, he rightly identified it would be remiss not to mention that 2016 was a BIG year for Australian artists at America’s most coveted music awards ceremony. Courtney Barnett, Hiatus Kaiyote, Tame Impala and Keith Urban all scored nominations, surely our strongest showing ever. Is this an indication that Australian music is on the world’s radar like never before? Yes, certainly as far as Tame Impala’s manager Jodie Regan is concerned. That kind of recognition in the U.S. alone is epic and certainly there are more Australian artists touring the U.S than ever before.
Back home the game has changed too and the way music is marketed and targeted has seen some seismic shifts in the way both major and independent labels operate. A & R guys are judiciously scanning non-traditional performance measures like iTunes, while record companies have also employed talent scouts to solely monitor JJJ’s Unearthed in a bid to get the jump on potential new talent.
So the game has changed, but is there any money to be made for artists in the digital age? The bottom line according to Charles Caldas is that streaming cannot be ignored. It is where the future lies and the that future has already arrived in a big way. Now when an artist releases new material it’s no longer a case of just targeting the Australian market with a local strategy when your work is instantly there for the world at large. Now we see money coming in from markets that previously didn’t really exist for Australian artists like South America. But with such low percentages being offered to artists via streaming services is that really a viable argument? Nick Yates says touring is #1 for artist revenue, but that option doesn’t work for every artist, so you then need to look at other sources like merchandising. There is still money to be made in recorded music as long as the artist retains the rights to their music.
But is revenue increasing to artists from the streaming services? Charles Caldas points out that you can measure artist revenues more accurately and more readily through streaming. 4 years ago the total revenue in Australia was $28 million, this year it’s $275 million. The key to making the revenues work for you is to market more strategically. Clever labels are now hitting fans directly to drive people to consume more music. At this point Paul Barclay makes a telling observation: “If you do the maths, subscriptions cost on average around $12 per month, or approximately $144 per year. Strangely that’s more money spent per annum on music by consumers than during the glory days of CD sales. The big question is, are artist’s getting as much in percentage terms from that overall revenue?” Caldas says that you have to take into account that these days there are far less costs attributed to the artist by the record companies – no distribution or packaging costs for instance. Nick Yates chimes in: “you can’t ignore streaming as an artist, it’s so prevalent now, you just need to ensure your other revenue sources are well established”. So how do the audio streaming services compare with an operator like You Tube, where the most watched music videos consistently attract a higher number of views than any of their other content? Caldas states that Spotify delivers ten times the revenues than You Tube does to artists.
Now that we’ve got a better understanding of the overall picture, where does that leave Australian artists? Or more specifically, how do you get your music heard when you’re just a drop in the digital ocean? Millie Millgate says that playlist editors within the streaming services are the big influencers now and artists need to build relationships with those people. Some editors have massive followings and any artist inclusion can lead to further recommendations, which are then driven organically by the algorithms. Barclay then asks does that mean streaming playlists are the new radio? It’s a unanimous “yes” from the panel. They are the new programmers and influencers. Millgate says playlists are critical now, they shape and drive the new music trends. Labels and artists need targeted strategies to ensure they have a presence there. Caldas picks up from there – playlists are better than radio. Instead of waiting for your favourite song or music show to come on the radio you can hear what you like 24/7 on playlists curated by people who understand that genre implicitly.
Image: Tame Impala (c) Matt Sav