Comment from Peter Saxon
Now that ARIA’s new CEO, Annabelle Herd, has had time to put her feet under the desk, like any good new broom, she’s keen to sweep clean and set out her own goals.
High on her agenda is to get radio to play more Australian music.
It’s a great cause – a total winner that no true Aussie patriot could deny. But ultimately, it’s a lost cause. At least, it has been in the 49 years that I’ve been in radio.
Over those years, I’ve seen a number of “Buy Australian” campaigns come and go. None of them made much of an impact. While survey after survey shows that Australians are keen supporters of the Buy Australian concept, real-life experience suggests that they tend to leave the actual buying to the next patriotic Aussie while they buy whatever best suits their own needs, with brand appeal often much higher on their list of requirements than country of origin.
The quota dispute requires the conciliation of two competing business models.
On one side, you have the record companies who are driven by their artists. Their job is to nurture artists’ careers and monetise their talent. Which is good and proper.
On the other side is radio, which is audience driven. Its job is to produce the best music mix for their target demographic. Which is also as it should be.
For radio’s part, it’s not as if it has anything against playing home-grown product. Personally, I’ve never met a content or music director who wouldn’t prefer to play an Australian song if it is equal or better than the other choices on offer that fit the station’s format.
As CRA Chief Executive, Joan Warner told radioinfo last week “Stations provide significant airplay for established and emerging Australian artists. For example, under the rules, stations playing 20% Australian music must ensure that not less than 20% of that music is new Australian music – that is music published within 12 months prior to broadcast.”
Ms Herd, though, reportedly told the Australian’s James Madden, “I think the quotas are insufficient to encourage radio to play Australian music,” giving new voice to ARIA’s long-held belief that, if only their home-grown artists were given more radio airplay, more people will buy their music.
But music “quotas” are not merely an “encouragement,” A quota by definition is enforceable and therefore is all stick no carrot. It’s an effort to force the radio industry to artificially shape the behaviour of its listeners to benefit a third party. It’s payola without the pay.
Which would be kind of okay – because supporting Australian acts is such a good cause – if it worked. But it hasn’t because Australians don’t appreciate having something forced down their throats. They demand their democratic right to choose. And in this day and age they have plenty to choose from.
If they want Australian music, then stations such as triple j, Triple M and Nova easily outplay the current quotas because there’s plenty of Australian music produced in genres to suit those formats. Others that play easy listening or jazz struggle. And while there’s an abundance of fabulous Australian country music around, the audience for it, although enthusiastic, is tiny. As for classical stations, while they can always find an Australian performance of a Beethoven or Brahms symphony. It’s nigh on impossible to find Australian composers to compete with long dead Europeans the likes of Mozart, Mahler and Vivaldi.
As Ms Warner also points out, “In addition to airplay, stations provide a substantial amount of support for the music industry through interviews, competitions, events and promotion of concerts and other live gigs. This all provides an avenue for artists to promote their product and reach the 80% of Australians who listen to commercial radio each week.
I’m pleased to note that ARIA won’t be singling out radio this time for special treatment. In her The Australian interview, Ms Herd flagged she’ll be looking into how to force quotas on the big streaming companies like Apple Music and Spotify too. Good luck with that.
But at least she’s on to something because when it comes to new music discovery, the new champs are the music streamers. They’ve totally disrupted the music industry. Instead of distributing physical copies of albums through bricks and mortar stores, consumers can now sign up to Tidal, Apple Music or Spotify and choose from a playlist of up to 75 million tracks, for the price of around one album a month.
What’s more, much of that giant catalogue is curated into useable playlists that are generated to your tastes by a very clever algorithm that can suggest new music for you.
If you want Australian music, then just type Australian music into the search engine and up pops a playlist of around 50 old and new Aussie hits. Preface your search with the word “new” and there’s 50 of the latest.
It’s all about what the music lover wants, not what the record company wants. How does ARIA expect to disrupt that kind of blissful harmony?
Since radioinfo’s text and voice mail attempts to secure an interview with Ms Herd last week have not been returned, we may never know.
So, I’m just guessing here but say I’m listening to James Taylor’s album Sweet Baby James and I’ve just heard the 4thtrack, Steamroller, but instead of automatically moving to track five, in order to satisfy a 20% quota, the algorithm takes me to an Australian artist, say, Russell Morris singing The Real Thing? Not that there’s anything wrong with Russell Morris. He’s a world class artist that I have on several of my mixed playlists. But I don’t want him or any other artist from any country to be butting in on my personal audience with JT.
Perhaps they could introduce new songs the way they place ads ahead of YouTube videos… Before you get to a song you want to hear, you get a new Australian song with a countdown button to “Skip Song after 10 secs.”
Franky, I think ARIA should skip this latest push for higher music quotas. As Ms Warner said, “Radio is all about featuring local voices and supporting local communities. We are already one of the most heavily regulated industries in Australia, particularly in comparison to global competitors, and any further regulations would be unnecessary, burdensome and restrictive.”