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  • Tiana Speter

How Can We Support The Music Industry In 2024?


 

"The times, they are a'changin". Bob Dylan wrote that very line back in 1964, the same year that The Beatles toured Australia for the first (and only) time. For those who were around for it (unlike me), you likely have those images of the band emerging, sans Ringo Starr, in extremely wet conditions in Sydney etched into your memory. Tears mingled with the rain in the crowd, umbrellas reigned supreme, and the group took off for a drizzled jaunt around the tarmac on an open-top truck.


With June fast approaching, we are now nearly six decades on since the Fab Four graced our shores and whipped Aussie music lovers into a frenzy. A lot has obviously changed across the board in the past 60 years. We may not have hoverboards, but these days our little ol' iPhones have more processing power than NASA collectively had back in the 60s. We've made so much progress on paper, especially with regards to life in present-day Australia. But ask anyone in your friendship group or amongst your family and colleagues and the post-pandemic way of life feels rapidly off the rails for so many individuals and industries. And we certainly seem extremely far removed from the days of anything close to Beatlemania gripping the country in relation to live music (unless you're a Swiftie, in which case you can ignore the previous sentence).


It's no secret that as a result of all of this, the Australian music industry has been more embattled than ever for consecutive years, with COVID-19 dominantly bringing to the foreground and amplifying many of the issues faced by artists and workers across the board. Back in 2021, I hosted the podcast The Green Room for TheMusic.com.au where I was tasked with putting together two COVID-19 specials speaking with 16 high-profile representatives from around the industry. Between the financial and mental health toll highlighted by my panellists, including Alex Lahey, the (at the time) Shadow Minister for the Arts Tony Burke, ARIA CEO Annabelle Herd, venue owner John JC Collins and Bluesfest director Peter Noble, the situation seemed grim, but not entirely without slivers of hope at the time. Fast-forward to 2024, and the revolving door of cancelled events and festivals, the increasing amount of closed venues as well as music-centric outlets and programs shutting up shop heartbreakingly points to what appears to be an utter annihilation of hope. Even this week, one of Australia's most beloved venues, The Zoo in Brisbane, announced it will cease operating this July after over three decades in action. And, as ABC News reported, this comes off the back of the venue reaching its highest ticket sales in its history last year; but this still wasn't enough to compete with the rising costs of operation and diminishing returns.


The Zoo | www.thezoo.com.au

COLD HARD STATS

Who doesn't love popping on a killer mixtape in the gym, or bopping along to the tunes at whatever sporting event floats your boat? Imagine your favourite movie or TV show without its soundtrack, or, for those so inclined, using TikTok with no music to choose from. The reliance on music and its ability to soundtrack every moment of our lives is undeniable for most, and that's without even factoring in the unique magic a live event has. Most of us love, live and breathe music, and we have gotten to do so with a very minimal price tag overall in the past. Now, the double edged sword of rising ticket prices and the rising cost of living has turned art and culture into genuine luxury items. Production costs are up, the average ticket cost increased by 31% between 2021 and 2022, and big name mainstream artists like The Weeknd and Olivia Rodrigo, as well as nostalgic faves like TLC, have recently and suddenly canned plans to head down under. Creative Australia also recently delivered 'Soundcheck: Insights into Australia's music festival sector', with the findings showcasing that only 56% of Aussie festivals between 2022 and 2023 were profitable.


Over on the digital side of things: for every song you spin on Spotify, your fave average artist is earning approximately $0.0003 to $0.0005 per stream. And, as of this year, tracks on Spotify must have reached 1,000 streams in the past 12 months to generate any royalties at all on the platform. Spotify claims their new policies are to combat artificial streaming and payments lost in the system alongside other problems. TikTok joined the artist royalty game alongside the likes of Spotify and Apple Music, but the payment system prioritises the number of videos over number of streams, e.g. one hundred videos with limited views that feature a song will make more money for the artist than one video with one million views featuring the same song. And to twist the confusion even more in that domain, the royalties will differ depending on your distributor and the price can vary from month to month. Apple Music reports that its average play rate per stream is $0.01, but this is also not a fixed rate. And a reminder that a standard "play" for most streaming services is anything over 30 seconds of listening time.


The sad reality for the music industry at this point in time isn't even merely as simple as dollars and cents. And everyone has their own take on the situation, whether blaming poor ticket sales, blaming weak lineups, and/or tasking the brutal cost of living factor as the root cause. But while it's very easy to find fault from behind a keyboard or the illumination of your phone screen, we are once again at a very significant junction for the music industry, and it's one that is ultimately begging for three simple things: support, viable solutions and genuine action.



WHAT NOW?

This is the age-old question that I feel has been asked on a yearly basis by creatives, musicians and industry workers for as long as we can all remember. I am not going to ever pretend I have all of the answers here. But I still have tiny glimmers of hope that from this increasingly dire situation, we may still be able to bring some good to the forefront. If you love music, there are still ways to help keep the flame alive; and yes, even some ways that don't dent your wallet. So many things that I read (or are shoved to the forefront of my social media feeds) frequently only report on the issues when things go wrong. In an aim to balance this ongoing sensationalism, below is a little round up of my own humble grassroots suggestions for anyone wanting to get behind the industry, venues and artists to potentially help start to turn the tide:


  • SEEK OR HELP INSTIGATE CHANGE: As with most things, the burden of implementing change isn't and shouldn't be placed solely on the backs of fans, with operational costs, lack of funding and grants, and a political malaise when it comes to the creative industries consistently presenting as the biggest wardens of holding back progress. On a state and federal government level, there are various issues, incentives and policies swirling around, with many advocates highlighting the eternally high value of the creative economy worldwide. If you're motivated to do so, get your voice heard, get involved in a pre-existing initiative or make your own. Contact your local representatives or check out some of the music industry bodies and what they do if you're motivated to try to shake things up on a broader scale.

  • FUNDS & GRANTS: If you're an artist, it's worthwhile getting in the know what funds and grants are out there. If your mate is an artist, encourage them to look into this option and get their hat in the ring. APRA AMCOS have rounded up some current funding, EOIs, opportunities and grants here to get you started. Creative Australia also has a Contemporary Music Touring Program here, with many other options out there - don't be afraid to dig!

  • BUY AHEAD OF TIME: As a punter, if you can afford it: grab a ticket to an upcoming show. Pre-sales can make or break a tour/event, so, where possible and if you can, try not to wait until the last minute.

  • SAFEGUARD: A big one lately, especially with international acts playing in limited capital cities, is the situation where punters book tickets in advance, alongside travel/accommodation and so forth for the upcoming good times. Sadly, this has bitten a lot of people badly if the event has been cancelled. The conundrum here: do you do the thing that helps the artists and pre-buy, even if it's a risk? This will ultimately come down to how much money you can realistically leave on the line. If you can't afford to be out of pocket: don't risk it. Alternatively, look into what safeguards you can put in place. Does your accommodation or travel offer refunds? Should you add on minor insurance in case the worst should happen? It sucks and you don't want it to happen, but if you can avoid financial ramifications, definitely take some time to do so.

  • SPREAD THE WORD: If you're heading along to a show or you've heard about an awesome upcoming tour: tell a mate, bring a mate and share the good word. With so much information saturation, it can be hard to keep track of all of the events going on, and social media algorithms are definitely stacked against artists promoting their stuff organically.

  • DON'T RELY ON FREEBIES: If you are in the position to buy a ticket financially: do it. This goes for the industry people and friends too, don't repeatedly rely on or expect a door spot. If your mate's band is Metallica, that's different. But chip in and support your up-and-coming mates from time to time.

  • GET OUTSIDE THE COMFORT ZONE: Full disclosure, I'm in my late 30s and the thought of driving an hour and a half to a gig on a school night is not in my top five list of things I adore doing. Having said that, the moment I step foot in the venue, it's instantly worthwhile. Sure, I'll be sleepy the next day. But Seinfeld re-watches and my slippers will still be there the next day. My fave band, however, does not perform every day. If you're performing brain sugery the next day, maybe skip it this time around. But if not, take a risk, chuck on something fun and go spend time in a room with a bunch of people who love the same tunes that you do. Or better yet - go check out a whole new band. You (99%) won't regret it.

  • SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL: It goes without saying, but if you are lucky enough to live in an area that has live music venues - go and check them out! A lot of venues and some local stores put on free events regularly, or extremely well-priced ones if there is a cover charge. Bonus fact: a thriving local community only opens things up to higher-profile events and artists wanting to come a'knocking too.

  • MERCH: Another one that may or may not be possible depending on your financial situation, but if you can: grab some merch. This makes a huge impact for artists and allows them to keep up with the costs it takes to make and tour the music you love. Also fun fact: merch is so expensive to manufacture for most bands that they will buy their own merch (post-manufacturing) with their own money. Giveaways. Cost. Money.

  • FUNDRAISE: Organisations like Support Act have opportunities to apply for community fundraisers and much more. If you're motivated, see what your local community has on offer, or start one yourself if you're feeling game!

  • STREAM: Streaming stats remain integral for a lot of emerging bands to progress to the next level, and this also provides a minor step towards royalties for each respective stream. Spin a new tune, pre-save an upcoming release and follow your favourite artists on whatever streaming platform you might use. A few short clicks of a mouse or fingertip can mean a vast difference for your favourite acts.

  • PURCHASE MUSIC: It seems old fashioned these days, but actually buying music is the best way to directly help your favourite act. You may not have the funds to be splashing cash around all the time, but a large majority of artists have their singles for as low as between $1 to just over $2 online. You can also look into Bandcamp or physical sales; hell, your fave band might even sell you their music over email if that's how they roll. In comparison to how much one large takeaway coffee costs these days, you may even get as much of a buzz listening to your fave song without ads or buffering in the way.

  • FOLLOW & INTERACT: If you use social media, follow your fave act's account. Like a post. Comment on a reel. I'm not saying every time and definitely not encouraging any parasocial bullshit. Again, stats and fighting the algorithms are king for artists these days, and showing your support in these seemingly minor ways doesn't cost a thing. If social media isn't your thing, I get it. But if you're doom scrolling, why not chuck your fave band a cheeky like while you're at it.

  • PATREON: A lot of acts are turning to Patreon to help bolster their financials, and the majority will have differing priced tiers to suit a range of budgets. $5 or so a month from one fan is more than what many may earn from streaming, and you actually get something for your money with this setup. If it's your kind of thing, have a suss what your fave band(s) may have cooking there.

  • MUSIC MEDIA: Music media is also a rapidly diminishing domain, but there are many independent outlets out there who are fighting the good fight to bring you coverage and content about what's happening in and around the music industry. Their work helps your fave artists and you may very well stumble upon a new favourite artist by accident too as a result. Back in 2021, Purple Sneakers collated a list of Aussie music blogs operating at the time, and there's plenty more out there too for you to discover.

  • RETHINK: Artists and industry workers are busting their asses out there to release music and put on events. Sometimes things do not go according to plan, whether it be due to poor planning, unavoidable scheduling issues and/or acts of god. Regardless of the situation, be mindful that most creatives are up against towering odds to keep bringing you music and events that you love. Sometimes shit goes wrong. Sure - when it doesn't go wrong, it's a beautiful thing. But keep in mind the majority of people are never genuinely or actively seeking to put on a bad show or cancel a tour at the last minute.



FINAL WORD

The above is by no means the silver bullet for how the music industry can stay afloat. Like anyone, I am confused and conflicted about the industry, and I'm especially heartbroken about how it impacts the creators and workers on a global scale. There’s obviously issues across the board for every industry at the moment, but since music is my home and source of income, I’m narrowing in on my wheelhouse. For now, I hope enough people can find or make a voice for change in whatever way they feel they can. Rock and roll saved my soul, and here's hoping I can help to somehow and someday return the favour.


 

BY TIANA SPETER


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