Pictured: Harley Streten (Flume) and Dean Ormston
Many years ago I was told by someone in government that they had always seen the music industry as something of a bit of a rabble. In the nicest possible way (I think) it meant we were disparate, disorganised and a bit rough around the edges.
Thank God that’s changed over recent years!
For decades the music industry didn’t need much in the way of government help or support. The business of the industry was pretty simple and was held together by the gaffer tape of live music, copyright, the sale of music and publishing. Every now and again an Australian act would make global waves in the US, Europe or the UK and travel the radio waves around the world.
Fast forward to 2023 and the Australian music industry is a world away from the analogue 80s. Australian music is digital, published and recorded from studios and bedrooms to global audiences. Australian songwriters and composers are creating the soundtrack to digital games, films and the small screen. They are living around the nation and around the world, part of a U.S.$ 90 billion industry that is likely to double by 2030.
The music industry has been successful in recent years working with governments to ensure intellectual property arrangements continued to support creators in the digital age. In 2012 APRA AMCOS, together with the Australia Council and the Australian Government, established Sounds Australia – a unifying, strategic approach to supporting Australia’s music export opportunities. And in 2019 we also secured the very first election commitments for the contemporary music industry from both the Government and the Opposition each worth $ 30 million.
When COVID-19 shut the industry down, it was the biggest crisis to hit the industry since the arrival of Napster. Venues were mothballed, livelihoods hurt, businesses lost and a mental health catastrophe. The various parts of the industry – songwriters, composers, artists, managers, producers, crew, publishers, labels, venues, festivals, promoters, agents came together en masse – and campaigned hard to secure support for the industry and protect the work of the thousands that support the ecosystem.
With a commitment from the new Australian Government to create a national cultural policy last year, eighteen music industry bodies came together once again and articulated a vision for the Australian contemporary music industry to “move from a music nation to a global music powerhouse that can fully realise the cultural, economic and social benefits of a vibrant, healthy and sustainable music industry accessible to all Australians.”
As part of that vision we called for the establishment of a national music development function – a “Music Australia” – enabling a whole-of-government, cross-portfolio, strategic, long-term and invested relationship with the breadth of the contemporary music industry.
A national music development function would allow us as an industry to collectively think big, imagine and plan the local and global opportunity for Australia’s most vibrant and exciting cultural and creative industry.
It would provide support for the establishment of First Nations led music creation and music businesses, the opportunity for musicians, artists, businesses, and workers to have a voice and agency across the full breadth of the music industry ecology, a new framework to ensure the visibility of Australian music across platforms, support for Support Act and investment in the skills, training, development and export of great Australian music.
The next ten years will be critical if Australia is to realise future job creation and build skills in music – one of the fastest growing global industries at the forefront of cultural expression, community building, innovation, and economic growth.
As APRA Chair Jenny Morris articulated in an address at the National Press Club in Canberra in August 2020:
“Australia should have a vision to become a net exporter of music. This won’t happen overnight and it could well take a decade but you need a clear vision in order to start change now. Aussies have never backed away from a challenge – we need to back ourselves. The potential reward is nation defining.”
The music industry is backing itself, and on the eve of the release of the National Cultural Policy, we will see whether we have a government that’s going to back us as well. The dividend of this partnership has the potential to provide not just a cultural and social dividend, but an economic one as well. Above all else, it will provide a musical legacy for generations.
Dean Ormston is the Chief Executive Officer of APRA AMCOS. Dean has worked with APRA AMCOS for over 20 years across all key areas of the organisation. He has lead advocacy with Federal and State Governments for the recognition and support of creators’ rights and the potential of the local music industry as a key economic and cultural asset that drives exports and educational outcomes across the country.