It’s kind of weird for me to talk about this year’s ARIA Week in past tense, as it happened only a couple weeks ago, and it seemed like the lead-up to me going to Australia for the first time – including one close friend of mine getting “…very excited about you going to the land of Kylie Minogue!” for me – went on forever. The more I look back at my week in Sydney during the Australian music industry’s most important time of year, the more unbelievable I feel that I got to witness and be part of that week of events.
On Monday, before all the gigs began, I attended the industry-geared ARIA Masterclass. The keynote address was given by Denis Handlin, the ARIA Chairman and CEO of Sony Music Entertainment Australia & New Zealand and President, Asia. He’s been with Sony since 1970, so he obviously has seen the music industry change in ways no-one could have possibly imagined. But one quote he gave stuck with me all week, and even until now: “The only place success comes before work is in the dictionary.” And it’s true.
Although ‘Gangnam Style’ artiste Psy is not Australian, he was brought up time and time again by speakers and delegates at I’ve only ever gotten one publicity-type email about Psy, so personally, I don’t think he will take on the world with the success of that one song. To be honest, I think he will ‘Gangnam Style’ will be ‘The Macarena’ for this current generation and will have a hard time consolidating real success beyond his home county of Korea. Several speakers credited Psy’s overnight worldwide success with ‘Gangnam Style’ with him not taking copyright fees from YouTube; it was explained that in allowing everyone and anyone to do whatever they wanted to with the song without restriction, ‘Gangnam Style’ reached a far wider audience than it would have if traditional copyright controls had been in place.
Cheryl and I have already had a discussion about this, and we’ve agreed that it can work for Psy because he’s already a multi-millionaire at home, but the artists we tend to write about here on TGTF, the indie bands who are barely scraping a living off ticket and merch sales, can’t afford such an ‘extravagant’ doing away with fees that could help their livelihood. While some delegates seem to think Psy has paved the way for a whole new business model in the 21st Century, I’m not holding my breath that any other artists from Asia or Australia will come through in the same fashion. If it does happen, good for them. But the reality for us here at TGTF is that we’re going to keep on going as we always have, which is to support bands on our own, pretty much grass roots method.
Another interesting topic that doesn’t really get broached in either Britain or America is how to make your artist or brand successful in another part of the world. Britain and America have the benefit of sharing a language, but for Australian bands, physically the next easiest place to tour is Asia, where English is not the primary language. Local Australian / Chinese singer and live music manager Deb Fung suggested that if Australian artists wanted to get into China, she would recommend them record a song entirely in Chinese. (The idea in my mind sounded next to impossible. I have enough trouble with speaking the Chinese that I know and I was brought up with it; how would an Australian band with no knowledge of Chinese cope?) One suggestion that I was really surprised it never was mentioned was cross pollination between artists in different countries. If it worked for Run DMC and Aerosmith to help bridge the gap between genres, why can’t it work across countries? The latest news that Kendrick Lamar’s vocals are appearing on a new Dido track proves that there is validity to introducing one set of fans to another artist they might not otherwise take the time to listen to.
So the most important things I gleaned from the ARIA Masterclass, as well as ARIA Week as a whole? The Australian music industry is a very special kind of animal. I think someone from the outside like me fully realises, easily, how the physical distance from other countries makes it hard for small bands to visit Australia and ‘make it’ there, and it’s just as hard for Australian bands trying to make it out of Australia. The industry is fiercely proud of its bands, as they should be: they’ve got amazing bands and artists with loads of potential. You might have it in your head that Australians go to the beach too much to surf and put shrimp on the barbie. I admit it, that’s exactly what I thought, especially after finding out my house mum for the week went to Bondi every morning. (And who could blame them, with all that brilliant sun and warmth?) But unless you actually visit and you witness the electricity at a gig, in Sydney or anywhere else, you have no true idea how important music is to this community. With their position as the 6th largest music market in the world, you’d be a fool not to keep your eye on Australia and what great artists they will bring to the world’s attention next.
Thank you Australia for giving me a sun-filled week on my usual gloomy wintertime birthday. And thank you ARIA Week for an exciting week I’ll never forget!