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Why Are Aussie Tracks Struggling In The Digital Music Era?

With downloading now representing the biggest storefront for music, individual tracks reign supreme over albums. As such, ARIA’s official rankings of Australia’s top-selling singles for 2012 don’t represent very good news for the local music industry.

Picture by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images

ARIA’s rankings of the best-selling singles and albums for 2012 were released this week. On the albums chart, 27 of the 100 top-selling titles were by Australian artists (and that number would rise to 29 if you included the two Bee Gees compilations on the list, a tactic ARIA has used in the past). The biggest local album acts were Karise Eden at #6 (once again proving that my prediction that she wouldn’t have much of a career was very wide of the mark) and Guy Sebastian at #8. Six Australian artists ranked in the top 20.

However, the numbers didn’t look quite so healthy for singles. Just 11 tracks made the entire top 100, and only three of those were in the top 20 (Guy Sebastian’s ‘Battle Scars’ at #3, Justice Crew’s ‘Boom Boom’ at #7 and Matt Corby’s ‘Into The Flame’ EP at #13). That’s in line with a pattern we saw emerge last year, with Australian artists struggling to top the singles charts.

It’s well-established that the number of Australian acts in the end of year lists varies widely from year to year. However, the relative lack of success in the singles market is an obvious cause for concern. If selling individual tracks is becoming the dominant mode of music consumption, we don’t want to see local artists missing out.

That trend hasn’t gone unnoticed by record labels. As music industry trade magazine Billboard put it:

The paltry 11 homegrown tracks which made the year-end chart seems to supports calls from the many industry leaders here who are rallying commercial radio for greater support for Australian acts.

Radio support might help, but that notion does seem at least partially based on the equally old-fashioned assumption that radio is the only way people encounter new music. In particular, it doesn’t take account of the many other ways to access music online: through the many streaming subscription services, via online video sites such as YouTube and Vevo, or via torrents.

The bottom line? Making money from music is harder than it used to be, and minimal payments from services such as Spotify aren’t going to help with that. But it would be a great shame if our local music industry became so bad at selling individual tracks that the entire business model disappears.

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