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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Comments

    one can only suspect that the 'gentrification' of many cities all around australia is somehow contributing to the lack of exposure for local aussie bands, simply because soo many life music venues have shut down.

    ten years ago in melbourne they'd be @ least 20+ venues willing to accomodate the smaller crowds aussie bands tend to attract.. & Turning to now, there are prob under a handful of such venues remaining..

    This is the globalisation of the music industry, Australia needs to up the game to even compete with S Korea, etc.
    Also... The Bee Gees? A UK band that moved here for a few years until they got their first chart success and then moved back to the UK. Let it go.

      Thank you for explaining the Bee Gees reference. It made no sense to me in the article.

      yeah it is the globalization of music. It's one of the most ignored factors in talking about the problems with the music industry these days.

      A hit is now one everywhere in the world and being a small country we are predominately influenced by media from elsewhere. So how can local artists compete?

      The Bee Gees I would class as an Aussie Band that made it big in the UK as they formed the band when they were living here. They immigated (those damn immigants) from the UK so that would make then at least dual citizens. So Bee Gees are Aussie, just like Mel Gibson, Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe and Harold from Neighbours. They are all as Aussie as a Salvation Army Tuba player!

        Nice list. The BeeGees were about as Australian as Benny Hill. Should probably add that fine Scottish band AC-DC to the list.

          I don't think Benny Hill lived in Australia throughout his childhood and recorded two albums here (though I do struggle with counting the Bee Gees purely as an Aussie act).

            I'm not sure why so many are discounting the Bee Gees as Purely Aussie? They formed as a band in Aussie, they were Australian on paper (they did immigrate here). With this reasoning, our Kylie could be considered an UK artist as she only really made it big in the UK (only having a few hits here before heading off-shore).

              It's like saying The Living End should be called an American or Japanese band because they broke it big time in the US & Japan, like they never could here. Despite their albums always charting well with ARIA.

          I fail to see how AC/DC is Scottish, yeah sure the lot of them emigrated out to Australia when they were kids (under the age of 10). But AC/DC couldn't be more Australian than they are. They're a pub rock band which defines this country's rock music.

    Could it also be that people who listen to Australian Music, buy the albums (on CD) rather than just singles?

    Maybe ARIA just can't track all the singles that people are downloading. I buy my singles from a US website (7Digital). I doubt ARIA would keep track of sales in foreign stores like this.

    Or maybe current Aussie music is $%!T. Looking at the ARIA Top 50 chart does not inspire any confidence that it's going to get any better.

      You sir, I am giving the "nail on head award". The reality is it might just be crap.. Styles and forms copied from overseas when those styles themselves are already out of date..

      Just wait in march there will be an Australian Psy

        Hear! hear! You are right. No originality left in what we now call "music" cloned music from cloned music. Shortening the Gene Pool of music creativity will surely be the death of us.

      This is really all that needs to be said. There's not much more to it. Australian music is just absolute crap.

    Would it be a shame if the music industry as it currently stands were to disappear? Bands are less and less reliant on labels to help them get an album out. You can record the whole thing on your Mac at home and sell it on bandcamp extremely cheaply and efficiently. Social media also offers a cheap/free way to promote yourself.

    Bands and labels are going to have to wake up to the fact that the old model of making profit by selling albums is (sadly) no longer viable. Performing, merch and having your music featured on TV/film are the only real options.

    Yes, it's a global stage and with the possible exception of break-out acts like Gotye, Australia simply doesn't have the chops. It doesn't help that the few decent bands there are, such as the Hilltop Hoods, don't get any airplay anywhere apart from TripleJ.

    What actually makes its way in and out of Australia?
    I lived in Canada for about 3 years and found that I heard little of Australian music OUTSIDE of Australia apart from Midnight Oil, The Divinyls and maybe Crowded House. It's like there's this huuuuuge net that surrounds Australia, filtering what goes in and what comes out.
    When returning to Australia (I was about 18 at the time) I felt that the music style was just different to what I'd become accustomed to. I don't think that I rated it like I did before I'd left. There were some which stood out (crowded house) but quite a few which I found a little "unremarkable".
    The song "Happy Birthday Helen" in my mind is an example of an unremarkable song where, to me, it's devoid of any "wow factor", especially in the singing department. There's nothing that throws you back into your chair and forces you to stop and listen. It's in pitch but it's not like listening to Jeff Buckley or even Johnny Farnham.
    This is just my take on it. My experience happened at a time when the 'net was in its infancy and the idea of transferring an album within the space of 5 minutes was something that in Australia, we just couldn't entertain. It was mostly a dial up world!

    Is it not a fiercely competing, saturated market, both nationally and even more so internationally?

    Maybe we're looking at a saturated market? Nowadays it's nothing for someone to plug their mic into their computer, download a DAW (digital audio workstation) like cubase or a few of the free ones on the market, buy a cheap soundcard and away you go! It's never been easier to make music. Maybe the value of the song has strongly diminished over the years? Who knows!! The way a musician generates revenue has changed drastically from a time where considerable income could be derived from record sales. There's is an attitude "bugger this, I'll find it online and download it off the net". Bands that realise (not only) this look to other ways of generating an income. If you've seen the doco "The F Word" you get to see Pennywise touring, year long as that's the way they make the most of their money, in their performances.

    My 2 cents :)

      "It's like there's this huuuuuge net that surrounds Australia, filtering what goes in and what comes out."

      Having lived outside of Australia every alternate 2-3 years or so, Ï would concur that Australian music has little exposure overseas. I can't even buy the stuff I want as digital downloads so expensive CD shipment becomes the only legal route. It seems Australian artists and their publishers can't be bothered to even tick the box to make their music available on other iTunes stores.

      I've made the point here before: Australians shouldn't whine so much about not getting overseas music, TV, movies etc when it does an even poorer job at distributing its own content.

    As others have pointed out - it's the globalisation (with an 's') of music.

    'Back in the day', Australian artists got a boost from APRA legislation demanding Radio play at least 20% Australian content.

    Yes: that bolstered the local industry, but it also promoted some music that may not have made it had quality been the only criteria ... I believe that quota is still in play (but varies according to format).

    Having said that - maybe the early (if not totally deserved) 'confidence boost' then led to some superior music that would not have made it to the public ear otherwise ...

    Anyway: Radio is not the influence it once was - especially to younger ears, and Australian musicians must now use other means to get their message out - just like other musos from around the world.

    I think it all comes down to exposure. Or lack of it. Most consumers are lazy. They won't go looking for music, they just buy what's put in front of them and most of what's put in front of people by commercial media is American [email protected] or it's own product ie. the output of shows like X-factor and The Voice. Unless you can circumvent this with a viral video or something similar you don't get much of a look in.

    Could be due to the price difference between a digital track stored on an American server charged in American dollars and a track stored on an American server charged in Australian dollars.

    Also if an artist has more than quite a few tracks i like on an album, I'll buy the album over individual singles and leave out the tracks I don't like when forming a playlist.

    Lastly I have seen artists release 'new singles' on comericial stations that have been played for a few months prior on non-commercial stations. They general talk about the artists new album and play a few tracks from it. If I like the tracks and artists work I've generally tracked down the album and bought the album prior to it being released as a 'new single' on the commercials.

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