Why Are Aussies So Bad At Selling Singles?

Over a two-year period, just five songs by Australian artists managed to top the Australian music charts. Is that a concern in an era when single-track sales are increasingly dominant?

Picture by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images

Today in Sydney, the Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) will hold its #1 Chart Awards, which recognise Australian acts which topped the singles, album or music DVD charts between August 2010 and August 2012. ARIA is happy to point out that Australian performers ran up a total of 61 weeks on top of one of those three charts. But when it comes to selling individual tracks, the picture is somewhat little grimmer.

Over that 104-week period, just 16 weeks had an Australian song at the top of the charts -- and half of that figure is a single track. Here are the performers that managed that feat:

  • 'Who's That Girl', Guy Sebastian featuring Eve (2 weeks)
  • 'Somebody That I Used To Know', Gotye featuring Kimbra (8 weeks)
  • 'Good Night', Reece Mastin (1 week)
  • 'Stay With Me Baby', Karise Eden (1 week)
  • 'Shout It Out', Reece Mastin (1 week)

In an era where buying individual tracks is easier than ever, it's potentially disturbing that the Australian charts aren't often being topped by local performers. Three of those songs were from TV talent show winners (Reece Mastin and Karise Eden). I noted in this column a few weeks back that Eden's sales record for individual tracks was unimpressive, with songs from The Voice falling off the charts very quickly after an initial TV-driven surge. Mastin's single-week chart-topping performances exhibit a similar pattern.

But does it matter? Sticking with Eden for a moment, while her ability to sell singles is limited, my initial cynicism about her potential to shift albums was entirely wrong. Six weeks after release, her album hasn't slipped from number one. The odds of Eden's music getting widespread radio play (a big factor in individual track sales) were always low, so healthy album sales are an impressive achievement.

In album terms, Australian acts did slightly better in the same two-year period, with eight artists topping the summit. That said, only three of them managed more than a single week at number one (Eden, who had four weeks at #1 in that time frame, and Hilltop Hoods and Missy Higgins, each with two weeks on top.)

Being number one isn't everything; you'll make more money with an album that sticks in the top twenty for a year than one which tops the charts the first week and is gone entirely a month later. However, it's a recognised marker of success, and a marketing tool that acts will use years after they have stopped troubling the charts (notice how any guest on The X-Factor will have their #1 count cited as evidence of their success).

The lesson for budding performers would seem to be this: you have better odds of topping the charts with an album than a single, so you'll need more than one killer track. But it's also worth remembering that Australia has never shown a consistent loyalty to local artists.

As I discovered when I researched which big-selling Australian tracks were available on iTunes back in 2011, the number of Australian acts in the year's top sellers can vary: "On average, just under one-fifth of the songs in our 25 favourites for a year will be Australian; for albums, the number is only marginally higher. There’s major variation, though — in some years, the figure hits zero, in a best-case scenario, it might reach towards a dozen." So we don't need to panic, but local record companies do need to look at how they can do better with selling Australian music right now.

Lifehacker's weekly Streaming column looks at how technology is keeping us entertained.


    Is this taking into account iTunes and Streaming (Spotify etc)?

    Went to buy a single this week from JB HiFi. Was told this particular single was not in stock.
    Check later online - Single is apparently digital distribution only.
    F$$$. That.

      "Went to buy a single " thats gone be used in stand up comedy soon ...

        yeah, why would you want a more convenient method

      Used to work at JB Hi Fi, they stopped selling singles completely about 3 years ago, at least!

      I just assumed most singles were digital distribution only. Do CD singles still exist? Where do people buy them? I've never actually seen any in a physical retailer in at least half a decade.

        I work in a music store and we haven't stocked CD singles for a long time now - probably around two to three years. They do still exist- just not very many. Most labels don't bother putting out physical CD singles any more.

    People buy singles?

      When you buy an individual song on iTunes, that's a single. It's not just referring to CD singles.

    Australia is bad at selling singles because most of that acts that win these awards do not control the kind of music they want to put out and as a result I feel that the Australian public does not support music that is not authentic.

    Might be because Australian artists seem to dichotomise perfectly between trying to hard to be commercially viable by being poor imitations of American pop, and making interesting music with no shot at mainstream crossover. Gotye and The Presets from 4 years ago are notable exceptions that come to mind. If your appetite was for pop singles, the Americans are so much better at it. Katy Perry and Beyonce or Ricki Lee and Jessica Mauboy? It's not a question whichever way you slice it. In 2012, to assume consumers will support inferior product because it is local is asinine. You could extend these problems to both TV and Film also.

    Proportion of that list who are actual music artists as opposed to game show winners: 20%

      Oops, Angus has noted that, except you forgot Guy Sebastian was a game show winner too :)

    I buy singles all the time. Kraft singles that is. Sorry, bit cheesy?

      The joke might be cheesy, but Kraft Singles certainly aren't ;)

    I think its because we get flooded by the songs on tv and radio everywhere, like they are already super famous when really they are just paying for marketing. Plus i think its a simple matter of sob stories on tv get you through competitions more than talent and then when they try and sell the song the pity has already been milked out of everyone.

    And who are those 'artists'? I've heard of 1 maybe 2..

    For me, Albums mean far more than singles.
    It's no good having a number one single if the rest of the album is utter tripe.



      beside gotye at the moment, there isn't a bigger Australian act out there on the international arena at the moment. top dudes, top music.

    who the fuck buys singles anyway?
    if i EVER was to buy music (I get mine free legally)
    i would never buy a single, id wait for the album to come out

      Can you share your free, legal secret?

      What about the songs that artists never release on albums? They only release a single.

      And how do you get free music legally?

    Maybe the people these songs are marketed to use other means to obtain a copy of the song. Since most of the songs are for teens, who are very tech savy.

      Oh I dunno, the teens I know that pop music and such that it is aimed at have a hard enough time using a computer to google something or use an online music store heh.

    I think you hit the nail on the head in the article - the problem is radio which by and large plays it safe (and repetitively) with their playlists.

    I've always been an album buyer myself - but the last Australian album I bought was probably "Art" by Regurgitator - Australian music doesn't hold that much appeal for me.

    Guy Sebastian was the winner of the inaugural Australian Idol, too, so Gotye's really the only artist without the hot air of a reality contest win to boost his sales.

    I have only been in aussie for about 4 months but one thing i have noticed is that none of the mainstream aussie stuff that gets played over on mainstream radio never really gets that connection making me really love that song with passion like they did in the 80s with the likes of ac/dc , midnight oil etc back when bands played real music not this crap from aussie idols winners etc that have a very short self life

    Maybe the aussie music industry needs to get out and go looking for the next ac/dc in the local scene rather then the teenie poper music i see alot of now days

    Haven't seen CD singles for a long time but you can still get 12" vinyl singles in certain music styles like house and hip-hop. V. expensive but you can get them. Really only for the old-school DJs who don't want to go digital.

    Maybe it's because somebody let footballers play the guitar?

    Take a hard look at the radio playlisting and who owns what media outlet and what "talent show is aligned with which record company.....there is your answer.

    If Adam Hills put out his Working Class Man/ Advance Australia Fair song as a CD Single I would buy it for sure.

    Pretty sure the reason why Australians are so bad at selling singles is because Australian music sucks in general.

    I'm Australian and I approve this message. step up your game, Aussies.

Join the discussion!

Trending Stories Right Now