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.