Australian Music Is Tanking In The Digital Era

Australian Music Is Tanking In The Digital Era

Of the 100 biggest-selling songs in Australia in 2013, just 13 were from Australian artists. That’s perhaps a marginal improvement on 2012, but it still suggests a difficult future for Australian acts (and labels) in the digital music era.

Picture: Getty Images

Local industry body ARIA today released its official top 100 charts for 2013 for both singles and albums. The biggest-selling track of the year was Katy Perry’s ‘Roar’, while Pink’s ‘The Truth About Love’ topped the album rankings for the second year running.

Australian artists didn’t do quite so well. The top-selling Australian single was Vance Joy’s ‘Riptide’, which came in at #12. While ARIA’s announcement noted that there were more Australian artists in the top 100 this year than last (13 versus 11), it didn’t point out that ‘Riptide’ was the only Australian track in the entire top 20. (Last year there were three.) There were only four Australian artists in the top 50: Vance Joy, Birds of Tokyo, Matt Corby and Guy Sebastian.

As we noted when looking at the 2012 figures last year, single sales are arguably more significant than albums these days, since in an era when digital sales dominate, many people cherry-pick individual tracks rather than buying entire albums.

On the album side of the equation, there were 27 acts in the top 100, the same number as last year. While there wasn’t such a gap at the top of the charts, there is a disturbing pattern evident in the five releases that made the top 20 (Flume, The 12th Man, Human Nature, Dami Im and Taylor Henderson). Flume’s self-titled album was the only one to feature original material — the others are compilations of greatest hits, X Factor covers or Christmas tunes. As a nation, our appetite for purchasing music that was actually composed by Australians seems extremely low.

Having spent time in the past looking at Australian chart records going back to the 1970s, I know that the proportion of Australian artists in these end-of-year lists varies over time. But the trend of ignoring our local acts seems more and more locked in over recent years. Increasingly, our musical tastes are mass-market and driven by the US (and to a somewhat lesser extent, the UK).

One innovation from ARIA this year is a Top 100 Streaming chart, reflecting the increasing use of subscription streaming music services such as Spotify and Rdio. Australian artists don’t do much better here, though at least Flume joins Vance Joy in the top 20. However, given the minimal income artists receive, that doesn’t yet suggest the basis of a healthy industry anyway. Making a living as a musician has never been easy, and right now in Australia it looks especially tough.

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


  • The reason for this is well known and it’s got bugger all to do with the move to digital delivery. There are very few venues left in Australia where bands can learn the skills and evolve into fully formed groups. Compare this with the UK and there are thousands of venues, from youth clubs, to pubs to town halls to full blown concert venues and they all have acts on week in and week out. In the UK there is a clear route that new bands can take to hone their skills from tiny little venues and on upwards – the shitty ones soon fall by the wayside and the good ones progress. So the reason there are so few Australian groups in that top 100 is not because of MP3s and Spotify and Pandora, but because there’s no longer an established pathway for them to take.

    • Yeah like the shutting down of so many great small venues in and around melbourne 🙁

  • Lorde is a kiwi who is a successful entertainer, right? Why don’t we do what we always do; claim her as an Aussie and boost our standing.

  • The percentage of population to artists must have something to do with that figure surely…?
    You can’t expect a population of twenty odd million to compare with say US’s two or three hundred million etc..

    • Compare Sweden with less than half Australia’s population, and the massively greater number of Swedish artists and songwriters on the international scene.

  • As well as the changes to the live music scene in Australia a big symbol reason is that music has become globalised. A big international artist has their work talked about and played in a much larger range of media avenues reaching the australian public. Australia media often then echoes this international chorus of attention instead of putting aussie music forward.

    Things like Masterchef using Katie Perry for the theme song. My Kitchen Rules was using Kesha but did at least switch to an aussie artist for the last season. You need more of supporting Australian artists in the media at large.

  • I find outside the capital cities there’s no music scene at all. In my area (Sunshine Coast QLD) there’s only a handful of venues that have live bands although. It also makes sense with the how the music festival scene is in jeopardy from what I read, what with numerous festivals cancelled last year and constant talk of Big Day Out being in big trouble.

    When I think of Australian music, I think of the bands like Powderfinger, The Angels, ACDC, INXS, Silverchair, etc. Maybe people’s attitudes and what comes to mind when they think of Australian music has changed..

  • What would be interesting is to get stats of Australian music sales outside of Australia. Perhaps in this global marketplace some Aussie artists are finding more of a niche elsewhere.

    • I’ve lived outside Australia for about 10 of the last 15 years – getting access to Australian music from outside is much harder than the converse. With few exceptions, they simply aren’t listed on iTunes, Spotify, Amazon etc stores overseas.

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