Building a thriving recorded music sector is a prerequisite for any successful music industry. As we examine ways to strengthen our sector, Shane Homan has summarised a 2012 report he wrote for the Australia Council, and reflects on what is needed next.
Assoc Professor Shane Homan, Monash University
In March 2012, I was commissioned by the Australia Council to (i) understand the needs of the music recording sector as a series of small, medium and large businesses; (ii) assess what is required to grow the recording sector in the immediate and long term, amidst substantial changes in music and media technologies; and (iii) explore the specific role of government in ensuring the sustainability of music recording in Australia. The report, The Music Recording Sector in Australia: Strategic Initiatives, was completed in April 2012. Given the continued disquiet in relation to the funding of Melba Recordings outside normal channels, and then Minister Crean’s decision to revoke the funding, a sub-theme of the report was the federal government’s role in growing the entire sector (classical and contemporary). Twenty-one interviews were conducted with large and small label owners, as a small sample of different genres, music forms and markets.
On the back of the Strategic Contemporary Music Industry Plan (2010), the National Digital Economy Strategy (2011), the Convergence Review (2012) and the drafting of a National Cultural Policy (2012), the report canvassed the industry’s collective intent on copyright reform (recently granted by the current Communications Minister and Attorney-General); the shifts from traditional media to new media promotional and distribution platforms; local content regulation; export strategies; building expertise; and funding options.
How recording labels as small businesses are enabled to grow can be the central question for the role of government
While two of the primary recommendations – increased support for Sounds Australia, and a pilot funding scheme for small labels – were implemented, longer term planning is obviously still required on other issues. Whether classical or hip hop, indigenous rock or world music, there was striking consensus among those we interviewed about planning for success in a small business environment. Given the current federal governance environment, this is potentially the best means of advocating change. How recording labels as small businesses are enabled to grow can be the central question for the role of government. This narrative can speak to reducing red tape (e.g. streamlining visa applications for incoming and outgoing musicians); driving innovation (cementing financial assistance for new labels at the cutting edge of their genres); or ensuring that emerging artists and labels benefit from wider industry expertise (mentoring programs for artists, labels and producers). As media platforms continue to multiply, more work is also needed on promotion of recordings and videos, amidst fears that Australian content will be lost in the burgeoning global supermarket of sounds and images.
Canada provides tax relief for both emerging artists and Canadian sound recordings
There was also a strong belief among those we spoke to of the need for tax assistance, similar to the Screen Australia Producer Offset Scheme for film productions that pass a ‘significant Australian content’ benchmark, with rebates of up to 40% of film productions costs, and 20% of television and documentary costs. Canada provides tax relief for both emerging artists and Canadian sound recordings. If this is to happen, more work is needed on matching the film industries’ success in selling culture as irreplaceable forms of Australian storytelling. Yet an opportunity is there to make similar correlations between national identity and local production, with targeted federal taxation support providing similar benefits and contributions, driven by the fact that Australians want to see and hear their favourite local artists.
In summary, the report’s recommendations were:
- Recording Grant Scheme: the provision of individual grants of up to $30,000 for artists and labels to assist in the creation of sound recordings by Australian composers and performers.
- Australian Sound Recording Tax Offset: a 100% tax rebate on sound recordings produced by Australian artists and recording companies residing in Australia.
- Media Marketing and Promotion Scheme: the provision of individual grants of up to $10,000 for assistance in the marketing of recordings in online formats.
- Increased Export Assistance: greater financial resources allocated to Sounds Australia that allows for an expansion of its existing export programs across all music genres.
- Recording Mentor Scheme: the provision of individual grants to artists and labels of up to $20,000 for the employment of quality recording producers or musicians of national and international standard.
- Future funding projects for the recording sector be established and processed through the mechanisms and overview of the Australia Council for the Arts.
Dating from mid-2102, they make interesting reading now, given the rapid succession of changing Arts Ministers and priorities (and funding models!). However, several case studies now exist (e.g. Courtney Barnett, Dan Sultan, Gotye) in which the ecology of industrial-government networks (at both state and federal government levels) make clear the benefits of proper support and planning.
You can access the full Australia Council Report.
Associate Professor Shane Homan teaches in the School of Media, Film and Journalism at Monash University, Melbourne. He has co-authored two books with Martin Cloonan (Glasgow University) and Jennifer Cattermole (Otago University) for publication by Routledge in 2015: Popular Music and Cultural Policy; and Popular Music Industries and the State.
 Interviews were conducted by myself, David Colville and Katrina Dowling in April 2012.