Dean Ormston is the Head of Member Services Group at APRA|AMCOS
In 2012 Icelandic/Swedish songwriter and producer Arnthor Birgisson attended APRA’s Song Summit in Sydney. We discussed with Arnthor why the Swedish music industry is and has long been such a powerhouse of pop songwriting. His response was delightfully simple and revealing, “We all learn how to write songs at school – it’s just like kicking a soccer ball – it’s no big deal”. Arnthor went on to talk about how kids help each other write songs, and that ‘collaboration’ is the norm. He spoke of the Swedish government’s total commitment to every child participating in music from an early age – with the result that creating music was something everyone just does.
Arnthor also made the observation that in the UK, USA and Australia the industry focus seemed to be very much about the artist and ‘breaking the band’. He reflected that in Sweden the focus was definitely on songwriters and composers.
Swedish songwriters and producers have for the past 20 years written hits for Madonna, Britney Spears, Back- street Boys, Take That, Jennifer Lopez, Ronan Keating, Janet Jackson, Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, Maroon 5. And there’s a new wave of Swedish songwriters and artists dominating internationally.
Sweden’s position as one of only three net music exporting nations, behind the US and UK, provides compelling economic evidence of a culture that supports generally and broadly music creation. In 2014 Swedish songwriters had songs in the US Billboard top 10 for 114 weeks, the top 100 for 340 weeks, with 20 songs at number one for a collective 14 weeks. Swedish pop writing phenomena Max Martin received a Grammy for Producer of the Year – he’s had 19 songs top the Billboard chart. Avicii, Icona Pop, Swedish House Mafia, Erik Hassle and Tove Lo all achieved chart topping success in the US.
Swedish international success is not confined to pop, with many of its contemporary art music composers enjoying substantive international success.
The Swedish Performing Rights Organisation, STIM, collected over AUD$84.3 million in 2014 for the performance of Swedish-penned musical works performed overseas. By way of comparison in 2014 APRA collected AUD$34.5 million for the overseas performance of Australian musical works.
So how is Australia looking?
On face value there is enormous opportunity for Australia to become a music export powerhouse. Over the last few years more Australian artists have been active and successful in foreign markets than for at least the
past decade. The US drought was initially broken by Gotye and more recently supported by Sia – who has achieved stellar song-writing status and was awarded APRA Songwriter of the Year in March 2015 for the third consecutive year.
In 2014, 261 Australian artists showcased at international events with Sounds Australia – as compared to 49 artists in 2009 – securing 343 business outcomes (a 42% year-on-year increase), including: major overseas record and publishing deals; international management, agents and Festival and Tour Support spots; TV appearances and synchronisation deals.
In the past two years new Australian artists have featured in headline announcements for major leading events exemplified by Coachella (Chet Faker, Vance Joy, Peking Duk), Lollapalooza (Alice in Wonderland, Chet Faker, DMA’s, Hermitude, Peking Duk, Sheppard), and Bonnaroo (Little May, DMA’s, The Falls, Flume, Courtney Barnett, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard). Australian artists appeared on Ellen (Sia, Sheppard, 5 Seconds of Summer), The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon (Courtney Barnett, 5 Seconds of Summer and Iggy Azalea) and Jimmy Kimmel Live (Birds of Tokyo, Cut Copy, Iggy Azalea, Sia, 5 Seconds of Summer).
On face value there is enormous opportunity for Australia to become a music export powerhouse
What are we doing?
Inspired by the Swedish example APRA AMCOS reviewed its support and investment in developing music creators. Our focus narrowed to key points of influence a) high school age artists b) emerging high potential artists c) live performing artists and d) export ready artists.
In advocating to governments for support we’ve argued the need to strategically, holistically and collaboratively ‘invest’ in the contemporary music sector. The result has been the development and continuing support for five key programs.
- SongMakers: Co-funded by APRA AMCOS and the Australian Government through Department of Education and the Ministry for the Arts. SongMakers is an intensive, school-based residency program that utilises Australia’s best songwriters and producers to mentor senior students to create and record new music.
- SongHubs: Co-funded by APRA AMCOS and the Australian Government through the Ministry for the Arts, SongHubs is specifically designed to bring together experts in the fields of songwriting, production and performance resulting in world-class creative output, ready for market.
- Live Music Office: Co-funded by APRA AMCOS and the Australian Government through the Ministry for the Arts, the Live Music Office was established in 2013 to support the growth of the venue-based live music sector in Australia.
- Sounds Australia: A joint initiative of the Australia Council and APRA AMCOS, Sounds Australia is also supported by the Federal Government together with State Government Agencies and other peak industry bodies the PPCA and AMPAL. Sounds Australia was established in 2009 and has been the single most important government and industry collaboration in supporting the export potential of the contemporary music sector.
- Aboriginal & Torres Strait Island (ATSI) Music Office: Funded by APRA AMCOS and partnering with governments and industry organisations (PPCA, The Seed, Skinnyfish) to deliver specific programs in supporting ATSI songwriters and composers.
What’s the potential?
While many good things are happening, there’s enormous opportunity to raise the stakes in realising the potential of the contemporary music sector.
What’s missing is an overarching whole-of-government commitment and strategy to invest in the contemporary music sector. The sector delivers results relevant to a broad range of government portfolios (state and federal), including; Arts, Education, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs, Innovation, Foreign Affairs, Trade & Investment, Tourism, Health, Small Business and Regional Development.
In comparison to other key Australian industries, government investment in the arts and specifically the contemporary music sector is derisory.
Despite being a domestically and internationally successful sports loving nation, we invest heavily in sport… and rightly so! However, contemporary live music performance occurs in approximately 4,000 small independent venues across Australia, presenting over 328,000 performances and drawing an annual total audience in excess of 40 million patrons. Yet the Australia Council allocated $14.5 million or 7.3% of its $199.2 million funding to ‘Other music’, which included contemporary music.
The venue-based live music sector is the engine room of Australia’s music export mission.
There have been a number of key studies quantifying the economic contribution of the live music sector. The Live Music Office in conjunction with the University of Tasmania will soon release research that quantifies the social, cultural and economic contribution of the live music sector, by identifying commercial, civic and individual benefits – it’s in the billions!
APRA AMCOS, in conjunction with the Australia Council, Australian Hotels Association, Arts SA and PPCA will also soon release an Ernst & Young prepared report on the application of tax offsets as an investment strategy for the contemporary music sector.
Investing in the lifecycle of music creators and the musical work has the potential to provide significant cultural and economic returns
The Australian Research Council (ARC) has recently confirmed 3 music focused research projects. The unprecedented focus on music and the contemporary sector will bring academic rigour and weight to quantifying metrics relating to; music export; new digital music distribution/remuneration models, and; a music search engine for art music. APRA AMCOS is partnering in each of the study projects which collectively includes; QUT, Swinburne University, Newcastle University, Monash University, the MARCS Institute, University of Western Sydney, University of Waikato NZ, the Australian Music Centre (AMC) and the Australia Council.
Music creators are at the heart of the Australian contemporary music sector. Investing in the lifecycle of music creators and the musical work has the potential to provide significant cultural and economic returns.
Our songwriters, composers and artists are increasingly recognised and lauded internationally – a source of cultural identity, pride and evolution.
Distance is no longer a tyranny and Australia has the potential to become a major global music exporter, perhaps a net music exporter…move over Sweden!
 STIM Annual Report 2014.
 The economic contribution of the venue-based live music industry in Australia, Ernst & Young, 2011.
 Australia Council Annual Report 2013 – 2014.