Thursday 7 September

10:00 – Keynote: Tina Arena, JWC, Freya
Thursday’s keynote speech delivered by Tina Arena at The Judith Wright Centre had to be the highlight of my BIGSOUND experience. That is, of course, aside from being in the presence of Kathy McCabe, my longtime journalistic hero and biggest role model. McCabe moderated the event with dry wit and quiet self-assurance, having interviewed some of the biggest artists in the business across a 20 year career, this was hardly surprising.

What fascinated me about Arena’s address was her unapologetic and frank criticism of the music industry. Without any obligatory sugar coating of the business which has ultimately supported her career, Arena shed light on the lack of responsibility being taken for the shortfalls in programming quotas, artists revenue, gender equality and recognition of artists over 40. She called out the conversations not being had by the major players, without looking to disrespect their role in the game, Arena was adamant that there needs to be a rapid overhaul of the content being delivered to Australian audiences, while radio stations, in particular, have an obligation under their licenses to be distributing at least 25% Australian music, these quotas are failing to be met. And if they are these quotas are being met, it is with heritage acts after

She called out the conversations not being had by the major players. Without looking to disrespect their role in the game, Arena was adamant that there needs to be a rapid overhaul of the content being delivered to Australian audiences, while radio stations, in particular, have an obligation under their licenses to be distributing at least 25% Australian music, these quotas are failing to be met. And if they are these quotas are being met, it is with heritage acts after 10pm at night.

While stations such as triple j and community radio seem to be doing their fair share, there are risks that are not being taken in order to support young Australian artists, particularly by commercial radio. Following on from this Arena questioned the relevance of artists age and gender when it came to observations of their records and performances. Using the example of her most recent appearance alongside Client Liaison at Splendour In The Grass, Arena pointed out that with every report of her performance her age was a key factor, while a few stages over Paul Kelly, who is, in fact, older than herself, had no comment made of his age nor his appearance.

One issue which seemed to be tightly woven into Arena’s address was the complexity of remuneration for artists and the need for greater transparency when it comes to recording deals. Drawing upon her own experiences, she went on to say quite frankly, that major record labels are in a position of power whereby artists – particularly artists new to the industry – are being taken advantage of and not being made aware of how much money they are entitled to and what their obligations are to those labels.

She called for a simplified royalties statement that gave artists a better understanding of where their money is coming from and how much they are actually making in terms of their streaming revenue and licensing royalties. And while there was no part of her speech that seemed to discourage artists to follow their dreams when it came to their music, she gave a stern warning that fame and success are not everything they are made out to be. With a flash in her eye, Arena stared down the audience and exclaimed “You want to be famous? You have to live, breathe and shit music.”

The seminar concluded with a short Q&A with McCabe recapping her address and shedding light on the balancing act in managing a family and a career, filled with heartwarming anecdotes and an air of vulnerability which Arena took in her stride. Overall there was not a moment across the seminar where I was not transfixed by Arena’s sharp wit, scrappy delivery and brutal honesty. I highly recommend to anyone who has the opportunity, take the time to read more into Tina Arena as a commentator of our industry, her sharp observation and fierce passion is truly inspiring.

14:00 – Why is it Important to Program Australian Content?, IMA Courtyard, Freya
Sitting in on the Programming Australian Content seminar on Thursday afternoon proved to be slightly disappointing. Featuring Nick Findlay, Music Director of triple j; Jack Ball, Music Director of Brisbane’s HIT 105; Monique Bour of MTV AUS/NZ; James Cheatley of Screen Producers Australia and Lars Brandle of Billboard.

While the conversation was steered towards meeting content quotas for Australian music, in particular new music, I felt that each panelist (with the exception of Jack Ball of HIT 105) spent most of the conversation justifying their own position when it came to their rotations. I would have had a lot more time for the discussion had it been an active roundtable as to the action that could be made to addressing the limitations for playing Australian music and where the bias lays in selecting international acts over our own.

As it stands, the current requirements for Australian radio stations are 25% Australian content, 50% of that as new music. The regulators for these standards, Australian Music Performance Committee (AMPCOM), have not in fact met for a number of years, and some stations have been reported to be playing a dismal 8% of Australian content as a result of the lack of rigidity in these conditions.

While the panel did have plenty of praise for Australian music, they did say that they consider it a risk to go out and play new local music for the sake of their ratings and audience engagement. However, an audience member did point out that, when you are in a position such as a that of triple j and commercial radio station, there is a great power as dictators of trends in the music industry. With that power comes responsibility. Those who trust their favourite radio station are, unless they are hyper-engaged and critical, likely to take the selections of that radio station as gospel in taste.

The risk lays in steering the conversation more towards educating the wider population on the quality of original Australian music, and in doing so fostering a community united under great local artists. Somehow it felt like a pretty half-hearted attempt at addressing the issue at hand, even less motivating to see the Music Director of triple j Nick Findlay checking his phone halfway through a panel, upon which he was probably the most influential figure. I would also have liked for Michelle Bour to have had more input than she did; as a key player in music television in Australia and New Zealand, I feel her ideas would have been a lot more valuable than she gave herself credit for.

15:35 – So, You’ve Been Called Out…, JWC, Mick
In this age of new media, there is not only more scrutiny of people and analysis of behaviour, but also the immediate ability to call out situations that are either unethical, antisocial or downright criminal.

BIGSOUND attempted to address a spate of recent publicised calling out incidents by assembling a panel stretching from label to musician to booking agent to media, to discuss the increasing calling out culture and the effectiveness of it.

Moderator, Shaad D’Souza, was balanced in his questioning, conscious that calling out occurs from both musicians and consumers alike. Musician, Bec Sandridge – herself a target for malicious and misogynistic comments – rightfully defended her right to call out perpetrators, whilst Mellum director and founder, Udaravi Widanapathirana, discussed their direct experience in dealing with artists that have been called out. “I would give the artist an opportunity to step down [from a festival] rather than booting them out.”

The most interesting part of the discussion came when discussing the role of the media in calling out incidents. Joel King, managing director of Evolve Media (including Music Feeds), defended the media’s reporting of incidents, stating that neutrality is always important when journalism is concerned. This sparked questions from panelists and attendees alike, suggesting that perhaps the media could be a part of setting the standard and the agenda when it comes to calling out disrespectful dialogue or behaviour.

King revealed that the site gets frequent requests to remove content from their site, but has a policy not to do so. With media outlets treading carefully when it comes to walking the legality tightrope, there is an accusation that alleged victims voices are not heard enough.

From Sandridge’s perspective, her experience of calling out perpetrators has resulted in “no more dickheads” at her gigs. The big takeaway from the session is that if you’re not a dickhead, calling out is not an issue; but be sure that if you are, you have little defense.