Taylor Swift and Troye Sivan: what their love-in means for Australian music

The internet has sped things up for Australian acts such as Tame Impala and Troye Sivan breaking the international market, say insiders at Big Sound

Even a decade ago if you were a 20-year-old singer living in Perth it would have been nigh on impossible that the world’s biggest pop act would personally endorse you to her 63 million fans.

But panellists speaking on the state of the Australian music industry at the Big Sound conference in Brisbane on Wednesday said the electronic pop act Troye Sivan – the latest inductee into Taylor Swift’s posse of famous friends – is an example of how technology has radically changed the game for Australian musicians.


— Taylor Swift (@taylorswift13) September 7, 2015

Dan Rosen, chief executive of the Australian Recording Industry Association (Aria), said technology had “flattened” the world of music, and quality music was naturally floating to the surface of public attention – something Australian artists, once inhibited by their proximity from the epicentres of the western music world, are clearly benefiting from.

“Ten to 15 years ago you had fewer gatekeepers and it was harder for Aussies to break through,” he said. That singer-songwriter Gotye could reach No 1 on charts around the world without having first relocated overseas, as he did in 2011 with his smash hit Somebody That I Used to Know, was “phenomenal”.

Blake Rayner, A&R manager at Australian indie label Dew Process, said the past two years had seen a “massive change” in how Australian music was perceived internationally. The world was “ripe” for Australian music. “It’s almost an add-on, as opposed to something you talk about in the third line of a bio.”

Somewhat counter-intuitively, Rayner said the “lack of an Australian sound” was working to the benefit of contemporary musicians, in contrast to the country’s reputation for hard rock during the 80s and 90s. “What defines Australia [now] is the breadth and quality of music … It’s more about an ethos.”

Tame Impala playing Splendour In The Grass festival in Byron Bay – and the rest of the world.
Tame Impala play Splendour in the Grass festival – and the rest of the world. Photograph: Jonny Weeks for the Guardian

He drew on Flume and Tame Impala as examples of acts “everyone understands as Australian, but it’s not a defining quality. It’s about their work ethic.”

There remained key challenges for artists trying to break into the international market, not least the cost of touring when the Australian dollar had seen such a dramatic devaluation over the past five years. Rayner said bands wanting to perform at the influential music conference SXSW in Austin, Texas, should expect to spend $30,ooo to $40,000 “without even breathing”.

While there were multiple channels for musical acts to earn a living, including streaming, licensing, touring and sales, “sometimes it feels like we’re working 30% harder to make 30% less”.

Rayner advised bands to “choose [their] time” and sink costly investments only at appropriate stages of their career. Even someone in a “remote Tasmanian town” can become part of a global conversation with a Wi-Fi connection featuring on international taste-making music sites such as Pitchfork and Stereogum.

In addressing the ongoing issue of piracy, Rosen said it was important to move fans “back into where money flows into the music ecosystem”. In terms of returns for the artist, YouTube was “better than piracy”, but better still were streaming services such as Spotify, Apple Music and then getting customers into record stores to buy vinyl.

Despite overall profits in the music industry continuing to drop in recent years, Rosen had a positive forecast: “We’re at the bottom and it’s starting to turn back around.”


Monica Tan

The GuardianTramp

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