Music has played an integral role in the media habits of Australians since Federation.
Amalgamated Wireless Australasia (AWA) broadcast gramophone records as early as 1919. Music was a central part of the ABC’s early programming, with orchestral, choral and opera music fulfilling its charter to ‘elevate the mind’ from 1932. From the start, governments were prepared to encourage local music production. Concerned about the health of an emerging local recording industry, the 1927 Tariff Board Inquiry proposed tariffs on imported recordings, which became law in 1928; the Australian Broadcasting Act 1942 stipulated that 2.5 per cent of radio airplay comprise Australian composers. Before and during World War II, live community singing, broadcast in large theatres, was especially popular with regional stations, which also provided Australian ‘hillbilly’ and country performers with their early radio experiences on programs such as The Smoky Dawson Show and Joy and Heather McKean’s The Melody Trail. Talent quests, such as Star Finder and Australia’s Amateur Hour, were also useful for filling airtime and encouraging local performers. After World War II, some 40,000 ABC concert subscribers listened to the ABC’s Sydney and Melbourne orchestras, while programming diversified to include ‘light entertainment’.
By the 1950s, the visible emergence of a new demographic (youth) and a new media form (television) changed both the forms and roles of music across Australian media. The gradual importation of Top 40 programming from the United States provided a useful format for rock’n’roll, bolstered by the increase in the number of young people listening to radio in their cars and on transistor radios, and the increase in the local quota to 5 per cent. Local rock’n’roll stars could be found on television’s Your Hit Parade (HSV7, 1958), Brian Henderson’s Bandstand (TCN9, 1958–72) and Six O’Clock Rock (ABC2, 1959–62), hosted by Johnny O’Keefe. The GO! Show (1964–66) and Kommotion (1964–67) on the 0-10 network also produced loyal audiences. ‘Variety music’ continued to be an important staple of television variety and chat shows, such as Bobby Limb’s Sound of Music (1963–70).
Show orchestras have played an important role in live television. Geoff Harvey (Tonight With Dave Allen, The Don Lane Show and Midday on Nine), Tommy Tycho (Review 61, The Mavis Bramston Show, The Saturday Show, and Sydney Tonight on Seven) and Brian May (ABC’s Melbourne Show Band) were influential across their employer stations, composing program theme songs in addition to band leadership duties. Network orchestras have also been vital to the array of reconfigured talent shows such as Dancing With the Stars, The X Factor and Australia’s Got Talent (Seven). Established in 1988, the SBS Radio and Television Youth Orchestra has proven to be an important training institution for young musicians.
From May 1970, Australian radio stations refused to play the majors’ recordings for nine months, believing the recording companies’ claims to performance royalties to be unreasonable. Deprived of their central promotional source for new releases, the major labels ended the dispute. In 1973, the local radio quota rose to 10 per cent, then to 20 per cent in 1976.
For pop/rock audiences, GTK provided an important forum for Australian music in the early 1970s. The most successful music television program was arguably Countdown, which debuted on the ABC in 1974 and ran until 1987 hosted by Ian ‘Molly’ Meldrum, presenting (mimed) performances from international and local acts with interviews and video clips to an estimated audience of three million. Its unashamed pop stance in time was complemented by alternative programs that highlighted ‘indie’ music, such as Rock Arena, Rock Around the World and The Noise (SBS), and Beatbox (ABC). These programs provided bands with a national audience that in turn assisted in the formation of national touring circuits, as did the growth in local recording labels, including Festival (1952), W&G Records (1953), Albert Productions (1964), Mushroom (1972), Deluxe (1979) and Ivy League (1997). Festival and Mushroom were the only companies of sufficient size and influence to challenge the majors; they merged in 1998, with Festival-Mushroom becoming a part of News Corporation, and subsequently acquired by Warner Music in 2005. By 2010, founding owner Michael Gudinski had re-acquired the label as part of the new Mushroom Music group of companies.
AM radio profited considerably from pop music programming. By 1978, Sydney’s 2SM had achieved 24.9 per cent audience share. Meanwhile, BAL Marketing (now Rural Press Events), which operated 2TM Tamworth, staged the first Australasian Country Music Awards in Tamworth in 1973, leading to the annual Tamworth Country Music Festival and promotion of Tamworth as Australia’s country music capital.
After considerable government delay, FM radio was introduced in 1975, with classic music station 2MBS and ABC Classic FM in 1976, followed by rock/pop stations in 1980: 3EON and 3Fox (Melbourne), 2MMM and 2Day (Sydney), 4MMM (Brisbane), 5SSA (Adelaide) and 96FM (Perth). By the 1990s, many AM stations (2UW, 4BK, 5DN and 6PR) had converted to FM, while commercial music networks, such as Austereo, captured larger audiences. The Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association (CAAMA) was established in 1980, and has been influential in producing Indigenous country and rock acts, as well as Indigenous language recordings. The arrival on air in January 1975 of 2JJ, the ABC’s youth station, signified the public broadcaster’s commitment to local content not found on mainstream radio.
The decision by the Whitlam Labor government in 1975 to allocate community radio licences provided an important forum for emerging artists. Stations such as 3RRR and 3PBS (Melbourne), 4ZZZ (Brisbane) and FBi (Sydney) all have policies offering at least 50 per cent Australian content, and have played a more decisive role in ‘indie’ scenes and genres than the commercial networks. Further support was to be found in 2JJ’s shift to FM in 1980, when it rebranded as Triple J, and its subsequent programs dedicated to emerging Australian acts (Live at the Wireless, Unearthed and the Australian Music Show). The Howard Coalition government amended music broadcasting codes in 1999 to ensure that the mainstream, contemporary hits stations aired new local material.
Popular music has also provided the occasional censorship controversy. In 1998, former One Nation leader Pauline Hanson was successful in preventing further airplay of Simon Hunt’s recording ‘(I’m a) Back Door Man’ on Triple J, under the pseudonym ‘Pauline Pantsdown’. Subsequent court rulings on the song and Hunt’s next single, ‘I Don’t Like It’, agreed with Hanson’s argument that she was defamed. In 1996, the Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) introduced a Recorded Music Labelling Code of Practice. Updated in 2003, the code incorporates a three-tiered system of warnings about explicit language on recordings.
The Prices and Surveillance Authority’s Inquiry Into the Price of Sound Recordings in 1990 investigated the dominance of the multinational recording companies in Australia. The report concluded that, due to the absence of domestic price competition and protection from imports afforded by the Copyright Act 1968, Australian consumers paid excessive prices for CDs; it recommended the end of local subsidiaries’ exclusive licence agreements for CDs within Australia by allowing non-pirate CDs to be imported without requiring the consent of the Australian copyright owner (parallel importing). The recommendation became law in July 1998. Clear battle lines emerged between the industry, which argued the need for clear territorial rights and incomes, and the Howard Coalition government, which emphasised the economic benefits of reduced CD prices. Parallel importing has had little discernible effect upon local profits, and negligible effects upon CD pricing.
The Australian music industries have been central to global debates in relation to media copyright law. They have consistently followed the lead of other national recording industry bodies (in particular, the Recording Industry Association of America) in a dual process of litigation and legislation to prevent illegal music copying and sharing. In 2003, ARIA launched cases against three universities, citing large volumes of downloading by students using university computers. In 2004, it initiated court action against Kazaa, a file-sharing company based in Sydney, with an estimated 60 million users globally. In 2005, the Australian Federal Court ordered Kazaa to implement software changes to prevent file-sharing. In 2003, the Federal Court upheld the rights of a number of recording companies against five disc jockeys who had sold unauthorised CDs containing remixed tracks.
The dominant global talent contest franchises (Popstars, Australian Idol and The X-Factor) have been local ratings successes as hybrids of reality television that exploit multimedia sponsorships and cross-promotion. While these programs have produced credible stars such as Guy Sebastian, they have provoked considerable debate within the music industry about their usefulness in finding and launching new artists. Following British television traditions, pop music has provided the basis for successful quiz programs (RocKwiz on SBS and Spicks and Specks on the ABC) that mix pop trivia, celebrities and nostalgia. The axing of Video Hits on the Ten Network in 2011 left Rage (ABC, 1987– ) and Channel [V] (pay television) as the primary sources of exposure for new music.
On the ABC’s 70th birthday in 2002, it launched an online music station, DiG (later renamed Double J), targeted at 30- to 50-year-olds; this was followed by DiG Jazz and DiG Country. From 2009, they were broadcast digitally, and in 2011 they were joined by another digital radio station, Triple J Unearthed, devoted to new Australian music. SBS launched Chill, a world music digital radio channel; PopAsia, offering mainstream Asian pop music for younger Chinese Australians; PopDesi; and PopAraby.
The Australian music industries continue to play a prominent role in reinforcing existing copyright law and revenues for audio-visual content. In 2007, the Phonographic Performance Company of Australia (PPCA) was successful in Federal Court attempts to secure higher royalties from hotels, bars and nightclubs. In 2010, the PPCA achieved royalty increases from gym franchises. In 2012, the outcomes from other copyright battles were less clear. First, the case brought against iiNet, Australia’s second largest internet service provider (ISP), by Roadshow Films and 33 other multinational film and music companies in 2009, failed (twice, including subsequent appeals) in arguing that ISPs were ultimately responsible for any illegal downloading on or connected to their sites. The original Federal Court decision that iiNet was not responsible for and did not sanction the use of illegal copying technologies such as BitTorrent has failed to provide local music and television industries with the precedent ruling they wished to combat file-sharing.
Second, the PPCA lost its 2011 application with the High Court to lift the 1 per cent cap on radio broadcasting royalties. Commercial Radio Australia (CRA) has questioned the viability of local music quotas on its stations. In 2011, CRA was successful in lobbying the federal government to withdraw local content quotas for digital music stations. In February 2013, the Federal Court upheld the PPCA’s claim that commercial broadcasters should pay separate licensing fees for streamed internet simulcasts.
Legal battles of this type reveal how much industry settings have changed in the last decade. Recent successes by the major recording companies and APRA/PPCA in raising composer incomes across ‘secondary’ media uses have been crucial in an era of declining revenue from ‘primary’ sales (CD and digital recordings). Yet they also connect with older industry assertions that music remains a central input, and not incidental, to other media businesses. Consumers continue to favour illegal copying systems, and radio and television networks view music as simply a cost to business. The Australian subsidiaries of the major recording companies (Universal, SonyBMG, Warner and EMI) now advocate the ‘graduated response’ laws for ISPs found in New Zealand, Britain, France and South Korea, which provide a process of identification, user warning and then disconnection from an ISP for illegal downloaders.
New technologies continue to shape music consumption and forms of convergence with other media. The launch of the Apple iPod in 2001 instigated the biggest change in personal, mobile music listening since the introduction of the Sony Walkman in 1979. An Australian iTunes store has been in operation since 2005 and, with a current library of over 20 million songs, remains the market leader. Mobile phone ringtones were worth $4.7 million to the local industry in 2010, reinforcing the importance of revenue derived from secondary media sources. The ABC was an early adopter of podcasting from 2005 on its Triple J network, and other radio stations (including the Austereo network, 2MBS FM and 3RRR) have also realised the flexibility podcasts offer listeners. The internet has seriously challenged traditional radio in the range of services it offers. Last.fm remains a good example of an internet ‘radio’ service.
Similarly, social networking media have assumed some of the promotional services traditionally conducted by recording companies. The major internet companies, Google and Yahoo, recently entered the music market, both offering subscription streaming services in an effort to challenge Apple’s dominant market share. Another successful streaming service in Europe, Spotify, was launched in Australia in 2012. How the various major digital media companies structure their relationships with recording labels and musicians will be a central question in the growth of online media.
REFs: T. Cvetkovski, Copyright and Popular Media (2013); B. Griffen-Foley, Changing Stations (2009); S. Homan ‘Popular Music’, in S. Cunningham and S. Turnbull (eds), The Media and Communications in Australia (4th edn, 2014); J. Whiteoak and A. Scott-Maxwell, Currency Companion to Music and Dance in Australia (2003).