Sydney – Australian music business capital?

Some time ago I wrote here about Melbourne being the Live Music Capital of the World, based on objective studies and stats. And if it’s a global title, then it definitely applies to Australia as well. If you want to be in the midst of the music scene and where things are happening, Melbourne is the place to be. On the other hand, New South Wales (NSW), where Sydney happens to be, is ruled by a government that has made music festivals and live music in general its main enemy (I covered that topic in this post but there are some new developments already). And for some weird reason, it’s Sydney, not Melbourne (or any other city), where major players in the Aussie music industry have their HQs. I couldn’t help but wonder why. So I did some digging and here are my findings and conclusions.

Part 19 OF “AM I EVER GONNA SEE YOUR FACE AGAIN?” A RANDOM COLLECTION OF UNKNOWINGLY OBVIOUS FACTS ABOUT AUSTRALIAN MUSIC SCENE

Do you know why Canberra is the capital of Australia? To make the long story short – because Melbourne and Sydney couldn’t make up their minds which one should be the Nation’s Capital. The rest of the country wasn’t even considered. The rivalry between the two biggest Australian cities is still alive and kicking today. Melburnians are not big fans of Sydneysiders, and vice versa. Both places are totally different and both have things going for them (like the world renowned beaches in Sydney or awesome coffee culture in Melbourne). But I thought music business is slightly more democratic and stays away from those animosities. Especially that there are heaps of awesome acts based in pretty much every Australian state. Well, it turns out that it’s not always the case.

THE RIVALRY BETWEEN MELBOURNE AND SYDNEY IS STILL ALIVE AND KICKING TODAY

Let’s look at some music bodies Down Under.

APRA AMCOS (Australasian Performing Right Association and Australasian Mechanical Copyright Owners Society for Australia and New Zealand) – HQs in Ultimo (Sydney suburb)

ARIA (Australian Recording Industry Association): Awards + Charts – HQs in Surry Hills, Sydney

ARIA AWARDS ceremony – held annually in November in Sydney.

Music Australia (a national umbrella body and champion for all music) – HQs in Erskineville (Sydney suburb)

Jazz Australia – offices in Sydney.

Australian Copyright Council – based out of Strawberry Hills in Sydney.

Sydney Opera House – well, the name says it all.

I could go on, because there are many more, but you get the point, right? And yes, many of those bodies have regional offices as well but they’ve chosen Sydney to be their seat.

How about record labels then? All the big international ones: Warner, EMI, Universal, Island Records and BMG have their main offices in the NSW capital. Australia’s own ABC Music also operates out of Sydney. As well as many smaller record labels, like Popfrenzy or Future Classic.

Now, let’s talk about Melbourne-based music institutions:

ARIA Hall of Fame – has its own section in the Australian Music Vault (below).

Australian Music Vault – based at the Arts Centre Melbourne; it houses many more cool exhibitions presenting Australian music as a whole.

AIR (Australian Independent Record Labels Association) – has its HQs in North Melbourne.

That’s pretty much it when it comes to national bodies and institutions.

I’ve also looked into the Aboriginal recording artists’ associations. Quite fittingly, the National Indigenous Music Awards (the NIMAs) are headquartered in Darwin, NT (Northern Territory). As they should be. Because many Aboriginal acts come from the far north and the performing and music traditions are particularly well preserved and cultivated there.

WHAT ABOUT THE REST OF THE COUNTRY?

Now, my question is: what about the rest of the country? After all, Sydney and Melbourne represent only two out of eight states/territories. So it seems that the rest (South Australia – SA, Western Australia – WA, Queensland – QLD, Tasmania – TAS and Canberra – ACT) are hugely ignored. And it feels unfair. Because one of the most important and progressive music events (like Dark Mofo or Woodford Folk festivals) are based in Hobart, TAS and Woodford, QLD respectively, for instance.

It’s not a big secret that if you want to be noticed, making music in Melbourne or Sydney will give you a much wider spectrum of opportunities and bigger exposure. And some of my favourite bands hail from either one of the two cities. But not everybody can afford that or wants to move there. And being a successful musician shouldn’t be determined by your place of birth (although I know that it is, unfortunately).

IT’S A WELL-KNOWN FACT THAT BIG BUSINESSES AND CORPORATIONS CHOOSE PRIMARILY SYDNEY AS THEIR HQ’S

And it’s also a well-known fact that all big businesses and corporations in Australia choose primarily Sydney as their HQs. Qantas is there. Commonwealth Bank as well. So is Foxtel. So, by default, music industry goes with the flow. The money, business and prestige are in Sydney.

But that still doesn’t convince me. It’s not the climate or the sights, not the city’s reputation or special merit. I’m probably not being very objective here (and I also mentioned when starting this blog that it would be pretty subjective) but I feel like Sydney doesn’t deserve that honour anymore. Especially because of the NSW government who seems to be very hostile towards the music industry. And it would be the right thing (although logistically complicated and costly) to move to a different place as a sign of protest since nothing else is working.

Apart from that, in my eyes, Sydney is this majestic, rich, pretentious and boring (sorry!) center, full of guys in suits trying to sell music they don’t understand to young people. And don’t get me wrong: I love swimming at Coogee beach, the views from Circular Quay, grabbing yummy food at Chat Thai and catching live music in Newtown.

EVERYTHING THAT’S FRESH, DIFFERENT, TRULY INDEPENDENT AND/OR PROGRESSIVE IN AUSSIE MUSIC IS NOT NECESSARILY IN SYDNEY

But if you think about it more carefully, everything that’s fresh, different, truly independent and/or progressive in Australian music is elsewhere. Like Bad Apples Music – the Aboriginal record label or CHANGES conference – both from Melbourne, VIC. Or BIGSOUND industry conference – happening annually in Brisbane, QLD. Or WOMAdelaide festival based in Adelaide, SA.

So maybe it’s time to bid farewell to NSW and move the Australian music institutions and labels to other places in the country where they would support the industry better.

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