Where is the Australian music industry going? An informal analysis of this week’s ARIA Charts

I don’t normally follow music charts.

I prefer discovering music differently. Also, I’m more interested in scouting new talent. But it’s worth “checking in” with the trends in the market from time to time to see if I’m still “in touch” with what’s happening.

Funnily, every time I do it, I pretty much arrive at the same conclusions. And this week was no different.

PART 98 OF “AM I EVER GONNA SEE YOUR FACE AGAIN?” A RANDOM COLLECTION OF UNKNOWINGLY OBVIOUS FACTS ABOUT THE AUSTRALIAN MUSIC SCENE

Before digging deeper into the Australian charts, let’s go over how it all works. In a nutshell,

music charts tell most people what to listen to.

Mind you, the keywords here are tell and most people.

Back in the days when music was not at the tip of everybody’s (streaming) finger, fans relied on those rankings to see what songs and albums were popular in different categories, like specific genres, decades, regions of the world, etc.

Usually, reputable music industry institutions put the charts together. Any country with an established music scene will have its own body tasked with keeping track of where things are at. The American Billboard magazine is the most famous one. In the case of Australia, it’s ARIA (the Australian Recording Industry Association).

When the internet wasn’t our everyday bread yet, the charts also served as a reliable source of information in terms of who released what when. So people could go to record stores and get a physical copy and listen to the music that caught their attention.

These days, when physical sales are no longer the first source of reproducing music anymore, the charts’ calculations have been adjusted accordingly. They now include digital downloads, streams, video views and radio airplay. There’s another element often taken into consideration, the mysterious “social media influence” (whatever that means these days).

Something that blows my mind in our music times as well is that your song/album doesn’t even have to be played on the radio to chart. If the sales via other channels accrue to a number that enables your music to enter the ranking, that’s good enough. It would have been unthinkable a few decades ago when radio was still a powerful medium to amplify musical careers.

But let’s go back to the popularity aspect for a minute.

It’s a concept that’s hard to measure objectively because everyone’s music tastes are, obviously, different. For instance, a person who primarily listens to heavy metal won’t consider a songwriter’s mellow, acoustic anthem as popular in their circle. So something a little more tangible and objective needed to be defined.

Popularity in this context is expressed as sold copies.

Since selling a physical copy doesn’t necessarily equal streaming it online, there’s a whole system of weighting all the formats. But let’s just simplify it for this post based on the following assumption: the more sales you’ve racked up through all the channels combined in a particular timeframe (typically, a week), the more popular your song or album is considered.

In Australia, the ARIA Charts “are calculated once a week on Friday” and “uploaded to the (…) website on Saturday at 5 pm (Sydney time).” Here’s a fun fact as well. The ranking includes the results shared by online retailers, amongst them Bandcamp and Commonfolk Records (songwriter Ziggy Alberts’ indie record label).

If you fancy a detailed read on how everything is done Down Under, I recommend checking the full “Code of Practice for ARIA Charts”.

It’s widely accepted that the charts (globally) represent “where the whole music industry is going for the time being”. And that’s exactly the part that worries me the most when it comes to the Australian music business in 2022. Here’s why.

Out of curiosity, I checked the ARIA Charts for this week (21 March 2022). I didn’t look at all the categories, though. I just wanted to see what the standing in the top singles and albums categories is. And I’ve got several thoughts I’d like to share.

Firstly,

if this is where the Aussie music industry is going, it’s time to change the direction.

To my liking, the percentage of local artists that make the ranking is surprisingly low. So, to put my disappointment into perspective, let’s look at some numbers I’ve extracted from this week’s ARIA Charts.

Amongst ARIA’s Top 50 Singles, only five acts are Australian. Let that slowly sink in. That’s just 10%!

They are represented by “Stay” by The Kid LAROI (with Justin Bieber) at #2, “Down Under” by Luude feat. Colin Hay at #12, “Say Nothing” by Flume & MAY-A at #40, “Missing Piece” by Vance Joy at #45 and “Love Tonight” by Shouse at #47.

On the albums’ ranking, there are also five acts waving the Aussie flag.

The Wiggles took #1 with their ReWiggled release (which, coincidentally, I wrote about last week). Hoodoo Gurus scored #7 with their Chariot Of The Gods. Then, it’s Gang of Youths’ angel in realtime. at #12. The Kid LAROI makes an appearance here as well with F*ck Love (Over You) at #20. Finally, Midnight Oil’s RESIST closes the Aussie presence on this Chart at #36.

It could surely be much worse. But the 10%-Aussie participation in both the top 50 songs and albums is a revealing statistic. And it speaks volumes about the current state of things in the music biz, not only in Australia.

It’s not a secret that the American and UK music export rules globally. The big money that stands behind music marketing in those two markets is incomparable to any other one.

Nevertheless, I thought that Aussies valued their home-grown talent a little more. Considering the variety of genres and acts doing cool things in the local music scene (i.e. Genesis Owusu) and making waves overseas (like the DMA’S), I honestly hoped to see a higher percentage of Aussie artists on the ARIA Charts.

The difference in music genres represented on both charts is pretty striking, too. Whilst most Aussie singles are in the electronic/dance/pop music department, they are contradicted by a more rock vibe represented on the albums making the ARIA Charts this week.

There’s no doubt that demographics play a significant role here. I’m guessing younger audiences contribute to the singles’ sales since it’s the preferred music consumption format these days. And that target group is more likely to follow electronic acts who put out happy, catchy tunes than heroes of the past who write lengthy rock anthems.

On the other hand,

the Albums Chart shows a certain Aussie nostalgia,

in my humble opinion.

The Wiggles are the beloved kids’ music group, so their new record takes listeners back to their childhood memories. RESIST might be the last LP by Midnight Oil ever. Hoodoo Gurus’ Chariot Of The Gods comes 12 years after their last album, so fans were surely starved of their music.

On the other hand, The Kid LAROI is the first Indigenous musician who got international recognition. So the whole country is super proud of his achievement. The same goes for Gang of Youths who “made it” in the UK and America to a certain extent as well.

My humble observations beg a few questions. Did these albums end up on the ARIA Charts because they’re truly the best there is in Aussie music this week? Or do they resonate with listeners for the reasons I mentioned above?

Let me emphasise at this time that I’m not pointing all this out to somehow diminish those Aussie artists’ Let me pause here to emphasise that I’m not pointing all this out to diminish those Aussie artists’ value in any way. I intend to highlight some thought-provoking findings rather than be critical of any musician’s work.

On the positive side, most Aussie albums that have made it onto the list this week are fairly new inclusions. It’s the first week for both The Wiggles and Hoodoo Gurus. Gang of Youths are three weeks in, whilst Midnight Oil had their record charting already a week earlier. The only exception is The Kid LAROI whose album has been charting for – wait for it – nearly two years (!!!) already (86 weeks in).

The singles’ ranking, however, shows a different trend.

Most songs on the Singles Chart this week are not new entrants at all.

Flume’s collaboration with MAY-A is the most recent track to be included with only 6 weeks in. The rest range from 3 months in (Luude’s “Down Under”) to 10 months in (Vance Joy’s “Missing Piece”).

Could it possibly mean that audiences don’t value new music from Aussie acts so much if it’s just a loose single? And once something catches their attention, they hold on to it not paying attention to anything else for quite a while?

If so, Aussie artists face the serious dilemma of whether it makes sense to release new music frequently at all. This slow rotation could also force musos to wait until the trends die down to have a chance of breaking through with their fresh releases.

On the flip side, the ARIA Charts, naturally, represent trends in commercial music. And most of the Aussie acts we’re talking about here are signed to a major record label. So it’s a different sort of game altogether.

Also, it’s every artist’s dream to have their music charting for as long as possible because, apart from the financial gains, it builds their fanbase and reputation.

But

the beauty of any music scene lies in its diversity and variety,

I reckon. So it’s just something to think about.

Following this train of thought, there’s something else that stands out on the Singles Chart. Vance Joy’s song is the only original composition performed solely by one artist. The rest are either collabs (The Kid LAROI and Justin Bieber plus Flume with MAY-A), a remix (“Down Under”), or a song from 2017 that has recently gained popularity due to a TikTok trend (“Love Tonight”). Quite interesting, hey?

Last but not least,

where are the female acts on the Charts???!!!

Out of the five singles and five albums, the only women are MAY-A and some members of The Wiggles. This lack of equal representation is very much on-trend with the Aussie music biz, where female artists constantly have to fight for more recognition.

I’m not saying we should all massively start listening to Aussie music “women-made” so their numbers go up. But maybe taking them slightly more seriously in the business, in general, would mean they would be more active in the scene and less afraid to share their craft and “face the music”?

And to wrap things up, if you’re keen on following the trends in the Aussie music market, here is the ARIA Top 50 Singles Chart on Spotify 🙂


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