Submission to YourSAy “How can we grow the Creative Industries Sector in South Australia?”

View a PDF of this letter here.

To Whom It May Concern,

I write in response to the YourSAy discussion titled How can we grow the creative industries in South Australia?

I’ve never written a submission to these sorts of things before, and, I assume neither have many in the local contemporary music sector. Most of us are swamped by the mammoth task we’ve chosen to undertake and don’t have time for such things. But, I’ve got a lot to say about this particular topic – and how a government willing to invest in the local industry can help it grow immensely – so let’s give it a whirl.

About me

My name is Luke Penman. I have been a part of the local music industry in South Australia since I fell in love with my first local band at 17 – more than half my life ago. 

Since then, I’ve dabbled in artist management, blogging and podcasting about the local industry, as well as working in community radio, running gigs, launching my own internet radio station and more.

I’ve sold t-shirts at the merch desk of dozens of shows across Adelaide, MC’d stages at showcases and festivals, and produced my own local music events.

I was selected to attend the JB Seed Artist Management workshop in 2009, and have attended numerous music industry conferences including Fuse Festival in Adelaide, Perth’s One Movement, BigSound in Brisbane and SXSW in Adelaide’s sister city of Austin, Texas.

I have worked in event ticketing admin at BASS and the Adelaide Festival, and worked at community radio station Radio Adelaide for a number of years, presenting on-air, interviewing hundreds of local artists and coordinating a team of dedicated music library volunteers and presenters.

I’ve presented keynotes, sat on panels, spoken to music business students, and worked on a handful of projects for Music SA, including completing the first Live Music Census in 2015.

In 2018 I re-launched my independent brand play / pause / play as an internet radio station dedicated to Adelaide’s live music scene, playing 100% Australian music with a strong focus on artists based in South Australia and artists touring here soon. I achieved this with the financial support of hundreds of crowdfunding supporters, as well as establishing partnerships with the City of Adelaide and various live music venues. play / pause / play has seen some success, with more than 3,500 downloads of the play / pause / play radio app, 4,500+ followers on social media and nearly 1,000 mailing list subscribers.

I have seen the gaps in the local industry where small changes could have massive results, and it’s this vision I’ll detail within this letter.

Defining the local music industry

First we need to clarify which part of “the music industry” I’m talking about.

I’ve been a part of many discussions and workshops about “the music industry” and what often starts with legitimate discussions from my particular niche – whether discussing liquor licensing or planning and development approvals, or the difficulty of South Australian artists to have their music heard – inevitably winds up incorporating discussions on the needs of the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, the Elder Conservatorium, the Adelaide Festival Centre and other larger and significantly better-resourced organisations.

I value those organisations and respect their needs, but their needs are so vastly different from those in the local contemporary music sector that the voices of those in the local music community – every time the local music community – typically made up of musicians, their friends and fans, and people who run venues that emerging local talent performing their own music – are soon drowned out and forgotten.

So I’m here to talk about a particular niche, and I’m going to give it the incredibly boring name of the Local Contemporary Original Recorded and Live Music Sector. Let’s call it CORaL for short.

This is the sector that gave us the names that are so regularly referred to as great South Australian musicians – Sia Furler, Jimmy Barnes and Cold Chisel, The Angels and Paul Kelly [although they all found most of their success after leaving the state.]

It’s also the sector that has given us artists like the Hilltop Hoods, The Mark Of Cain, Testeagles and The Superjesus.

More recently, the CORaL sector has supported the rise of artists like Tkay Maidza, Bad//Dreems and West Thebarton, with emerging artists like George Alice, Jess Day, Stellie, Towns and Teenage Joans all building audiences over the past 12 months or so.

It’s this sector of the music industry that most people want to be a part of, and the lack of opportunities locally is a massive driver for young people leaving South Australia.

And it’s in this sector where there is massive opportunity for economic growth in South Australia.

It’s a “Feeder Industry”

The beauty of the local CORaL sector is that it gives emerging practitioners an opportunity to experiment and, in many instances, get paid for their work. This includes musicians, as well as graphic designers and visual artists, fashion designers and costumers, videographers, web developers, event producers, radio presenters, journalists and other content creators and so much more. Indeed, the majority of Contemporary Music grant funding distributed through the Music Development Office winds up going to these interconnected industries.

Again – these are industries that people want to be a part of, and they are all connected to music. By supporting the local CORaL sector, you are inherently supporting those sectors as well.

Grant Funding

The main manner in which the State Government supports the local CORaL sector is through grant funding. There is currently four main grant funding streams for the local CORaL sector, each with its own areas for investigation:

Contemporary Music Grant Program

The last time that funding for the Contemporary Music Grant Program was increased was in 2013, when the State Government committed to increase the funding available in line with CPI each year.

After the initial spike to catch the fund up to where it would have been if this had been the case since the fund’s creation in 1992, the amount available through the CMGP appears to remain at around a total of $300,000 per annum.

While the fund’s creation through the South Australian Gaming Machines Act 1992 promises $500,000 per annum for contemporary music, and the amendment passed in mid-2013 intended to keep the funding up with CPI, the additional funding – now close to $1million, assuming 2.5% CPI increase each year – doesn’t seem to have been made available through the CMGP. Those funds, presumably, are being spent on targeted initiatives such as Organisation Funding, The Live Music Events Fund and the Stigwood Fellowship.

One need only to take a brief glance at the annual reports from the Music Development Office to see the same recipient names reappear multiple times. Whilst some in the CORaL sector are quick to label this phenomenon as proof of some “inner circle”, I think the truth is far more simple: there are amazing people in South Australia doing amazing things, they deserve funding and have proven their success repeatedly, and there simply isn’t enough funding to cover everyone. Indeed, the strength of the projects being funded show that the funding is doing exactly what it should, and helping build a stronger industry. But if we can’t invest in the next generation too, then there is a problem.

The overall pool of funding available needs to be increased, and limits within each category must be lifted in order to help the sector grow.

There is also a tendency to part-fund projects through this funding, partially to make up for the lack of total funding available. While it’s hard to argue against the philosophy of “something is better than nothing”, the truth is that this often creates more problems than it solves, forcing applicants to try and live up to their promises with far smaller resources. This funding is also available only for “projects”, and will not fund ongoing initiatives, which makes it difficult to plan long-term. Ongoing funding is handled by Organisation Funding.

Organisation Funding

The the general public, Organisation Funding exists as little more than a mention on a website with a generic email address to contact. While I have attempted to enquire about organisational funding, I haven’t had much response. It’s my understanding that there is a small group of organisations that receive funding through this channel and that in order to add anyone else to the list, an existing organisation would have to miss out, which would be devastating to them and their staff.

Unlike the CMGP, there doesn’t seem to be any publicly-available reports regarding who has received this funding over the past few years.

While I am certain that 100% of the recipients are worthy organisations doing incredible work, the lack of clarity around the process means it may prevent other organisations from growing and contributing more to the CORaL sector.

If there are other organisations that have the capacity to achieve the State Government’s goals in this space and yet not enough funding in this pool to invest in them, this pool must also be increased.

The Live Music Events Fund

The Live Music Events Fund provides funding for the annual Umbrella: Winter City Sounds festival, and has provided funding for Unsound as well as the AIR Awards and Indiecon conference. This fund is said to exist to help support new events and festivals in their early years in order to help establish an audience, but could be hampered by too-stringent criteria. In the time since this fund has existed, both A Day Of Clarity and Scouted have received funding through the CMGP, reducing the amount of funding available for other projects despite being major events that should be supported by precisely the sort of fund as the Live Music Events Fund.

While the pool of funding for the Live Music Events Fund seems significant – indeed, more than the entire CMGP pool – the criteria seems to be set with a particular type of project in mind, potentially causing other worthy projects to not receive vital investment.

Emerging events like Woolly Mammoth Festival and Swirl Fest have shown some success and could very easily grow with support, but may well cease if that support isn’t provided.

Robert Stigwood Fellowship

The Robert Stigwood Fellowship provides funding and mentorship to a handful of selected artists and industry practitioners each year. The program has seen some strong success, though many of the recipients have moved out of South Australia or ceased making music, showing that we still need to invest in a stronger local industry to give our artists a more solid home base.

The local media landscape and audience development

Current policy [ie. through the Stigwood Fellowship] seems to be focused on getting South Australian artists onto triple j. Certainly, triple j is the backbone of the entire Australian music industry, and a vital step for any artist, but relying on a single media outlet which has no office or staff in South Australia, and has a legislated requirement to also focus on other states with larger populations and stronger local industry, is poor policy – and overlooks opportunities for growing the local music economy ourselves. Certainly, if we continue to fail to grow local support for local artists, we can only expect our best and brightest to continue to leave the state.

Ultimately, my argument is based on one simple premise: that getting people out to gigs is good for the local economy, and by growing that industry, other interconnected industries will also benefit, creating local jobs that people actually want, and giving people a reason to stay in SA.

This behaviour is a cultural one, but we need local people driving that culture locally. Without a sustainable local music media, that culture dissipates and people become more likely to stay at home and consume content created overseas, sending money overseas instead of keeping it local.

In the past, our local music media – primarily Rip It Up and DB Magazines – were supported by advertising. With the advent of social media, that advertising money started getting spent on advertising via companies based overseas – generally Facebook and Instagram [which is owned by Facebook]. While this can be effective in some instances, it has essentially killed off the opportunity for cultural leaders and tastemakers to make a living from their cultural leadership, resulting in dwindling audience numbers and a recession in the overall local music economy.

At present, the key pillars of our local music media landscape are our community radio stations – Fresh 92.7, which focuses specifically on electronic music, as well as Radio Adelaide and Three D, which are more eclectic.

These stations all do incredible work driving the culture forward, but in a more-cluttered media landscape, need support to keep doing it and to grow.

We need podcasts about local music, we need video content about local music, we need to reach audiences where they are, and these community radio stations are already multi-disciplinary, but they will struggle to work strategically if they aren’t supported enough.

We need to invest in a stronger local music media landscape, through a combination of funding and partnerships to ensure that South Australians are exposed to South Australian artists.

Doing so will get more people out to gigs, provide a stronger support base for CORaL artists and see money flow into those complimentary industries.

There’s a lot missing from the South Australian music industry that exists in other states. More small and medium festivals, publicity and marketing companies, professional merchandise and logistics companies, major record labels and publishers and more. While having those things here is an important goal, the only thing that will make them sustainable is by building stronger audiences for the CORaL sector.

The #1 driver of audiences buying tickets to a live music event is that they are familiar with the artist. If South Australian audiences aren’t being exposed to South Australian artists, they won’t buy tickets or stream their music and the CORaL sector suffers. But by ensuring that local audiences are exposed to local music, making it easier for people to access local music and to know what events are happening, we can grow the sector. I’ve already proven this – in my May 2019 listener survey, 25% of listeners said that they’d bought a ticket to a gig performed by an artist that they’d first discovered through play / pause / play. A full 80% of listeners had taken an action including purchasing an artist’s merchandise or purchasing or streaming their music. We already have the artists, we just need to make it easy for audiences to discover them, and the industry takes care of the rest.

There is room for massive growth within the CORaL sector in South Australia, but it will take investment and commitment from a government with the vision to make it happen.

Solutions

Grant funding

  • The total pool of funding available available in the Contemporary Music Grant Program must be increased. The amounts offered no longer cover as much as they used to.
  • Similarly, the maximum amount in each category must be increased. Most categories have a maximum limit of $5,000 or $10,000 and, again, that amount of money doesn’t buy what it used to – particularly when it comes to artist performance fees for an event, now that artists barely derive any income from recorded music sales. This limits the ability for local producers to put on exciting events.
  • Increase flexibility by allowing applications year-round.
  • Increase the total pool of funding available to Organisation Funding, and review eligibility to include music media organisations.
  • Establish partnerships with the Music Development Office that will supply a certain amount of funding to approved media outlets for any announcements, including grant funding rounds, Stigwood Fellowship applications, workshops and other opportunities. These partnerships can also provide ongoing promotional support for Stigwood Fellows and grant recipients.
  • Establish multi-year funding for local music media for ongoing projects [eg. radio show focused on local music, digital web video series of performances and interviews with local artists, etc] to provide wages over a defined period of time with a view to establish other sustainable partnerships and revenue streams by the end of the term.
  • Incorporate a requirement for a certain percentage of any funding received for marketing purposes to be spent on local media.

Government Policy

  • Institute policy that any government music-related announcement will include advertising with some local media. 
  • Establish policy that the SA Tourism Commission will use South Australian music in all campaigns, and pay appropriate market rates for doing so.

Industry policies and initiatives

Engaging younger audiences

  • Much of the industry is built on running events in pubs and venues that drive a large amount of their revenue from sales of liquor. It’s not easy to run a profitable event for people under 18, but we simply must engage young people in order to build a sustainable industry. Support is required to find solutions to ensure that events can be successful without relying on liquor sales or driving up ticket prices to the point of unaffordability for the target audience.

Engaging international students

  • The population of greater Adelaide has changed significantly over the past 10 years or so. While the population of the City of Adelaide has remained relatively flat, around 50% of the City’s residents identify as Culturally and Linguistically Diverse [CALD]. Despite this, the vast majority of events are still aimed at caucasian audiences. We need to reach out to the diverse communities that make up the rich tapestry of South Australia in order to engage them in the local music scene.

Should you wish to discuss these suggestions or require more information, I can be contacted at penman@playpauseplay.com

Regards,
Luke Penman