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News May 2, 2022

Dean Ormston on 40 Years of the APRA Music Awards (EXCLUSIVE)

Senior Journalist, B2B
Dean Ormston on 40 Years of the APRA Music Awards (EXCLUSIVE)

This Tuesday’s APRA Music Awards marks its 40th anniversary.

“Anyone in this industry knows that going down the path of being a songwriter requires a strong will, creativity and drive,” APRA AMCOS chief executive Dean Ormston told TMN.

“Acknowledging our members’ and giving visibility to their achievements locally and globally is something we do day in and day out in many different ways.

“Being nominated and/or winning an APRA Music Award is often the culmination of years of hard work, and we absolutely love to celebrate that with songwriter and publisher members and the broader community.”

The awards were first held on November 26, 1982, at the Sydney Hilton.

Little River Band singer Glenn Shorrock was MC, and took home one of five Gold awards handed out that night, for his song “Cool Change”.

Other hosts through the years included Daryl Somers, Kerri-Anne Kennerley, Richard Wilkins, Julia Zemiro, Jonathan Biggins, Missy Higgins, Clare Bowditch, Andrew Hansen & Chris Taylor of The Chaser, and Briggs in the 2020 virtual event.

Song of the Year and Songwriter of the Year were introduced in 1991.

The first Songwriter winner was Phil Buckle of Southern Sons, who collaborated on six of the twelve songs on John Farnham’s “Chain Reaction” album (1990).

Yothu Yindi were first to take home Song of the Year and the first band to perform live that year.

Over the years, the genre categories have evolved.

The classical, jazz and film & TV categories got their own dedicated Screen Music Awards and the Art Music Awards.

Dance music was acknowledged in 2002, with blues & roots and urban in 2006, and best rock work in 2010 and pop work in 2013.

2020 saw the introduction of alternative work, with the word ‘urban’ replaced with hip hop/rap and R&B/soul categories in 2021.

Addressing these changes, Ormston said songwriters are the ones behind the changing musical landscape – they innovate, collaborate, adapt and create totally new sounds.

“In our core business, we see first-hand how genres emerge and evolve, and we strive to support our members as they blaze new trails and achieve success,” he said.

The Breakthrough Songwriter Award was introduced in 2002.

The first winners were Sia alongside Jennifer Waite & Grant Wallis (Aneiki).

Sia went on to win Songwriter of the Year over three consecutive years (2013, 2014 & 2015) and Song of the Year in 2015 for “Chandelier,” which was covered by Jimmy Barnes at the awards ceremony at Carriageworks in Sydney.


* The Vanda-Young penned “Friday On My Mind” was voted top song in a best Australian 30 songs collated by 100 music identities in 2001 as part of APRA’s 75th anniversary.

At the awards ceremony, You Am I performed the Easybeats classic, while Ross Wilson did the #2 vote, Daddy Cool’s “Eagle Rock”.

* Youngest winners were Ben Gilles (15) and Daniel Johns (16) of Silverchair for Songwriter of the Year 1995.

* The youngest nominees are The Kid LAROI, Ella Hooper, Holly Findlay, Ruel and KIAN – all were aged 17 at the time.

* Sia has won the most with 11, while Kasey Chambers and Darren Hayes/Daniel Jones from Savage Garden runners-up with 10.

* Oldest Breakthrough Songwriter was Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu at 38 years old (2009). Louis Schoorl was also 38 when he won in 2014.

* Oldest winners:

Joy McKean OAM, 91 in 2021 when she received the Ted Albert Award

Studio owner Bill Armstrong, 77 years old, Ted Albert Award recipient in 2006.

Paul Kelly, 63 years old, Song of the Year 2018.

* The Ted Albert Award for achievement was won first year (1991) by Festival Records’ Alan Hely.

Other honourees included Michael Gudinski, Joy McKean, Cold Chisel, Ian Molly Meldrum, The Wiggles, Lindy Morrison and Fifa Riccobono.

* Over 500 acts have performed including Powderfinger, Tiddas, Kylie Minogue, Jimmy Little, Tex Perkins, Tina Arena, Daniel Johns and Slim Dusty.

* Musical directors for the Awards have been Kate Miller-Heidke, Robert Conley, PJ Harding and Francois Tetaz.

* Most successful NZ winner is Neil Finn with eight gongs. They include Song of the Year for “Distant Sun” and Songwriter of the Year, twice, in 1994 and also alongside brother Tim in 1992 for their album, “Woodface”.

* The Licensee of the Year category came in 2018, designed to reward licensees for “good music citizenship.”

* In terms of stayers, AC/DC songwriters Angus Young, Malcolm Young and Bon Scott received gold for “Highway To Hell” in 1982, and are nominated in 2022 for Most Performed Rock Work for “Shot In The Dark.”

Rob Hirst, who won gold for “Beds Are Burning” in 1991 (with co-writers Peter Garrett and James Moginie), is nominated in 2022 for Song Of The Year for “First Nation.”

He won Song of the Year at the 2021 Apra Music Awards for “Gadigal Land.”

“Having an enduring legacy as a songwriter can mean many things, but writing songs that connect and inspire is the common link,” Ormston said.

“I talk a lot about the power of songwriting and how the song is at the creative and business heart of the music industry.

“The APRA Music Awards have grown in size and stature over 40 years because of the songs and the Australian stories our members tell that start at home and travel the globe.

“For all of us at APRA AMCOS it’s a privilege to work to support the breadth of our membership and to create opportunities, like the APRA Awards, to shine a light on the success of our members who are amongst the world’s finest songwriters.”


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