News July 27, 2018

AIR Awards winners Skinnyfish and Milk! Records show independent sector is thriving in the face of digital disruption

Former Assistant Editor
AIR Awards winners Skinnyfish and Milk! Records show independent sector is thriving in the face of digital disruption
Mark Grose

The digital disruption buffeting the Australian music industry has meant almost a total reassessment of the way we do business.

The 2018 AIR Awards celebrated the tireless work, dedication and belief in the craft of Australia’s independent sector – a time for reflection on the achievements of those who innovate out of both necessity and inspiration.

“I’ve always believed the digital revolution that’s going on is a benefit to Aboriginal people and remote people because it gives them access,” reflects managing director of  Mark Grose, who were awarded AIR’s new Outstanding Achievement Award for their tireless work in support of the Australian Indigenous music community since 1999.

Grose was overcome by emotion as he accepted the award, carrying with him Gurrumul’s legacy – last night marking one year and a day since he passed.

“We formed a record label in the equal most remote capital city in Australia in Darwin, where there was no history of record labels, no history of an infrastructure for a music industry, and we signed artists who live in remote communities who didn’t sing in English, but who had this unbelievable catalogue of music,” Grose shared.

“Facebook and Twitter has been great for remote community people because they’re engaging at a level in the broader community that they hadn’t before… which means they’re more aware.

“The change has been that… it’s easier to release music but it’s harder to make financial gain out of it.”

Grose reflect’s on Skinnyfish’s experience of the double-edged sword of the digital era, citing their earliest success, Saltwater Band.

“We sold something like 30,000 physical albums…today we’d be lucky to sell one CD.

“It’s had a big effect on the way we do business – not just us but everyone in the industry.”

Thanks to global independent rights agency Merlin, Skinnyfish will receive $5,000 for business and professional development.

Much discussion around IndieCon and the has centred on diversifying income streams and finding alternative avenues to empower independent artists and businesses with autonomy.

Labels who wear multiple hats – especially if they are pushing music that challenges and breaks moulds – stand a greater chance of success. 

The big winner of the night, Milk! Records, is the perfect example of how to make it work.

Founders Courtney Barnett and Jen Cloher could have been content with just their artistic success.

Instead, with the wellbeing and support of like-minded musicians at their core, they founded in 2012.

Last night they were awarded Best Independent Label; a massive achievement for a business which functions more as an artist-run collective than a traditionally-operating label motivated by commerce and charts.

Cloher accepted the award over video link, gesturing to the warehouse space behind her and reflecting on how far they have come from stacking boxes of merch and vinyl in every crevice of her home.

The ethos of Milk! has been, first and foremost, peer to peer support.

The label creates a connected environment for artists to bring one another out of isolation, as well as provide self-managed artists with the practical skills necessary to support the creation and release of their music in an over-crowded and under-resourced industry.

To give them a boost, AIR’s partners are injecting much-needed funds into the projects of winners, with Milk! Records taking home a huge $20,000 digital marketing package thanks to Moshtix.

Steve Pitkin of Music SA and programmer of Umbrella Festival told TMN that events like the AIR Awards are “so important because we’ve got somewhere to put us on a platform and perform and to show what we’ve got. We’ve got so many amazing artists, and passion drives everything we do.”

Last night’s performances showcased the power of music driven by a passion for change. Stella Donnelly rendered many in the audience in tears with Boys Will Be Boys, as did Alex The Astronaut’s Not Worth Hiding.

Two NT artists were honoured last night, with Birdz taking out Best Independent Hip Hop Album for Train Of Thought (Bad Apples Music), and Baker Boy nabbing Breakthrough Independent Artist of the Year.

Danzal Baker is smashing the boundary between the independent and commercial worlds and leading the way for the next generation of Australian Indigenous musicians.

He showed us why he’s racked up so many awards in the past 12 months during his epic performance of Mr La Di Da Di, which was the third Most Added single to radio in April and went on to peak at #63 on the TMN Hot 100 airplay chart.

Best Independent Single went to Alex Lahey for Every Day’s The Weekend, still on a high from her Splendour In The Grass performance over the weekend.

Also fresh from Splendour, PNAU dominated the electronic categories with their latest album Changa, which won Best Independent Dance/Electronica Album, and single Go Bang taking out Best Independent Dance, Electronica or Club Single, peaking at #6 on the Hot 100.

A dual win for Best Independent Album or EP saw Methyl Ethel’s Everything is Forgotten album (Dot Dash Recordings) and The Jungle GiantsQuiet Ferocity (Amplifire Music) album rack up an equal number of votes.

Fanny Lumsden graciously accepted her award for Best Independent Country Album and gave us a red-hot taste with a performance of Elastic Waistband off her winning Real Class Act record.

Two tracks taken from Real Class Act peaked in the Top 10 on the TMN Country Airplay Chart (Roll On #3, Elastic Waistband, #9).


2018 AIR Awards Winners:

Best Independent Label – Milk! Records

Outstanding Achievement Award – Skinnyfish Music

Breakthrough Independent Artist Of The Year – Baker Boy (Independent)

Best Independent Artist (Milk! Records)

Best Independent Single Every Day’s The Weekend, Alex Lahey (Nicky Boy Records)

Best Independent Album Or Ep Everything Is Forgotten, Methyl Ethel (Dot Dash Recordings); Quiet Ferocity, The Jungle Giants (Amplifire Music)

Best Independent Hard Rock, Heavy Or Punk Album Murder Of The Universe, King Gizzard And The Lizard Wizard (Flightless Records)

Best Independent Dance, Electronica Or Club Single Go Bang, PNAU (Etc Etc)

Best Independent Dance/Electronica Album Changa, PNAU (Etc Etc)

Best Independent Hip Hop Album Train Of Thought, Birdz (Bad Apples Music)

Best Independent Blues And Roots AlbumWhen We Fall, All Our Exes Live In Texas (Abc Music)

Best Independent Country Album Real Class Act, Fanny Lumsden (Red Dirt Road Records)

Best Independent Jazz Album The Great American Songbook, James Morrison/Bbc Concert Orchestra (ABC Classics)

Best Independent Classical AlbumJonny Greenwood, Australian Chamber Orchestra/Richard Tognetti (ABC Classics)

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