From 12 Years In Opposition, to $1.2BN In Arts Funding: How Music Advocates Changed the Tune In NSW
Overnight success stories, the music industry knows well, are often years in the making.
When the Minns government last week presented a Budget which provided ample support for the music, arts and events professionals across New South Wales, a victory and relief for thousands still picking up the pieces from the pandemic.
Jane Slingo and Emily Collins won’t put their hands up for plaudits, though no one could blame them. Their campaigning work steered music’s boat through turbulent waters.
It was Slingo, founder of boutique business Young Stranger and director of the annual Electronic Music Conference, and Collins, then managing director of Music NSW, now interim head of Sound NSW, who, along with a small army of advocates, carried the music industry’s message into a state election that, six months later, has resulted in a $1.2 billion commitment from government.
Behind the scenes, it’s a years-long tale of collaboration, messaging, attention to detail, and good old hard yakka.
The conversation took shape back in March 2021 during the Global Cities After Dark Sydney gathering, when Slingo asked Collins to facilitate a session on contemporary music.
“I said, let’s stop talking about how bad it is. Let’s talk about what it could be,” Collins explained in an interview prior to her appointment to Sound NSW in July, completing an eight-year stint leading Music NSW.
What turned out to be a “fiery discussion” forged an idea. With key contacts in the room, including bureaucrats, a process started on what the ideal future should look like.
The fire was lit.
Those talks continued, the idea flourished.
Gathering all the different groups of people that are “all equally important in the ecosystem,” and keeping them unified and kind of having a singular voice,” was the next challenge, Slingo recounts. “We knew this was going to take more work.”
Slingo and Collins marked the calendars. Fifteen months out from the state election, the next iteration of the process, by way of the policy paper.
First drafted in January 2022, the paper served as a music community forum, an evolving hub for input for the sharing of needs.
“Because we have been in so many of these kinds of consultations before both on a state and a federal level,” Slingo continues, “we knew it was so important to make sure everyone that wanted to be heard and wanted to contribute in some way was heard. And some people were more comfortable with a one-to-one, some people were totally fine in a group scenario.”
The unseen workload was staggering.
The paper took its authors about 276 hours to write, and was the result of 12 group meetings, across a nine-month timeframe.
Those calls included anywhere from 30 to 176 stakeholders, “literally, every little corner of the ecosystem was covered to some degree,” says Slingo.
With a priority lens around diversity and inclusion, the paper’s guiding team opened matters-up to enable stakeholders to feed into the process, by voting and writing new policy items that were thought to be missing.
The editing process was a painstaking one. “I’ve lost count of how many versions iterations, copy writing, adjustments,” notes Slingo. “But we kept that whole group. And even if people didn’t reply, we kept everyone across every step of the way. We’d get feedback, we take it on board.”
As the draft process began, the pair ran the first consultation in early 2022, focusing on bringing Australia’s key peak bodies on board.
“This campaign wouldn’t have been successful without that really unified front,” reckons Slingo.
ARIA’s Julia Robinson, AFA’s Mitch Wilson and Art Brut Management’s Mark Poston were important players, coming into the so-called “Music Campaign” crew, and pumping the policy through their networks and taking on board input.
By October the bulk of the draft was completed, and an opportunity to share its main pillars with guests at a parliamentary Friends of Music gathering.
Everyone was in the room, from all parties, including John Graham, now minister for music and the night time economy.
“The industry campaigning for the industry was a real positive and that’s how we’ve won progress,” Graham explains in a statement to The Music Network.
“Music and politics have to talk to each other and we saw this in full effect for the first time this election with Vote Music. The results speak for themselves.”
The policy paper was finally completed in February 2023.
Its stakeholders are drawn from the across the music industry’s broad spectrum, everyone with a different approach on how to do advocacy. Some biased towards action, others leaning for risk aversion. At that point, the project was a balancing act, one that required ongoing fine-tuning.
Lessons learned from previous election cycles laid the groundwork.
“You need an activated industry, you need to be really clear about what you’re asking for, you have to have good political relationships, you need to get media on side,” explains Slingo, “you need to really work out how you can activate industry people to be motivated behind the campaign, because that’s when politicians will take notice.”
In a bipartisan campaign, ultimately, music mattered.
“It was really important to harness the people that love music, and the fans,” Slingo admits.
“In an election where there are really big issues like climate change, cost of living, rental prices, we had to work really hard to make sure that music got into the mindset of those voters.”
With the finishing line in sight, Mardi Caught’s The Annex worked closely on the campaign, as did the key industry bodies, including ARIA and APRA AMCOS, with the advocacy team harnessing their respective networks.
Many artists stepped forward and used their voices and platforms to add music into the election mix, through messages on their social accounts, Jimmy Barnes and The Presets among them.
Crucially, the campaign didn’t tell voters who to vote for, but to vote for music. And to do your research.
That message was carried under the clean slogan, Vote Music.
Simple, effective, and recycled. The hashtag has been used in campaigns dating back to 2016. It ain’t broke.
Ultimately, Vote Music helped secure a $103 million commitment from the NSW Labor Party ahead of its state election win, and with it, a primary commitment to establish Sound New South Wales and a 10-year strategy.
All that graft, it activated change.
“Labor’s $103 million plan for contemporary music was a direct response to the industry’s advocacy effort,” Graham tells TMN.
The outgoing Liberal party pitched about $6 million in support for touring, and not much else for music.
The lockouts and the lockdowns created agony and, perhaps, opportunity. “Where we are today is that combination for the perfect storm, years and years of lockouts, a brief window of six weeks of first iteration of lockouts getting repealed, then going straight to COVID,” recounts Slingo. “Together, those things showed to government “just how important music and culture is.”
Time has moved on.
In April of this year, Jane Slingo won a brace of trophies at the 2023 AAM Awards, including the community engagement award.
Collins’ turn could be next; she’s one of three finalists for the inaugural ARIA executive leader game changer Award at the AWMAs, a category that “recognises the exceptional leadership of an Executive leader who creates significant and positive change to bring about equality for women in the Australian music industry.”
The winners will be announced this Wednesday (Sept. 27) during a ceremony in Meanjin/Brisbane.
“It’s been such a big journey,” remarks Slingo.