Features April 10, 2018

Confused about the APRA Awards? Here’s five things we learned about how the winners are decided

Confused about the APRA Awards? Here’s five things we learned about how the winners are decided

In a time when more artists than ever are fighting for copyright, battling to be rightfully paid for creative work and campaigning for more radio play, it’s become increasingly important to honour where it all begins – songwriters.

That’s exactly what the APRA Music Awards looks to do tonight, celebrating 36 years of handing out accolades and advocating for recognition of the value which music brings to Australian culture, innovation and the economy.

“Everyone loves music, and it all starts with a song,” APRA AMCOS events manager Narelle Butterworth told TMN ahead of tonight’s ceremony.

“Without songwriters and composers, there would be no songs. The awards are vital in celebrating the craft of songwriting and the industry built around it.”

While the ceremony has evolved over time to adapt to changes in the industry, some of the new categories and amended judging criteria has left songwriters and the music industry alike slightly confused.

So, in a bid to clear up any puzzling parts of how the APRA Music Awards come together each year, TMN quizzed Butterworth a little further. Here’s what we discovered.

Change is inevitable, and it’s welcomed

Classical, Jazz and Film & TV categories once sat within the APRA Music Awards ceremony, but these grew enough to warrant their own dedicated awards ceremonies – the Screen Music Awards and the Art Music Awards. Likewise, a genre-based category acknowledging Dance music was added in 2002, along with Blues & Roots and Urban awards (2006) and Rock Work of the Year (2010) and Pop Work of the Year (2013).

One of the most recent, and arguably most exciting, additions is the Overseas Recognition Award – a category that Butterworth says reflects the considerable increase APRA has seen in international royalties earned by Australian songwriters, particularly in the last five years.

“As for the nominees within categories, it’s encouraging to see that (most years) there’s a good mix of established and emerging songwriters across categories,” Butterworth added.

“This year in particular, we see the rise of the producer-songwriter in multiple categories.”

The mix of judging criteria helps create more opportunities for music creators, but the awards are just for songwriters

Of the 15 awards handed out, nine are based on APRA’s statistical analysis, five are given at the discretion of APRA’s Board of Directors and one is based on voting by APRA members.

“The mix of criteria ensures that we recognise artistic excellence as well as commercial success; both are as important as each other,” Butterworth explained.

“Confusion may well lie in the music community understanding which awards are based on stats, and which are determined by peers or the APRA Board of Directors. The Board of Directors takes into consideration songwriters’ achievements as reflected by single and album releases, charts, co-writes, awards and tours/supports; and an independent Advisory Committee’s assessment of the outstanding quality of that body of work.

The newly created Licensee of the Year Award is also assessed by the APRA Board, and is designed to reward licensee groups for “good music citizenship” (as stated in the official rules). It’s selected against the criteria of “consistent compliance and demonstrated support of music such as the presentation of local content or innovative use of music”.

A lot of number-crunching goes into determining the awards, particularly Most Played Australian Work Overseas and International Work of the Year

“We collect songwriters’ royalties on behalf of our members through reciprocal agreements with copyright organisations like ours in more than 70 countries – and this data is used to calculate the Most Played Australian Work Overseas. The International Work of the Year award goes to the most played work in Australia by non-Australian songwriter/s.”

As for songs that walk the line between different music styles or songs that feature multiple artists – both trends that have been common in the last 12 months – Butterworth explained that genre categories are cross-referenced with all available chart information, as well as iTunes categories, genres and sub-genres.

“But at times there is no clear-cut definition regarding a works genre classification,” she added.

The rules state dispute over award winners is possible…

… but have any actually occurred? “Fortunately not!” Butterworth said.

The Breakthrough Songwriter Award is a pretty good indicator of future success

The list of previous winners reads like a Who’s Who of the current music landscape, including Sia (2002), Missy Higgins (2005), Dr G Yunupingu (2009), Nick Littlemore, Luke Steele & Jonathan Sloan (2010) and one of this year’s Song of The Year nominees, Louis Schoorl (2014).

Alex Lahey, Ben Abraham, Celia Pavey (Vera Blue), Gretta Ray and Sarah Aarons are all up for the award this year.

“Be sure to put this year’s Breakthrough Songwriter on your ‘ones to watch’ list when it’s revealed tonight!” Butterworth added.


The 2018 APRA Music Awards are held this evening (April 10) at the International Convention Centre in Sydney. TMN will be attending, so keep your eyes on our Twitter page for all the latest from the night as it happens.

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