November 23, 2021

How the Australian music industry is getting its future groove back

How the Australian music industry is getting its future groove back
Pictured: Mardi Caught (The Annex), Jaddan Comerford (UNIFIED), Joel Connelly (Blackbird) and Holly Rankin (Jack River) at ARIA's Innovation & Entrepreneurship Panel

Executives are predicting a new era in innovation and entrepreneurial thrum in Australian music.

They paint a landscape of greater investment from financiers; a world where music and creativity are more valued than ever before; and an economy where artists are more financially independent thanks to new technologies that are tipped to herald a new boom.

These were among the many themes, ideas and lessons outlined during the Innovation & Entrepreneurship panel on Monday, as part of the 2021 ARIA Week education series.

Changes like transparency, risk management and startup curiosity began years ago, of course. But it took the pandemic to reveal the industry’s faultlines, and with it the realisation these had to be addressed once and for all, and with a new mindset in how business is done.

The panel consisted of UNIFIED Music Group’s Jaddan Comerford, who admitted he didn’t realise how hard it would be to get his empire up but was driven by a passion for music and business;

The Annex’s Mardi Caught, a former major label executive who realised “the system” wouldn’t allow her to progress any further and in 2018 founded Sydney-based consultancy that helps young artists strategise and plan their marketing;

Joe Connelly, a former co-manager of The Rubens and Cloud Control who went on to join VC firm Blackbird, is a creative advocate of ideas in “everything from software to space.”

The panel’s moderator, artist Holly Rankin (Jack River), this year surprised even herself when her call for corporations to playlist more local music during the pandemic triggered a change.


5 takeaways from the ARIA Week Innovation & Entrepreneurship Panel

1. How COVID Changed Strategies

Having ensured that all UNIFIED staff were retained, Comerford intended to take an 18-month hiatus. Instead, he used the time to re-learn and research. “I felt like I sent myself back to school.”

It transformed the way he saw opportunities.

This month saw the launch of UNIFIED Investments to support startups solving problems for the music industry, and its music distribution division, Community Music.

Next year, he says, the company expands to managing gamers.

For Caught, the pandemic introduced how business could be conducted virtually, new strategies for marketing and musicians thinking differently about connecting with their audiences.

“It’s changed everything from thinking more strategically about how merchandise looks like and how that fits your fan, (and) how you can use your social platforms.

“I doubt something like TikTok would have so readily been absorbed if we hadn’t had a lockdown for such a period of time, and kids were trying to escape their parents.”


2. The Explosion Of Capital Investment In Music

Connelly explained two reasons for the escalating appetite for music from investors.

Firstly, due to the new liquidity in copyright, “People are seeing there is an opportunity for copyrights to be able to generate money over a long period of time thanks to streaming.

“That’s generated a lot of interest, particularly from private equity.

“Secondly, the financial markets are bonkers. There’s more money than there’s ever been and there’s a lot of appetite for investment in all kinds of different things.”


3. The Soaring Value Of Music

“People are starting to realise now just how actually valuable and meaningful works and products are to people,” according to Connelly.

“Music specifically is an incredibly meaningful and valuable thing to people.

“We’ve always been able to make money from it, but just now the money is being distributed in a way that’s fairer.”


4. The Biz Gets Sussed About Monetising

In the past, the industry initially gave away its product to MTV and YouTube in the name of promotion and lamented, too late, others were creating empires riding on its back.

“But now we have the technology like cryptocurrency and blockchain, that’s something people can look at,” Caught said.

Comerford is excited about the concept of “digital scarcity”, similar to the way vinyl records increase in value if they are hard-to-find.

“We’re about to see the same thing with digital albums, because people are going to start to sell their albums digitally as NFTs.

“It sounds crazy to think we can limit the supply of something that is digital. But once again this technology we’re calling NFT is what’s going to allow us to do that.”


5. The New Onus Of Ownership

Connelly was, like the others on the panel, buzzed by how the music industry was poised to reinvent its structure.

“What’s coming at us is the most significant opportunity that we’ve had forever, to re-engineer the music industry and to change the way ownership works.

“To me, the biggest thing holding back creativity and art in the world is the system of ownership that we’ve built up in music and other mediums as book publishing.

“The people who create the works never own anything.

“You don’t own your IP, you don’t own your customers, you don’t own your fans.

“You don’t have a direct relationship with the audience, it’s always through an intermediary.

“In the first time in living memory, we have an opportunity to create a system that puts the people who create the work at the centre of it.

“It’s not just an opportunity for them to get a fair share of income but to actually build wealth.”