News October 27, 2015

Hot Seat: John Davis – CEO Australian Music Centre

Much like the nation’s libraries and universities, the Australian Music Centre is evolving with the times. It’s digitising, becoming street-smart. And it’s selling stuff. The AMC is the national service organisation for Australian music. Its underlying mission is to make available and encourage the “widespread use of music created by Australians.” To achieve its goals, it maintains a library collection of works by Australian composers, a collection which is shifting into the digital space. And it has built a 21st century business model.

The AMC is in celebratory mood. Its third ART Music Awards will happen August 26 in Sydney. Previously known as the Classical Music Awards, the event took a year off to rebrand and reshape its format to include jazz and experimental music. The show, which is co-presented by APRA, exists to honor the achievements of composers, performers and industry specialists within contemporary art music, jazz, experimental music, and music education. “It’s a big gig for us and a highlight of the year for a lot of our members,” comments AMC’s CEO John Davis. TMN caught up with Davis ahead of the show, to discuss AMC’s mission and its upcoming 40th anniversary.

What does the AMC do? 

We were founded in 1974. The Australia Council was established in the concept of an agency that distributed arts funding. And within the Australia Council structure, they created a music board and one of the first things it did was to establish the AMC, based on models that existed in the U.S. and Europe. The idea was that it would become a central repository for the musical works of a particular country, and we’re still part of an international network of music information centres. We’ve evolved through the years. In the ‘70s it was a very open collection – essentially a library collection – where anyone who called themselves a composer could lodge materials, and other related material like critiques; it was a repository of content, perhaps. Then by the ‘80s it shifted and we needed to consolidate our operations, with a focus specifically on the contemporary classical area and then set up a curatorial process of deciding what kind of composers qualify to have their materials stored in the AMC. Then in the ‘90s it shifted again, and we started thinking about digitization. At the turn of the century, we started on the area we call “art” music — an umbrella for a broad range of music practise. Essentially it’s those artists exploring boundaries. We have a formal process of artists being represented. We then document them and their work and sell products that might be generated from those works, gather information about them and their works, and we become a reference point. We’re part of an international community of music information resources. Business-wise we’re closest to the Canadians in how we do things. We learn a lot from our colleagues in the U.S., New Music USA — they have an amazing online journal called NewMusicBox which we aspire to try and emulate at some point down the track. We’re a very close family, we share information. We share models and share our success and learn from each other.

Do you still take content in “hard copy”? 

We primarily focus on the digital realm now. We’re digitizing materials that used to be on the library shelves and increasing heading towards the digital model. In broad terms, as we’ve been building the system over the last 10 years we were thinking of the kind of functionality of Google, Wikipedia, Amazon and iTunes, for Australian content. That was our goal. That’s the direction we’re heading toward. We’re also doing digital downloads. We will develop that further in the future, a type of filtered way to get through to content that specialist audiences may want to be discovering. It’s on a modest scale. We’re doing it for a few smaller independent labels here in Australia, in the classical world and increasingly heading toward some jazz labels.

How is the AMC funded? 

About 40% of our income comes from core funding from the Australia Council. And then another 10% or so from APRA support. They’ve been amazing in being able to support us. We’ve just moved into the APRA building. Part of our digital shift is being accelerated by that. The rest of the money comes from membership fees. And from the sale of materials. The education sector is a big part of our constituency. Obviously we advocate strongly for Australian students to be studying or performing the music of their place — Australian content. That’s a fundamental principle. With the implementation of a new national curriculum, we’re very keen to see more and more Australian content being taken-up by choice, rather than as an added-on option. And in university studies, we want to make sure that music and experimental sound are an integral part of that landscape.

Who comprises your membership? 

Well, 60% of our membership comes from the education sector. And 10% of our membership base are the artists that are represented. Another 10% are performers. And the rest are the general audience who are interested in exploratory music, interested in Australian music. There’s a large community of people who just want to buy a CD. They hear something on the radio and they do a Google search and come to our site and end up buying a CD. We’re averaging about 800 unique users a day through our Website. That’s about 27,000 a month, which is reasonable traffic flow. 

AMC’s 40th anniversary is next year? How will that milestone be celebrated?
It will be very much about completing this transition into the digital environment. At the moment we still have a physical library collection. We’re seeing some government support to be able to complete the digitization of the collection sometime next year. That will be a real milestone for us, where we will see the digital business model come to fruition. So, what better way to celebrate our 4th decade by embarking on that decade digitally.

The ART Music Awards are on Monday, August 26 in Sydney

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