The Brag Media
▼
News May 28, 2024

The Music Network Turns 30: The Story of Australia’s Music Industry Bible

The Music Network Turns 30: The Story of Australia’s Music Industry Bible

The Music Network this month blows out 30 candles.

It’s not just an anniversary, it’s recognition of TMN’s standing in an industry that doesn’t stand still. It’s a celebration that requires context, a deeper dive.

In 1994, Australia’s music industry ecosystem, from labels through retail and media, stood on the brink of its biggest sea change.

Between 1994 and 1998, the number of households with a computer rose from 29% to 47%. Internet access boomed from 4% to 19% from 1996 to 1998.

This is the story of how TMN rolled with the punches and remained an essential trendsetter and observer.

JOHN WOODRUFF

Behind TMN’s launch were three figures: artist manager, copyright activist and label exec John Woodruff as owner and publisher; artist manager, ex-Icehouse bassist and publisher Keith Welsh as general manager; and Ear For Music and RAM founder Anthony O’Grady as editor-in-chief.

It was set up as Australia’s first radio tip sheet. A photocopied and hand-stapled ad-supported booklet alerted radio and retail which tracks were trending before they got into the charts.

“That magazine came out of my fascination with radio,” said Woodruff. “You listen to radio today and they’re the only ones in the music industry who’re jumping up and down excited about what they’re doing.”

That obsession with radio and new technology had seen him secretly set up a pirate radio station in his youth in Adelaide.

Woodruff always advised his acts: “be fascinating to the media”.  He found that in America, the “standing out” game played by execs was through buying covers of tip sheets and hiring teams to bombard stations with phone requests.

By concentrating on 10 tracks a week rather than the 200 releases each week, TMN was compelling reading for radio and TV programmers and music directors, labels, publishers, music and DVD retail, sales reps, artist managers, promoters and booking agents.

With deep roots in the music industry, the three had access to breaking news of releases, new partnerships and signings, staff movements, and opinion pieces on trends and challenges.

When TMN was published on Tuesdays – the day radio and labels held programming and marketing meetings – labels would send couriers over to the TMN offices in the Cross to pick up 30 copies at a time to distribute to staff.

Welsh noted how TMN changed the landscape quickly in one way. “There could be a 12-week gap between a record being added in Sydney and being picked up in Perth.

“There wouldn’t be enough for national sales. But seeing the airplay data in TMN allowed companies to divert marketing.”

TMN quickly got global attention. An offshoot of The Canadian Music Network, funded by Canada’s music industry, and The Canadian Entertainment Network which dealt more with DVDs and movies, were also successful.

“We had approaches from Italy, Brazil and Greece to open up versions there, but it takes an inordinate amount of energy,” Woodruff said.

O’Grady, a hard working and highly principled journalist, left after a disagreement over direction. He died in 2018.

Others including Danny Keenan took to the chair.

But around that time Woodruff made a drastic restructure to his business interests. And one of those changes saw him part ways with TMN.

PEER GROUP MEDIA

In January 2009, Adam Zammit’s music marketing and publishing group Peer Group Media took over, moving operations to Glebe.

Six months later, the magazine went through a radical design with a new logo and layout.

Under editors including Jade Harley (ex-Future Entertainment) and Nicole Fossati (ex-3D, SBS’ Alchemy, Sony Music marketing) the magazine went online, and actively took on issues and trends to provide solutions to the changing tide.

It covered digital trends, brand marketing, changing consumer behaviour, market tracking, tips on cracking the global market, and special reports and opinion pieces from industry figures. There was a greater focus on job vacancies.

There was greater synergy with Peer Group’s branded entertainment projects as Toohey’s Extra Dry UncharTED band competition, The Bacardi Express and The Jack Awards.

The new TopSwap chart monitored the songs downloaded from file-sharing sites each week. In March 2013 TMN went fully on-line while Peer continued to print Sydney street mag The Brag.

At the time, TMN was regarded as a source for information about trends in listener and purchaser behaviour.

“Our data is sought and used by advertising agencies, educational institutions, government agencies and consumer research organisations as well as by our subscribers,” Zammit noted back then

TMN partnered with bodies as APRA AMCOS and expanded subs offers to bring emerging musicians and songwriters into the fold.

ENTERTAINMENT MEDIA GROUP

Entertainment Media Group CEO Mark Dagleish’s background in building and managing digital media businesses in the U.K. and Australia saw him focus on “data, data and more data!” when he assumed TMN’s ownership in 2013.

He also published eventfinder.com.au, an events directory and e-ticketing website.

Dagleish announced then, “TMN is returning to its roots, which is a B2B publication, aimed squarely at the music business.

“The team is savvy and passionate about working in and supporting the Australian music industry, so that’s what we’re focusing on.

“There are more than a dozen websites and street press aimed at young music and lifestyle consumers, and I reckon they all offer up pretty much the same fare.

“I don’t want to go there – we’re here to serve the music industry, plain and simple.”

Editors included Poppy Reid, Nathan Jolly, Nicola Riches and Caitlin Welsh.

Weekly columns on streaming and digital, and radio, were introduced. Editorial content widened to cover marketing, entertainment law and education, and introduce younger and newer readers with even more subscription options to add to the 10,000 subscription database.

Charts were expanded to include all new digital players, industry bodies, and highlight more genres. Partnerships were made with streaming service Rdio, and with Sydney TAFE to provide content for their music business degree.

Other initiatives planned were a music and tech conference, and a data consulting service for brands to help them track and understand trends, opinions and tipping points.

Dagleish worked on an online portal to enable subscribers to search and compare any song, artist, genre, media or publisher, to “help music businesses gain a competitive edge, by predicting trends and shaping strategy.”

In November 2014, The Music Network launched a professional and social media network as a LinkedIn for the biz.

It was set up to address the problem that the bulk of the across-the-board music industry was made up of independent operators who, because of their busy schedules, had very little time to make connections with their peers.

Jake Challenor

TAKE 2 MEDIA

Under Jake Challenor’s tenure from 2017, The Music Network went through one of its most dynamic changes.

Challenor had run independent label Social Family Records and managed artists.

“I was an avid daily TMN reader, but I felt it had been coasting for awhile despite the fact it didn’t have any competition in the market.”

Through his company Take2 Media, his strategy was to scale audience and move away from subscription revenue.

The TMN website was given a total restructure and the paywall was killed.

Within 100 days of its relaunch, the audience grew from about 30,000 uniques to 70,000 a month and continued to climb.

Challenor explained: “From there, having solved the audience problem, we moved to putting forward a compelling proposition to advertisers, introduced the paid jobs board, revived 30 Under 30 and launched The TMN Tinnies awards.

“That was how we were going to monetise the audience.”

Deadlines were shifted so daily content came alive at 7am, for executives who started their working day with the most up-to-date data stack.

The editorial team included Brynn Davies, Elise Ferrari, Vivienne Kelly, Zanda Wilson, Will Brewster, Velvet Winter, and more.

TMN’s reputation for compelling content and advanced trends grew during this era. 

Challenor’s personal tastes in country music and new technology was reflected in stories – before both hit a boom and found global followers.

“Technology wasn’t getting the share of voice it deserved. We had so many great Australian innovation stories and exciting start-ups weren’t getting the recognition.”

Working with promoter and CMC Rocks co-founder Rob Potts, more country acts were featured, and a new Country Music Airplay Chart became an influential signal to radio and the industry as to which acts were trending.

Charts were put centre stage. Aside from the Hot 100, spin off charts were introduced, along with aggregated ones from ARIA, the DSPS, and the National Indigenous Music Charts were placed in a dedicated space for easy reference by the industry.

A significant feature of the Challenor era was that the company also published Radio Today.

Both titles’ shared editorial (and separate branded podcasts and awards), led to much interaction with readership.

For instance, issues such as radio quotas and airplay which concerned music executives, were simultaneously put in front of radio decision makers.

Music executives too could catch trends in radio before they broke.

“We jumped on to artists very early, like Sam Fischer and Amy Shark,” Challenor said.

“We did long form content about those artists, and put them in front of a radio audience early on in their careers.”

Backed by Jaddan Comerford’s UNIFIED Investments, Challenor set up Sound Story servicing music, media, advertising and tech businesses.

Sound Story offers corporate & crisis communications, media relations & publicity, executive profile building, sponsorship management and stakeholder engagement.

He stayed on with the next owner, The Brag Media, for a year, executive editing two of their titles before concentrating on Sound Story, hiring a number of TMN alumni.

poppy reid

THE BRAG MEDIA

Multi-million dollar culture and music publishing and events company The Brag Media bought The Music Network in February 2022.

The trade title sat alongside, at that time, The Industry Observer, Variety Australia, Rolling Stone Australia, thebrag.com and Tone Deaf.

Other titles included IndieWire, Funimation, Enthusiast Gaming, Life Without Andy and HypeBeast.

Luke Girgis set up the company, initially as Seventh Street Media in 2017, after doing the rounds, as rapper Coptic Soldier (his folks were in the Coptic Orthodox church), manager (Chance Waters, Little Sea), producer, and founder of record label I Forgot Sorry!

His reason for changing the company name: The Brag sounded tougher and cool.

Poppy Reid was head-hunted as editor-in-chief of the publishing titles.

Reid had moved from Brisbane to Sydney to follow a teenage ambition to become a music journalist. She interned at The Music Network, and eventually ended up on the editor’s chair.

When Girgis called her to organise a meeting without indicating why, the busy Reid thought it a waste of time.

More so when he arrived on a skateboard, and admitted, “I don’t really know what I’m doing and we could be bankrupt in six months.”

But, as ambitious and focused as him, and always up for a challenge, Reid took the plunge.

Uncovering the extent of sexism in the music industry in her writing, she won music journalist of the Year at the 2022 Australian Women in Music Awards (AWMA), Mediaweek Next of the Best Awards and Champion of Change at The B&T Women In Media Awards.

Explaining why TMN was bought when it already had The Industry Observer, Reid explained:

“When we launched in 2017, The Music Network was the music industry bible for news, updates and deep dives that mattered most to our sector.

“However TMN’s monopoly on trade music press meant not all music news was covered.

“We launched The Industry Observer as a competitor with the hope to add to the coverage of Australia’s incredible music industry but also hold certain powers to account through investigative reporting.

“We did just that, we managed to take market share from TMN, hosted our first industry awards, and even won multiple awards for our coverage on TIO.

“But, if you’ve been following The Brag Media’s journey since 2017, you’ll know we’re all about growth.

“Not long after launching TIO, we began aggressively acquiring other assets and entering partnerships to operate some of the world’s biggest media brands in Australia.”

TMN and TIO co-existed for a time, but TIO was folded into TMN in mid-2022. Experienced Billboard and TIO scribe Lars Brandle moved across to TMN as senior writer.

Reid: “We watched as TMN reclaimed the market share we had taken under the incredible leadership of Jake Challenor and after many, many, many conversations, we joined forces.

“We brought TMN under The Brag Media banner and tapped Jake to join the team.

“The folding of TIO was obvious and swift. We had achieved so much with the brand in a short amount of time, but five years in market pales in comparison to the now 30-year legacy and impact of The Music Network.”

The Brag Media’s growth of its publications was impressive. Variety Australia has 800,000 local readers a month, according to Girgis in a trade interview. Plans are to convert this appeal into branded events.

On the day it acquired TMN, The Brag Media also widened its footprint in gaming by buying digital activations network Epic Digital, which doubled The Brag Media’s reach to 40 million monthly page views from eight million users.

Girgis told Mumbrellacast how Tone Deaf and The Brag’s subscribers were built from 10,000 to 300,000.

Helping to drive the expansion is COO Joel King, founder of Music Feeds and former managing director of Evolve Media.

When COVID hit, the company which relied on 50% of its advertising from touring, lost $1 million in revenue in three days.

But Brag Media bounced back with a 166% and then 200% growth year on year, adding offices around Australia, entering the New Zealand market where it quickly developed a 17% reach, and expanding into creative and talent management and investments.

A propriety EDM software which segmented audiences into 43 interest groups including food, travel and comedy, provides essential data for brands that it consults.

In December 2023, the ASX-listed Vinyl Group announced it had entered into an agreement to fully acquire The Brag Media’s mastheads and events. Girgis remains as publisher and managing director of The Brag Media.

According to Vinyl Group’s CEO Josh Simons, there are synergies between Brag Media’s properties and Vinyl’s music credits business Jaxsta, the music industry social-professional network and talent marketplace Vampr, and online record store Vinyl.com

With The Music Network entering its next era, Poppy Reid said, “TMN’s legacy places us as the No. 1 source for news, interviews, and jobs for industry pros across three decades in this market.

“Because our readers are leaders, from Chairpeople, to label heads, to government arts officials, our brands can connect directly with changemakers.”

Jobs

Powered by
Looking to hire? List your vacancy today!

Related articles