Features November 13, 2017

Quotas, queens and teens: what we learned at #CMR2017

Quotas, queens and teens: what we learned at #CMR2017

From Tuesday to Thursday this week, a few hundred delegates from across the Australian music industry came together at Customs House in Sydney for the 2017 Contemporary Music Roundtable. More than just a conference, CMR featured over 80 speakers in a number of panels, conversations and workshops, with the aim of emerging from the event not only with more knowledge and connections, but also with concrete recommendations and next steps to address some of the biggest issues facing the industry.

Here are just a few of the themes that emerged over the course of #CMR2017.

1. No, seriously guys, it’s time to do something about women

The release of two reports on Monday that underscored the lack of women represented in the most powerful, prestigious and visible positions in the industry turned out to be perfectly timed. While there were already sessions planned to address representation and inclusivity, several other talks and even informal conversations buzzed with questions and anecdotes inspired by the APRA AMCOS/RMIT study and the Skipping A Beat report.

On the Wednesday panel How Do We Create A Truly Inclusive Music Industry?, an inspiring presentation by Screen NSW’s Grainne Brunsdon about the measures the film and TV industry had taken to increase women’s participation, especially in technical and key creative roles, showed how a change of attitude and priorities had made an enormous difference in gender parity as well as participation by other marginalised groups. And panellist Kween G, the rapper and educator, made the salient point that affordability is still a huge barrier to many women wanting to enter the music industry.

The CMR also provided women with several opportunities to grill the industry’s powerful men on areas where there’s still work to be done. Broadcaster and former triple j presenter Tracee Hutchison, in conversation with Chris Scaddan, didn’t let the ABC’s head of music off the hook: while Scaddan defended triple j’s playlist, saying there was “20, 30, 40% women [artists being played]” on any given day, Hutchison pointed out that Hottest 100 voters “will only vote for what they hear”, and questioned whether the fact that the station has only ever had two music directors, both male, has contributed to the underrepresentation of women artists.

And during the State Of The Industry report, an audience question pinned ARIA CEO Dan Rosen over the organisation’s poor track record of including women, from board members to award winners. Rosen, while saying that the all-male ARIA board is a result of their election process and can’t be rectified overnight, also expressed admiration for the measures APRA AMCOS committed to this week, and acknowledged there’s “a lot of work to be done”.

So who will make this work happen? One of the most exciting takeaways from the conference was the determination that an advisory group will be formed, “drawn from key industry bodies and representatives to consult on the process to create a truly inclusive music industry”.

2. There needs to be more money for all-ages shows

“There’s not a band that doesn’t want to play to under-18s,” said Way Over There’s Rich Moffat pointedly on the Youth Audiences panel. Younger audiences, it was agreed, are incredibly passionate, less likely to be drunk or violent, and also have fewer opportunities to see live music, so will turn up to a wide range of shows. And playing AA shows allows bands to build audiences who could be fans for decades.

However, the costs associated with staging all-ages shows – which are largely related to how tied up live music is with alcohol – are often prohibitive, or at least enough that artists and promoters are spooked by the potential threat to their already-slim profit margins. (Although, Moffat added later, most bands are just keen not to lose money, and are more than happy to break even playing to younger crowds.)

The panel recommended more government and local investment in shows specifically marketed for underage audiences, particularly the 14-17 age group. There are government-funded and non-profit groups supporting all-ages live music access and skills in every state and territory, but Victorian non-profit The Push – represented on the panel by two staff members, Kate Duncan and Shaad D’Souza – has had particular success. Their New Slang program, where monthly gigs are booked and staged by teenagers, is a standout, with every event selling out.


3. Quota is not a dirty word

Instead of shying away from the idea of quotas, delegates across the conference suggested recommending or enforcing minimums in response to any number of issues – from the aforementioned women’s representation, to the number of all-ages shows on tours officially presented by triple j.

While the Q-word is seen as overly prescriptive in some policy circles, the conversation seems to be circling back around. After all, it goes without saying that there are women making great indie music, under-18s desperate for live music options, and Australian pop artists struggling to break into commercial radio drive-time rotation. Quotas – whether they’re strongly recommended, or enforced by denying funding for non-compliance, for example – can help normalise the decision-making choices that drive real cultural change.

4. Artists need money. Lots more money.

From the mental health panel to the audience development panel, it all came down to the not-big-enough bucks. Lindy Morrison – whose career as a social worker pre-dates her iconic work with the Go-Betweens – spoke movingly about the increasing numbers of Support Act cases suffering from mental health issues so debilitating that they can’t bring themselves to do basic life admin like paying bills, and low average annual salaries for working musicians keep those same people in a perpetual cycle of anxiety and stress.

In one of the first panels on Wednesday, federal shadow minister for the arts Tony Burke spoke strongly about one of his pet issues: how the secondary ticketing market is broken, and is damaging the artist-audience relationship and funnelling money into the pockets of scalpers and corporations when it should be going back to the industry. A pertinent audience question put the minister on the spot when it came to broader policy – or rather than a question, the delegate took the opportunity to encourage Labor arts policy “to move away from the transactional approach and the ad hoc approach to a more strategic approach that drives the economic wellbeing of artists and get their salaries out of the teens”.

Burke promised the delegates we would be “pleasantly surprised” by the music-focused policies the opposition is working on. Ultimately, he said, “the objective is to make sure the people living in this country have Australian music as the soundtrack to their lives” – not a controversial goal, but one everyone can get behind.

 The Music Network and City of Sydney have partnered on a series of interviews and essays discussing the future of Sydney music and the industry that supports it.

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