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Cracking The International Scene: Do Aussie Bands Have It Worse?

Updated: Jul 25, 2019

Angus Young of AC/DC at a 2016 concert | © Amy Harris

If you were to look into the repertoire of music which Australian artists currently have to offer, it is hard to believe its existence internationally goes predominately unrecognised. With a resume dating back to household names such as Silverchair, INXS and ACDC, is it fair to ask, have we peaked? Or are we getting overlooked when it comes to the complex and varied 'international market'?

Diving deep into the archives of successful Australian acts, such as Crowded House, Midnight Oil, and Cold Chisel the list keeps going on and on. These acts had paved a strong artistic legacy for Australia and yet in this contemporary industry many artists find themselves in a position of being overlooked by the world leaders in music. It seems Europe and in particular North America flaunt the export of musical culture power.

Although Australian fans are the core of one of the most supportive networks musicians can ask for, the reception from the international market feels a little colder.

John Collins of Powderfinger at the building site of the Triffid (2014)

Owner of Brisbane live music venue, The Triffid, and former Powderfinger member, John Collins explains that cracking the American and European scene can be an unforgiving journey. “We were pretty close to cracking America,” Collins says with a reminiscent smile. “We played on David Letterman, toured with Coldplay and we were spinning on college radio. Then, September 11 happened and it went to nothing. The American market didn’t want to know anything foreign.”

“The European market on the other hand is a little bit sceptical. Something that isn’t polished or is a bit rougher just doesn’t work. We had a reputation of being an Australian band and they just automatically dismissed you.”

Yet, within Australia, Powderfinger was one of the most famous acts circulating the country. Falling short of huge international successes have become a common theme within the Australian music scene for many years. Our home-grown talent produces a bulk of unique and quality art but nonetheless flies under the international radar, dwarfed by the commercial might other countries.

Collins remains hopeful though saying “Sometimes you get those invasions of bands such as The Seattle invasion, New York invasion and Manchester invasion, I can’t see why we can’t have an Australian invasion throughout Europe or even America.”

One of Collins regular sell-out performers at the Triffid, DZ Deathrays, have recently gone through a similar hardship.

Drummer and founding member of DZ Deathrays, Simon Ridley also explains comparable problems in Europe and America and dives deeper into the financial problems an Australian touring act goes through.

“I think the hardest thing for Australian bands to do to break, is consistency,” says Ridley.

“You need to keep coming back constantly and that’s the most expensive part. To travel to England costs nearly $7000 to fly members, let alone front of house staff, plus the logistics of running a tour, playing gigs for about 100 Quid per show.

We can build a lot of great contacts over there but it’s really depressing when you go overseas and come home with minus $40,000 in the bank account. You can almost pay yourself yearly with that money.

America is full of double standards. We would always tour with these US acts that were doing the same as us in terms of size and we used to call it a swap tour. We would tour America and we would bring them back here in Australia.

The only difference was, we were playing for around $100 per show and they were demanding thousands in return.

“There are now so many Australian bands that are just done with it now and it is sort of sad to see because the talent is there. Bands like Powderfinger stopped touring internationally way earlier then they should have, and Violent Soho just do national runs now. It’s really hard to keep it up."

In a world currently drowned with pop music and one hit wonders, it seems there is no room for the music down under on the international stage. With successful Australian bands coming home from a tour in serious debt, how could it be possible for these acts to return and etch their name in the worldwide market?

However, with the advent of social media and the ubiquitous speed at which culture is disseminated over the internet, a new hope might be dawning for our artists. Skimming through the handful of Australian acts that have had a taste of success overseas such as Tame Impala, Nick Murphy, and Courtney Barnett, is it possible to emulate these success stories and make Australian music a hot commodity?

Music journalist, Tom Vu explains, “it can depend largely on the notoriety of the artist on an international level and even within the major hubs of western music. Between the independent and pop because of the commercialisation of a lot of the processes.”

“What I mean is big artists with a big international reputation have a much easier time touring overseas in the US, Europe and around the world. Even so, Australian bands might only be popular in certain areas of Europe, sometimes just because their music was featured on a tv show there.”

Aussie export Courtney Barnett @ SXSW Texas

“It also goes both ways, Courtney Barnett is arguably bigger in the American scene and Tame Impala have seen huge success overseas, even in places such as South America.”

With endless amounts of Australian bands fighting for those spots overseas, Vu further explains the location these acts are from can play a vital role.

“Even ones that are big in Australia like The Jungle Giants or Gang of Youths, they might headline festivals here but play tiny stages overseas, they are still ‘indie bands’ and generally the ‘localised’ indie scene is very insulated,” says Vu.

In New York or LA for example, ‘indie’ bands like Charly Bliss or Deep Sea Diver would have popularity in their respective indie scenes. In Brisbane, their equivalent would be The Jungle Giants or Ball Park Music, yet neither places would have much exposure to the other's music. Yet another Brisbane band Last Dinosaurs were able to exploit an American niche as an exotic yet palatable Aussie band.

In the end, it all comes down to publicity and the frequency of exposure. Local bands build connections to fans by touring and understanding the local culture. It’s much harder to do this if you don’t live in this place”

“Therefore, it’s the publicists and other agents’ job to get that music out there. Otherwise, the bands need to become a niche and in demand cultural icon i.e. Mac Demarco, Billie Eilish, Sticky Fingers, Sia, A&J etc often utilising internet culture to do so” says Vu.

The Jungle Giants, and their label mates Confidence Man have since enjoyed significant success in the European markets due to savvy 'showcasing tours' by their creative team.

Artists and managers interested in export can engage the assistance of Sounds Australia. "Sounds Australia is Australia’s export music market development initiative, established to provide a cohesive and strategic platform to assist the Australian music industry access international business opportunities. Sounds Australia is a joint initiative of the Australia Council and APRA AMCOS, supported by the Federal Government together with State Government Agencies and Peak Industry Associations. Artists who played their first international showcase with Sounds Australia include Alison Wonderland, Courtney Barnett, D.D Dumbo, DMA’S, Flume, Julia Jacklin, Gang Of Youths, Hermitude, Kate Miller-Heidke, Methyl Ethel, Nick Murphy (fka Chet Faker), Peking Duk, RUFUS DU SOL, San Cisco, Sheppard, Stella Donnelly, The Jezabels, The Preatures, Tkay Maidza and Vance Joy.

More information can be found here regarding Sounds Australia Expert Masterclass and other resources



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