Image for Why Aus music is worth its weight in gold

Why Aus music is worth itsweight in gold

The debate about Olympic funding has overshadowed the fact that contemporary musicians are having to subsist off the smell of an oily rag, writes DARREN LEVIN.

Australia’s recent Olympics bid has once again highlighted the vast funding discrepancies between sports and contemporary music.

According to a story in The Age this week, the Australian Institute of Sport spent $310-million on our London Olympics campaign. It included more than $70-million spent on swimming and athletics alone, with each of our seven gold medals costing approximately $10-million a pop.

Now contrast this with that other great Australian export: contemporary music. Despite a year in which local artists have been making significant strides overseas – from Gotye and Kimbra’s raid on the US charts to international deals for the likes of Chet Faker, Last Dinosaurs, Royal Headache, Husky and emma louise – the Australian government could only commit to $3-million over four years in May’s Federal Budget. That’s roughly $750,000 a year, divvied up mostly between Sounds Australia ($1.7-million) and the West Australian Music Industry Association ($1.3-million).

That figure improves slightly when you factor in the extra budget allocated to the Australia Council, as well as state-based industry bodies such as Music Victoria and Music NSW, but it still pales in comparison to the millions pledged to the AIS in pursuit of gold.

While comparing arts to sports funding is kinda like comparing Skrillex to Slipknot, it’s worth considering that Wally de Backer – arguably Australia’s greatest success story of the year, musically or otherwise – reached #1 in 25 countries around the world without a cent of government investment in his album Making Mirrors. Add to that a recent report by accounting firm Ernst & Young, which concluded that live music fuels the Australian economy to the tune of $1.2 billion, and you start to question whether the government has its funding priorities straight.

While Helen Marcou from musicians’ lobby group Save Live Australia’s Music (SLAM) is loathe to weigh in on the sport-versus-music funding debate, she says musicians have traditionally had to subsist off the smell of an oily rag.

“We scratch our heads and wonder why The Swedish are net exporters of music and our musicians are still running the marathon in bare feet.”

“Australian musicians have clawed success while being neglected by countless governments, comparatively different to Olympic sportspeople,” Marcou told FL this week. “Our musicians suffer a diminished national touring circuit, venues closing down, shrinking local radio quotas, their music illegally downloaded, very few support opportunities with International touring bands, limited superannuation – should I go on? We scratch our heads and wonder why The Swedish are net exporters of music and our musicians are still running the marathon in bare feet.”

But selling the idea of contemporary music as something worth investing in might require a cultural shift, says Nick O’Byrne from the Australian Independent Record Labels Association. He says the amount of funding allocated to sports in Australia is indicative of a much wider issue, namely our reliance on athletic achievement as a measure of national worth. “I think sport is also, as a whole, considered by politicians to be more egalitarian. Its an easier sell to government because success can be celebrated by everyone, tradies, lawyers, doctors, teachers, adults and kids.”

Still, Marcou says that a cash injection akin to our recent Olympic campaign could see a “tenfold return to the Australian economy”, not to mention the contribution to the social and culture fabric of society. She urged the government to show some leadership and drop the cultural cringe.

“Economics aside, $310-million over four years could make a big dent in the problems plaguing the sector, the same stuff that we’ve made noise about for 30 years like pay equity for artists, superannuation, sound attenuation and preservation of cultural clusters, music in the school curriculum, a reinvigorated regional music scene,” she says. “Our sector is being smothered in bureaucratic red tape and is a regulatory mess. The musical talent pool in this country is robust and word class. Our artists are resilient and the public love their music, you could argue more than their sport.”

Comments arrow left

trumpetmax said on the 15th Aug, 2012

did that picture get censored?


Garth said on the 15th Aug, 2012

whaddaya want, a medal? but seriously, you're drawing a pretty long bow here. i don't have the statistics but i'm pretty sure the olympic games draw a bigger crowd than the annandale on a saturday night.


MyChoice said on the 15th Aug, 2012

put it this way garth; the live music industry in victoria contributes more money to the economy than the afl. plus we are talking about an industry that never stops, these contributions to the local community take place every night of the week. not just for 17 days every four years. i think this is a real issue and that the government should have a serious think about it.


random_hero said on the 15th Aug, 2012


mrdeanvincent said on the 15th Aug, 2012

i hope you studied the national budget before you decided to write a misleading article, but i can tell that you didn't.


gumbuoy said on the 15th Aug, 2012

Actually, it's worse than that. It's like comparing Slipknot to an inanimate carbon rod. They serve different purposes, operate at different levels, and have absolutely no relation to one another. But you went ahead and did it anyway.

Yep, and as soon as Making Mirrors gets lots of kids out there playing sports, being fit and active, then there'll be some measure of comparison between them.

What Making Mirrors appears to have done at this stage is convince hundreds of youngsters to sit in front of computers doing up memes and playing cover versions. The government is supposed to pay him for that?


grattan said on the 16th Aug, 2012

So not quite as much funding as Archery and less than half the funding offered to Shooting. Thanks for encouraging the kids to be healthy with all that gun money!


Braveheart81 said on the 16th Aug, 2012

The biggest problem you have with any arts funding is that it is about picking winners and historically picking winners is difficult. That's why a lot of arts funding gets directed towards the various symphony orchestras and operas etc. because they are stable organisations that can provide opportunities for some musicians to gain employment through them.

If you based funding on trying to find bands worthy of getting government investments it wouldn't work at all. An example that seems appropriate would be from the UK TV Show Dragons' Den which involves entrepreneurs investing in business ideas. The Dragons decided to invest in a pop/rock band at one point called Hamfatter. The fact that you've never heard of them probably says a lot about the value of that investment.

The reality is that there is a vibrant music industry whereby there are pathways to success, fame and fortune. Is it hard to make it? Most definitely but that is probably the way it should be. Like anything in the arts the fact that you want do it as a career shouldn't mean that you are going to be successful. You need to have talent and appeal. The fact that a large amount of money gets spent by the public on the music industry in its various forms would suggest that the income is there for those that are good enough or have enough appeal to make it.


thereisnokevin said on the 16th Aug, 2012

olympics notwithstanding, isn't the bigger issue here the government's general attitude towards the arts in general? correct me if i'm wrong, but isn't australia notoriously behind the rest of the world when it comes to funding for arts initiatives?


candyapplered said on the 16th Aug, 2012

i want government fund my nude poetry recitals

Napoleon Solo

Napoleon Solo said on the 16th Aug, 2012

I will support a cut in funding for sport but only if it is used to bribe Australian hip hop to go away forever.

Bernie Quinlan

Bernie Quinlan said on the 17th Aug, 2012

i wonder if we'd have a music industry if alcohol was banned at music venues? probably not. the hipsters care for the scene, not the music. hence why they jump ship from band to band so quickly. australian music is more disposable than a styrofoam big mac container.

Napoleon Solo

Napoleon Solo said on the 17th Aug, 2012

As long as the nangs be plenty! There will always be an aussie music scene.


berlinchair101 said on the 17th Aug, 2012

I remember when the word hipster just meant Santos. Now I don't know what it means anymore.


Piko said on the 17th Aug, 2012

So not quite as much funding as Archery and less than half the funding offered to Shooting. Thanks for encouraging the kids to be healthy with all that gun money!

These numbers are based on funding to the sport from ground level all the way to Olympic level, not just the Olympics. With that being said however.. Rowing, Canoeing and Water Polo have rather low participation considering the funding.. May be worth trying those sports kids. I would also suggest Sailing but there is a huge outlay just to get involved.


Braveheart81 said on the 17th Aug, 2012

I used to do slalom kayaking and canoeing.

When I did uni games back in '99 and '00 I competed against Robin Bell who won bronze in the C1 at Beijing, Kynan Maley who made the final in the C1 in London, and Warwick Draper who has been at the last couple of Olympics in the K1.

There really is very little funding for these guys. They're heavily self funded and have to scrape their way around Europe to compete in World Cup events and hope they place high enough to get some prize money to keep going.

They all work jobs when they are at home to try and pay the rent as well as training very hard.

I imagine the funding listed here is for both flatwater (sprint) canoeing/kayaking and for slalom canoeing/kayaking. At the end of the day it probably pays for some of the coaching and equipment and some of the travel costs. They certainly don't get paid anything resembling a salary to compete.

Napoleon Solo

Napoleon Solo said on the 17th Aug, 2012

I got into Sailing as a kid the same way most did, rich gay middle aged men.

You probably think I am joking...


Braveheart81 said on the 17th Aug, 2012

Did you get jabbed when you should have jibed?

Napoleon Solo

Napoleon Solo said on the 17th Aug, 2012

Sometimes I would jibe and end up on top of a cockswain. You come to expect that on a yacht named Coco.


Demosthenes said on the 17th Aug, 2012

Mess & Noise hit the nail on the head:

"Popular music isn’t in search of an audience, nor is it seeking to remix its demographic; it’s already got a vast and incredibly diverse audience. It doesn’t seek grand public monuments like an Opera House either. Everybody knows it’s (almost) never received government funding, and it’s hardly about to start sticking its hand out now. All it’s really asking is that when it does find some little hole in the wall in which to perform without harming anyone, it’s not harassed in doing so. All it’s asking is that the contempt, vilification and harassment stop. Now."


grattan said on the 17th Aug, 2012

Nope, it's all funneled into the AIS for the Olympics (and other elite competition) - not to the ground level.
The graph comes from [URL=""]this story in The Age - "The data reveals that the Australian Institute of Sport spent a record $310 million of public money on the Olympics campaign. Its budget has almost doubled since 2009, in preparation for these Games."


mainlander said on the 21st Aug, 2012

there are actually a few bands out there getting free shoes, so perhaps the comparison is fair.