The ARIAs claim to be “a celebration of all that is great and popular in local music” but for the past month there has only been one Australian song in ARIA Top 40 charts.
The revelation comes off the back of The Music’s interview with Peach PRC on her debut EP, which is only the second Australian album to make the ARIA’s album chart this year.
So how can a body that exists to spotlight Australian music, be missing the one thing that it’s meant to champion? There isn’t a simple answer to this question and finding a solution proves complicated.
Annabelle Herd is the CEO of ARIA and describes the lack of Australian music on the ARIA charts as “alarming.”
“We exist to shine a spotlight on Australian artists and are facing a crisis,” Herd told PEDESTRIAN.
“Talking to people in the industry, it’s the worst it’s been for a very long time.”
There has been a dramatic shift in the ways we consume music and over the past few years catalog music has been dominating listenerships.
Streaming platforms and TikTok have become pathways to reintroduce older music to audiences, and this is reflected in the ARIA charts. The only local song to appear in the ARIA Top 40 over the past four weeks was Vance Joy’s 2013 track ‘Riptide.’
“The dominance of catalog music means it’s tough for new artists,” said Herd.
“Traditional ways of finding audiences aren’t as strong and the competition is massive. COVID made it worse as artists couldn’t tour in Australia and all of this is happening at once.”
Nic Kelly is a music broadcaster who believes the charts are no longer a reflection of what’s “hot right now, from right now,” and don’t mirror the music that’s making a cultural impact, rather they are now solely an aggregate of what’s being listened to.
But this aggregate isn’t an accurate reflection of the incredible music being made by local artists and highlights that we have a massive issue on our hands: Australians aren’t listening to Australian music.
This isn’t because there’s a shortage of talent, if anything, Australian music being produced at this moment in time is some of the best and most exciting we’ve ever heard, it’s just not getting into the ears of wider audiences.
While charting and commercial success isn’t the litmus test for all artists, it does provide important opportunities.
To be nominated for an ARIA award an artist needs to appear in the ARIA charts, and last year the R&B award category only had four artists nominated, unlike the other major categories that had five. This is because there wasn’t a fifth artist who charted in this genre, despite the plethora of incredible releases in 2022.
Rapper and proud Gumbaynggirr man Tasman Keith spoke openly about this controversy and took to Twitter stating:
“ARIA needs to evolve. The system isn’t set up for the small town mission kid, it’s set up for the big label white man. And as a First Nations person I shouldn’t need to change the system to simply be acknowledge by it, that’s been the problem with Australia.”
@ARIA_Official full transparency pic.twitter.com/7lVbG4vDKP
— Tasman Keith (@TasmanKeith) September 13, 2022
ARIA has revealed to PEDESTRIAN that it’s reviewing the nomination process for the awards to ensure barriers to charting don’t prohibit local talent from being nominated.
It also shared that it has been in consultation with R&B and hip-hop communities to increase visibility of these genres across the ARIAs more broadly.
Nazlican Eren is an artist manager, radio presenter and culture consultant, who believes that the ARIA charts are “not representative of the cultural shift” we’re seeing in Australian music.
“When you’re on the ground and you’re a part of this movement, seeing the diverse artists that are coming out and then you look at the charts and you’re like, damn, we still have such a long way to go,” says Eren.
The reason why we’re seeing little to no Australian music on the ARIA charts is multifaceted and the blame doesn’t lie in one place.
The music industry is a complex ecosystem that feeds into each other. From radio, to streaming platforms, social media, labels, local communities and the charts, each part of the industry plays a role.
However government policies over the past 10 or so years have made it increasingly more difficult. Ongoing funding cuts have resulted in reduced opportunities, venue closers, music festivals disappearing and a culture that doesn’t place enough value on music.
“Australia just doesn’t put on for their artists the way that other countries do. You listen to BBC Radio 1 and you’ll hear FOALS, then Stormzy… Just all these different genres that really represent the multiculturalism that the UK is, and in Australia we’re just not there yet,” said Eren.
The link between radio and the charts is important to note. Radio will take some influence from what’s charting to inform music playlisting, and audiences will often listen to music they’ve been exposed to via the radio, which in-turn makes it chart.
But to get to a point where we’re hearing more Australian artists on commercial radio we need a greater push from labels and other industry players. It’s all an interconnected web where no single group exclusively holds the solution.
Nic Kelly believes change lies in everyone involved in the industry creating a more holistic ecosystem that fosters new artists to tell their stories in accessible ways.
“I think we can do that, if everyone kind of comes together and fosters a genuinely good ground for people to grow, it can change.”
Herd agrees there isn’t one single solution that is going to fix this issue, but rather something that needs to be tackled as an industry.
Changing the way artists can be nominated for an ARIA award is a step forward, as is the Australian-only charts and the body advocating to state and federal governments for discoverability of local talent.
Australian music is having a huge moment, we just need to adapt the industry to ensure that more Australians get to hear it.