The talent and quality may be there – and so is audience interest – but new research shows that only a fraction of the rewards and airplay is going to Indigenous musicians.
Song Cycles, a joint research project of the Australia Council for the Arts and the Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA), shows that attitudes, physical distance, training and education are among the significant barriers that prevent Indigenous artists from reaching wider audiences.
“There are a lot of misconceptions standing in the way,” says Dr Mark Bin Bakar, Chair of the Australia Council Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts Board, and himself a musician. “There are some uglier attitudes too, which we hope the facts can sweep away. Like the promoter who told a muso when they turned up at the gig, ‘If I knew you were Aboriginal, I wouldn’t have booked you’. Audiences, musicians and venues don’t need that deadwood attitude anymore!”
Radio airplay is a major goal of many musicians, but there are slim opportunities for Indigenous musicians to be aired.
“Community broadcasters lead the way with 4 per cent of the music they play being Indigenous. The ABC is playing less than 2 per cent and commercial radio, a very small 0.14 per cent,” says Dr Bin Bakar. “We’ll need to work with broadcasters to open the airwaves to more quality Indigenous content”.
Sally Howland, Director of Member Services APRA|AMCOS and author of the report, says, “The Song Cycles research indicates that Indigenous musicians are disenfranchised at every stage: training up, playing live, recording, airplay, distribution and touring. No wonder people feel locked out.”
“Recording music for example is a significant step for an artist; but Indigenous musicians experience barriers accessing equipment, production and technical expertise, which ultimately impairs quality. Together with impediments around distribution channels and promotion, this significantly impacts access to mainstream markets”
Song Cycles, the first research project of its kind, suggests ways to combat these challenges by creating an environment that fosters artistic development, ensures fair compensation to composers, song writers and music artists, improves access to the mainstream market and develops a touring festival network.
“Touring is an important way for artists to get their name out and build their skills and a stable income,” said Dr Bin Baker. “But with 27 per cent of Indigenous people living in remote locations, the distance to gigs and the costs associated with this mean they never reach the spotlight. Looking at ways to get around this is a crucial step”.
A previous study by the Australia Council, More than bums on seats: Australian participation in the arts, shows that nine out of ten Australians believe Indigenous arts are vital to our culture, with 47 per cent of the population saying they have a growing interest in Indigenous arts.
Song Cycles follows the start of the recent national program developed by the Cultural Ministers Council, Breakthrough, which funds marketing and mentoring opportunities for Indigenous musicians.
Dr Mark Bin Bakar, Chair of the Australia Council Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts Board, will release Song Cycles at the Sydney premises of APRA at 11am on Friday 28 May 2010.