Music industry

How the Australian music industry is rediscovering its future groove

Pictured: Mardi Caught (The Annex), Jaddan Comerford (UNIFIED), Joel Connelly (Blackbird) and Holly Rankin (Jack River) at ARIA’s Innovation & Entrepreneurship panel

Executives predict a new era of innovation and entrepreneurial dynamism in Australian music.

They paint a landscape of larger investments on the part of financiers; a world where music and creativity are valued more than ever; and an economy where artists are more financially independent thanks to new technologies which are supposed to herald a new boom.

These were among the many themes, ideas and lessons presented at the Innovation & Entrepreneurship panel on Monday, as part of the 2021 ARIA Week educational series.

Changes like transparency, risk management and startup curiosity, of course, started years ago. But it took the pandemic to reveal the flaws in the industry, and with it the realization that they need to be addressed once and for all, and with a new mindset in the way business is conducted.

The panel consisted of Jaddan Comerford of UNIFIED Music Group, who admitted he didn’t realize how difficult it would be to build his empire, but was driven by a passion for music and business;

Mardi Caught from The Annex, a former head of a major record company who realized that ‘the system’ would not allow her to progress further and in 2018 founded a Sydney-based consultancy that helps young artists develop strategies and plan their marketing;

Joe Connelly, a former co-manager of The Rubens and Cloud Control who later joined venture capital firm Blackbird, is a creative advocate for ideas in “everything from software to space”.

Panel moderator artist Holly Rankin (Jack River) was even surprised this year when her call for companies to list more local music during the pandemic sparked a shift.


5 takeaways from the ARIA Week Innovation & Entrepreneurship Panel

1. How COVID has changed strategies

After ensuring that all UNIFIED staff were retained, Comerford intended to take an 18-month break. Instead, he used the time to relearn and research. “I felt like I was sending myself back to school.”

It transformed the way he saw opportunities.

This month saw the launch of UNIFIED Investments to help startups solve problems in the music industry, and its music distribution division, Community Music.

Next year, he says, the business will expand into player management.

For Caught, the pandemic introduced the way business could be conducted virtually, new marketing strategies, and musicians thinking differently to connect with their audiences.

“It’s changed everything from thinking more strategically about what the merchandise looks like and how it suits your fan, (and) how you can use your social platforms.

“I doubt something like TikTok would have been so easily absorbed if we hadn’t had a lockdown for such a period, and the kids were trying to escape their parents.”


2. The explosion of capital investment in music

Connelly explained two reasons for the growing appetite of investors for music.

First, due to the new liquidity of copyright, “people see that there is an opportunity for copyright to be able to generate money over a long period of time through streaming.

“It generated a lot of interest, especially from private equity.

“Second, the financial markets are crazy. There’s more money than there ever was, and there’s a lot of appetite for investing in all kinds of different things.


3. The rising value of music

“People are starting to realize how valuable and meaningful the jobs and products really are to people,” says Connelly.

“Music in particular is an incredibly meaningful and precious thing to people.

“We have always been able to make money out of it, but right now the money is distributed in a more equitable way. “


4. The Biz is worried about monetization

In the past, the industry has first ceded its product to MTV and YouTube in the name of promotion and lamented, too late, that others are creating empires on its back.

“But now we have the technology like cryptocurrency and blockchain, it’s something people can look at,” Caught said.

Comerford is enthusiastic about the concept of “digital scarcity,” similar to how vinyl records increase in value if they are hard to find.

“We’re about to see the same with digital albums because people are going to start selling their albums digitally as NFT.

“It seems crazy to think that we can limit the supply of something that is digital. But again, this technology that we call NFT is what is going to allow us to do that. “


5. The new burden of property

Connelly was, like the rest of the panel, excited about how the music industry was about to reinvent its structure.

“What lies ahead is the most important opportunity we have ever had, to reorganize the music industry and change the way the property operates.

“For me the biggest brake on creativity and art in the world is the system of ownership that we have put in place in music and other mediums like book publishing.

“The people who create the works never own anything.

“You don’t own your IP, you don’t own your customers, you don’t own your fans.

“We don’t have a direct relationship with the public, it’s always through an intermediary.

“For the first time in living memory, we have the opportunity to create a system that puts the people who create the work at the center of it.

“It’s not just an opportunity for them to get a fair share of the income, but to actually create wealth.”