The 2017 BIGSOUND daytime conference, which kicked off proper on Wednesday, has truly grown into its name.
From the giant inflatable octopus greeting guests at the nearby Empire Hotel, to the expanded program and the crowds shuffling through its myriad venues across the Fortitude Valley, this year’s Bigsound is bigger than any previous incarnation. It’s no secret organisers have long harboured ambitions of turning Brisbane into Australia’s SXSW for just one week in the year. Perhaps SXSW, now considered too busy, too unwieldy, might take some tips from its southern cousins.
As the doors to the Judith Wright Centre swung open, and with the introductory formalities completed, Sadie Dupuis of Speedy Ortiz handled the opening keynote with a presentation that was part girl power, part history lesson and a rally for diversity and inclusiveness.
Dupuis explored the parallels between art and activism, and exposed the false narratives about women and guitar playing. She thanked her ex-punk mum, who signed her up to a “hippy dippy” music camp from which she returned with “utterly reformed confidence.”
The U.S. artist also found time to cover off racism and the fallout of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. “I started to wake up to my white middle class privilege…I felt I needed to reallocate it in some way.” So she staged an event which raised $5,000 for hurricane relief. “DIY is a powerful tool but doing it together can have a more profound effect,” she explained.
In a chat with Pitchfork’s Jillian Mapes, Dupuis addressed safe spaces and the gender inequality among “sound guys” and party bills. “I’m almost never impressed with big festivals,” she admitted. The Bigsound lineup, however, got the thumbs up for diversity.
“There are small concrete steps you can take to improve the community within music and outside it,” she urged the audience. “There are so many ways to use the music industry for good,” she said, rattling off support mechanisms, listening to survivors, accountability, and putting in the work. “Let’s build a better music scene.”
The main room filled up for the HQ session, or what might have been called the “captains of industry panel,” which placed ARIA CEO Dan Rosen, APRA AMCOS CEO Brett Cottle, WIN CEO Alison Wenham and others shoulder-to-shoulder. This is 2017, a time of rare optimism for the recording industry as streaming and, to a lesser extent, vinyl, pushes growth. But no-one is laughing as they count all the money (not yet, anyway).
“If we want to get back to revenues pre-piracy in the early 2000s, we will need to see that revenue doubling,” Rosen said.
There was a great fear some years ago that the cannibalisation from downloads would damage the market, Cottle noted. “That hasn’t happened.” Streaming, the outgoing APRA AMCOS chief explained, “definitely is working for the big content owners in industry. But at the individual artist level…the return is nowhere near what CDs brought. And that’s an issue for the industry.”
Streaming has enabled Indies to find their markets around the world, explained Wenham. Markets in South America are opening up, she noted, offering Peru as one example. The Latin country has generated $1 million in streaming revenue. “That’s completely new money,” Wenham said. “Steaming has been very enabling for independents.” Streaming is also disrupting the charts and radio. The same number of people are listening to radio but they’re spending less time plugged in, ABC Head of Music Chris Scaddan noted.
When asked what artists thought of steaming, 4AD’s Jane Abernethy said, “Most of them are really excited about it, but also you have artists who’ve been around for a while who say they don’t see the benefits of it.”
Rosen, Cottle and their fellow panelists also drilled into controversial safe habour protections, YouTube and the “C” word was dropped: copyright.
Bigsound isn’t all about the current and the future. For a moment, attention was diverted to the past and the legendary Queensland punk rock band The Saints, who Premier and Arts Minister Annastacia Palaszczuk announced would be immortalised through a large-scale inner-city Brisbane. Stranded no longer.
Delegates, already a touch frayed from Tuesday night’s showcase program, have a banquet of daytime sessions to mull over, from AI, to music in Asia and Latin America and blockchain. Bigsound runs through Friday.