In this blog the early music industry in Australia was analysed in great detail (The Early Record Industry in Australia – part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5 and part 6). In a four part series on the Australian music business I would like to highlight the recent economic situation of the Australian music industry. In the first part of this series the charts of the Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) are analysed to understand the consumers’ taste downunder especially in respect to the Australian national repertoire. In the second part the question is answered, which labels benefit from the chart successes of international and domestic artists. In a third part the development of the recorded music sales in Australia from 2000 to 2011 is analysed to give an explanation for the ups and downs in the observed period. In the fourth and last part of the series the economic role of collecting societies in Australia is highlighted especially from the licensing income’s perspective.
However, in the following the question is answered which labels succeeded in the ARIA charts and the role of indie and major labels a highlighted for the observed period.
Label Success in the ARIA Charts, 1988-2011
In this section the success of major and indie labels operating in the Australian recorded music market is highlighted for the years 1988 to 2011. In a longterm perspective the index of the labels’ album chart success (for the method see index of artists’ chart success) shows five different periods with relatively high index values for independent record labels, but also periods with rather low index values for the indies. Thereby, the indie labels does not only include Australian but also foreign labels that distribute their records either by Australian subsidaries of the majors or by independent distributors. The major labels which are covered by the longterm analysis include a total of eleven labels. Although CBS Columbia was taken over by the Japanese electronic conglomerate Sony in 1988, the US major was still active as an independent affiliation on the Australian market from 1988 to 1990. Then it was incorporated into the Sony Music Entertainment (SME) label conglomerate (see Tschmuck 2012: 175-176). The German Bertelsmann Music Group (BMG) operated in Australia until 2003, when it entered a joint venture with Sony Music Entertainment – Sony-BMG (see Tschmuck 2012:180). Since Bertelsmann sold its 50 percent stake in the joint venture to Sony in 2008, Sony Music Entertainment (SME) succeeded Sony-BMG. Similarily the subsidiary of the Dutch electronic conglomerate Philips, PolyGram, as well as the US record major MCA operated as independent companies in Australia until 1998, when they were merged by their new owner, the Canadian distillery giant Seagram, to Universal Music Group (UMG) (see Tschmuck 2012: 179). The only two major record companies that were continously active on the Australian recorded music market are the Warner Music Group (despite a change of ownership in 2004, when The Investor’s Group acquired Warner from the Time-Warner conglomerate, but sold the company to Access Industries in 2011) (see Tschmuck 2012: 178) and EMI, which has the longest history of all majors in the Australian market dating back to the early 20th century (see Laird, 1999). Further, we can identify the US major ABC Records (not to be confused with the Australian public broadcaster ABC) on the Australian music market the first but also the last time in 1988. Since Disney Records is part of the US media and entertainment conglomerate Disney Corp. it is also counted among the major companies as well as Australia based Festival Records, which was owned by the Australian media giant News Corp. In 1993, the News Corp. also bought a 49 percent stake in Michael Gudinski’s influential and very successful Mushroom Records. Despite this minority stake Mushroom is counted as an indie label until the News Corp. acquired the rest of 51 percent in 1998 and merged its recording interests into Festival-Mushroom Records. In 2005, the News Corp. sold the assets of Festival-Mushroom to Warner Music Australia, which incorporated the label into its structures.
Against this background we can now interpret the longterm development of the indies and majors shares in the ARIA singles as well as albums charts (see figure 1).
Figure 1: The indies and majors shares in the ARIA singles chart by index values, 1988-2011
The singles chart index for label success does not follow any trend and seems to be very erratic. After two years with relative high indies shares in 1988 and 1989 of 16.16 and 19.61 respectively, the indies share dropped to 9.10 in 1990. In 1991, it increased again to 13.96 to drop in the following year to 8.86. This is the pattern for the whole period: On a very low indies share (e.g. in 1994 and in 1997) followes a high one in the next year. However, we can identify a triannual period of relative high indexes for the indies from 1998 to 2000 and a periode of quite low index values for the indie labels from 2003 to 2006. Apart from that there is no regularity in the data. An explanation could be that a success in the singles chart does not last for long and enables other labels to succeed.
Figure 2: The indies and majors shares in the ARIA albums chart by index values, 1988-2011
In contrast, the albums chart index shows different trends (figure 2) and therefore we can define five different periods. From 1988 to 1990, the indie share was exceptionel high with the highest value in 1988 for the whole observed period. In 1991, the chart index for the indies significantly dropped and remained low until 1998. In the triannual period from 1998 to 2000 the indies captured a relative high share in the albums charts. In 2001, however, the indies’ share decreased again for four years. Since 2005, we can observe a much better performance of the indies with an index of about a value of 10.00. In the following we try to find an explanation for this development by learning more about the labels’ landscape in Australia from 1998 to 2011.
The analysis of the labels’ success in the ARIA singles and albums charts highlights on the one hand the changing relevance of independent labels for the Australian music industry and the role of indie and major labels for the success of national repertoire on the other. At the end of the 1980s foreign indies such as Island Records, A&M Records and Delicious Vinyl, which were later bought by major companies successfully charted with international acts. Apart from the international indies, Mushroom Records, which was founded by Michael Gudinski and Ray Evans in Melbourne in 1972, was the dominant domestic indie label. Mushroom and its UK imprint PWL released the first singles and albums of the then unknown Kylie Minogue and thus launched her career as an international superstar. However, Mushroom launched also the solo career of the former Cold Chisel frontman Jimmy Barnes, of the pop and sould singer Kate Ceberano, of the Skyhooks, of Jason Donovan and of Kylie Minogue’s younger sister Danii Minogue. Besides Mushroom Records only a few other Australian indies were commercially successful in the late 1980s and early 1990s: Ron Tudor’s Fable Records with the country musician John Williamson had some chart entries from 1988 to 1990 and Regular Records charted with the Sydney new wave band Icehouse in 1988 and 1990. Until 1998, when Mushroom Records was fully acquired by the Australian media giant News Corp. it was the only Australian indie label that could enter the charts – mainly with Australian acts. It is striking, however, that Mushroom lost its momentum when the News Corp. bought a 49 percent stake in the company in 1994. As the then only Australian major label Festival-Mushroom mainly distributed international repertoire in Australia and released only a few singles and albums by Australian artists. In October 2005, however, Festival-Mushroom was wound up and its trademarks and master recordings were sold to Warner Music Australia, which repositioned Mushroom as a release vehicle for Kylie Minogue records.
When Michael Gudinski sold Mushroom to the News Corp. he and Warren Costello launched the new independent label: Liberation Music. Initially Liberation succeeded with releases of music from the popular Australian TV show “The Panels”, but from 2005 on Liberation became the home label of Australian music legend Jimmy Barnes, the musical star Marcia Hines and the comedian Matt Tilley. In 2008, Liberation signed the popular country singer/songwriter Kasey Chambers, who had left EMI, and released her fifth, sixth and seventh studio album. Over the past few years Liberation also had sommercial success with newcomer acts such as the indie rock band The Temper Trap and the pop band Little Red.
In 1998, Modular Records, which was founded by the concert promoter Steve Pavlovic as a joint venture with EMI in Sydney, succeeded to Mushroom Records as the most influential Australian indie label for the next decade. The first two album releases – the Living End’s eponymous debut album and Ben Lee’s third studio album “Breathing Tornados” – were immediate commercial and chart successes. In the following years Modular launched also the careers of the Melbourne electronic music group The Avalanches, the Sydney hard rock act Wolfmother, the Western Australian alternative rock band Eskimo Joe, the Sydney electronic duo The Presets. In the recent years the New Zealand singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Ladyhawke (aka Phillipa Margaret Brown) and the psychodelic rock band from Perth Tame Impala had chart successes for Modular. Thus, Modular Records, which is now half owned by Universal Music Australia, accounted for the commercial and artistic success of several generations of Australian musicians and was essential in laying the foundations of the “Golden Era of Australian music” from 2002 to 2007.
Besides Modular Records, Phantom Records, which was founded 1979 by the Sydney record store owners Dare Jennings and Jules Normington, played a certain role in promoting Australian acts. Phantom released the first three albums of the Sydney indie rock band The Whitlams and had a great commercial success with their third studio album “Eternal Nightcap” in 1997 and 1998, before the band left to sign with Warner Music Australia.
More important for the future development of the Australian indie music business were Shock Records and Vicious Vinyl. Shock Records was founded by David Williams, Frank Falvo and Andrew McGhee in 1988 to export Australian music. However, the label soon transformed to an independent distribution network, which also marketed foreign indie labels (e.g. Epitaph Records, Cooking Vinyl and Fearless Records) in Australia. Nevertheless Shock Records was always a traditional record label too. In 1999, Shock had its first hit single by Joanne Accom (aka B.Z. Featuring Joanne). After several chart entries of international indie artists, Shock charted again with the New Zealand-Australian singer/songwriter, television and radio presenter Ricki-Lee Coulter in 2005 and 2007. However, Shock Records remained an independent distribution network to export Australian releases and to import foreign indie records. In contrast, Vicious Vinyl, which was formed by Andy Van and John Course in Melbourne in the late 1980s, was a mere record label that had its commerical breakthrough with the debut single of the Melbourne house music duo Madison Avenue, which was even a number one hit in the UK singles chart. In 2000, Madison Avenue’s second single charted again high and their debut album “Polyester Embassy” was certfied platinum. In the following years Vicious Vinyl had no chart entries, but in 2007, the label re-entered the charts with the Irish-Australian electro-house and dance music group The Potbelleez, who had a further chart success in 2011.
A very successful Australian indie label entered the market in 2001. The co-founder of Sony Music’s powerhouse for Australian newcomer acts, Murmur Records, and manager of the alternative rock band Silverchair John Watson, left Sony, when Silverchair’s record contract ended in 2000 and formed Eleven: A Music Company. However, Watson also signed other promising domestic acts such as Missy Higgins, paulmac, Kisschasy, The Dissociatives, Little Birdy and Gotye. Eleven’s had its first chart success with the Sydney musician, producer and music remixer paulmac (aka Paul Francis McDermott), who had a modest hit in 2001. However, the commercial breakthrough came along with Silverchair’s fourth studio album “Diorama” in 2002, which spent fifty weeks in the top 20 and was certfied triple platinum. In 2004, Missy Higgins charted the first time with her EP “Scar” and in the same year her debut album “The Sound Of White” and debuted at number one. In 2005, “The Sound Of White” was the best-selling album of the year. Missy Higgins’ second album “One A Clear Night” was again a great commercial success charting on #4 in the year’s-end-albums-chart of 2007. In the same year Silverchair’s fifth studio album “Young Modern” ranked closely behind Missy Higgins on #8. In 2009, Eleven had a modest success with the Perth-based indie rock band Little Birdy. In 2011, however, Eleven was back in big business with the third studio album “Making Mirrors” of the Belgian-Australian indie rock musician Gotye (aka Wouter De Backer), which went number one in the ARIA albums chart and was certified three times platinum. The album also charted in twenty-four other markets worldwide.
In 2002, a new trend emerged in Australia’s independent record label scene. Jarrah Records was first artist driven label (ADL), which had a significant chart success. Jarrah was a joint venture of the folk rock band The Waifs and John Butler, the frontman of the alternative rock band The John Butler Trio. In the following years, Jarrah frequently charted with releases by the Waifs and The John Butler Trio. Jarrah had its greatest commercial success with The John Butler’s third studio album “Sunrise Over Sea”, which was a number one hit in the albums chart of 2004 and ended up on #5 in the year’s-end-chart. In 2007, The John Butler Trio repeated their success with “Grand National”. The band’s fourth studio album was again number one in the albums chart and was the seventh best selling album in 2007. The sixth album of the John Butler Trio “April Uprising” was not that successful than its forerunners. It ranked #20 in the ARIA’s years-end-albums-chart and even entered the US Billboard 200 in 2010.
Jarrah Records was the model for other artist driven labels (ADLs) that were launched in the following years. The contestant of the first series of “Australian Idol”, Cosima DeVito released her debut single as well as her debut album on the label CDV – an acronym of her name. However, CDV was short-lived and DeVito later signed with Independent Records. More successful were the Sydney-based Australian dance music group Sneaky Sound System, who self-released their debut single “Ufo” on Whack Records in 2007, which became an immediate commercial success. In the same year Sneaky Sound System’s eponymous debut album was also released on Whack Records and charted for sixty one weeks. Eventually the album was certified double platinum. Sneaky Sound System’s second album “2″ was not that successful, but entered also the albums chart in 2008. Similarily the Adelaide hip hop group Hilltop Hoods formed their own record label Golden Era Records in 2009, after leaving their longtime home Obese Records. The Hilltop Hoods fifth studio album “State Of The Art” was released in 2009 and immediately charted high. It spent two weeks at number one and was certified double platinum in 2010. In the year’s-end-chart of 2009, “State Of The Art” ranked on #12 as the best selling Australian album release of the year. In 2012, the next album “Drinking From The Sun” went again number one and was certified platinum. Another do-it-yourself band that had a modest chart success in 2009, was the progressive rock band from Perth Karnivool, who self-released their second studio album “Sound Awake” on Cymatic Records. The album ranked on #82 in the year’s-end-album charts and received a gold certification. A recent successful example of a self-released album is “The Life Of Riley” by the Western Australian rapper Drapth (aka Paul Ridge). After leaving Obese Records, Drapht decided to set up his own record label The Ayems. Initially he released the single “Rapunzel”, which went number 16. Then “The Life Of Riley” was released and debuted at number one. It was the fourty-second best selling album of the year. To sum up, the phenomenon of artist driven labels is neither a fade nor a domain of well-established artists. Sneaky Sound System is a good example how newcomers can independently release and market their music. Thus, we can expect more commercially successful self-releases on artist driven labels in Australia in the near future.
However, ADLs are only one aspect of the vivid independent label scene that emerged in Australia in the mid of the 2000s. Whereas in the years before only one or two Australian indie labels could compete in the recording music market, the number of commercially successful indies significantly increased since 2004. In 2004, Central Station Records had a hit with the girls dance act Slinkee Minx. Dream Dealers Records, which was founded by the former singer and television personality Mark Holden, charted high with Joel Turner & The Modern Day Poets. In 2005, Inertia Records, which was founded by Ashley Sellers in Sydney in 2000, had its first chart success with Ben Lee, who had left Modular Records to sign with Inertia. An important label for Australian artists also was Dew Process founded by Paul Piticco in Brisbane. Dew Process successfully released the solo debut album “Tea & Sympathy” of Powderfinger’s lead singer Bernard Fanning in 2005. The album went at number one in the albums chart and spent fifty-eight weeks in the top 50. In 2006, “Tea & Sympathy” was the thirteeth best selling album of the year. In 2008, Dew Process had another chart success with the “The White Noise” album of The Living End, who had left EMI in the year before. The album went number one in 2008 and was certified platinum in the same year. In 2009, we can find Dew Process again in the albums chart with Sarah Blasko’s third studio album “As Day Follows Night” on #39 of the year’s-end-chart. Dew Process had already released the first two albums of the Sydney indie rock singer/songwriter, which went all platinum but could not enter the year’s-end-albums-chart. However, Sarah Blasko’s fourth studio album “Seeker Lover Keeper” (with Sally Seltmann and Holly Throsby) entered again the year’s-end-albums-chart on #38 in 2011. In addition several other labels had single chart entries in the period from 2005 to 2011: Flash Point with The Wrights and King Kylie with Tamara Jaber in 2005; Ivy League Records with the Youth Group in 2006, the world music label Skinnyfish Music with the blind musician Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu from Elcho Island in 2008, 2009 and 2011, the hip hop label Obese Records with The Hilltop Hoods in 2008, before they launched their own record label, Sunday Morning Records with the pop punk band Short Stack, Sweat It Out with Yolanda Be Cool & Dcup and their international smash hit “We No Speak Americano”, Monkey Puzzle with the pop and jazz singer Sia Furler and Illusive Records with the Sydney hip hop group Bliss N Eso.
As we can see the Australian indie labels made important contributions to the Australian music market over the decades. Labels such as Modular Records, Liberation Music, Vicious Vinyl, Jarrah Records, Shock Records and Eleven played a crucial role in providing the basis for the “Golden Era of Australian music” from 2002 to 2007, when the charts were ruled by domestic acts. However, the recently established indie labels might play the same role in the next few years.
The Australian subsidiaries of the international major label conglomerates also contributed to the national repertoire, but to a different extent. Further the chart success of a particular major varied over time also depending on merger activities and a changing competitive environment (see figure 3).
Figure 3: The singles chart performance (by index) of the major labels in Australia
Figure 4: The albums chart performance (by index) of the major labels in Australia
In the period from 1988 to 1995, none of the major companies could dominate in the singles and albums chart. The number one position in the singles chart went from Columbia (1988) to Warner Music (1989) further to EMI (1991) then to PolyGram (1992, 1993) and BMG (1994) and last but not least to Sony Music (1995). However, in the albums chart, Warner Music was the main force from 1989 to 1993, after Columbia was bought by Sony in 1988. Head-to-head with the the world’s market leader PolyGram the US major was either the most successful label in the albums chart (1989, 1990, 1992, 1993) or at least the second one (1991). Since 1995, however, Sony Music was the driving force in the singles as well as in the albums charts. Sony was either the most successful label or the second best one – except in 2002, when it was outperformed by Universal and EMI and in 2003, when it was third behind Universal and BMG in the albums chart.
After Seagram had bought PolyGram to merge it with MCA Records to Universal Music Group a second main force entered the Australian recorded music market. Universal was the direct competitor to Sony ranking either first or second and only exceptionally third (2005 and 2006 in the albums chart). In this context, Warner Music was most of the time the third successful major company, but in some of the year outperformed by EMI and also by BMG. However, when BMG entered the merger with Sony Music to form Sony-BMG in 2004, the albums market stabilized. From 2004 to 2010 Sony was the undisputed market leader, followed by Universal, Warner and EMI. However, in 2011, Universal Music Group was able to capture again the number one position from Sony Music in the albums market. In the singles chart the the number one position changed annually between Sony and Universal until 2009, when Universal Music outperformed Sony for the next three years.
In their fight for chart success the major companies relied more or less on Australian repertoire. In the three years of its chart existence, CBS Columbia charted annually with two albums by Australian artists in the top 50: In 1988 with Midnight Oil’s “Diesel and Dust” and the self-titled debut album of Noiseworks; in 1989 with the Melbourne pop singer Daryl Braithwaite and the Melbourne blues rock band The Black Sorrows and in 1990 with Midnight Oil’s “Blue Sky Mining” and the New Zealand-Australian pop singer Margaret Urlich with “Safety In Numbers”.
Warner Music’s albums chart success from 1989 to 1993 also relied on releases by Australian acts. In 1988, Warner Music had the top selling album of the year with INXS’ “Kick”. In 1989, Warner had the second best selling album “… ish” of the Melbourne rock band 1927. In the following years Warner had further commercially successful albums of AC/DC (“Razor’s Edge”), INXS (“X”), Cold Chisel (“Chisel”) and the former Rockmelons lead singer Wendy Matthews (“Lily”)
The direct competitor of Warner in this period was PolyGram, which had only a few charting Australian artists in the roster: the pop and soul singer Kate Ceberano, the Screaming Jets, the Ratcats and The Cruel Sea. PolyGram’s only top selling Australian album was the Australian Cast of the musical Jesus Christ Superstar in 1992 with John Farnham and Kate Ceberano. However, in 1994, PolyGram released the debut album of the Brisbane alternative rock band Powderfinger. Although the album did not chart Powderfinger got a second chance. Their second studio album “Double Allergic” was a great commercial success in 1996 and 1997. It remained in the top 20 for seven weeks and was certified double platinum. Besides Powderfinger, PolyGram also launched the career of the alternative rock band Spiderbait, whose third studio album “Ivy And The Big Apples” was their commercial breakthrough with a double platinum certification in 1997.
The pop and rock music legend John Farnham, however, was Australia’s main seller of Bertelsmann Music Group (BMG), which ranked between #4 and #6 among the major labels until its merger with Sony Music. However, in 2003, BMG was second best, since it contracted the winner of the first series of “Australian Idol” Guy Sebastian (“Just As I Am”, #5). BMG also released the compilation album of all twelve finalist of the casting show (#30). Apart from John Farnham, BMG charted only with a few other Australian acts: Vanessa Amorosi, Natalie Imbruglia, Nikki Webster, Bachelor Girl and Merril Bainbridge.
Although EMI was most of the time not that successful than its competitors, the label was a very active force for Australian acts. Until 1998, EMI successfully released the albums of Crowded House, The Rockmelons, Peter Blakeley, James Reyne, Johnny Diesel, James Blundell, The Seekers, Chocolate Starfish, the Finn Brothers, The Divinyls, and the comedian The 12th Man.
However, the most important label for developing Australian artists was Sony Music, which entered the Australian market in 1991. In the same year Sony Music already had the best selling album of the year – “Rise” by Daryl Braithwaite. However, it took four years to make Sony Music the most successful major label in the singles and albums charts in 1995. Initially, Sony relied on international artists and a few former Columbia stars – Noiseworks, The Black Sorrows and Midnight Oil. However, with the foundation of Murmur Records by John Watson and John O’Donnell as an imprint to release domestic artists in 1994, Sony Music became a stepping stone for the careers of several newcomers. In 1995, the high school band Silverchair debuted with “Frogstomp” on #7 in the year’s-end-chart. The album also entered the top 10 of the Billboard 200 and 2.5 million copies of the album were sold worldwide. In the same year Sony Music also had the best-selling album of the year with Tina Arena’s third studio album “Don’t Ask”. In 1997, Sony successed with another newcomer act. Sony released the debut album “Telling Everybody” of the Sydney vocal pop group Human Nature, which earned a triple-platinum status and ranked #11 in the year’s-end-chart. Sony’s Murmur Records charted with the debut studio album “Slightly Odway” of the Perth-based newcomer band Jebediah in 1998, which peaked at #7 in the albums chart and received a double-platinum certificate. Murmur Records also launched the career of the Melbourne alternative rock band Something For Kate, who debuted commercially less successful in 1997. In 2001, however, Something For Kate breaked through with their third studio album “Echolalia” and charted on #34 in the year’s-end-chart. Nevertheless Murmur Records folded into Sony’s head office in 1999 and Something For Kate was the only remaining act until they released the final album of their contract in 2007. From 1999 to 2001 Sony Music had string of commercially successful releases of the children’s musical group Hi-5, who was formed by Helena Harris for a popular Australian children’s television series. In 2002, Sony released the solo debut album by the former Savage Garden frontman Darren Hayes, which peaked at #3 in 2002. The next year was the commercial breakthrough of the eighteen years old singer/songwriter Delta Goodrem with her debut album “Innocent Eyes” that topped the albums chart. The album spent a total of 29 weeks at top spot. Further five songs of the album went number one and all songs ranked in the top 20 of the year’s-end-singles-chart making Delta Goodrem the most successful female musician in Australia ever. In the following years Delta Goodrem was a cash cow for Sony Music. Her second album “Mistaken Identity” (2004) and her third one “Delta” (2007) also charted high and were gaining multi-platinum status in Australia.
When Sony Music Entertainment (SME) merged with Bertelsmann Music Group (BMG), the new label profited from BMG’s engagement in the casting show “Australian Idol”. In the period from 2004 to 2007, when the last series of “Australian Idol” was broadcast, Sony-BMG ruled the Australian charts, but was also a driving force in the “Golden Years of Australian music”. Sony-BMG did not only release one-hit singles and albums by the contestants, but also launched sustainable careers of some of the “Idols”. The winner of the first series, Guy Sebastain, released five studio albums until 2009, which all were commercially successful. Shannon Noll, the runner-up of the first series, entered the charts with his four studio albums and with several single releases. Damien Leith, the winner of the 2006 contest, charted also well with his four albums until 2011 and the runner-up of this series, Jessica Mauboy also had three successful albums in the charts. Last but not least the winner of the seventh and last series of “Australian Idol”, Stan Walker, could also succeed with his three albums in the charts. To sum up, Sony-BMG had two best selling singles by “Australian Idols” in 2004 and 2005, three top 20 albums and further fourty-three entries in the singles and twenty-seven entries in the albums charts from 2004 to 2011. However, since 2008 the chart effect of casting shows considerably diminshed. Sony Music Entertainment, which was also involved in the “X-Factor” and in “Australia’s Got Talent”, had only a few minor hits with participants such as Reece Mastin, Tammin Sursok, Jack Vidgen, Random and Altiyan Childs.
However, the casting shows’ contestants were not the only contribution of Sony Music to the Australian charts. The major label also succeeded with self-made acts such as Pete Murray, who topped the albums chart in 2003 (“Feeler”, six times platinum), in 2005 (“See The Sun”, four times platinum) and in 2008 (“Summer At Eureka”, platinum). The Melbourne electronic pop band Rogue Traders had two successfully charting albums – “Here Come The Drums” and “Better In The Dark” for Sony-BMG in the period from 2005 to 2007. The former lead singer of the band, Natalie Bassingthwaighte, charted for SME in 2008 and 2009 as a solo artist, but had already two hits in 2006 and 2007 with Shannon Noll in the singles charts. From 2006 to 2009 the stage performer and television presenter from Adelaide, David Campbell had annual chart entries with his albums “The Swing Sessions”, “The Swing Sessions 2″ and “Good Lovin’”. However, in the recent years, SME’s engagement to sign Australian newcomer acts diminished. Apart from the contestants of casting shows, SME could chart with only a few other acts such as the classical trained tenor Mark Vincent (“My Dreams – Mio Visione” and “The Great Tenor Songbook”), the Brisbane singer/songwriter Kate Miller-Heidke (“Curiouser”) and the Melbourne pop duo Gypsy & The Cat (“Gilgamesh”) from 2009 to 2011.
The third column of Sony Music’s success since 2004 were well-established superstar acts, who entered the charts with “Best Of “albums, but also with new releases such as John Farnham with “One Voice” (2004), “Together In Concert” with Tom Jones, (2005) “I Remember When I Was Young – Songs From The Great Australian Songbook” (2005), “Essential 3.0″ (2009) and “Jack” (2010). SME also released AC/DCs comeback album “Black Ice”, which went number one in the ARIA albums charts as well as in other twenty-eight countries and earned a multi-platinum status in Australia and in further seven markets. In 2010, SME again entered the top 100 ARIA albums chart with AC/DCs soundtrack for “Iron Man 2″, which ended up on #44 in the year’s-end-chart. Finally, SME charted with the eleventh studio album “Switch” of INXS – another former Warner act – in 2006.
In contrast to Sony Music Australia, its main competitor Universial Music Australia (UMA) mainly succeeded in the charts with international repertoire. Just a few Australian acts of Universal can be found in the charts since the label entered the market in 1998. Universal Australia’s top and long seller was the Brisbane alternative rock band Powderfinger. In the period from 1998 to 2010, the alternative rock band from Brisbane entered the albums charts with five studio albums and a “Best Of” album twelve times. Their third studio album “Internationalist” spent hundred weeks on the albums chart in 1998 to 1999. The next release “Odyssee Number Five” was the band’s best selling album ever and charted from 2000 to 2002. In 2000, the “Odyssee Number Five” was the second best selling album of the year and was certified eight times platinum. In 2003, Powderfinger’s fifth studio album “Vulture Street” was released and again was certified platinum and spent fourty-seven weeks in the ARIA albums chart from 2003 to 2004. In the same year, the band’s first “Best Of” album “Fingerprints” also entered the top 100. After two years of chart absence, Powerfinger returned with their sixth studio album ” Dream Days In The Hotel Existence”, which debuted at number one in 2007 and earned three times platinum. Powderfinger’s last album “Golden Rule”, before the band disbanded after an extented farewell tour, charted again in 2009 and 2010. Besides Powderfinger, Univeral mainly charted with well-established Australian acts such as Grinspoon (1998, 2004 and 2005), Spiderbait (2004 and 2005), Kate Ceberano (2007), Vanessa Amorosi (2008 to 2010), Icehouse (2011) and Lee Kernaghan (2011). Over the years Universal released only four charting albums by newcomers: the folk musician Xavier Rudd’s second album “Solace” (2004), the first studio album “Tightrope” of the soap opera actress Stephanie McIntosh (2006), Megan Washington’s debut album “I Believe You Liar” (2010) and the second full lengh album “Wrapped Up Good” by the country music trio The McClymonts (2010).
Warner Music, which was most of the years the third successful Australian major company since 1998, relied mainly on international artists and established Australian musicans. In the period from 1998 to 2002, we can find acts that already charted in the early and mid 1990s: Warners most successful album artists were Savage Garden, Cold Chisel, The Whitlams and Jimmy Barnes. The only three commercially successful newcomer bands of Warner were the Brisbane-based alternative rock band Regurgitator, the post-grunge band from Adelaide The Superjesus and the Melbourne alternative rockers Taxiride. After two years of albums chart absence from 2003 to 2004, Warner returned in 2005 after buying the assets of Festival-Mushroom from the News Corp. Thus, Kylie Minogue, Eskimo Joe and Gyroscope charted for Warner in the period from 2005 to 2010. However, the most successful Australian Warner act was the rock duo The Veronicas from Brisbane, formed in 1999 by twin sisters, Jessica and Lisa Origliasso. The Veronicas continously charted from 2005 to 2008 with their two albums “The Secret Of …” (2005) and “Hook Me Up” (2007), which both were certified multi platinum. The other Warner acts that also charted from 2005 to 2011 were The Ten Tenors (2005), the New Zealand-Australian indie rock formation Evermore (2006 to 2007), the Sydney pop band Thirsty Merc (2007), the Melbourne singer/songwriter Gabriella Cilmi (2008) and the England born but Australian raised singer/songwriter Lisa Mitchell (2009 to 2010).
EMI as the fourth successful Australian major since 1998 relied on the one hand on well-established acts that charted over a longer period of time such as the Finn Brothers from New Zealand (1998, 2004, with tribute albums in 2005/2006 and 2010), the Melbourne pop band Crowded House (1999, 2007 and 2011) and the comedian The 12th Man (2001, 2002, 2006, 2007 and 2009) and on necomers on the other. In 2000, the Sydney singer/songwriter had chart success with his debut album “Black The Sun” and again in 2001 and 2002 with his second album “Watching Angles Mend”. EMI also launched the career of the country singer/songwriter Kasey Chambers, who had four charting albums for EMI from 2000 to 2006. “The Captain” (1999) was certified double platinum and the next three albums – “Barricades & Brickwalls” (2001), “Wayward Angel” (2004) and “Carnival” (2006) all went number one in the albums chart and earned at least a platinum status. However, in 2008 Kasey Chamber left EMI to sign with Michael Gudinski’s Liberation Music. The Melbourne alternative rock band Jet was another newcomer band that was promoted by EMI. In 2004, Jet had the best selling album of the year with “Get Born” and they charted again in the next two years in the ARIA top 100. In 2004, EMI released the eponymous debut album of the Melbourne ska and jazz band The Cat Empire, which ended up on #37 in the year’s-end-albums-chart. Their second and fourth studio albums – “Two Shoes” and “So Many Nights” also entered the top 100. After four less successful albums for Capitol/EMI, the country rock singer from Queensland Keith Urban had its breakthrough in 2005 with “Be Here”. All the following studio albums – “Love, Pain & The Whole Crazy Thing” (2006), “Defying Gravity” (2009), “Get Closer” (2010) – and his best of album “Greatest Hits – 18 Kids” (2007) charted high and were commercially successful. In the recent years, EMI launched the career of three other successful Australian arists. In 2008, the Sydney folk duo Angus & Julia Stone had a chart entry with their debut album “A Book Like This” and in 2010 their next album release “Down The Way” went number one and charted again in 2011. The electronic duo Empire Of The Sun’s debut album “Walking On A Dream” peaked at #6 in 2008 and was certified double platinum in 2009. After two less successful albums for indie labels, the Perth-based alternative rock band Birds of Tokyo signed with EMI. Their third self-titled studio album peaked at number two in 2010 and was eventually certified platinum. Compared to the other Australian major labels, EMI did not rely that much on its international repertoire and, therefore, Australian artists played always an important rule for EMI’s commercial and chart success.
To sum up, however, Sony Music was the only Australian major company that essentially contributed to the “Golden Era of Australian music” from 2002 to 2007. Besides its engagement in “Australian Idol”, Sony-BMG and later SME had a visible A&R poliy for the Australian market. Sony Music launched the careers of several Australian newcomers already in the early 1990s with its imprint Murmur Records. The other major labels were less active in fostering Australian artists. Thus, the Australian indie labels played a more important rule in promoting domestic repertoire than EMI, Warner and Universal and essentially contributed to the “Golden Era of Australian music” from 2002 to 2007.
Laird, Ross, 1999, Sound Beginnings. The Early Record Industry in Australia. Sydney: Currency Press.
Tschmuck, Peter, 2012, Creativity and Innovation in the Music Industry, 2nd edition. Heidelberg etc.: Springer.
Wikipedia and Allmusic.com for artists’ biographies and labels’ profiles.