Saturday, January 18, 2014

Triple J killing Australian music, or possibly reflecting moribund music scene

There's a battle going on in Australia between Triple J, the "youth" radio station, and some other parts of the media.

It started last week when The Age "investigated" the station:

Triple J is [...] the most supportive of emerging Australian artists, with an average weekly reach of 1.8 million listeners across the country.
It's popular and supports emerging artists. That's a good thing, right?

Hang on a moment, though. The Age is published by a commercial media organisation, Fairfax. Triple J is part of the public broadcaster ABC. It is scientifically impossible for a commercial media organisation to look at a public broadcaster and report that things are going well.

For The Age, then, Triple J has a 'sound'. New bands form, and either through a shrewd desire to please the station, or else from having absorbed this sound growing up, the bands all mould to fit that sound.

Meanwhile, because it's good at what it does, the station's popularity is growing, and thus its taste becomes the dominant taste in the marketplace:
The Basics’ Kris Schroeder says: ‘‘Basically if you put it in a metaphor of the stockmarket, Triple J is the insider that says ‘Buy these shares’ and everybody rushes to buy them. There’s stuff that just falls by the wayside consequentially. It’s about alternatives and there aren’t many alternatives in this business because most people prefer to be followers rather than leaders.

‘‘It’s just a shame that the industry is so obsessed with the decisions that a couple of people [at Triple J] make,’’ he says.

‘‘Maybe if the industry wasn’t so f---ing lazy and so narrow-minded ... the industry itself needs a shake-up.’’
Oddly, although The Age ends on that suggestion that the problem is that music is lazy, the headline still focuses on the idea that the problem is the station, not the culture in which it operates.

In its fightback, Triple J is quick to blame the artists:
Station Manager Chris[Station Manager Chris] “We’d much prefer bands to go out and find their own style. There are so many exciting new artists out there at the moment, doing their own thing and making something quite unique, it’s really exciting. We’re never looking for one particular sound, we’re looking for songs that stand out and resonate with our audience. Basically we’re looking for good music, as shown by the range of artists and styles currently played on triple j.”
Yes, that's a radio station doing the 'we just play what we play and if anyone else likes it it's a bonus' line.

It's hard to know where the truth sits, although experience suggests it will probably be closer to the side that isn't a massive media conglomerate.

Triple J is growing an audience in a competitive market, and while that could purely be down to the muscle of a national broadcaster, it seems unlikely that if the audience didn't want the bands they'd turn up in such large numbers. And "the state broadcaster is supporting dozens and dozens of new artists" is an odd complaint.

Even if Triple J closed tomorrow, there'd still be some dominant force where the audience would gather. Surely?

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