Artists, get to work on your songs. Everything else is window-dressing. That was the overriding theme of the second bi-annual APRA Song Summit, held in Sydney.

Peter Garrett, the rock star-turned politician, gave the three-day creative, business development and networking pow-wow its official kick off. The arts minister delivered a speech in which he assured the audience that musicians had the government well and truly on their side.

"Along with other key departments," he said, "we will continue to examine ways to adequately protect artists' copyright given the challenges posed by new and emerging platforms and changes in consumer patterns."

The government's commitment to the music industry is spelled out in the Strategic Contemporary Music Industry Plan, a new discussion paper Garrett's department has issued to various industry representatives for feedback. The initiative, Garrett explained, seeks to increase exposure of Australian music, boost music industry exports, improve training and skill development, and build business capability and innovation.

"It outlines our vision for the contemporary music industry which aims to ensure that Australia will have a vibrant, diverse and innovative industry, which is a valued and visible part of Australian culture," the former Midnight Oil frontman told the audience.

A graduated response solution is no more than a pipe-dream in Australia at the moment. That shouldn't stop copyright owners from working with ISPs to mutually crack the problem of peer-to-peer piracy, Garrett remarked. The government, he continued, "recognizes how important it is to ensure that the copyright of song writers, performing artists and others who invest their talent and resources in
the music industry is adequately protected in the digital age."

Other keynote and guest speakers at the June 19-21 event included U.K. Music CEO Feargal Sharkey, Grammy-winning musicals composer Stephen Schwartz, NMPA president/CEO David Israelite and celebrated songwriter/producer Mike Chapman.

"You're either born a hit songwriter, or you're not," advised Australian-born, L.A.-based Chapman, who produced Blondie's breakthrough set "Parallel Lines" and turned on the hits for the likes of Tina Turner, the Knack, Pat Benatar and Suzi Quatro. "If you're born to a write a monster hit or two, you'll know it," said Chapman on the opening session of day 2. "Some people aren't born with that gift. Some are, and you'll hear it."

Israelite told the audience the "future is bright" despite the emergence of "dangerous and different" enemies to the creators.

"There are radical, extremist anti-copyright groups, they have an agenda to destroy copyright, and they are motivated by economic self-interest," he said. Israelite went on to identify a handful of organizations, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Consumer Electronics Assn. "They are dishonest," he explained, "and they disguise their motivation."

The 1,000-odd delegates who stayed until the end of the program were treated to a candid and, at times, uproarious on-stage conversation with Men at Work's frontman Colin Hay.

When asked about his relationship with his own works, Hay explained, "Songs have lives. There's a natural life to a song. The song will tell you how it wants to be played, and written. Just get out of its way."

With a guitar slung over his shoulder, Hay turned the final session into an open songwriting masterclass. And he even addressed the elephant in the room - his lost court battle on the 1980s song "Down Under," which was found to have lifted the flute refrain from a 1930s Girl Guide anthem. "When someone sues you, you have to defend yourself. Which is a very expensive process. We're appealing that," he explained.

The summit was presented by APRA/AMCOS and the New South Wales Government through its Events NSW division as part of the Vivid Sydney festival. The confab wrapped-up proper with the APRA Awards at the Parkside Ballroom on Darling Harbour.