Australian musicians Missy Higgins.
Inspiration, perspiration and the damned writer's block were key themes explored over the three-day APRA Song Summit, which wrapped Monday in central Sydney.
Australia's federal arts minister Simon Crean officially launched proceedings with a speech that took everyone by surprise. Crean's appearance was timed to perfection, considering "The Australian" newspaper the previous day appointed him No. 1 on its top 50 list of "most influential people in the arts." But it was his time-piece which wasn't in top shape. His allotted 5-minute speech blew out to 45 minutes, throwing the entire day's schedule out.
No one really seemed to mind. What the politician lacked in snappy prose, he made up for with a passionate call to arms to the creative community. It was a speech in which he assured he had the backs of every artist who had the talent and drive to make a difference.
Crean is driving Australia's National Cultural Policy, deemed by some observers as the most far-reaching overview of this country's cultural activities for almost 20 years. Though the policy has yet to crystallize, Crean reiterated that culture "does produce a public good" and delivers a "social and economic dividend," and he specifically called out the music industry as "significant" in its own right.
He also told Australians to be proud of its indigenous heritage. "Let's use it. I see it as the real defining of us and our place in Asia and the difference between countries," he said. "We're the oldest living culture on earth, and home to the greatest diversity of culture."
Crean was introduced on stage by APRA/AMCOS CEO Brett Cottle who gave the audience reason to believe the music industry was well down the road to recovery. "We're in a growth pattern," Cottle said, noting the industry had reached a point where the growth in digital had begun to outweigh the decline in physical formats. "It's a great time to get into the music business," he said.
Other keynote speeches and guest speakers at the creative, business-development and networking event included international artists Neil Finn, Imogen Heap and Joel Madden, the U.K.'s Music Publishers' Assn CEO Stephen Navin, U.S. music supervisor Gary Calamar, academic David Touve and Swedish songwriter and producer Arnthor Birgisson.
The closest any discussion got to boiling point was the day-one "Australian content" panel, which pulled together some of the key players in Australian radio. The session will be long remembered for a combative performance by Commercial Radio Australia CEO Joan Warner. When pushed on commercial radio's lack of support for new Australian music and the 1% cap which restricts the royalties commercial radio is required to pay content providers, she said: "I'm sick of commercial radio being made out to be the bad guys. We're tired of hearing about the commercial radio cap and not the (publicly-funded) ABC which also has a cap." The panel concluded when Chris Scaddan, manager of the public-funded Triple J, told Warner, "Why don't you play more Australian music?" Her response, "We probably would if we had tax-payer money."
On day three, Australian singer Missy Higgins opened-up on her year-long battle with writer's block, which had become so acute she'd even contemplated ditching her career. Higgins' third album The Ol Razzle Dazzle (Eleven) is out June 1 in Australia and July 17 through Vagrant Recordings in North America, five years after her chart-topping, multi-platinum sophomore album On a Clear Night. "Most of the pressure was from me. I'd set this impossible goal for myself," she said. "At the back of my head would be a thought saying, 'this had better be brilliant.' You need to shut off the analytical part of the brain."
New Zealander Finn, a legend in these parts for his songwriting mastery with Crowded House and Split Enz, shared some tips on how to keep the creative juices flowing. In his closing day-three conversation, Finn said, "You've just got to work away. Inspiration is what happens when you start working." Finn, who said he was currently in the studio cutting a new solo record, added, "Just work harder. The older you get, just work harder."
The summit was presented by APRA/AMCOS and the New South Wales Government through its Destination NSW division. The confab wrapped-up proper with the APRA Awards at the Parkside Ballroom on Darling Harbour.