New Stars, Streaming Gains Give Australia's Record Biz Plenty to Celebrate as ARIA Awards Turns 30

Flume in 2016
Amir M. Baigmoradi/Getty Images

Flume at the Viceroy Hotel on Aug. 13, 2016 in Santa Monica, Calif.

Turning the big 3-0 is never easy. But with a fresh crop of young stars coming through and an industry showing signs of recovery, Australia’s ARIA Awards reaches its milestone this week with the confidence that a midlife crisis isn’t on the immediate horizon.

Australia’s record business will check itself in the mirror this Wednesday (Nov. 23) for the annual ARIAs, as they're known in these parts. The ceremony has had its share of highlights over the years, and a few shield-your-eyes moments. But the Aussie music biz should be easy with its reflection. It won’t fret over a paunch and a bald patch where a rock ‘n’ roll barnet once sat. The recent years have been kind, as a batch of artists has burst through, from Gotye, Sia, Iggy Azalea, Empire of the Sun, Vance JoyHiatus KaiyoteTame Impala and Flume, followed by another bundle of joy with Courtney Barnett, Alison Wonderland, 5 Seconds of Summer, Troye Sivan and others.  

“The ARIAs was set up to almost to start validating what was happening in Australia, to show that we were standing on our own two feet, that we did have artists that were world class and that we should be able to celebrate that,” ARIA CEO Dan Rosen tells Billboard. “We’re not resting on our laurels. We’re still creating superstars, these artists are as big as we’ve ever had and we’re kicking goals internationally.” Australia’s current purple patch is not “a blip,” insists Rosen. “What we’re seeing is consistently Australian artists are doing well here and overseas.”

Indeed, Aussie acts have enjoyed another strong year on the domestic sales surveys, in particular the ARIA Albums Chart which has seen 19 homegrown albums already hit No. 1 with another week still to come in November. Flume and The Veronicas have led the ARIA Singles Chart in 2016, and both will be on show at the ARIAs as part of a lineup which ticks off boxes across the musical spectrum in which Aussie musicians are making their mark. EDM is represented (Flume), as is pop (the night’s hosts the Veronicas, Troye Sivan), rap (Illy), rock (Violent Soho) singer-songwriters (Missy Higgins), as are the legends who helped build the Australian biz into a perennial top-10 market. Iconic singers John Farnham and Jimmy Barnes will take the mic, while Australasian folk-rock favorites Crowded House will perform as part of their ascension into the ARIA Hall of Fame. 

Hip-hop trio Hilltop Hoods has made seven previous trips to the ARIAs podium and they’re up for three more on Wednesday. “The ARIA Awards are always exciting,” MC Pressure (real name Dan Smith) tells Billboard. “The red carpet does get sweaty and the industry gets a bit crazy around that time of year, which is fun.” And how does he like their chances of taking out another pointy trophy? “I would never place money on myself, so I think other people will win,” he laughs. Flume leads the pack with 11 nominations, following by Troye Sivan (seven ARIA Award nominations); Illy, Sia, and the Avalanches (all with six nominations); and King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard, Rüfüs and Violent Soho (five each). 

There’s an element of serendipity to the induction of Crowded House into the Hall of Fame. It was Crowded House who, at the inaugural ARIA Awards in 1987 at the Sheraton Wentworth Hotel, won the first category -- best video -- for "Don’t Dream it’s Over." And it’s Crowded House who’ve so neatly bridged those stormy waters that have marked the transition from physical to digital distribution.  

Crowded House has the title for the highest-selling Australian album of all time by a group with 1996’s Recurring Dream: The Very Best of Crowded House, which topped the national chart for eight weeks en route to 13-times platinum sales (platinum certification is 70,000 units). It’s an achievement that will take some beating. Crowded House used to shift a lot of CDs though in 2016 the format in Australia, like elsewhere, is on the decline. Australians, however, are fast adopting streaming music models, a process that is lifting the record market into growth. Crowded House and their fans are moving with the times. The band's entire catalogue of eight albums reentered the national sales chart in the runup to the ceremony, thanks in no small part to streaming. 

After successive years of decline, Australia’s record market expanded by 5% in 2015, as streaming services generated growth of more than double to A$46 million ($34 million). Ad-supported models almost performed well, generating A$24.8 million ($18.7 million).

First-half data provided to the Australian Financial Review would suggest streaming continues to play the hero. ARIA reported A$48.3 million ($35 million) in wholesale revenue from subscription services, up nearly 210 per cent on the six month period last year, according to the AFR, while revenue from ad-supported services nearly doubled to A$13.4 million ($10 million).

“I think we are on a growth trajectory. Optimism is returning to the business, subscription services are really starting to take hold. Australians are starting to take up streaming services in large numbers and that’s returning growth to the industry,” notes Rosen. 

“We’re not completely out of the woods, but after many years of going backwards we’re now investing in new digital business models and Australians are starting to take it up. It’s exciting times both creatively and also from a business perspective."

The ARIA Awards at the Star in Sydney will air on the free-to-air national Ten network, Facebook Live will stream the action from the red carpet and ARIA will work with Snapchat to curate the first ARIA Awards “live story”.