Watch: Jenny Morris' landmark National Press Club address

Tuesday, 27 Oct 2020

On Wednesday 5th August 2020, APRA Chair Jenny Morris, Gordi, L-FRESH The LION, NGAIIRE, and John Watson addressed The National Press Club in Canberra.

Jenny's address was on Australia as a music nation, and the path to become a music industry powerhouse.  

With a little help from Sophie Payten (aka Gordi) in sharing the message, Jenny spoke of the opportunity for Australia to become one of a handful of nations who are net exporters of music, and how we can achieve this vision. 

Watch the speech in full or read the transcript below.

I thank the National Press Club for the opportunity to speak to you today. This is one of the 4,000 venues across Australia that present live music, and music lovers thank you.  

I begin by acknowledging the traditional custodians of this land, the Ngunnawal people.    

From before time, music has flowed through the veins of this country through ceremony, celebration and culture. I pay my respects to Elders past and present, and to all First Nations people who share culture through song.

Because that’s what I want to talk to you about today - the power of song.  

To help me do that, I’m going to ask my friend, the wonderful Sophie Payten, who many of you know as Gordi, to join me.

She’s just performed a remarkable concert at the Sydney Opera House on the weekend.

Thank you Sophie for conveying my words.

David Byrne says you have to write a lot of crap songs to get a good one out.

I’m a songwriter and there’s no better feeling than to ‘get a good one out’.

It’s a work of great value: to me, yes, but more importantly, to my audience, my community, my culture, ….  

And, of course, to our economy. A good song creates jobs. Lots of jobs. Tens of thousands of Australians earn a living from music.  

A good song also builds Australia’s intellectual property assets, generating big incomes - including export earnings, because a good song travels the world finding new performers and new audiences.

I am Chair of the Australasian Performing Right Association - we’re the more interesting

APRA!  We’ve been around since 1926 and today we represent the rights of 103,000 songwriters, composers and publishers across Australia and New Zealand.  

At the heart of what APRA does is collect money for the use of our members’ intellectual property. Their songs.  

And what is a song? At its simplest, it’s words to music.

But songs are so much more. They beat humanity’s pulse. They’re our connection to time and place.

Songs are bridges between people – between joy and heartbreak, memory and understanding – connecting generations, and spanning the globe.

Think of songs like Imagine by John Lennon, or Took The Children Away by Archie Roach, or Better in Blak by Thelma Plum.  

Each is a unique, emotive form of words, given a pulse and spirit by music, with a performance that can change lives.  

A SONG

I know this band of three brothers and two friends. They began in the family garage… young, naïve, but enthusiastic. What they lacked was a singer. That big focal point.  

For a laugh, the keyboard player asked his best friend - who insisted he couldn’t sing - if he’d come stand in for a bit.  

He was ‘shy and gawky’, but soon those best friends began writing. They used poetry, lyrics and melody to express their emotions. That desire to express became bigger, more necessary.

Together, they took this ‘garage band’ and captured the imaginations of millions. They were Michael Hutchence and Andrew Farriss, and their band was INXS.  

How did their music generate such powerful inspiration? It’s no great mystery: skill. Craft. The craft of songwriting.

But songwriters are driven by passion too. That’s why we keep on keeping on, even when our work isn’t supported.  

There’s a force bigger than us that propels us into artistic expression.  

A NATIONAL PRIDE

Let me put this to you: Australians are unusually good at making music. More than ‘good’. We’re exceptional.  

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. For tens of thousands of years the songlines of First Peoples shaped this sacred land.  

There’s something about this place.  

There used to be years and years between Australian artists breaking internationally.

Now, our global popularity multiplies every year.

There’s so much international achievement that it’s hard to keep track.  

There’s a big conscious rising of First Nations artists – The Kid LAROI, Birdz, Electric Fields, Thelma Plum, Baker Boy – getting big applause from global markets.

And while Flume and the Australian Chamber Orchestra win Grammys, improvising jazz trio The Necks are quietly named ‘the best band in the world’ by the New York Times. While Tina Arena is awarded a “Chevalier des Arts” by France, Tame Impala take home International Group at the BRIT Awards. Just last week, Antonio Gambale, one of our nation’s leading screen composers picked up two Emmy nominations.   

There’s a not-so-quiet revolution happening - our diversity is growing.    

Sia, Gotye, Courtney Barnett, Vance Joy, Rufus du Sol, 5SOS, Alex Lahey, Alison Wonderland, Middle Kids, Tash Sultana, Dean Lewis, Amy Shark and Stella Donnelly are just some of the Australian artists who are writing and recording and appearing on global stages and screens.  

Last year the music export office, Sounds Australia, stood strong alongside Australia’s export powerhouses, food and wine, at one of the world’s biggest marketplaces, South By South West (SXSW) in the US.  

Year upon year Australian acts are booked for career-defining festivals like Coachella, Bonnaroo, Glastonbury, Lollapalooza and Governors Ball.  

They’re on NPR, NME and Hype Machine ‘end-of-year’, ‘best of’ and ‘ones to watch’ lists, making show-stopping appearances on US shows like Ellen, Jimmy Fallon, Conan and Jimmy Kimmel.

Young artists are leading a new wave – like Gordi, L-FRESH and NGAIIRE - who you’ll hear from later – creating distinctly local sounds with global appeal.

It’s impossible to talk about Australian music without mentioning Dance Monkey - the song of the year. Number 1 in 25 countries!

Before that global fame, the irony isn’t lost on anyone that, when Tones and I was busking on the streets of Byron Bay, the crowds got so big the police took away her permit.  

What a perfect illustration of Australian music’s historic relationship with government: publicly adored but rarely supported, often seen as a nuisance, and regularly shut down.    

THE HISTORY OF MUSIC POLICY

Australian music has largely been absent in our cultural policy. Literature funding started way back in 1908, and then the Australia Council and the old Film Commission were founded in the 70s.

But it wasn’t until the 80s that a government committee recommended the Australia Council should help develop contemporary music.  

It recognised that “rock music is Australia's most popular performance art, is the country's largest cultural industry (larger than all the others put together) and is capable of producing high export earnings”.  

True then. True today.  

Music is a major commercial activity trading in the power of song. So why are governments struggling with policy? Maybe because music and songwriting demands the attention of so many parts of government and so many portfolios at both federal and state levels.

There’s the Arts Ministers, to be sure:

  • but also the Trade Minister for digital exports and tourism,  
  • Foreign Affairs for cultural diplomacy and touring,  
  • Small Business - every songwriter, musician and music business is a small business,
  • State Planning, for laws that either support or kill off live music venues,
  • and Education, Training and Skills Ministers given the limitations of the music syllabus, resourcing and music activity in our schools...

A Moment of Digression - Sophie's own words

For a moment I will digress from Jenny’s words - go a little Fleabag and break the fourth wall - to talk about my own experience of music at school.

I finished high school in 2010, and by any standard I was extremely lucky that my school offered music as a subject. Most don’t - and those numbers are falling.

The mandated curriculum left me completely uninspired and doubting there was any way I could make a living from music out in the real world. How could I have that impression when what was impressed upon me was that music is a language of the past? Concertos, sonatas, Gregorian chants. I was desperate to find my own musical voice, but was only encouraged to mimic the voices of men that had been dead for centuries.  

Instead of focusing on the curriculum, I would lock myself away in a room with a piano, listen to Missy Higgins and write songs. Imagine the head start I might’ve had if someone had actually taught me how to do that; how to find my own voice and be a successful musician in today’s world.  

But I digress.

Now back to Jenny’s speech

Without songwriting in quality music education for every child, we’re robbing our country of the full potential of our talent.  

I’m no expert but, as far as I know, in visual arts education, students aren’t stuck painting and repainting reproductions of classic works.  

You learn the techniques, you study the history and then you find your own voice.

There’s so much research showing how music education improves students’ grades across all subjects. Even better, teaching composition and songwriting invests in Australia’s intellectual property, so we’re creating careers and generating income for the nation.  

Not only that but music is often the subject that entices school attendance, especially in low socioeconomic and remote areas.

It is well documented that First Nations arts and cultural participation can support the development of strong and resilient First Nations children and improve school attendance and engagement as well as higher levels of educational attainment.  

Education is the first of three pain points hurting the sustainability of our industry and stunting the growth of a major cultural export.  

The second is absurd planning decisions and over-zealous councils closing down live music venues – the places Paul Kelly calls his Universities.  

These are our industry’s workplaces, but red tape is devastating them across our states and territories. In NSW alone, there are seven different agencies that regulate noise.  

Or as I like to call it, ‘sound’.   

NSW regulates music genres, types of musical instruments and artist numbers. There’s this one venue with conditions saying music can only be performed in a southerly direction!  

The third is the cultural strait-jacket we’ve put ourselves in. While most of our larger trading partners celebrate and support their creative industries with healthy local content quotas and investment, ours have been traded away, and capped in our US Free Trade Agreement.

Local radio and TV broadcasters argue the impost and cost of local content quotas and global streaming services are reluctant to deal with any notion of local content reporting. Government policy could provide a big carrot, rather than stick, to the production and performance of Australian content.

It’s a triple-lock around learning, creation, presentation and performance of music. It is the great tragedy of our sector and the real job killer in our industry.  

A NET EXPORTER

Composition and songwriting generate capital - “cultural capital” that expresses an Australian voice; and ‘economic capital’ in global income, because recordings and performances go on for years.

There are now 400million paid music streaming subscribers worldwide - and over the next decade, this will triple.

But there’s only a handful of net exporters of music. The US and UK are the obvious ones. But following closely is Sweden. Swedes have more US Billboard number ones than any European country besides the UK but their success isn’t tied to any specific style, genre, movement or trend.

Sweden is one of the best countries for live music, home to many internationally renowned DJs. They celebrate music like we celebrate swimming.

Crucially, they have a comprehensive music education that includes songwriting.  

Despite the devastation of COVID-19, a Goldman Sachs report into the international music market released in May estimates global industry revenue will soar to around US$140 billion by 2030.

Australian artists, publishers and creators have the potential to earn, at least, a 5% market share of this if we get the framework right.  

THE CALL FOR HELP

So where are we at? On 10 June, the Australian music industry put out an SOS: an Open Letter with over 1000 signatures.

“Australian music is a proud national asset that entertains, comforts, and uplifts our communities,” it read.  

“It helps to define who we are as a nation, is a central pillar of our health and well-being and is a key driver of learning in schools.  

“Our artists and industry are always there to come to the aid of our nation during a crisis. Now it is time for the nation to come to our aid,” it read.

It was a scream for help like never before.  

One of you reported that “the signatories read like the greatest homegrown festival bill of all-time.”

Jimmy Barnes, Archie Roach, John Farnham, Thelma Plum, Nick Cave, Icehouse, Kate Miller-Heidke, Jessica Mauboy, Gotye, Jack River, Savage Garden.  

Artists were joined by venues, festivals, managers, crew, agents, promoters, publicists, labels, publishers. The thousands of people who make music happen.  

Since the March shutdown, a conservative estimate puts the live music loss at half a billion dollars.  This is a crisis at a scale the industry has never seen.  

Our artists are often the first to put up their hands in a crisis, volunteering in concerts and donating time, recorded music, or money when we can.  

And we are just small businesses who rely on the money we earn from performing live and the licences we collect from businesses who use our music.  

I know I’m not alone in feeling happy to do that because it’s the right thing to do, and making music is awesome wherever, why ever, whenever.

That’s why musicians often play for next to nothing. For the love of it.

We’re the biggest subsidisers of our artform by a country mile.  

But while artists bring joy and excitement to so many, they often struggle to support themselves and their families. 

So many musicians fall through the cracks because they’re not in conventional employment – they’re outside the 9-5 economy.  

We are the original gig economy. But COVID has laid bare the down side of the gig economy. It’s unsustainable.

Nations like South Korea and Canada are realising the massive cultural and economic benefit of investing in music. They’re building a national pride around their songs.    

With markets like Latin America growing faster than anywhere else in the world, with countries in Asia maturing quickly, Australia’s primed to harness unique opportunities with our beautiful diversity.  

Now’s the time for Australia to make a big statement about the economic value of our culture.

The federal and state governments have invested heavily in our screen industry, and we have globally recognised food and wine industries. The contemporary Australian music industry is yet to achieve its potential.

We need a clear vision. And I think that vision should be for Australia to become a net exporter of music.  

This won’t happen overnight and it could well take a decade BUT you need a clear vision in order to start change now. Aussies have never backed away from a challenge - we need to back ourselves.  

The potential reward is nation defining.   

To achieve that vision, we need 4 things:

  1. A federal, state and local, whole of government policy and investment commitment to Australia as a net exporter of music.
  2. A commitment to provide equity of access to music in schools nationally and songwriting as part of the national curriculum.
  3. To protect and promote the cultural infrastructure of live music venues
  4. To incentivise and ensure the production and performance of local music content across all media platforms.

With the right approach, and a singularity of purpose, Australia can join that handful of nations who are net exporters of music, and create a sustainable and thriving local industry.  

With ambition like this, not only will we secure this renaissance we’re experiencing, we’ll capture the imagination and power the careers of the next generation of Australians ready to emerge.  

With First Nations songlines reaching back more than 60,000 years, our diverse nation here at the Asia Pacific rim is ready.

Because the whole world is waiting for us – and they want to hear more.


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