Independent label sounds right

DESPITE there being no artist and repertoire agents from major labels based in Western Australia, it seems the State’s recording industry is alive and well.

Instead of seeking a recording deal with a big label, some artists are choosing to go it alone – either creating their own label or releasing ‘vanity’ recordings and selling them at live performances.

While the independent route can mean a lot more work, the returns to artists on album sales can be much greater.

The technology required to make high-quality recordings is now more accessible to bands, removing the need for many to seek expensive recording facilities. The Internet is also proving a ready distribution stream.

According to Australian Record Industry Association figures, recorded music wholesale sales were worth $573 million last year and Australian artists accounted for 15.6 per cent of that. However, those figures are drawn from the major record labels such as Sony, Warner Brothers, Festival and Mushroom and do not take into account independent label record sales.

WA groups such as the Waifs, the John Butler Trio and Jebediah have taken the independent label route.

Both the Waifs and the John Butler Trio are on the Jarrah Records label they formed.

The John Butler Trio’s album Living 2002-03, released this year, has been lauded as one of the most successful independent releases in years.

Jebediah, in conjunction with its management Naked Ape, formed Redline Records, which has signed a number of acts.

The band was also signed with major label Sony until about two months ago, however.

Naked Ape Management’s Heath Brady said the band had formed the label about two and a half years ago after spending some time in the US and seeing how independent labels performed over there.

“We had a bunch of friends in Australia who were having problems getting releases and a bunch of bands in the US that were good and wanted to get their stuff out here,” he said.

“Plus it was an investment for the guys in Jebediah’s future.

“We said when we started it that if the label was still here in a year’s time it would be a raging success.”

According to the Association of Independent Record Labels, WA’s independent recording industry is one of the strongest in the country.

Besides Redline and Jarrah there are groups such as Zip, which has a partner in the US, MBT Publishing and Messiah.

There is also Westlink, working in conjunction with music distributor MGM, which has its national head office based in Perth.

Former Baby Animals bass player Eddie Parise has set up Rhythm Records and is also operating as a producer.

MGM’s Rosco Stewart said WA’s recording industry was growing but was still at the cottage industry level.

“If the money doesn’t come back here then the industry doesn’t exist, but that’s slowly being turned around,” he said.

WA Music Industry Association’s Paul Bodlovich said the past couple of years had proven to be particularly

successful for WA acts but the lack of A&R in Perth was a problem because a lot of independent bands still needed a major label to take them to commercial success.

“However, there are some A&R guys who know more about the Perth scene than most people here,” Mr Bodlovich said.

Besides the lack of A&R there is also thought to be a lack of good producers in WA.

Some industry insiders say the easy availability of technology and the lack of money in the recording industry here makes it unviable for people to set up as producers.

Media Arts and Entertainment Alliance official Peter Woodward said more research had to be done on the independent side of the recording industry and policy formed at a Federal Government level.

The WA Government has made a $5 million contribution over four years to try and boost the contemporary music industry. It set up a taskforce to conduct a major study of the industry. However, major players said the taskforce was flawed because it concentrated more on the performance side than recording.

Arts Minister Sheila McHale said the taskforce’s recommendations were intended to strengthen the industry and promote opportunities for growth in recording, broadcast and performance of WA contemporary music.

“The latest round of grant allocations include more than $100,000 in funding for production, marketing, touring and distribution opportunities,” she said.

“A significant proportion of these funds are for projects involving the recording, mixing and mastering of CDs.”

Ms McHale said one of the key things from the Government’s contemporary music push would be the development of business skills within the industry.

While independent labels have enjoyed some commercial success, most independent acts still face a major hurdle – getting their songs heard.

There has been a reduction of venues catering for live original music and trying to get to a wider audience through radio airplay is difficult.

As part of their licence requirements Australian commercial radio stations are required to devote 25 per cent of their air-time to home-grown music.

However, in countries such as Canada, commercial stations are required to carry 35 per cent local content and there is some suggestion that quota could rise to 40 per cent.

Community radio stations are playing a big role in promoting local talent, as are some of the big broadcasters. JJJ’s Unearthed program has been running for years and includes Silverchair among its finds, while AusStereo is running Australia First, with Perth station 92.9 part of that program.

92.9 program director David Rymer said in some ways it was easier for artists to get heard and make a break through in Perth because there was less competition.

He said the Australia First program was separate to the station’s existing licence quota and, while it was not aiming to unearth new talent, he hoped that it would play a part in doing just that.

Mr Woodward said the radio quota system did not take into account independent artists.

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