Bigger Music Quota? C’mon APRA let’s get Real | radioinfo

Bigger Music Quota? C’mon APRA let’s get Real

Thursday 30 August, 2018

Opinion from Brad Smart 

I don’t like the idea of government-imposed quotas of any kind …never have.
To me they’re demeaning to those they’re supposed to help, implicitly saying “you’re not quite good enough to make it on your own”.
So, when the people from APRA/AMCOS ventured to Canberra recently, raised their right hands and swore to the Senate Committee that increasing the quota of Australian music played on commercial radio was the only fair way forward, to me, it reeked of self-interest and paternalism.
“Fair to whom?” is the question.
Call me cynical, if you like, but I’ve always believed that when someone wants to put any form of quota in place, they’re rarely doing it for the greater good; it usually turns out to be of most benefit to those who proposed it.
Just look at the quota for local news and local content that regional radio was been forced to swallow and has been operating under for over a decade.
Political dealmakers from within the National Party came up with this ‘little doozy’, under the pretext of getting better services for regional listeners, when all they really wanted was an avenue to help get their own political propaganda out to the masses in rural areas.
The main problem I have with quotas of any form is that they encourage mediocrity, not achievement.
Whether it’s quotas for Australian films, for construction contracts, for political parties, or the compulsory inclusion of minorities in various activities, it’s giving advantage and privilege to selected groups by saying “you’re going to get a place in this, even if you’re not
the best.”
In fact, I see quotas as an insult to many of the people or groups they’re supposed to protect.
I’m also of this opinion when it comes to dictating how much Australian music should be played on commercial radio.
It’s not as if there haven’t already been enough hurdles strewn across the track for commercial radio operators in this country.
Every self-interested group, including the music industry, somehow think they’re entitled to a ‘free ride’ from radio, and they appear adamant that it shouldn’t be just based on merit, but politics.
To my mind, commercial radio is a business and should never be regarded as a public carrier, on which everyone is entitled to ride.
When you hear American and British artists played on Australian commercial radio stations, you’re listening to the best of the best – the top few percent of international artists.
Like Australia, the US and Britain have tens of thousands of artists out there every day having a shot at stardom, but, as history shows, only a handful will ever make it to the ‘Big Time’.
Only that small percentage of top international artists, who have actually made it, are played on Australian commercial radio.
While Australian Content and Music Directors only play the best of international music, they’re also required to mix it with local music content to meet their obligations under the existing music quota.
Yes, there is already a quota imposed, but why aren’t you surprised?
For most stations, that’s 20% of all music played.
Now, it might be very cruel to say, but here in Australia, as radio listeners, thankfully, we aren’t forced to listen the ‘also-rans’ of international artists, and, the same should apply to local artists.
In many formats, at certain times, it can be a very hard job to find enough quality Australian tracks to meet the 20% quota, and at other times, there are more than enough.
However, mandated quotas are not flexible and when there’s a dearth of quality local music, as happens from time to time, inferior tracks get played just to make up the numbers.
From a record company’s perspective, and from APRA and other music licensing companies’ points of view, that probably suits their purpose.
I doubt that they really put too much sway in the quality of the music as long as the numbers of spins are there to be billed.
The problem is that listeners don’t react well to being served up ‘swill’ in place of quality, and, the deeper down that barrel the Music Directors have to dig for local content, the worst the on-air product becomes, leaving their audiences ready to jump around the dial.
In the past, the solution has been to play the top Australian artists more often.
Trouble is, that creates an on-air rotation problem, where the same local artists are getting played too often to keep the audience interested.
In these days, when the Federal Government swears it’s ridding industries of red tape and outdated laws, even entertaining the suggestion of more demanding music quotas on commercial radio seems way out of kilter with policy.
With the digital world perpetually hovering over radio’s shoulder, there’s little doubt that the industry is facing increased competition for listeners on a daily basis.
While research shows commercial stations are still in there holding their own, we should face facts; radio’s time spent listening is considerably down from 10-15 years ago, when they still had the marketplace pretty much to themselves.
The last thing commercial radio now needs, in this time of turbulence, are more restrictions and regulation imposed on them, when it has Spotify, Google Music, Apple Music and YouTube biting at its ankles like rats in the sewer.
This situation becomes even more important when you realise that none of these on-line services have any significant regulation over them at all.
Yet, here we have APRA/AMCOS’s thinking, apparently locked into radio’s golden era of days gone by, trying to hang an even bigger anchor around the neck of commercial radio operators, by wanting to hike Australian music content to 25% across the board.
If that proposal gets up, it’s going to start the rot in an industry that is already under enormous threat.
Australian radio operators might as well take a hike, because, as we all know, if they get their increased quota, it won’t stop at 25%.
Like any emboldened lobby group, once they’ve tasted blood, and a little success, they’ll want to take that baby ‘out for a spin’ and see how much influence they’ve really got.
Here’s the reality and all parties should take note of this.
If, at any particular point in time, there was enough Australian music of world standard available to warrant 25% or more of all music played on radio, then Australian Content and Music Directors would already be playing it, without it having to be government mandated.
The people, who control commercial radio playlists, are switched on; they’re no dummies. Research tells them what their audiences want, and if it were a lot more Australian music, then that’s what they’d be playing.
They don’t need some pencil-pushing bureaucrat in Canberra to be given the authority to dictate how much Australian music must be included in their playlists.
Radio works in a highly competitive environment, and, tying the hands of those who program it, is nothing short of an insult to many of those artists, whose mediocre music may get played just to fill the quota.
The only group to significantly benefit from mandating this would be the music licensing agencies themselves, because they’re taking a clip from the Australian artists each and every time a track is played onair.
Force an increase in the amount of Australian music that radio has to play and guess what? Ca-ching! Money in the coffers.
It’s all a question of dollars.
I’m sure APRA/AMCOS would dearly love to have a quota imposed on streaming music services too, but they probably haven’t yet figured out how to get governments to mandate for on-demand services, where the listeners have a free choice in what they’ll listen to.
So, they’re going after the easier target.
Commercial radio has been everybody’s ‘whipping boy’ for years.
Federal and State governments are always sticking their hands out for licence fees and tower rentals, ACMA loves telling the industry how it should operate, the music industry is constantly demanding its pound of flesh, as it is now, and there’s always someone wanting to flog them the latest technology or sales gimmick.

These are additional costs that, as an employee or listener, you probably never think about, but as competition from the Digital World hots up, the radio industry doesn’t need lobbyists running around and punching any more holes in their canoe.
In today’s comprehensive media environment, forcing up the costs of operation for a single sector can only ever end in tears.
The financial viability of commercial stations, particularly in regional areas, will inevitably be forced closer to the edge of the abyss, and stations will be forced to cut the quality of their on-air product, to meet additional costs imposed on them by others.
In real terms that means that money isn’t going into programs for the listeners’ benefit, it’s being paid to third parties, who are still trying to catch that free ride.
 APRA generally does a good job looking after the interests of its recording artists in this country, and you’d expect them to be vocal, but in this instance, they’ve made their idealistic points to government, they’ve had their 15 minutes of fame, and now, it’s time to back off and leave well enough alone.




About the author

Brad Smart previously owned and operated the Smart Radio Network through regional Queensland.

He sold his stations to Macquarie Radio Network, now Macquarie Media Limited.


He has been a journalist, broadcaster and film producer for over 30 years.

Brad's articles and podcasts are also available through his website 

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