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WA MUSIC INDUSTRY IN CRISIS – PART THREE

Music event
Music event

Lately I’ve been following the proceedings of the Royal Commission into Perth’s Crown Casino. Last week I read the transcript of the grilling given to Duncan Ord, former Director General of the Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries. Counsel for the Royal Commission spent almost an entire day excoriating the former public servant for not attending to his organisation’s Key Performance Indicators (KPI). Why? Because without KPIs how can you know if you’ve achieved anything? How can you be accountable for all that lovely public money you’re spending?

As things currently stand, WAM is a black hole into which the State government is pouring millions of dollars without any possibility of being able to know whether there is a return on the investment.

Then I went down a bit of a rabbit hole.

The Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries is responsible for administering the Contemporary Music Fund.  Announced by the State government in April 2018, the Fund provides $3 million over four years to support the creative endeavours of WA contemporary musicians.  So, I logged on to the Department’s website to check things out.

Going through the list of recipients, one organisation’s name came up again and again, so I did some simple mathematics.  Turns out that the WA Music Industry Association (WAM) has so far received $659,100 out of a total of $1,778,457, which is 37% of all funds disbursed to date. That’s a pretty healthy slice of the overall funding.

Right then, I felt like I was not only down a rabbit hole, but through the looking glass as well. Things began to get curiouser and curiouser.

With the proceedings of the Casino Royal Commission fresh in my mind, I wondered what are WAM’s performance indicators? You see, if you include the $350,000 in COVID funding WAM received from the government last year, WAM has received over $1 million in additional funding since 2018. This is on top of the operational funding they receive each year from the government and a range of sponsors including LotteryWest.

I began to ask myself, how are WAM accountable to their members, the general public and the government for the expenditure of the funding they receive?

First stop, the WAM website.

There’s plenty there about what WAM do, but nothing that looks like a KPI. It’s pretty straightforward to report on activities, but KPIs are all about impact. And, I don’t know about you, but for $1 million, I want to see a whole lot of impact.

Next stop, WAM’s annual reports.

On WAM’s website there are annual reports for each year from 2011 to 2019, although the 2019 annual report is more of a financial report than anything else. These reports have nice descriptions of WAM’s activities and programs, but nothing even closely approaching a KPI. WAM’s annual reports include no assessment of the organisation’s strategic impact on the WA contemporary music industry whatsoever.

Again, for $1 million since 2018, on top of many millions of dollars poured into WAM over the years, there should be a reasonable expectation that the organisation is accountable for its achievements.

Key Performance Indicators are most commonly stated in relation to a strategic plan. Strategic plans provide a framework for an organisation’s operations and expenditure that should see all of its programs and activities working towards high-level, measurable goals. The point is, reporting should be about much more than, ‘this is what we’ve done’, it should focus on what has changed as a result of the organisation’s existence. Otherwise, how can anyone know whether an organisation is achieving anything of value?

I went back to the WAM website and annual reports to see if I could find a strategic plan. Couldn’t find one.

Currently, WAM attracts substantial government funding, including more than one third of the Contemporary Music Fund. When this Fund was announced, Arts Minister, David Templeman, said, “The Contemporary Music Fund will assist upcoming Western Australian artists to produce and promote their music, giving them a helping hand in building national and international links.”

I hope he’s being advised on how this is being achieved by the organisation that gets the lion’s share of the money from the Contemporary Music Fund, because WAM seem pretty shy about telling their members or the general public what they’ve achieved.  Maybe they don’t know?

Without a strategic plan or any KPIs, it’s impossible for anyone to know what WAM have achieved with their government funding. If we go back to the Casino Royal Commission, this is one of the reasons why counsel representing the Commission spent such a long time cross examining Duncan Ord about the Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries’ KPIs.

Perhaps someone should be cross examining WAM in a similar way?

As things currently stand, WAM is a black hole into which the State government is pouring millions of dollars without any possibility of being able to know whether there is a return on the investment.

I find it difficult to believe that Minister Templeman would find the current state of affairs to be in any way satisfactory.

Having spent some time through the looking glass, I decided to turn my mind to what a framework for a strategic plan for the WA contemporary music industry might look like. It’s all well and good being a critic, but, if you’re going to call things out, I believe you have a responsibility to suggest solutions as well.

According to a 2016 report on the impact of the WA music industry, contemporary music adds almost $1 billion a year to WA’s bottom line as well as directly creating almost 3,000 jobs. Taking this as a start point, it would seem sensible to develop a strategic plan that focuses on the growth of the WA contemporary music industry to, let’s say, $2 billion a year over the next 10 years, with the aim being to keep as much of that additional income in the state and in the bank accounts of local musicians and allied music industry professionals.

One Key Performance Indicator should be making music a viable career path, a goal to which WAM pays lip service but which their actions, in sometimes choosing to pay artists little or nothing for their performances, undermine. Any strategic plan also should focus on the cultural and social value-add of the contemporary music industry. Sustainability isn’t only about the environment, it’s also about creating viable communities that have rich and diverse cultural lives.

A viable and vibrant music economy drives value in several important ways:  job creation, economic growth, tourism development, city brand-building and artistic growth.  A strong music community also has been shown to attract other industrial investment, along with talented young workers who put a high value on quality of life, no matter what their profession.

A strategy for effective growth of the WA music industry must involve consultation with key stakeholders, primarily musicians. WAM does not currently do this, as their Music Council has been defunct for years. Consultation with musicians should focus on, at a minimum, the following:

  • Developing and marketing a thriving music local scene.
  • Access to spaces and places.
  • Receptive and engaged audiences.
  • Record labels and other music-related businesses.
  • Viable streaming and digital distribution options.
  • Sustained and strategic marketing of WA music domestically, nationally and internationally with a focus on Asia, Europe and the United States.

It also is important to have multi-level government support for music, with broader local government infrastructure conducive to the sector, and music education programs.  This could comprise the following:

  • Music and musician-friendly policies, from licensing and liquor laws, to parking and planning regulations, to affordable housing and artist entrepreneur training.
  • The creation of music offices to help musicians and music businesses navigate the broad range of government policies and regulations that impact music.
  • The formulation of music advisory boards to engage the broader music community in a collaborative way and to facilitate dialogue with municipal governments.
  • Engaging the broader music community to ensure the people most affected by music policies are involved and informed.
  • Access to spaces and places, whether public or privately owned, for artists to practice, record, and perform at every stage of their career.
  • Development of live music precincts that make attending local live music events viable and attractive for a broader cross section of the community.
  • Engagement with the international music community with programs designed to attract international musicians and promoters to come to WA to create and perform music.
  • A focus on audience development, ensuring there is an engaged and passionate audience for local musicians as well as international touring artists, now and into the future.
  • Music tourism or the development of a Music City brand to leverage a thriving live music scene, rich music history or large music festivals in order to reap the significant benefits associated with music.
  • A focus on marketing WA music nationally and internationally, including opening of offices in key international territories to promote WA artists to the world.

The points above provide a starting framework to develop a strategic plan for the WA contemporary music industry that will ensure that the return on any further government investment is able to be assessed and evaluated.

While WAM engages in activities that address some of the points I’ve outlined above, our industry currently has no strategic plan and the government has no visibility of whether the millions of dollars they are putting into the WA music industry is achieving any sort of impact. Is the government investing too little, or too much, and is there any return on the investment? These are core questions to which, currently there is no possibility of providing answers. This is neither viable nor sustainable.

Until we create the conditions that enable those questions to be answered, the WA contemporary music industry will continue to flounder. We will have no viable roadmap out of COVID and most musicians and allied professionals will have no possibility of creating a stable income stream in what should be a very viable industry.

You can read the first two articles in this series by clicking on the links below.

WA Music Industry In Crisis
WA Music Industry In Crisis – Part Two

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