Triple J Unearthed and the Great Monopolisation of Australian Music
So it has arrived — Triple J's new Unearthed digital radio station. As pitched by the Jster's, this is a fantastic and groundbreaking new exponent for up-and-coming Australian artists whereby their unsigned wares can be broadcasted to the nation. It's so easy, you just upload a song or two and then (if you're handpicked by one of The J Team) you'll find some spins on Unearthed Radio before — fingers crossed — you'll go on to graduate to the big league and get played on Triple J. A positive idea in theory for those bands out there seeking that ever elusive 'break', but the question that must be posed — is this a healthy development for the Australian music industry? And the answer in this writer's opinion is absolutely not.
More often than not Triple J is the make-or-break medium in this country for Australian bands and artists. You hit the high rotation on the J's and you will quickly find queues outside your show at the OAF, rather than twenty mates peppered around the room hoping you finish in time for them to go and get a New York Slice. Perhaps unfortunately, this is just the way it is and has been for some time.
You might think that having a relative monopoly over our national music airwaves might be enough, however a new beast has been developed by Triple J in the form of Unearthed Radio and along with it they have all but issued a memo stating — "if you're an up and coming Australian band who doesn't arrive to us through our Unearthed system you can pretty much get farked cause we ain't playing your music". It can barely be argued that this isn't the gauntlet being thrown down when you think about it. Can anyone name any Australian bands that have come through JJJ and into prominence in the last few years that haven't been 'unearthed'? Now think about then how much emphasis this must mean that bands and labels etc. are generally placing on Unearthed and hence what implications this has for our Australian music scene.
Creating a system like this surely raises issues relating to market ownership and monopolization, which are concepts that when related to a creative outlet (or just about anything for that matter) become dangerous ones. Furthermore, isn't operating with this "if we don't find them and we don't own them, then we're not interested" mentality when it comes to supporting new Australian music also effectively a slap in the face to everyone else operating in the Australian music industry? Where is the role for A&R guys/gals, labels, management, agents etc. in terms of discovery if the only Australian bands that are going to rise to national airplay are pretty much categorically going to come through Unearthed? Doesn't this just create an even more apathetic climate in an industry that should be synonymous with creativity and forward thinking?
A lot of questions but at the end of the day what Triple J are trying to do through the guise of 'Unearthed' is to create a system whereby they can take ownership over emerging Australian musical talent. And so perhaps the most poignant question to ask is why? Why as a branch of the ABC and so in theory an objective organization, are they trying to say to young Australian artists that the only way forward is by signing up to Unearthed and complying with their way of doing things? Market share is one viable reason, but surely as a Government funded station that doesn't need to sell ad space, this is not the only motivator.
Triple J say that Unearthed Radio is innovative and intends to create a platform for unsigned and uncashed bands to deliver their music to the world, and in some respects it achieves this function. However, after all is said and done this function is grossly unnecessary and has so far only succeeded in turning much of the Australian music scene into an overblown battle o' the bands to be adjudicated by the self-proclaimed 'King' (yes I know it's part of his name but it's still self-aggrandizing and lame given his position) and his sidekicks.
The biggest mistake you could make as a band uploading your tunes to Unearthed is to think that you are subjecting your material to an open forum, where if your work is truly great you will succeed in getting it on the radio. On the contrary, you are subjecting yourself to the opinions of a select few Triple J staffers who, given their track records in 'discovering great Aussie bands', have at best extremely questionable taste. Of course, musical opinion is always a murky habitat, but, Art Vs Science, Washington, Little Red etc. Let's be honest, the gaze seems more transfixed on the middle of the mediocre freeway rather than on the hunt for the next Avalanches or The Drones. Further on the point of taste; why is a 50 year old man the designated 'tastemaker' for our national youth broadcaster anyway?
The real tragedy of the whole 'Unearthed' brand is that in the likely scheme of things it has only just begun. The scary reality is that the cycle will more than likely snowball as new bands become more and more dependent on Triple J Unearthed to push them to a national audience.
Or, in a far less likely development, maybe it'll finally drive a deserved tidal wave of negative sentiment from artists and the remaining industry alike into the offices of Triple J before everyone goes ahead and turns their attention to those peeps actually on the hunt for interesting new music (See FBI Radio, RRR, PBS etc). Wishful thinking huh?
Australia's answer to the question - "who is Bradford Cox?"
Nowhere else in the world is there a system like this — where the one avenue really does determine the make-or-break point for bands and that in itself is a pretty nasty concept, only exacerbated by the fact that the bands cutting through courtesy of some Triple J blow work are at best lukewarm. What this effectively means is that as it stands if the next Bradford Cox comes from Sydney or Melbourne a deserved audience will probably never hear from him unless he moves overseas.
A monopoly, an innovation, an abomination, Orwellian, whatever you choose to call it, one thing is for certain — it is here to stay. However that stay should not be without criticism, analysis, and questions such as; Triple J why are you attempting to reign over us as the singular and somewhat tyrannical champions of music in this country instead of simply fulfilling your role as a government funded broadcaster of unique, original and quality Australian music as per the initial Double J ethos statement? At this point in time don't bother looking for a reasonable answer, just change the channel.