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Nova 106.9fm: The Saviours of Australian Independent Music?

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If you’ve been following any of the posts about awards ceremonies on Collapse Board in recent days you will have read about the AIR (Australian Independent Record) Labels Association Awards’ media partnership/sponsorship/”brand alignment” with Nova, a commercial radio station.

As was also posted in one of the Collapse Board posts on the matter, there’s also been some thorough, passionate and entertaining discussion on a number of other websites, as a collective eyebrow has been raised at an independent record label organisation teaming up with a commercial entity whose business model is not best known for its support of the independent music scene. For more discussion see:

The controversy resulted in AIR’s General Manager, Nick O’Byrne formally responding to some of the online criticism on Mess+Noise, including directly addressing the partnership with Nova:

AIR is an organisation dedicated to representing and promoting the business interests of our members; we are trying to open up pathways for artists and labels to sell more records. Our “brand alignment”with Nova is not about recognising their contribution to independent music in the past, it’s about fostering a better working relationship in the future. Like it or not, mainstream commercial radio has more selling power than any other medium. A relationship like this one is the starting point for increased Australian Independent music on our airwaves.

Of course he’s entirely correct to say that mainstream commercial radio has more selling power than any other medium. The Nielsen Radio Rating Statistics always show commercial radio out front and in all the metropolitan centres Nova’s ratings are 25 – 45% higher (depending on the city) than those for Triple J – and yet whenever you go to a conference like Brisbane’s Big Sound or the recent Sound Summit event in Newcastle, the question on everyone in a band’s lips is the perennially depressing “But how do I get played on Triple J?”

But while AIR and O’Byrne have had to justify why they’ve teamed up with Nova for their awards ceremony, the response seems incredibly naive. Commercial radio is the same wherever you are: its playlist is severely restricted, especially so in regards to adding new songs to their current playlist, and they don’t “break” bands. Their job is to sell adverts and the inconvenient bits between adverts that they have to play to keep the audience interested (i.e. the music) is music of the lowest common denominator. It has to be for them to survive in a commercial environment.

But O’Byrne does say it’s about the future and not the past, and once again he’s probably correct. But is he right to be so optimistic or are AIR just kidding themselves that a commercial radio station will become more open to songs not coming from the big four labels (Universal, Sony, Warners and EMI)?

In order to check this out, I took one for the team and spent the day listening to Nova 106.9 fm to check out the current situation and to see if there’s any change in the air(waves) or if it’s just the usual diet of major label pap and dross that you would expect from a commercial radio station.

Here’s what happened.

  • I listened to Nova 106.9 fm from 9am to 6pm yesterday (Thursday 7 October 2010).
  • During that time I listened to 110 songs (I did miss a couple when I had to take a phone call but I don’t think it would have dramatically altered the results).
  • Those 110 songs were performed by a total of 72 artists.
  • The most played bands were Little Red and John Butler Trio (with four songs each).
  • Ou Est Le Swimming Pool, Birds of Tokyo, Taio Cruz, Bliss N Eso, Muse, Duck Sauce, Pendulum, Eminem and Powderfinger were all played three times.
  • The most played song was Barbara Streisand by Duck Sauce (the the DJ super-duo of A-Trak and Armand Van Helden), played three times in the nine hours.
  • In terms of nationality of the artists played, American acts were the most played (48 plays, 43.64% of the day’s total) with Australia coming second (36 plays, 32.73%).  The full breakdown is in the following table.
Nationality Total Percentage
USA 48 43.64%
Australian 36 32.73%
UK 23 20.91%
Canada 1 0.91%
Italy 1 0.91%
France 1 0.91%
Grand Total 110 100.00%

The big question is one of labels and how much chance have you got if you’re not either on a major label, or having the undeniable advantage of being distributed by one. It’s amazing how complicated this got, given all the different imprint, subsidiaries and issues with different territories, and in some cases it was hard to work out who was really pulling the strings. Some labels that I expected to be indies are published in Australia by majors (i.e. Domino) so in those instances I’ve assumed them to be major labels. I think we got there in the end but no doubt some commentators will come and post under the veil of internet anonymity, the scourge of the 21st century, to tell me I’m wrong. Either that or they’ll just tell me to go and have a wank.

Going back to the 110 songs played between 9am and 6pm, the Big Four completely dominated, as you’d expect from a commercial radio’s playlist, 85 out of 110 songs played, 77.27% of the total, pretty much in line with the unwritten theory that four companies are responsible for 80% of the music that the average person on the street hears.

Label Total Percentage
Universal 30 27.27%
Warner 22 20.00%
EMI 18 16.36%
Sony 15 13.64%
Total 85 77.27%

So what about the remaining 25 songs played during the day? Have you got much of a chance of getting a song played if you’re on an independent label? Or are you only going to get played if you have some major involvement in getting your songs out there?  In terms of the labels it looks like this.

Label Total Percentage
Liberation Music 8 7.27%
Jarrah Records 4 3.64%
Modular 4 3.64%
Fool’s Gold Records 3 2.73%
Independent 1 0.91%
DFA 1 0.91%
Normal People Making Hits/Boomtown Records 1 0.91%
Dew Process 1 0.91%
Stop Start 1 0.91%
Vicious 1 0.91%
Total 25 22.73%
  • First things first, Modular are 50% owned by the world’s largest major record label, Universal. So they’re out.
  • Liberation, the most played of the “independent” labels is distributed by Universal (as pointed out by The Vine’s story about the AIR Awards).
  • Fool’s Gold Records (the label responsible for Duck Sauce’s Barbara Streisand) is also distributed by Universal.
  • As is Dew Process (Mumford & Sons).
  • As is Vicious (Potbelleez).
  • Stop Start (Old Man River) is distributed through EMI.
  • As is DFA (LCD Soundsystem).

When you take those away you’re left with six songs played from three labels, who, are far as I can tell, can no involvement with the major labels in any shape or form: Jarrah Records, the home of the John Butler Trio, Normal People Making Hits/Boomtown Records, Philadelphia Grand Jury’s label and the only self-released, independent song played on Nova today, Art vs Science’s Parlez Vous Francais?

AIR would probably point to the fact that there are independent acts on Nova, even ones that don’t have any connections with the majors, and they’d be right. It’s a tiny percentage but it’s still there, although if you take John Butler as a bit of an exception, that tiny percentage becomes even smaller. Is it going to change in the future and grow to a larger proportion? AIR seem to expect it to; I can’t see it myself, or at least I can’t see it being anyone that hasn’t got a very polished, commercial radio sound, a very narrrow sound and musical style, and hasn’t already had the benefit of being heavily supported by commercial radio’s feeder station, Triple J.

A single day’s listening (and only part of the day at that) is a very small sample, possibly not very representative, although a lot of what was played was exactly what you would have expected to hear on a commercial radio station and towards the end of the day, songs that had been played earlier in the day were being repeated. Nick O’Byrne has said it’s about the future and this is just a small snapshot of the current situation. Maybe this time next year Nova’s playlist will have an entirely different look; If I’m having to listen to another day of Nova in a year’s time to write an update to this post I sorely hope it is.

A couple of final observations.

  • For someone who doesn’t listen to commercial radio, the amount of music played was surprising. There were constant remainders throughout the day about how many songs in a row were about to be played before any adverts were broadcast, and for much of the day it was 10 or 11 songs before an advert was played. At the same time, DJ input throughout was minimal.  This meant that for most of the day they were playing between 12 and 15 songs an hour, with this only decreasing after 4pm when the more Zoo format drivetime show started. I would say that they played a lot more music than you would hear on Triple J.
  • Drivetime, as you’d expect, was terrible. The funniest bit was when they played John Butler, mentioned his recent winning of an AIR award and then had a discussion about what an AIR award actually was and what AIR stood for. The AIR/Nova partnership is obviously a worthwhile venture for Nova too…
  • If you take away all the R’n’B, Pop, Nu Metal and Emo, the rest of the songs and acts played isn’t a lot different from what you hear on Triple J. But maybe that says more about Triple J’s move to being a pseudo-commercial radio station than it does about Nova opening its playlist up to anything that’s not major label affiliated.

If you really want to know, this is what I had to listen to during the day:

Little Red – Rock It
Kelly Rowland – Forever And A Day
Powderfinger – All Of The Dreamers
Ou Est Le Swimming Pool – Jackson’s Last Stand
Bloody Beetroots – Awesome
Gyroscope – What Do I Know About Pain?
Eminem – Love the Way You Lie
Birds Of Tokyo – The Saddest Thing I Know
Old Man River – Norway (I Like It Like This)
The Presets – My people
B.O.B – Magic
Tinie Tempah – Written In The Stars
Mark Ronson – Bang Bang Bang
Coldplay – Clocks
Usher – Oh My Gosh
Mark Sholtez – Mystery Of You
Cobra Starship – Good Girls Go Bad
My Chemical Romance – Na Na Na
Duck Sauce – Barbara Streisand
John Butler Trio – Better Than
BoB – Airplanes
Florence And The Machine – Hurricane Drunk
Muse – Starlight
Kings Of Leon – Radioactive
Bruno Mars – Just The Way You Are
Franz Ferdinand – No You Girls
Pendulum – The Island
Katy Perry – Teenage Dream
Arctic Monkeys – Bet You Look Good On The Dance Floor
Taio Cruz – Break Your Heart
Little Red – Slow Motion
Lady Gaga – Bad Romance
30 Seconds to Mars – Closer to The Edge
Chromeo – Don’t Turn The Lights On
Art vs Science – Parlez Vous Francais?
Bliss N Eso – Addicted
Boy In A Box – Moon Comes Up
Flo Rida ft. David Guetta – Club Can’t Handle Me
Lily Allen – Back To The Start
Birds Of Tokyo – Plans
Potbelleez – Hello
Mumford and Sons – The Cave
Eminem – No Love
Linkin Park – Breaking The Habit
Pink – Raise Your Glass
Good Charlotte – Like It’s Her Birthday
Hilltop Hoods – Nosebleed Section
Rihanna – Only Girl
Muse – Could Be Wrong
Mike Posner – Cooler Than Me
John Butler Trio – Don’t Want To See Your Face
Justin Timberlake – What Goes Around Comes Around
Angus and Julia Stone – Big Jet Plane
The Klaxons – Twin Flames
Taio Cruz – Dynamite
Phoenix – Lisztomania
Ou Est Le Swimming Pool – Dance The Way I Feel
Bag Raiders – Way Back Home
Gyroscope – Baby I’m Getting Better
Calvin Harris – You Used to Hold Me
Washington – The Hardest Pary
Temper Trap – Sweet Disposition
Paramore – The Only Exception
Eminem – Not Afraid
The Kooks – Naïve
Cee-Lo – Fuck You
Band Of Horses – Compliments
Pendulum – ABC News Television Theme
Scouting For Girls – This Ain’t A Love Song
Kelly Rowland – Forever And A Day
The Killers – Somebody Told Me
Bliss N Eso – Down By The River
Angus and Julia Stone – Hold On
John Butler Trio – Close To You
Philadelphia Grand Jury – Save Our Town
Duck Sauce – Barbara Streisand
Powderfinger – Sail The Wildest Stretch
La Roux – Bulletproof
Linkin Park – Waiting For The End
Little Red – Slow Motion
LCD Soundsystem – Daft Punk Is Playing at My House
Bruno Mars – Just The Way You Are
Amy Meredith – Lying
Ting Tings – Hands
Muse – Uprising
Katy Perry – Teenage Dream
Fall Out Boy – This Ain’t A Scene It’s An Arms Race
Adam Lambert – For Your Entertainment
Bliss N Eso – Addicted
B.O.B – Magic
Scissor Sisters – I Don’t Feel Like Dancing
Kings Of Leon – Radioactive
Enrique Ingesias – I Like It
Powderfinger – Burn Your Name
Jason Derülo – Whatcha Say
Chiddy Bang – Opposite Of Adults
Lady Gaga – Just Dance
Ou Est Le Swimming Pool – Jackson’s Last Stand
Paramore – Careful
Pink – Raise Your Glass
Little Red – Rock It
Taio Cruz – Dynamite
30 Seconds to Mars – Closer to The Edge
Pendulum – The Island
Birds Of Tokyo – Plans
Nelly – Just A Dream
John Butler Trio – Revolution
Cee-Lo – Fuck You
My Chemical Romance – Na Na Na
Duck Sauce – Barbara Streisand

14 Responses to Nova 106.9fm: The Saviours of Australian Independent Music?

  1. Everett True October 8, 2010 at 1:57 pm

    Sorry Justin, this is a minor point – but are Domino Records considered a major label? I only ask because I’ve known them since their beginnings (as an independent obviously).

    Likewise, what is the status of Sub Pop Records these days?

  2. Darragh Murray October 8, 2010 at 2:13 pm

    Justin – you poor guy. Having to listen to Nova all day must have been painful. Nice analysis though.

  3. ed October 8, 2010 at 2:16 pm

    Well it was for Franz Ferdinand and Arctic Monkeys, both of which are Domino in the UK. As far as I can tell FF are released by Sony in Australia (it’s not specified on their Facebook page, which would be the easiest way to show it, but it’s also Sony outside the UK http://www.facebook.com/pages/Franz-Ferdinand-Band/9228471563) and AM by EMI (who by the looks of EMI’s blog do the bulk of Domino’s stuff in Australia http://www.theinsoundfromwayout.com/artists/)

  4. Dave October 8, 2010 at 3:22 pm

    Oh look. Here comes a real live reader in the comments section!!

    I find these articles totally bizarre. What is the actual point you are trying to make here? That commercial radio tends to mostly play major label content? Well doh… did you actually need to listen to a whole day of Nova to confirm that?

    So, given that you’ve now discovered this incredibly obscure fact, perhaps you have some inkling of an idea why AIR might be interested in getting a better foothold? Hmmm…. can’t imagine why it would be beneficial for indie labels and artists to get some mainstream airplay. They might sell some records? Or get a few more people to shows? Wow!! It’s incredible to think that in independent label or artist might want to reach a wider audience. God forbid they might be able to earn a living. You guys better get in an kick the shit of out them from the sidelines before they get to that stage.

    Australia really is a sad country when it comes to this stuff. As soon as people even begin to look like they might achieve some success, people come running in to kick them. Collapseboard seems to be wanting to win the award for sideline kickers of the year. It’s doing a pretty good job so far. The ‘professional’ writers all seem to be happy in their day jobs. It helps them pay the bills so they can spend their days kicking the shit out of musicians, labels and organisations who are actually doing something.

    This major label = bad, independent label = good thing is also bizarre, especially when it comes to distribution services. You think independent distributors cut labels a better deal than major distribution services? You think indie distributors will help you sell more copies. Will they pay you more quickly? You guys clearly have no fucking idea what actually goes on in the record industry have any grip on the realities of life as a working musician/label trying to claw your way through the snake pit.

  5. Bianca October 8, 2010 at 3:24 pm

    It’s actually a little depressing how similar that list is to a lot of what I’ve been hearing on Triple J recently :S

  6. Everett True October 8, 2010 at 3:35 pm

    To the best of my knowledge ‘Dave’, Collapse Board doesn’t employ any professional writers.

    To the best of my knowledge ‘Dave’ – or should I be calling you ‘Graham’, or one of a thousand other names you doubtless go under, as you revel in your anonymity – Collapse Board has been 99 per cent supportive of music from Brisbane, music from Australia, music from outside Australia.

    It’s typical of you cowardly, anonymous little shits on the Internet that you choose to focus only on the negative. Justin is continuing the debate around the subject. Why is this so offensive?

  7. Everett True October 8, 2010 at 3:38 pm

    And you’re a complete and utter dickhead if you think a system is worth supporting simply because it exists.

  8. Dane October 8, 2010 at 3:52 pm

    Great post. It’s nice to have some facts to break up the opinions.

  9. ed October 8, 2010 at 4:03 pm

    Dave/Graham. You might very well be posting anonymously from College Road on University of Queensland’s campus in St Lucia but you seem to be having some trouble.

    Here’s an easy to understand quote from above.

    “Nick O’Byrne has said it’s about the future and this is just a small snapshot of the current situation. Maybe this time next year Nova’s playlist will have an entirely different look; If I’m having to listen to another day of Nova in a year’s time to write an update to this post I sorely hope it is”

  10. darragh October 8, 2010 at 4:24 pm

    Dave/Graham’s opinion sponsored by Nova 106.9 FM

  11. Darragh October 8, 2010 at 5:03 pm

    What is the point being made here? Well, I believe the point is that Ed makes, with empirical evidence mind you, that it is a mistake to say that Nova have any interest in promoting Australian independent music. That AIR awards or anything like that really do not open markets for independent Australian music. Whether they will in the future is debatable.

    The point is that these posts are not criticising musicians. These posts are critiquing the structure of the industry – the very mechanisms involved in bringing music to people’s ears. Everett is spot on when he indicates that just because this structure exists and some people (usually not musicians) make a livelihood out of it, that it is unworthy of being questioned.

    Furthermore, Dave, you claim to speak for the voice of the working musician (clearly, the working musicians who get played on Nova or the ones that want to get played on Nova)? How would you actually know these realities?

  12. Sarah McVeigh October 8, 2010 at 5:18 pm

    A real live reader in the comments section? No! Really?

    Or is it that you’re just another anonymous person unwilling to engage unless your anonymity is assured? (Cliche? Oh fear no!)

    Because what you are rejecting, dear “real live reader”, is a rare thing – a piece of writing that is both critical and considered.

    I do believe that you are entirely missing the point of the conversation. And that’s fine, really. Nobody expects much more from someone so ready to cover their identity.

    As far as I see, (and please, correct me if I’m wrong Justin/anyone) the whole debate is more about the fact that “independent” awards should be a place where those who are not represented by major forces in the industry actually have a place to be celebrated. That creating something, despite the fact that you are not within a certain mould, is celebrated. That we, as lovers of music, may be presented a new listening perspective.

    This website has in no way celebrated music because it is not mainstream. This website has only ever given time to music which the very varied writers deem worth that time. Rihanna, Kitchens Floor and Robert Forster have all been given space. Nobody is suggesting that music released on major labels has no place, what they are suggesting is that independent awards might be a place to widen the breadth of what we are exposed to. On that note, it’s hardly shocking to suggest that an affiliation with Nova might limit that breadth. And yet, the author didn’t actually even go that far in damning such a partnership. What the author did, was actually deconstruct the ideas that you are taken with, as well as those that others offered on the subject.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that negative, or constructive commentary doesn’t mean Australians are just waiting to tear shit down. Because compare Australian music criticism to other music criticism around the world, and you’ll find that in the positivity stakes, we actually come up trumps.

  13. not Nick O Byrne June 17, 2011 at 9:01 am

    That ‘Dave’ guy who left the comment is actually Nick O’Byrne.

  14. Hambo October 3, 2013 at 3:01 pm

    I have been looking for somewhere to rant..this appears to be the place.Nova repeats some seriously awful music up to 4 times a day(OCT 2013). Fortunately the only people listening to a radio these days are stuck in traffic or a human-rights-violating office(my experience). Nova’s cash prize competitions only serve to string along the poorest demographic(I’m poor but not that poor).

    I want to call Nova lazy for not looking outside of the larger labels but they get paid huge sums to repeat awful EMI/SONY rubbish. Thank Jebus for 94.5 and 101.7 where i can hear the same repeat frequency minus the awful taste.

    Fatigued ear ranting regards,
    Hambo

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