Sounds Australia Hosting Country Music Export Masterclass, Panel At 2024 Tamworth Country Music Festival

16 January 2024 | 10:16 am | Christie Eliezer

The free Gettin' Gone workshop will feature invaluable insight from KIX Country and Big Loud reps, the one and only Fanny Lumsden, and more.

Tamworth Country Music Festival

Tamworth Country Music Festival (Supplied)

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Country music is experiencing a global boom – especially in the US, where Gen Z and Millennials have changed the game.

Major acts have broken out of country radio to reach airplay on pop and adult contemporary formats. They’ve broken sales records and stormed streaming services (country music audio streams went up by 23.8 percent in 2023) while TikTok throws up more new young artists than ever before.

This offers more opportunities to make a dent in the world’s biggest market for country music. But are Australian acts and their business associates doing enough to plug into the international boom?

“I’m so excited about what Australia has to offer with this genre of music. However, there’s still so much work we all need to do,” suggests Glenn Dickie, Export Music Producer at Sounds Australia.

Sounds Australia is holding a two-part workshop in Tamworth on January 26. It’s the day before the Golden Guitar awards, marking the end of the Tamworth Country Music Festival, and is the biggest gathering of local country music artists, managers, agents, tour promoters, record label executives, publishers and association heads.

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The free Gettin' Gone workshop is run in tandem with the National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Music Office (NATSIMO) and the Country Music Association of Australia (CMAA). It’s aimed at country, Americana, folk and acoustic singer-songwriter acts and industry executives.

Export Masterclass

Dickie and Digital Export Producer Dom Alessio will begin with an export masterclass on how Sounds Australia brings acts to the attention of international industry bigwigs at major events with multi-act showcases, including the famous Aussie BBQ sessions, and setting up business meetings and networking sessions.

These include America’s South By Southwest (SXSW), Folk Alliance International, New York SummerStage and A2IM Indie Week, the UK’s The Great Escape, and Germany’s Reeperbahn Festival and Jazzhead! In terms of country music, Sounds Australia focuses on CMA Fest and Americanafest, both in Nashville. 2024 marks its tenth year at Americanafest, which draws 23,000 over four days.

Among 200 showcases last year, the two Australian events featured showcases from 16 acts including O’Shea, Henry Wagons, Gretta Ziller, Lily Grace, The Pleasures, Sam Hawksley, Colin Lillie, Nigel Wearne, Chloe Styler and Sinead Burgess.

Sounds Australia made its debut at CMA Fest last year, and will make it a major priority from now on. Celebrating its 50th year in 2023, CMA Fest drew 90,000 punters from 50 countries for each of its six days, and had the largest stadium audience in its history.

In partnership with APRA AMCOS Nashville, its showcase A Taste Of Australia highlighted Casey Barnes, Chloe Styler, James Johnston, Loren Ryan, Max Jackson and Melanie Dyer, and hosted two songwriters-in-the-round sessions led by Nashville-based hit Australian songwriter Phil Barton.

In their upcoming masterclass, Dickie and Alessio will outline how to use Sounds Australia’s events to further propel international careers and prepare for showcases, and detail the funding opportunities the company has available.

The Panel

The panel is expected to be a robust, no-holds-barred discussion on the opportunities, challenges and weak links in getting Australian country music abroad.

Moderated by Nat Waller (Head of ABC Music & Events), speakers are Megan Hopkins (KIX Country), Johnno Keetels (of North American label Big Loud), self-managed artist Fanny Lumsden, Stef Russin (whose career has spanned TV, radio and live events), and artist manager Roxanne Brown (whose roster includes Troy and Jem Cassar-Daley).

Dickie wants feedback from musos, established and emerging: “If you are seeking knowledge, come and learn from it. If you have the knowledge, share it. [Sounds Australia] is completely agnostic – we’re not a label, we’re not a publisher or promoters. Our sole purpose is to give as many Australian musicians the ability to have international success and viable long-term careers. So we want be highly critical of the whole process, and really get to the core of what needs to be done to make it internationally.

“We can see that outside of some Australian songwriters based in Nashville, who are doing amazing work in that commercial country space, we are still way behind in really penetrating the highly competitive American country market. Maybe we’re not working hard enough. Because we’re from Australia, we have to work twice as hard to compete with US-based artists.”

Cracking The Globe

What Sounds Australia hopes to get from Gettin' Gone is a fix on challenges faced by Australian country artists, and guide the heart of the export process. These could be a fear factory, risk aversion, lack of far-thinking artist managers, high expenses, an aversion to collaborating with overseas writers, a lack of ambition and entrepreneurship, or lack of contacts – although the Country Music Association of Australia has long shared initiatives with its US counterpart.

“It’s very hard to do it solely from Australia,” Dickie says. “You have to invest in it, to be there for a long time. After Keith Urban, Morgan Evans is leading the next generation of country artists from Australia. It’s now encouraging to see artists like Casey Barnes, James Johnston, Melanie Dyer, Seaforth and The Pleasures starting to make in-roads because of the work they’re doing in market. To rise through the noise you have to be really good. More than anything else, you need strong songs.”

Country music accounted for 8.4 percent of the US recorded-music market in 2023, up from 7.76 percent the year before. This was spurred by hit albums from Taylor Swift (whose roots are country), Morgan Wallen (who had the best-selling album of 2023 in One Thing At A Time), Zach Bryan, Luke Combs and Bailey Zimmerman.

To get an insight to US country music fans, most listen to radio and video, with streaming in third place. But streaming is the lead format for Gen Z and Millennials.

Gen Z makes up half of the listenership for Wallen, Combs and Bryan. They are 64 percent more likely to listen to playlists shared by family and friends, and 16 percent more likely than other Gen Z-ers. They dig vinyl, too. Vinyl country music albums have expanded their market share from 6.6 percent in 2019 to 28.1 percent in 2023. CDs, however, declined from 63.9 percent in 2019 to 43 percent in 2023.

Gettin' Gone will be held on Friday January 26, from 9:00am to 12:30pm, at Tamworth Community College. Attendance is free but registering is essential – head here to sign up for yourself.