Sounds Interesting

Why are the 2014 ARIAs so international?

Katy Perry will perform at the ARIAs tomorrow night.

Wednesday night sees the 2014 Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) awards honouring the greats of Aussie pop. The ARIAs has a much more international feel this year, with the largest ever overseas TV audience expected, and global stars such as Katy Perry and One Direction treading the red thread.

But where has this come from? As with most pop music trends, the answer is one part aesthetics and two parts economics.

With regard to the aesthetics, of course there are notable differences between national music markets - the existence of niche radio stations, such as the recent launch of the excellent UKWA Radio in Perth which targets the massive British ex-pat community, testify to this - but my recent survey of over 29,000 music fans globally showed only small differences in musical taste between countries.

Fans liked dance music more if they lived in Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Ireland, France or Germany, rather than North America and Scandinavia.

Similarly, the fans liked rock music more if they lived in Scandinavia, Australia, and New Zealand rather than North America, the United Kingdom, Ireland, France, or Germany.

But these were the only differences between the countries I found, and even these were tiny, with nationality accounting for less than 1% of the variation in liking for rock and dance.

A critic of this line of argument may note that these countries are all culturally similar, but corresponding data collected in Pakistan a few years earlier showed that western pop was hugely popular there (accounting for nearly a quarter of all listening) and that people’s motivations for listening to music, and the uses to which it was put, were very similar to those in the west.

As such, the internationalisation of the ARIA awards makes perfect commercial sense.

If the ARIAs are reflecting what is really an international rather than a national market for music they ought to attract a global audience and showcase musicians from around the world. One could even make the case for a single world-wide music awards ceremony, and MTV clearly recognises this with their regional - rather than national - based awards.

Two other economic factors undoubtedly also explain the international shift in the ARIAs this year, however.

First, the shift in the business model of the music industry away from selling recorded music to instead selling tickets for live music is particularly relevant to Australia as the economy continues to be strong relative to Europe and North America.

Put simply, Australia’s financial strength and higher prices makes touring the country much more financially rewarding for overseas stars than it has been in recent years.

If I was Katy Perry I would be on a plane here faster than you can say, “robust consumption”, and it is easy to see why a touring musician would want to come to a land down under.

Second, as the industry shifts increasingly towards a digital distribution model - just last week Billboard joined much of the rest of the world in announcing that it was to include streaming data in sales charts - the concept of a “national market” for music becomes increasingly irrelevant.

Whether or not your local record store or radio station features a song simply doesn’t matter as much as it did just a decade ago. In a shrinking, digitised market for music sales, the economies of scale associated with setting up a musician as a truly global megastar become a more persuasive driver of marketing budgets than does the difficulty of visiting every local radio station in a given country.