Adam Savage speaks to a number of companies that are really doing the business Down Under.
It might have a relatively small population for a country of such a vast size, but Australia has no shortage of talent in its creative industries, which makes for a pretty strong pro-audio market, too.
Despite their geographical isolation from the rest of the world, and therefore many of their main partners, a lot of Australian audio manufacturers, such as RØDE, are seeing high demand for their products at present.
“We may have a smaller industry than a lot of markets overseas but the quality of work being produced here in Australia is world class,” says RØDE’s Mathew Piccolotto. “We very much wear the Made in Australia logo on our products as a badge of pride, as it’s become synonymous with quality the world over. Companies such as RØDE and Blackmagic are showing the industry what is possible here in Australia with investment into new technologies, so hopefully that is contagious and encourages more innovation across all markets.”
As for the current state of the recording industry in Australia, Piccolotto comments: “From our perspective it seems incredibly healthy. More and more people are understanding the need for high-quality audio, and are investing in audio equipment not only in studio-based recording, but also in broadcast and film, which has been a huge area of growth for RØDE in recent years.”
Danielle Engen, studio manager of Studios 301 in Sydney, is equally upbeat: “I’ve read that Australians buy 100 million recordings each year and in terms of music being made, we’re releasing something like 15,000 tracks per year,” she reports. “Australian artists also continue to make big waves overseas, so in terms of the overall music market we really are thriving, which means there is a great demand for recorded music and the services we offer as a studio.
“We’re consuming music differently now and listening habits have changed drastically, so that impacts recording budgets and consumer demand, as well as how we’re making music – from the processes through to the venues and facilities we’re making it in.”
Studios 301, which also has a facility in Byron Bay, is one of only a few high-end studios in Australia, but there is a lot of activity at the ‘lower’ end of the scale. “Due to the advent of more affordable equipment and digital workstations, for example, lots of smaller studios have opened their doors, which is actually a benefit to us,” Engen explains. “They are helping the industry stay healthy and many of them utilise us for drum tracking, mixing and/or mastering.”
So what about the live sound arena? According to Graeme Whitehouse, general manager of Norwest Productions, which claims to be the region’s largest audio service provider, businesses are faring fairly well, but many companies are now having to show their versatility more than ever. “It’s tough, but it’s active. Like any niche business, you need to be agile and consider diversification to get through the lean periods,” reveals Whitehouse. “At times, touring seems to be a race to the bottom; we try to focus on a wider variety of revenue streams and it’s going very well for us.”
As in so many other parts of the world, the global financial crisis had a huge impact on the disposal income of the Australian people, which had a knock-on effect for the touring industry, but the worst of that is over, at least for the time being. “Australia is a tourist economy in many ways, so when the crisis hit, it took money out of people’s ‘good times’ budget,” continues Whitehouse. “It’s recovered pretty well now, and the market has evolved. Expectations of a younger generation of corporate clients are higher. Concert-goers want more ‘spectacle’ for their buck.”
Other than Norwest, there are probably three other major audio companies that are capable of servicing multi-stage international-spec festivals, or more than a couple of tours at a time. “They’re good businesses at that end of the scale, all of them,” says Whitehouse. “Below those few audio specialists there’s a layer of mid-level companies that, although smaller, are still quite capable, and are well-stocked with great, modern gear.”
So how does Whitehouse see the market changing in the future? “It’s a hard call. Australia is attracting interest from international audio companies seeking to expand into the Asia-Pacific region, but there’s still only so many bites in the pie,” he states. “I think we’ll see businesses that aren’t adaptable start to fade away, and as clients demand higher production values across all the market sectors, the pressure will be on suppliers to either lift their deliverable service values or reduce pricing to maintain customer’s interest.”