SWOT: Musical Chairs in Music Media

While one major label is abandoning its play in music media, another is entering the market. What does this all mean for the future of music journalism?
SWOT: Musical Chairs in Music Media
Photo by Alphacolor / Unsplash

Welcome to SWOT by Sound Story, your weekly inside track on the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats looming for the entertainment industry.

⚡️Trending: After discovering 21% of Aussies have Netflix’d on the toilet, our PR team crafted the Tudunny, a set of toilets inspired by Squid Game, Heartbreak High and Emily in Paris! Words by Tony Broderick. Source: LinkedIn

🌏 Global: Hollywood contraction: Actors struggle to find jobs as TV castings dry up Words by Nellie Andreeva. Source: Deadline

💰 Money: Billionaire Richard White has revealed his philosophy for making money in the music industry after the founder of logistics software giant WiseTech completed his third major investment in the sector. Words by Michael Bailey. Source: The AFR.

🌶️ Spicy: Ozempic hype house backfires in WeightWatchers brand misstep. Social media personalities say they were asked to promote a product they “never tried.” Words by Madison Muller. Source: Bloomberg.

📰 Media: Foxtel has announced its entertainment centre, Hubbl, will feature 18 global and local apps, including all the major streaming services. Words by Nathan Jolly. Source: Mumbrella.

Strength: Spotlight on Aussie Songs 

A slew of Aussie songwriters and performers have their names and creations in the spotlight thanks to the APRA Song of the Year shortlist. The 25-long list will be whittled down to five nominees ahead of the APRA Awards in May, where the ultimate winner will be announced. 

👉 Triple j Hottest 100-dominating G Flip has taken two places on the list of potential winners for “The Worst Person Alive” and “Be Your Man”. 

👉 The list also spotlights songs from the likes of Genesis Owusu, Teen Jesus and the Jean Teasers, Paul Kelly, Kylie, Dan Sultan and Budjerah, properly showcasing Australia’s diverse range of talent. 

👉 It’s also the first time on the list for Romy Vager (RMG), Shannon Busch, Stephen Mowat, Gretta Ray, Chris Collins, Rudy Sandapa and Voyager, reports TMN

👉Last year’s peer-voted APRA Song of the Year was “Say Nothing”, by Flume and Sarah Aarons, which featured MAY-A. 

👉 It’s genuinely hard to pick the winner from the list this year. Who do you think will take it home? 

Weakness: Woolies Walkout

Did you expect to see anything else here this week? 

There’s not much to say about Woolworths’ CEO Brad Banducci’s disastrous interview and subsequent walkout that’s not already been said by commentators, critics and crisis comms people, but there are many lessons to be learned. 

👉 It’s baffling that something could be both so meticulously planned and unprepared at the same time. The (soon-to-depart) CEO is sporting a company t-shirt and ‘Brad’ name badge like he’s just a regular guy on the frontline of the shop’s floor. He’s sitting among the impossible-to-avoid bright yellow discount signs in an investigation into why prices are so damn high. With all this optics planning, you’d think a CEO who took home $8.6 million last year could answer some curly questions. 

👉 This wasn’t an ambush, a set-up, a hasty door-stop or a stitch-up. There’s no excuse for being rattled by the questions when your marketing and comms team is that big and your pay packet is that large. 

👉 The awkward encounter was reminiscent of Michael Stephenson, the Executive Director of Clinical Operations at Ambulance Victoria, who sat down with A Current Affair in 2020 amidst allegations the organisation was plagued by bullying and harassment, which has ruined the careers and lives of its frontline workers. 

👉 Stephenson said, on the record, that he wasn’t aware paramedics had lost faith in the complaints process. How could you be unaware when that’s what the interview was about?  

👉 When the journalist, Mimi Becker, raised a perceived conflict of interest in having Stephenson investigate a bullying accusation against someone who appeared to be his friend, he walked out, saying: “I reckon we might leave this Mimi, because I do have a very clear view of it, yes I do, but I think we just leave it.” 

👉 The shot of a high-paid executive walking off camera in a disgruntled or discombobulated manner is the stuff that opinion writers, internet commentators, meme makers and group chats live for. Don’t become the story! 

Opportunity: Young Music Fans Prepared to Spend

Despite the news cycle right now, it’s actually not just Taylor Swift fans and stans who are willing to spend big on merchandise, tickets and music experiences. New research from Music Victoria has uncovered the attitudes and appetites of those aged 16 to 35, and it’s good news for the sector. 

👉 The research showed that in the past year, 82% had bought a ticket for a music concert, 70% had purchased a music festival ticket, and 65% had spent up on merchandise. 

👉 There are obviously obstacles to these young fans engaging with more events – particularly those aged 16 to 18 – and Music Victoria will use the findings to shape its strategic priorities to develop and strengthen opportunities for artists, venues, festivals, concerts and audiences. 

👉 This ongoing engagement with experiences and physical products is also manifesting in magazines, with those that manage to present themselves as a luxury product surviving the turbulent media landscape. 

👉 Young music fans are also spending on streaming subscriptions. TheMusic.com.au reported various streaming and subscription numbers this week, noting that Australian music streaming users are more likely to be under 25 (at 94%) and most likely to be female (at 71%) than male (67%). A high proportion (71%) lived in a metropolitan area as opposed to a regional area (67%).

Threat: More Changes in Music Media

It’s musical chairs in music media. 

Universal Music Group has entered the dance by investing in Complex, which has been acquired by NTWRK from Buzzfeed. Warner, however, has stopped playing, announcing it will sell off some of its owned media assets such as HipHopDX and Uproxx

With one major label abandoning its play in music media and another entering, the Sound Story team is left wondering what the future of music media might look like over the next decade.

📌 Zanda: Label-owned publications have previously formed an interesting part of the media landscape, but when done well, can be extremely powerful tools (think Warner Music’s Cool Accidents in the mid to late 2010s in Australia). It is notable that in UMG’s acquisition of a stake in Complex, creating a “destination for superfan culture” is at its heart. This focus on superfans in 2024 has been part of the rhetoric of most major players, and it’s fascinating to see the different methods through which they are moving to embrace this vision. Will more established publications fall into the hands of labels moving forward? It’s certainly possible, but labels aren’t the only parties who can achieve significant commercial synergies by owning music mastheads. As always, the music media landscape won’t remain stagnant, and ownership changes will continue to be watched closely from the sidelines.

📌 Jake: A thriving music media landscape is critical for music discovery, the amplification of underrepresented voices and deep storytelling – all things that mainstream media appears to have less and less space for (in Australia, at least). There’s no shortage of great artists. There’s no shortage of music journalists. And there’s no shortage of music mastheads. Yes, we could use more of all. But what’s missing is a sustainable commercial model that doesn’t rely on record label budgets and can survive the tug-of-war for ad dollars. With a renewed interest in physical formats, like magazines and vinyl, maybe we’ll see more this? After all, everything is cyclical. In reality though, the future of music media won’t look that much different in a decade, at least not to fans. How it’s funded, however, almost certainly will.

📌 Vivienne: The different players who dip in and out of media/ publishing, particularly in certain niches and verticals, has always been fascinating to me – whether it be events and exhibitions company Diversified Communications buying Mumbella back in 2017, oOh! Media’s stint owning Junkee Media, NOVA Entertainment’s ill-fated GOAT experiment, or the much bigger bombshell news in 2018 that Nine had acquired Fairfax Media. There’s often a huge splash about opportunities, e-commerce, integrations, synergies, the benefits for consumers and advertisers, and companies which are forging new frontiers in digital media, but the reality can often look quite different. With the rate of change already this year – Condé Nast making the unpopular decision to fold Pitchfork into GQ of all places being just one example – there’s no telling what might happen next.

The Fun Stuff

Quote of the Week: It’s an exciting time to be joining Sound Story and supporting the team’s vision to tell the stories of forward-thinking brands disrupting the music, media, advertising and tech industries.” – Kirsty Rivers, Industry Relations Director, Sound Story. Source: The Music Network.

🎤 Performance of the Week: There’s still no escaping Taylor Swift this week. And with G Flip back in the headlines for the APRA Song of the Year nominations, we thought it would be the perfect time to revisit their cover of Swift’s “Cruel Summer” for triple j’s Like A Version. You can watch it here.

🙌 Team Tidbit: It’s been a huge week for the Sound Story team! We’ve welcomed industry stalwart (and superstar) Kirsty Rivers as Industry Relations Director. Plus, we’ve been shortlisted for Best Newcomer of the Year in the upcoming Mumbrella CommsCon Awards.

Written by
Sound Story
Sound Story is your trusted comms partner! Strategic PR and comms for ambitious brands disrupting the global entertainment industry.
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