SWOT Analysis of New Music

Logo SWOT.jpg

The New Music Network

Formed in February 1995, the New Music Network (NMN) is dedicated to the promotion and performance of new music in Australia. The Network is a collection of passionately dedicated contemporary music ensembles, organisations and individuals. Based in Sydney, but with its eyes and ears to Australia and the world, the network was formed in order to bring together the strengths of a number of new music practitioners in order to build a stronger and more strategic platform for new music in Australia, in order to lift its profile, develop better information networks and build audiences. The groups that make up the New Music Network are twelve of Australia's premier ensembles comprising an extraordinary diverse range of creative musicians.

Members:

The aims of the Network are:

  • To foster audience appreciation and interest in new music committed to innovation.
  • To maximise the financial and human resources of its members by facilitating artistic and business collaboration.
  • To provide a marketing, practical and advisory service to member groups.
  • To provide information and educational services to existing and potential audiences.
  • To interact with other contemporary art forms and form links with like-minded organisations.
  • To encourage and develop performance opportunities for new music.
  • To develop a financially secure base for the network in order to further its goals.

What we do:

  • Advocacy through an established structure of management and a committee chaired by the President (Marshall McGuire 1999-2006, James Nightingale 2007-)
  • Management of a website and distribution of monthly newsletter
  • Presentation and promotion of annual Peggy Glanville Hicks Address
  • Organisation, promotion and (co)presentation of annual concert series

New Music in Australia: Swot Analysis

This SWOT analysis has been compiled with the input of many people from within the NMN. Some of the points came out of a Strategic Planning Meeting held by the NMN attended by members from NSW, Victoria and WA. As well as the SWOT points, there are included below some quotes and stories that further illustrate the nature of Australia's new music scene. Thank you to all within the NMN who contributed time, thoughts and knowledge to the SWOT process and the Strategic Planning Day.

Strengths of New Music Sector

  • The overriding commitment to the quality of new Australian music and the ongoing dedication to Australian work: this is who we are and where we work. New music represents the research and development for new musical product within the arts. In the words of Daryl Buckley, artistic director of the ensemble Elision,
the small-to-medium sector is the area where a large part of Australian cultural life is being developed, negotiated, created, understood, and interpreted in a contemporary sense. So this is the area where all of our traditions – Indigenous, Asian and European – are being looked at and have the possibility of being evaluated, rethought, made into an Australian circumstance, and this is the area where those ideas stand the greatest chance of international export and dialogue.[1]
  • The sector is highly innovative and diverse, combining acoustic and electronic sound sources, working within notated and improvised structures, developing the most abstract of ideas alongside the most pressing points of political and social activism. The creative power of this sector is essential for the health of the entire music industry. New music activity represents the research and development arm of the overall music sector and offers the greatest scope for cross-disciplinary research. In the words of Roger Dean:
Ensembles, such as austraLYSIS, interact closely with basic- and/or practise-led research as part of their creative process, and seek to develop a reciprocal interaction with it: by such interactions new art forms and technologies can be developed, and can influence research. Conversely, research can give us more understanding of what aspects of musical sound actually impact on listeners, as well as ideas for new technological and creative developments in the musics.[2]

Strengths of the New Music Network

  • Good and stable management of the NMN. The NMN is a non-profit, membership-based organization in which full members elect an executive committee who oversee its activities. A manager has been employed on the basis of two days per week to manage the finances, organise the concerts and events, conduct marketing and publicity for the NMN, and compile the monthly email bulletins.
  • Ongoing commitment of Arts NSW securing an ongoing funding base.
  • High quality of events staged by NMN and high level of quality control. All concerts presented by the Network are curatorially scrutinised and The Peggy Glanville Hicks address has been presented by the most significant voices in Australian new music, be it composers (Barry Conyngham, Liza Lim, Richard Mills), performers (Roland Peelman), improvisers (Jon Rose), administrators (James Murdoch, John Davis, Daryl Buckley), or prominent public figures (Julian Burnside QC). The PGH addresses are all published in full on the NMN website and many have resulted in national media coverage.
  • Fertile relationships built between presenting organizations, such as the Sydney Improvised Music Association (SIMA) and Tura New Music, and performing ensembles from other states.
  • Strong working relationships with key music and arts organizations including: Australian Music Centre, ABC Classic FM, The Music Board of the Australia Council, Arts NSW, Arts Victoria, Arts WA.
  • Strong personal ties exist across the new music sector, promoting collaboration, information sharing and artistic dialogue. The inherent strength of a network lies in its ability to create connections and energy amongst those who participate in it. By working together, the members of the NMN have been able to achieve excellent musical and administrative outcomes. Examples from 2007 include the Cage Uncaged mini-festival and the Tehillim concerts in Sydney.

The Cage Uncaged mini-festival was a co-production of The Song Company, Ensemble Offspring, Carriageworks and The New Music Network. It consisted of three events inspired by different aspects of John Cage.The artistic and administrative collaborations that underpinned the event resulted in excellent audience numbers and critical acclaim, Peter Mccallum writing in the Sydney Morning Herald that

This thoughtful mini-festival by the ever-enterprising Song Company and Ensemble Offspring used [Cage's] enduring influence as a context to present new and rare works and felt like a breath of spring air in a world grown tired of the inward-looking narrowness of recent years.[3]
The mini-festival rated as one of the top 5 Concerts in the Sydney music calendar, an important acknowledgment of the impact.

The Tehillim concerts were presented by Synergy Percussion, Halcyon and Ensemble Offspring at Angel Place Recital Hall and at the Riverside theatre in Parramatta. The collaboration of Halcyon, Ensemble Offspring and Synergy Percussion brought an audience of more than 700 to Angel Place, following a good round of publicity in the mainstream media and on ABC Radio. This concert proved that with good management, strong artistic leadership and adequate publicity, New Music is just as saleable as other musical forms. The success of these performances led to a further performance at the Four Winds Festival (Bermagui, Southern NSW) in March of 2008.

  •  ????High level of adaptability. In the light of some inevitable losses in the new music scene, the network has proven remarkable resilience and continued growth.

Weaknesses

  • Extremely low levels of funding and over-reliance on the increasingly scarce public arts dollar. Most members do not have the resources or the profile to pursue private sponsorship. The greatest financial contributions to the sector come from the artists themselves.
  • Difficult and complex nature of funding individual projects. Across the sector, each project is unique, raising its own set of problems and challenges posed by a diverse range of artistic and administrative practicalities. Due to variations in the level of funding, projects tend to vary in quality, with some projects fully funded, whilst others are not. Furthermore, given that there seems to be no regular or reliable system of self-funding, each concert or event is financed in a different manner. There is no recipe for success that can be relied upon in the new music sector and more often than not, practitioners themselves are poorly, if at all, financially rewarded.
  • The disappearance in recent years of once prominent and vibrant new music ensembles within the classical new music scene (Sydney Alpha Ensemble, Sonic Art Ensemble (Seymour Group), Libra Ensemble (VIC)). The reality is that established ensembles are fragile and that many others never gain a level of administrative status necessary to be considered going concerns.
  • The constant struggle to find adequate and suitable performance venues, rehearsal facilities and office space that is affordable and appropriate. This problem is particularly relevant in NSW.
  • The ongoing difficulty to make an impact with limited resources. Generally small audiences limits marketing capacity. Audience numbers feel much the same as they were 10 years ago. Lack of traction on this issue reflects the institutional structures of members being largely unable to come to grips with marketing and administration issues, let alone comprehensive audience research. Lack of media presence within the mainstream is a problem in terms of gaining sponsors and reaching new audiences. Notable exceptions include TURA New Music in WA, which has a good audience base and a high degree of visibility within the contemporary art scene in general, and Elision, based in Brisbane, whose international profile is second to none amongst Australian new music practitioners.
  • The absence of a national touring circuit for certain types of music. Many practitioners feel that it is easier to tour overseas than within Australia.
  • Small organizations, partnerships and sole traders within the new music scene find administrative obstacles placed in their path (e.g. company structure, GST registration, Work Cover and public liability insurance) when dealing with government funding bodies, venues, presenters, and sponsors.
  • Poor dialogue between contemporary art, dance and film and new music.
  • Too many concerts are performed once only. This severely limits the chances of profitability for particular concerts (ratio of rehearsal and production costs to public events is lower if more concerts are possible) and reduces the chances of artistic growth and polish through performance.
  • Coverage of new music, jazz and even classical music within the mainstream media is based too strongly on review. This style of article is insufficient to publicise an art form that is often based on single concerts or short seasons and compounds the fact that most music practitioners within Australia remain unknown to readers and viewers of the most wide reaching media outlets. How can we expect to grow audiences when they only ever see a forensic viewpoint on the practice?

Opportunities

  • New Music Touring Initiative: Sound Travellers. Beginning in late 2007 Sound Travellers is an opportunity for new music practitioners and organizations to find assistance for the development of interstate touring projects.
  • Building relationships within the contemporary art world in connection with new venues and centres for contemporary art (CarriageWorks, Brisbane Powerhouse, Judith Wright Centre, etc.)
  • Following the success and commitment of the members of the New Music Network there is now an opportunity to expand the reach of the NMN throughout Australia. This will enable the NMN to bring its proactive advocacy to a new level of influence.
  • The Australian Music Unit at ABC Classic FM is opening further opportunities for joint co-operation with new music performers and providing a good dialogue with ABC Radio National. More could be done here. Especially with the growing importance of online documentation and Creative Commons open access for performances etc. there is a need to develop revenue streams based on the ‘long-tail’ theory of Internet business.
  • Music Festivals remain a largely under-exploited area of performance for new music ensembles. There is an opportunity to bring more new music into festivals, particularly those that configure themselves as places in which to challenge audiences.
  • The possibilities for greater exposure, audience development, and new revenue streams offered by the Internet environment present an opportunity that new music should be more inclined to exploit. New music ensembles need to ensure that they are a part of the ‘long tail’ of internet business models and hope that a place within this tail can result in sustainable business models in the future.
  • There remains an opportunity to encourage greater promotion of new music by local government, particularly, for the NMN, Sydney City Council. A working relationship between the NMN and SCC is yet to be realized.
  • Proposed reforms to the Australia Council and the Australian Business Arts Foundation could result in opportunities for new music practitioners to find business partners and sponsors that will assist them to grow their businesses.

Threats

  • High risk of burn out for both artists and experienced administrators. The sector tends to over-rely on key people.
  • Government funding is not set in stone. Loss of funding often precipitates the demise of an organisation or ensemble.
  • Constantly rising venue hire costs and pressure to comply with occupational health and safety and Public Liability Insurance regulations is reducing the number of venues particularly for experimental work.
  • Increasing competition with other ‘low cost’ performing arts, e.g. stand up comedy, and loss of goodwill from major centres such as the Sydney Opera House. When the Sydney Opera House reopened the Studio, it claimed to be a home for new music. However, it quickly became obvious that the Opera House was not interested in confronting the challenges of building an audience for new music. Despite many successful new music concerts and events in recent years by members of the Network, it has been very difficult for new music to find a place at the Sydney Opera House.
  • ‘Festivalisation’ of performing arts is leading to a lack of ongoing working opportunities for musicians. While festival formats may suit audiences and promoters this is at the expense of a living culture of performing arts.
  • The lack of a strong mainstream media presence will continue to marginalise those who practice in the field of new music. Without media presence it will be impossible to market beyond niche audiences. A lack of visibility leads to a problem in justifying the current levels of funding from government and the private sector. Lack of funding leads to the closure of groups and the gradual death of the new music scene.
  • The drift of New Music practitioners overseas due to lack of opportunities within Australia is significantly weakening the artistic vibrancy of the scene. Those who remain could face a lack of further opportunities leading to artistic stagnation, unsatisfactory levels of performance and further alienation of audiences. There is a danger that without further attention and energy, the current vibrancy and creativity of the scene may dissipate. This would be a tragedy for Australian music making.
  • The new music sector is arguably under-resourced in comparison to other art forms and sectors of the performing arts industry. Public subsidy per audience member is very low in comparison with, say, the orchestral sector. Therefore, it can be argued that the new music sector receives insufficient support from the public sector neither absolutely nor relatively. This is not the place for a detailed comparison; however, further imbalances in favour of the major performing arts companies (such as those that followed the Strong Report) reduce the possibilities for the small to medium sector to receive increases.
  • Poor level of arts funding in NSW and ongoing threats to its budget.

References

  1. In Conversation with Daryl Buckley, 2005, Sounds Australian No.65, p.11
  2. Roger Dean, artistic director of austraLYSIS.
  3. Peter Mccallum. 'Still pushing the boundaries', 17.09.07, Sydney Morning Herald

Authors

Prepared by the New Music Network, February 2008. Contributors: James Nightingale, Jenny Duck-Chong, Roger Dean, Roland Peelman, Peter Rechniewski and Paul Stanhope.

Submitted 2 September 2008

Share your opinion