What was your favourite record of 1996?
The Score by Fugees? Double Allergic by Powderfinger? Or were you just too busy doing the Macarena?
Whatever it was, chances are you bought it at a record store. On CD. Those were days when music was a stocking-filler — and there was plenty of it filling stockings around the country, making decent cash for artists and their labels.
The past decade and a half, though, has seen the industry decimated by the advent of downloadable music and the piracy that came with it — i.e. the scourge of Napster.
But are things finally turning around?
Yes, according to new figures from the the Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA).
The chart-toppers of 1996
- Macarena (remix) – Los Del Rio
- Killing Me Softly – Fugees
- Because You Loved Me – Celine Dion
- How Bizarre – O.M.C
- Wannabe – Spice Girls
There was a 10 per cent increase in revenue from recorded music in 2017, the best result since 1996.
For the first time, the streaming giants — Spotify, Amazon Music, Google Play and Apple Music — provided the majority (54 per cent) of the cash.
"To put that in perspective, streaming services effectively were zero five years ago," ARIA CEO Dan Rosen said.
He said piracy was also declining as more and more people were becoming paid subscribers to streaming services.
But the industry is 'not completely out of the woods yet'
Revenues are still not where they were 10 years ago.
And while streaming is returning cash to artists — Spotify said in its recent IPO it had paid out $10 billion in royalties to date — many still think it is undervaluing music.
"I used to make money off my records, but now I don't make any," David Crosby of Crosby, Stills & Nash told Rolling Stone last month.
While Ed Sheeran, the most-streamed artist of 2017, likely earned millions of dollars on Spotify last year just from his hit Shape of You, the vast majority of Australian artists are getting nowhere near that amount.
"We still have a ways to go to where we were back in the 90s," Mr Rosen said.
"But it's a great thing that we have tailwinds rather than headwinds."
He said there was still work to be done to make sure the new corporate giants of the music business — most of them US-based tech start-ups — were investing in the future of Australian music.
"We need to make sure that playlists are localised, that they have people on the ground working with local artists."
Steve Cross, a co-founder of Melbourne label Remote Control, which works with international acts like Radiohead and Adele as well as locals like Courtney Barnett, said his business was seeing a strong upward trend when it came to people listening on demand.
"People are obviously enjoying the convenience and the incredible catalogue of music that is available to them," he said.
"Digital service providers have also been very forward thinking, introducing people to lots of new music and new artists."