10 September 2021

If we're all Ken Behrens, why don't we listen to more local music?

| Lottie Twyford
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Screenshot of We Are Ken Behrens playlist on Spotify

MusicACT is encouraging Canberrans to listen to more local music. Image: Screenshot.

Despite its enforced isolation and mandated social distancing, the COVID-19 lockdown has succeeded in bringing the Canberra community closer together in many ways.

But local musicians aren’t feeling the love, and MusicACT wants to change that with its new aptly titled ‘We Are Ken Behrens’ playlist. With more than 600 songs included, it spans a wide variety of genres and styles.

The playlist is part of the ongoing ‘Our Soundtrack, Our Stories’ national campaign kicked off by NSW singer-songwriter Jack River in August 2021.

Essentially, it’s a call-out to all businesses – not just live music venues – to play local artists’ music on their speakers for their customers, thereby spreading awareness of these acts who often struggle for recognition.

Whether it is in bars, cafes, restaurants or general retailers, MusicACT director Daniel Ballantyne says everyone can get involved and pledge to play music by local artists in the future, even if they are currently closed.

He also says it’s up to consumers to call on their local businesses to support local artists.

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It was Daniel’s MusicACT colleague Billy who was tasked with getting the playlist off the ground.

Now he’s creating more playlists to suit different venues. Daniel says the reasoning behind this is because some varieties of music are better suited to different settings.

After all, what you’d want to listen to in a library is likely to not be what you’d want to hear in a bar.

Daniel describes the compilation of the playlists as a “stunning exercise”.

“We’ve always known we have a fantastic live music scene here,” he says.

“Now our goal is to see more Canberra music played in Canberra, and we want to see it not just in businesses but on radio and other sources.”

Nick Delatovic and the Empty Lake Singers performing onstage

Nick Delatovic and the Empty Lake Singers performing at Live at the Polo in normal times. Photo: Shout Out Arts.

While there is Triple J and smaller community-based radio stations in Australia, local music is not played on commercial, mainstream radio as much as MusicACT would like to see.

However, a new segment on 666 ABC Radio Canberra is likely to help increase the profile of local singers, songwriters and musicians.

While Daniel says the revenue that goes directly to artists from streaming services such as Spotify is “pitiful”, he’s also realistic about the service’s prevalence in Australia, and says using it has been a tactical decision.

“It holds something like a 60 per cent market share so it’s the most popular streaming platform in the country and we need to be realistic about it,” he says.

Businesses that wish to play any kind of recorded music are required to hold a licence to do so.

Daniel is excited by the strength of Canberra’s music scene and says that out of the many communities around the country in which he has worked, it’s unusual to see such a high concentration of talented, focused artists in one place.

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“Not only are they creating their own music, but they are also intense collaborators and when we have live music playing it’s remarkable to see just how much people cross over and engage,” he explains.

Daniel says this is more so in Canberra than if the artists were in a larger market such as Sydney or Melbourne.

The level of tertiary music education in the ACT is also in a class of its own.

However, Daniel says some of the difficulties facing the industry are that it can be difficult to run live music events and venues within the current regulatory environment. Although he does concede the ACT Government is slowly working to address these issues.

What MusicACT wants to do through the playlist and future initiatives is elevate the local music scene to the forefront of the minds of all Ken Behrens.

Have a listen to We Are Ken Behrens on Spotify now.

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