Q’s With Sounds Australia’s Millie Millgate

Courtney Barnett
– Courtney Barnett
performing at Sounds Australia’s Aussie BBQ in 2013, one of many Australian artists the group has helped fast-track to international success.
To read more about how the Australian Bush Fires are affecting the country’s live touring industry, click here or here.

Flume, Courtney Barnett, Vance Joy, Gang of Youths, Dean Lewis, The Teskey Brothers and Nick Murphy (f.k.a. Chet Faker) were always going to find their paths from Australia to the world. But music export body Sounds Australia fast-tracked their rise.

Funded by the Australian government and the music industry, over 10 years of operation, Sounds Australia has made its presence felt at 73 events in 66 cities in 23 countries. Some 1,564 acts performed at 216 branded showcase events at confabs including SXSW, The Great Escape, Canadian Music Week and Reeperbahn. Its signature experience, the Aussie BBQ, drew 5,045 people to a pop-up venue featuring 20 acts at Brighton festival The Great Escape. Sounds Australia also sets up meetings, roundtables, networking luncheons and “meet the Australians” parties, and it manages stands, leads trade missions and speaks at conferences.

Artist feedback surveys reported 2,321 business outcomes were secured. Rob Zifarelli of Paradigm’s Canada office reports, “Through my connections with Sounds Australia, I have signed a number of Australian artists to international agency deals over the past decade which has turned into a thriving live business for many of those artists in North America and Europe.”

Founding executive producer Millie Millgate, once an artist manager and venue booker, has a team of three: onetime EMI A&R exec and college radio host Glenn Dickie as export music producer, former Michael Chugg executive assistant Esti Zilber as creative producer and ex-music journalist Dom Alessio as digital export producer.
Pollstar: What are the biggest challenges and advantages that Australian acts have when trying to crack global markets?
Millie Millgate: It’s always the associated travel costs. The financial investment they need to make in order to build international careers is significantly more substantial than their North American and European counterparts. 

The onset of the share economy with Airbnb and Ubers, etc., has made some elements far more affordable. [But] the need to return to overseas territories more often than before and to engage and grow multiple markets simultaneously counters these operational savings, especially with the currently low trading value of the Australian dollar. One Australian dollar currently equals 68 American cents, 62 euro cents and 0.52 British pounds.

In the 10 years Sounds Australia has operated, have you seen a change in attitude, both from overseas deal makers and from Aussie acts and their business teams?
Absolutely. Businesses are now actively looking to Australia as a great A&R source, with the confidence that if they start a working relationship with Australians, they’ll be able to deliver. 

This is a drastic shift from the mindset that existed a decade ago when Sounds Australia began – a time when doing business with Australians or working with Australian acts was deemed both risky and uncommercial; a cognitive barrier due to distance was a concern for many.

The Sounds Australia team
– The Sounds Australia team
including executive producer Millie Millgate, at South By Southwest’s Australia House 2019.
How has your digital strategy been effective?
In less than two years we’ve brought key players in the global digital music environment closer to Australian artists and industry. 

We’re constantly having conversations with many of the major streaming services, as well as social media companies, content creators and digital radio networks, about how we can work with them to make sure Australian music and the industry are being supported. 

Tangibly, Apple Music designated Sounds Australia as a global music curator, which gives greater visibility and accessibility on their service to our ever-growing suite of playlists, meaning their users around the world can more easily listen to and discover Australian music. 

Sounds Australia just scored fresh funding to break into emerging markets. What’s your strategy for this, and which emerging markets have you tapped already?  
To date Sounds Australia’s remit, subsequent priorities and core funding has been awarded to deliver export activity and artist and industry support in the established music markets of North America, UK and Europe. 

Whilst these markets remain essential for Australian artists to build sustainable careers, there are significant and growing opportunities in the emerging markets that are currently untapped.   

The time is ripe to enhance the presence of Australian music in Asia and South America with both a cultural and trade focus, and we recognise the importance and value of entering these markets during their growth periods.