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31 July 2007

ABC Classic FM Producer, Australian Music Unit

Stephen Adams Image: Stephen Adams  

The first half of 2007 has been a time of taking stock. The development of the Web has raised the possibility of being able to present new music in different ways and to re-present a large amount of Australian heritage material online. What ABC Classic FM’s Australian Music site currently contains is a small number of one-off features relating to heritage and music now. These have made it possible to trial several approaches to presenting new Australian music online, but the possibilities go far beyond what has so far been achieved.

To get the ball rolling on heritage material, the Australian Music Unit arranged the transfer of a large collection of Australian composer and sound artist interviews, produced during the early 1990s, from reel-to-reel tapes to digital formats (after first being baked to reverse the ‘stickiness’ on the old tape surfaces). We are also keen to put archival Australian music recordings on the Web, but, as readers of my previous columns in the AMC’s former Update publication will be aware, the ABC does not own broadcast or Web rights on most of the music recordings in its archive.

To address this, we have begun a process of seeking Web streaming rights for archival music recordings. This is happening on two fronts:

  • applying to artists already represented on the recordings of the AMU in-house discs to extend the existing open broadcast rights purchased for these discs to Web-streaming; and
  • the gathering together of tapes and paperwork for 1990s music recordings made for the New Music Australia program, in preparation for approaching artists on selected NMA recordings for broadcast and Web-streaming rights on these music recordings.

Realistically, this process is likely to be on-going for several years to come, but the volume of administrative work involved in this process has lead to the temporary employment of Gregory Dobbs to kick-start the process, putting out internal calls for recordings and paperwork, and collating recording details necessary to begin contacting the relevant artists.

At the same time, I’ve been working with our new ABC Classic FM Web Producer David Ninham to develop plans for an expanded Australian Music site within ABC Classic FM’s website (www.abc.net.au/classic/australianmusic). The new site design will need to incorporate a heritage section with a structure to house and provide fluid access to the large quantity of heritage music and feature/interview recordings which we believe will be of interest to a wider public. This public is likely to include everyone from music students and teachers, to curious or nostalgically inclined members of the general public. And as the contents of the Heritage site increase, it will become increasingly possible for broadcast programs to reference the site contents and to develop a relationship between on-air programs and the Heritage site, referring listeners there for related information, musical works and interviews which are not appropriate for airing on their program.

The other chief focus of the newly designed site will be to expand the capacity for and ways in which new music recordings can be presented online. Presently, most of the new music content on the site is housed in a changing audio ‘exhibition’ space, the Fresh Sounds audio streaming gallery. Server space, rights issues and the existing site design have meant that each ‘exhibition’ is presented for a limited time only and then disappears when the next exhibition is uploaded.

One thing that has become clear over the past two years is that many artists would be glad for their work to be available on the site longer-term, and that many site users, especially those in the education sector, would find the site more useful if this was the case. This ‘Music Now’ content, like the ‘Heritage’ part of the site, will need a navigation architecture that will organise this content as it expands in size and complexity, making it navigable for a range of visitor interests.

Another realisation has been that, for new material, Web audiences by-and-large prefer downloads to streaming. The mp3-player phenomenon seems to be here to stay. With reliable, portable Web-streaming still a very long way off, the portability of the download is a huge advantage, and there are more and more artists who realise this and would like to have their work available in downloadable form. For this reason, the site will need to accommodate more downloadable content, incorporating downloads and streaming content into the same architecture.

A third realisation is that increasing varieties of new music are created in a vital symbiosis with visual media. While on radio broadcasters can attempt to paint these relationships with words, the Web offers a real opportunity to engage with these relationships by presenting video content, or at least elaborate slide-shows of images synched to audio. This poses challenges for a network geared to working entirely with sound, but it’s likely that this content will grow rapidly through a mixture of up-skilling our own staff, inter-networking ABC resources and contributions by independent artists. The first cab off the rank may turn out to be Melbourne-based ensembles Aphids and Libra, with a new ABC recording of music for which independent video art has already been created.

Further Links

ABC Classic FM, Australian Music Unit (www.abc.net.au/classic/australianmusic)

Stephen Adams is a composer of concert music, music theatre and digital music, and recent collaborations include working with the Opera Project, Sydney Chamber Choir and The Song Company. Since 2004, he has been working full-time at ABC Classic FM in the development of Australian music programming, recording and commissioning projects, online Australian music presentation, and more recently as co-producer of CFM’s New Music Up Late program.


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