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Australian R&B/Soul Deserves Better

13 October 2022 | 2:08 pm | Staff Writer

The ARIA awards are meant to be the pinnacle of Australian music, showcasing the amazing and best voices, artists and creators that Australian music has on offer. Does its eligibility system reflect that?

The nominations for the ARIA Awards of 2022 have been revealed today, with one glowing red flag amongst the nominee categories.

The category for best soul/R&B release was filled with only four projects, while every other category had at least 5. The nominees included Budjerah’s Conversations, Emma Donovan & The Putbacks Under The Streets, KIAN’s Shine and Vanessa Amorosi’s City Of AngelsThese nominations are beyond deserving and should not be criticised one bit. 

It’s interesting to note that in other categories, both singles and projects were considered for “best release” categories. Best Hip Hop/Rap Release featured albums by Baker Boy, Barkaa and ChillinIt alongside singles by DAY1 and The Kid Laroi. The dance category featured albums from Flume, Confidence Man and Harvey Sutherland alongside a single from Luude. No singles in the category of best Soul / R&B Release made the cut under ARIA’s eligibility standards. 

In order to be nominated for an ARIA Award nomination in the category of best Soul / R&B the album or single, “must be released in the Current Eligibility Period or the Previous Eligibility Period and must have appeared in: the ARIA Top 100 Albums chart; the ARIA Top 100 Singles Chart; ARIA Top 40 Hip Hop/R&B Albums Chart; ARIA Top 40 Hip Hop/R&B Singles Chart; ARIA Top 20 Australian Hip Hop/R&B Singles Chart; OR ARIA Top 10 Australian Hip Hop/R&B Albums Chart.”

The ARIA awards are meant to be the pinnacle of Australian music, showcasing the amazing and best voices, artists and creators that Australian music has on offer. Does its eligibility system reflect that?

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Most albums that sell more than 400 units (or 400 streaming equivalent units) in a given week tend to reach the chart threshold, which for local releases is often covered by the physical pre-orders, putting artists who choose not to release on CD or vinyl at a strategic disadvantage. For singles, 175 streams are required to achieve one physical sale. This is more than fine when calculating the overall commercial success of a record, but when analysing the creative excellence of Australian music via an award show in a relatively small music market, there is a distinct advantage towards artists that focus on physical sales over digital streams. With this in mind, it’s also fair to argue that most younger listeners are consuming music mainly by streaming rather than physical sales of CDs or vinyls. Streaming music services account for 80% of US music revenues and 55% of Spotify’s user base is made up of younger audiences, including 29% aged between 25-34 and 26% belonging to the 18-24 age group. 

Regardless of this fact, how relevant can these eligibility rules be if there are literally not more than four eligible singles and projects for arguably one of the fastest growing and most exciting genres in Australia? Some of the best soul music and R&B in Australia’s history has been made in the last few years, with the genre emerging as one of Australia’s most promising international exports. We need this trend to be recognised on our biggest stages, both to reward the amazing artists but also to showcase to the wider industry that soul music and R&B is here to stay. 

Vanessa Amorosi’s City Of Angels is a whopping 17 tracks and has received 196,892 streams across the entire project. The record is a beautiful self produced record and deserves to be nominated, but many singles released around this category from amazing emerging artists who represent the future of the genre did not chart on the ARIA awards and therefore were not nominated. There are many many metrics that can determine whether a song is “relevant” or “commercially successful” but if we were to play around and use that 100,000 - 200,000 stream mark as a metric for potential nominees the results are astonishing. 

Pania’s tiki is currently sitting at 367,291 streams, BOY SODA’s project THE DISTANCE BETWEEN THINKING AND FEELING is sitting on just under 400,000 streams, Chanel Loren’s singles Playlist, Disappear, and Some Other Time (feat. Arz) are sitting on close to 700,000 streams, Forest Claudette’s project The Year Of February is sitting on over 700,000 streams and Lara Andallo’s Head To Toe is sitting on 402,114 streams. This is far from an extensive list of R&B and Soul artists in Australia doing amazing things, there are dozens of more singles and projects that have streamed similar numbers, but if we listed them all we would be here all day. 

We understand that the eligibility requires ARIA Award nominated projects to chart on the ARIA chart, but should these artists be punished for not prioritising expensive physical releases to their audience who just isn’t consuming music that way? Australia's most exciting emerging genre deserves better.