The Hot Seat: Chris Scaddan

Published in The Music Network

 

With the launch of new 24/7 digital Unearthed station tomorrow, we speak to Triple J’s manager, Chris Scaddan about how it will all work.

It’s been more than two years since the Australian rollout of DAB+. Why launch a 24/7 digital Unearthed station now?
We’ve tested the Unearthed station twice during Triple J’s Ausmusic Month (November 2009 + 2010) on the ABC’s extra digital channel, to see how it would sound as a service and measure the audience’s reaction. We’re really happy with the way it was received. Digital radio listenership has been steadily growing since the initial capital city rollout to the point that almost 1 million people out there are listening to radio via digital. So that gives the station the best chance of finding a regular audience. Of course, Triple J Unearthed will be streaming online too and we expect a fair proportion of the audience will listen online or via the Unearthed iPhone app. We’re glad to be taking the next step.

How will the new station be curated?
Triple J Unearthed will follow the curation that already happens on the triplejunearthed.com site, with feature artists, competition winners and other highlighted tracks rising to the surface. The Unearthed team will work with the Triple J music programming team, the Triple J presenters and producers to get feedback on good tracks and artists. We’ll also have artists themselves picking tracks and playlists, reflecting songs that have caught their attention. And we’ll look at what the Triple J Unearthed community is reacting to online, what they’re reviewing, what is charting. It’s all quite collaborative. It’s going to be a broad and varied playlist, highlighting the very best stuff from triplejunearthed.com.

Will there be on-air DJs or just a continuous stream?
It’ll fall somewhere in-between. There won’t be any regular announcers, but plenty of segments and song introductions from artists talking about themselves, picking other people’s tracks, well-known acts sharing their favourite Unearthed tunes and triple j presenters introducing short playlists. It’ll be a continuous stream punctuated by commentary setting-up different tracks and playlists.

What are the targets for the new station?
The main target for the first twelve months is to raise awareness about the station and about the great new Australian music playing on the station. Also to take-on feedback about the service from the audience and the broader Australian music community. We’re confident that it will find an audience pretty quickly.

Apparently the Unearthed website has a community of more than 250,000 users. Will this new service simply “preach to the converted,” or do you anticipate it grabbing new listeners?
Initially, we’re expecting the audience to come from the site and from the existing Triple J audience. Triple J Unearthed is the biggest Australian online music community; there’s nothing else that comes close. So having 250,000 users who have already engaged with the triplejunearthed.com site gives us good start. It’ll cater to those people who drift in and out of Triple J, or don’t engage with radio at all anymore. Certainly there’s an audience out there looking for new music all the time, especially online. The focus of Unearthed is very much on music discovery and there’s more people passionate about that than ever before. We know that a strong station like this will prove that Australian audiences want to hear Australian content on the radio. That it’s not a handicap as it has sometimes been portrayed.

How will you promote the new service?
We’ve got free public launch parties happening on Wednesday October 5 in six cities – Melbourne, Sydney, Canberra, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth. We’ll be telling people about the station via Triple J – which at the moment is enjoying a weekly five capital city reach above 1.5 million listeners. And we’ll be asking the hundreds of artists who are being played to tell their fanbase where they can hear the songs. It’s a community that supports itself and the acts want to support each other. So the word will spread. You launched an app for Unearthed.

What has been achieved with that?
The app was an instant hit when it was launched in January 2010. Within a month, we had doubled the activity on the Unearthed site. More streaming of tracks, more downloads, more everything. Proving again that people want to engage with music on their own terms and on the device most convenient for them. It’s still one of the ABC’s most popular apps, which is pretty phenomenal considering the content – it’s unsigned Australian music that people wouldn’t have heard before. People really want to hear it.

What next for Triple J?
We’re pretty focused on this new station for the time being. We’ve just launched the Triple J app for iPhone and that’s going really well, and we’ve got more plans for the mobile space. As we move into 2012, we’re focused on our core radio programs because they’re at the centre of everything we do.

 

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The 100 Best Australian Albums

Published in The Music Network

 

Who to leave out? That’s the big question, that has kept John O’Donnell, Toby Creswell and Craig Mathieson busy for much of 2010. The three music writers teamed up to select and explore the 100 standout Australian albums. The answer should whet the appetite of any Australian music fan.

 

Did they drop INXS from the list? No chance; they’re mentioned twice. Should John Farnham’s record-shattering Whispering Jack get a shout? Absolutely. Do the Bee Gees and Dragon qualify? Sure. But it’s those left out who’ll be the focus of much banter. There’s space in the ARIA Hall of Fame for The Divinyls and Little River Band. But when the definitive list of Australia’s top albums was drawn up, they – like many others — didn’t make the cut.

Perhaps it should come as little surprise that the top spot is occupied by one of Australia’s enduring and most iconic rock bands Midnight Oil and their 1987 hit Diesel and Dust, a chart-topper for six weeks on its release back in 1987.

Rather than counting-down from the top, The 100 Best Australian Albums begins with the biggest and the best. Diesel and Dust blasts the tome open with an eight page account on the album’s origins. Peter Garrett’s politically-charged group also appears at No. 23 in the book with the 1982 breakthrough effort 10 to 1. Says Mathieson,

“10 to 1 is a real turning point in how Australian bands approach the production of their records. There are days I think 10 to 1 is better than Diesel and Dust.” The top five is rounded-out by some genuine heavyweights in AC/DC’s Back In Black, Crowded House’s Woodface, Cold Chisel’s Circus Animals and The Triffids’ resurgent, critically lauded piece Born Sandy Devotional. Not everyone will agree with the albums’ placements.

Other acts to land two albums within the 256-page list are AC/DC, INXS, The Church, Cold Chisel, Crowded House, The Go-Betweens, Hoodoo Gurus, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Paul Kelly, The Saints and You Am I. No single artist lands three in the top 100. Each of the albums acknowledged in the book radiates the rarest of class, explains O’Donnell. They’re “important artistic documents that have become part of the fabric of our culture, art of our national psyche.”

Newcomers are smattered throughout. Empire of the Sun, The Drones, Gurrumul, Eddy Current Suppression Ring, The Presets and Bliss n Eso all earn a spot with albums cut and issued in recent years. The only set released in the noughties to appear in the top 10 is The Avalanches Since I Left You, the seminal cut ‘n’ paste release which was the only Australian effort to appear in the NME’s recent Top 100 Greatest Albums of the Decade list. The next- highest-ranked album recorded in the past decade is Sarah Blasko’s As Day Follows Night at No. 19. Blasko’s J Award-winning third album is one of just 10 female-led recordings on the best-Australian list, an anomaly acknowledged by the authors.

“It’s easy and acceptable and normal now for a female artist to be out there cutting a swathe and selling records. That wasn’t the case 25 years ago, when it was a more male domain,” notes O’Donnell. “That’s not right, but that’s why there were less female artists in the ‘70s and ‘80s who stood up.”

The idea for ranking Australia’s finest albums was sparked during a campfire conversation in July 2009 when O’Donnell and some friends started their own debate on the country’s finest recordings. The former EMI Australia CEO took home the seed of the idea and planted it in the minds of two long-time colleagues, Creswell and Mathieson. O’Donnell pitched the idea, and four book publishers made offers. Hardie Grant was the successful bidder.

Over the second half of 2009, the trio consumed music and set about refining their longlists. O’Donnell admits he listened to 450-500 albums to tune his ears for the task.

“Some were quick listens because I knew them well. They were unimpeachable. They had to be in there.” Although with others, he admits, “I was either discovering from the start or rediscovering and hadn’t played for a long time.” The writers spent four months on their lists, which were whittled down through a combination of “comprise, determination and stamina,” says Mathieson.

Following countless emails and phone calls, a marathon meeting at Creswell’s Sydney home finally beat the list into shape. “It was exhilarating to take on such a big process which, in a way, you don’t think was possible to achieve.” Mathieson admits. “It did get heated and we disagreed right up to the closing of the list on a couple of things,” adds O’Donnell. “That was always going to be the case, and there had to be some compromise.”

The trio already had the inside track on each other’s tastes. All three had worked at the now-defunct Juice Magazine and had stints with Rolling Stone. A list of Australia’s best records is something O’Donnell and Creswell had carried-on about for 25 years.

The team split their writing tasks among 50-something Creswell, 40-something O’Donnell and 30-something Mathieson, each of whom over the years had accrued a wealth of background and live quotes from many of the featured acts. “We played to strengths and our own experiences,” says Mathieson, who focused on post-‘80s music, with Creswell exploring the ‘60s and ‘70s and O’Donnell spearheading the project. Each author completed about 30,000 written words.

 

“We did an incredible amount of work in a quick turnaround,” notes Creswell. Admittedly, some of the selected works were “not our cup of tea,” O’Donnell says, but needed to be included because of their “enormous effect on culture and nation.” John Farnham’s Whispering Jack is one such album.

“I have very little time for it,” reckons Mathieson. “But you have to ask yourself, ‘what is it about a record that so many people buy it. When you have a record that successful, there’s some part of dialogue going on with the country itself. That record is about the moment when Australians as listeners of music accepted middleage as a valid time for a musician.”

Those albums left-out is a point each writer comes back to. The Divinyls was one act who merited inclusion, but “we all agreed they’d made amazing singles, lasted a long time but there wasn’t one single album which stood out,” says O’Donnell.

“Desperate and Temperamental were the two that probably came closest. We kept coming back and asking ourselves, ‘are we including someone because they’re our favourite or because we like them or because it’s gender or genre? No we can’t.’ I didn’t feel comfortable about leaving them out in the end.” Magic Dirt and The Clouds are among the acts who can consider themselves unlucky to miss the list. Readers might feel Kylie Minogue and Normie Rowe were lucky to survive the cull.

A handful of key acts from the ‘60s and ‘70s including The Easybeats, Normie Rowe, The Bee Gees, and Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs are represented by compilations or live albums, a refection of an era when creating “albums” were the exception, rather than the norm.

The book also serves as a strong study of how many bands take a few albums to hit their strides. Most featured worked represent the third or four album into an artist’s career.

And what did the writers learn from the process? “Music evolves,” says O’Donnell. “We started as a rock ‘n’ roll and a band-type nation and we’ve evolved into a country now making a lot of great hip hop music, electronic music. If you do this list in 10 years’ time you’ll have a lot more eclectic mix than perhaps we have.” In time, the concept may be expanded to cover the 100 best Australian Singles.

 

“We have an incredibly great body of work we should be proud of,” adds O’Donnell. “I don’t think as a nation we celebrate it enough. This book hopefully goes a small way to doing that.” Sony Music Australia has issued an accompanying 5-CD collection to ram-home that point.

Creswell admits he’s not yet had a response from the artists who didn’t appear on the list. That should change. “A friend told me, releasing the book is ‘like hitting a beehive with a stick’,” he laughs. The stirring has started.