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Australian Media on Paganism

Net gains for local artists

Witchcraft has been in the headlines this. week. Andrew Masterson spoke to a practising witch about bad press and suburbian rituals.

Andrew Masterson and Nathan Cochrane, 28th Feb, 1998 - The Age

In cyberspace, no one can hear you scream. Lots of people, however, can hear you sing.

For all its creative vitality, the Australian music industry faces formidable geographic and economic barriers. The domestic market is not big enough to provide more than a handful of artists with a decent living. For musicians without a contract with a major record company, the cost of establishing a profile in the more lucrative Northern Hemisphere markets is often extortionate.

For an increasing number of Australian musicians, the solution lies with the Internet.

Well over 200 Australian soloists and bands have their own websites. Some use websites purely as an extension of normal publicity mechanisms - as a virtual press release. But the multi-media capability of the Internet means that sites can contain graphics, animation, video and, most importantly, songs.

Few musicians, however, put more than 60-second samples of songs into cyberspace. Music is data-intensive, which means that files containing entire songs tend to be large and unwieldy.

They can also be downloaded, perhaps to a home CD-burner, and released as pirate copies, thus denying the musician much-needed royalties. Even a complex website can be maintained for less than $50 a month and constructed using commonplace word-processing software and readily available freeware. It takes only a handful of extra punters at gigs, or a few extra albums sold, for the site to pay for itself.

Andrew Penney runs a tiny record company called Viridian, based in Fitzroy. He said websites were an essential component for exposing his artists to local and international audiences, as well as generating orders for albums. Better still, a virtual music business, with little or no infrastructure and staff, radically alters the economics of survival.

"An album has to sell 70,000 copies in Australia to go platinum," he said. "We can make the same sort of money over the Net by selling one-tenth that number."

Penney maintains websites for two well-known Melbourne singers Wendy Rule and Kerri Simpson. Both artists have released a number of independent albums and credit their websites for generating exposure, sales, publicity and air-play in the Northern Hemisphere.

"I think it's crucial for independent musicians to get their work seen and heard overseas," said Ms Simpson. "It's virtually impossible as a solo artist financing everything to get back and forth. Via Internet you can get radio play. I've had quite a bit of interest in Europe because of the website, especially in Germany. Last year, I had a radio station in Berlin feature all my CDs, which apparently generated a massive response."

Wendy Rule's website has also spurred international interest, particularly in the United States.

"The good thing about it is that for people who don't have access to my live shows, it gives them a opportunity to have a more direct link with what I'm about," Ms Rule said. "They can e-mail me, for instance. It's a nice sort of mid-step to bridge the gap between live shows and the CDs."

For Andrew Penney, the prime benefits of having a presence on the Internet are marketing and economics. He tells of a show performed by Ms Rule at the Continental Cafe in Prahran, for which half the tickets were sold through the website, well before any press advertising. Her new album, Deity, will be released in March only via the Internet or mail order.

"A website gives you a really good way to get information out to your solid-core fan base at almost no cost," he said. "If you do a normal mail-out to 400 people, it's going to cost you $200 in postage. We've got 150 people on our e-mail list, and it costs nothing to send them all information.

"It doesn't sell a huge amount of albums, but we get a steady trickle of orders from Europe and the US. More importantly, it generates word-of-mouth."

He said album orders from overseas were doubling every three months, and he expected the trend to continue. "We're probably doing about $50 to $100 of orders from America each week," he said.

"Without institutional support from a record company or distributor, getting any press overseas is really a hit-and-miss affair."

Wendy Rule:

Kerri Simpson:

The Age, 28/2/98

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