• A new survey of First Nations musicians provides timely insights into the strengths, challenges and needs of the First Nations music sector. (Pexels)Source: Pexels
First Nations musicians have spoken about their need for more value and respect within their industry.
Emily Nicol

12 Oct 2020 - 3:21 PM  UPDATED 12 Oct 2020 - 4:01 PM

The Australia Council has released survey findings that reveal the struggles and needs of First Nations musicians navigating their industry. 

With responses submitted anonymously, artists answered questions centred around their feelings about the Australian music industry and how things can be better.

Head of First Nations Arts & Culture at Australia Council, Patricia Adjei, told NITV News that the survey was a much needed insight into the state of music for Indigenous artists and is the first time in a few years that something like this had been conducted.

"This survey was conducted pre-COVID and shows that there is a strong need to support and provide opportunities for many First Nations musicians around grants and the business side of the music industry," said Ms Adjei.

"We had a great number of artists fill out the survey and participants were really honest and made excellent comments." 

The survey showed that the majority of artists see their biggest strengths as 'inspiring other First Nations artists, opportunities to educate, challenge and build understanding with non-First Nations people and creating pathways for the next generations of First Nations musicians.'

Seventy-three per cent of respondents said that the lack of financial return for creative work was their greatest challenge.

Financial assistance came in as the biggest need (66 per cent) and was closely followed by a need for recognition by the wider music industry (63 per cent).

The survey was divided up between those artists who had left Country to pursue their career and those that had stayed on country. The difference between both groups came into focus predominantly with more challenges faced by those living off country.

“Living in low socio-economic situation in crowded houses means it is difficult to plan and build our own workspaces. Also, we are the first women to play music as it is not a tradition in our community and this creates pressure for us” -Survey respondent

Though the survey reflects the respondents’ attitudes and activity prior to COVID-19, the challenges remain the same.

When asked how they think they can move forward together as self-determined First Nations music artists for the benefit of music communities and cultural and business practices, the need for collaboration and more formal networking events was highlighted. 

"Start to build together. Share information, ideas and opportunities. Give opportunities to our young ones coming up through this industry, always look out for them and teach them the ropes. Create safe spaces to have real yarns about the industry and where we fit in the big scheme of things,” said one survey respondent.

Ms Adjei said this there will be more discussions on the issue this year at BigSound, the biggest music conference in the southern hemisphere.

"This year the program has a large number of First Nations musicians and bands from across the country. It is important to keep these discussions alive and continue work to support First Nations musicians and provide more opportunities to the business side of the music industry to First Nations musicians and administrators," she said. 

Answers regarding the broader arts industry’s responsibility to the First Nations music sector were similar to the previous question. First Nations musicians who responded indicated the need for First Nations voices, instead of being spoken for. One respondent stated that this was a better question to ask.

"The broader arts community needs to understand that history on a timeline would see a huge long line of First Nations art, both visual and aural, and a tiny dot of European driven arts. But the national gallery, school lessons, and general importance placed on arts in our world is the reverse," said one survey respondent.

"Except at Reconciliation Week where schools do a week of dot painting. First Nations culture should be the starting point when writing curriculums at schools. When putting together art showcases and festivals. It needs to be an embedded normality within every part of our culture and it, in turn, permeates the normal ideas of who We are as a nation for the next generation.”