The University of Newcastle, Australia

Exporting Australian songs that make the whole world sing

As Professor of Music in the School of Creative Industries at the University of Newcastle, Professor Richard Vella, is investigating the economic and cultural value of Australian music exports.  

Richard Vella

"From a cultural perspective Australia is a 'third world', in the sense that most of the cultural products we consume are imported," Richard explains.

He points to figures showing that trade in music related products - recorded media, music services and music instruments - accounts for 6.3% of Australian imports of cultural goods, yet realises only 2% of the $540 million of total cultural goods exports.

"Technological, economic and cultural changes necessitate a re-examining of the tangible and intangible value chains and their impact on the music industry export," Richard asserts.

A recent Australian Research Council (ARC) Linkage Grant, in partnership with the Australia Council for the Arts and the Australasian Performing Rights Association, will allow Richard and his team to identify factors and functions that give music value, and aid music creation and export.

Richard will be working on this project with fellow chief investigators, Professor Stephen Chen from the Newcastle Business School and Associate Professor Shane Homan from Monash University, in league with an expert project team. The project will be managed by singer songwriter Tracy Redhead, project manager for the research group Collaborative Environments for Creative Arts Research (CeCAR).

"This is the first formal study of how Australian artists are developed internationally, be it through government, industry programs or their own initiative."


The project has four aims. The first is to map and assess the value and efficacy of current Australian music export programs in relation to similar programs internationally.

The second aim is to assess trends and changes in music industry business models, which have resulted from changes in new media technologies that influence current and future models of artists' development.

Providing insight into the growth of local markets in Australian music within globalised processes and markets.

While the fourth aim is to analyse cultural and economic value creation in the global value chain of the music industry.

This massive project, which Richard refers to as 'complex', will begin with mapping out the role of the different participants in the Australian music industry value chain, plus the economic and cultural value of music exports.

The second stage, led by Richard, will document the strategies and practices of Australian artists, managers and industry as entrepreneurs.

A combination of secondary and primary data analyses will be used during the third stage to create a comparative analysis of international export organisations and models.


A review of Richard's formidable experience in both the commercial music industry and tertiary music programs leaves little doubt that he will be an invaluable addition to the project team.

"I taught myself to play guitar when I was 16 or 17, after my mother won a guitar in a raffle. I realised pretty quickly that I like writing songs instead of learning other people's music," Richard recalls.

A successful career as a composer followed, with his diverse and award winning output including works for orchestra, large ensemble, choir, film, chamber music, burlesque cabaret, music theatre, site-specific performances, and popular music genres.

Richard went on to direct the music publication program with the commercial publisher Currency Press, Sydney, and was founding artistic director of Calculated Risks Opera Productions which developed innovative performance forms for music and theatre.

His own book 'Musical Environments: A Manual for Listening, Composing', has become a recognised text for secondary and tertiary music courses throughout Australia and has been reprinted for the northern hemisphere by publishers Boosey & Hawkes (UK).


In the early nineties, Richard devised and implemented a groundbreaking inter-disciplinary music program in the arts and sciences at Macquarie University.  Unfortunately it was ahead of its time as can be seen by the recent emergence of research platforms in arts and science across Australia.

Substantial positions within the music faculties at La Trobe University and Queensland University of Technology followed.

Richard came to Newcastle as Chair and Professor of Music in 2007. He was head of the school for creative arts from 2008 to 2013.

His experience in both the commercial music industry and tertiary education sector made him the perfect candidate to overhaul the music program, bringing a clear focus on musical diversity whilst maintaining excellence. Music is fundamentally a social and performance activity.  These two attributes underpin communication, creativity and the development of new technologies in music.  Our BMus students have the opportunity to explore any of these for a career in music.

"The program is modelled on three skills that the The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has said that every graduate would need to have, regardless of their qualification," he explains.

"And that is to be creative, to be collaborative and to work with technology. The students love it. We now have one of the lowest attrition rates across the University."

These student experiences provide an important reference to understanding the link between an undergraduate music degree and the production of a viable export music industry product.

From 2008 – 2013 Richard was Chair of the National Council of Tertiary Music Schools (NACTMUS) and in that position he had a privileged overview to the state of the tertiary education sector in Australia and internationally. He is currently Director of Collaborative Environments for Creative Arts Research at the University of Newcastle.

CeCAR brings together national and international researchers in the creative arts, humanities, sciences, health and social sciences with external collaborators in the community, industry, other universities and institutes.

As well as creating and initiating collaborative projects in pure and applied research, CeCAR is a production and publishing house environment in which projects are facilitated, developed and disseminated.


Despite his intensive experience in so many facets of the music industry, Richard is open to this new project challenging his beliefs in what creates export success.

"I don't claim to understand it all, it's just that I come from that background and want to work out what can we identify," Richard clarifies.

"There are so many factors and questions to consider. Is it based on luck? Is it about the people that you know? What are and how do the new business models via the internet, increase markets?"

"What is the role and function of a venue now? What is the function of an audience, how do all those things lock in?"

"And if you only talk about economic value, what does that mean? It's also important to look at the role of cultural value and what makes people put money into something."

Richard is well aware that most innovations in music result from process and experimentation. Musicians "just love playing and exploring new sounds" in the first instance. Finding a purpose and context for these sounds comes second.

"How effective is our government at nurturing cultural and economic talent through funding the development, support and promotion?"

"How favourably does that compares to other countries using other models, and how can we make people from overseas want to buy Australian?"

The project will provide the empirical and cultural evidence of how such forms of cultural funding assist musicians, labels and related networks. This is why the collaboration with the Australian Council for Arts is important.

Outputs will include a detailed picture of the interrelationships between industry sectors, state governments and federal government inputs; and related recommendations on how to best promote national artists.

"This covers all types of music, not just the rock, but classical, all kinds. We can make educated guesses, but this project will identify if there is a mechanism, or formula, that leads to success."

"And if there is a mechanism, policy can be built around it."