Why BIGSOUND Matters in 2023

1 September 2023 | 12:11 pm | Melissa Griffin

This year's mammoth edition kicks off in just a few more sleeps.


BIGSOUND 2023 (Supplied)

Gearing up for its 22nd year, Australia's leading live music showcase and industry conference event, BIGSOUND, returns to Fortitude Valley this September. Emerging artists will be showcasing in front of some of the most influential members of the music industry across three days and nights. 

This year’s conference lineup includes huge international artists and industry heavyweights Mike Shinoda (Linkin Park), Omar Grant (ROC Nation Records) and Brittany Spanos (Rolling Stone US), as well as prominent Australian artists Christine Anu, Georgia Maq (Camp Cope) and Kate Miller-Heidke who will be joining over 100 speakers from 5-8 September in Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley.

Like many music industry events, BIGSOUND was prevented from going ahead during the pandemic in 2020 and 2021, but after a two-year hiatus the music showcase and conference event returned in 2022 at full capacity. The opportunity to connect face-to-face once again and witness live music was fully embraced by those in the industry who mark BIGSOUND as a key event in their calendar each year. 

Founder of Los Angeles-based music marketing company the Planetary Group, Adam Lewis says the 2022 BIGSOUND event was the first industry gathering of great significance post-pandemic. “We had SXSW (US) and The Great Escape (UK) in the spring, but then BIGSOUND was really the first event with [COVID] numbers low again. I was very excited to get back [to BIGSOUND], also just to get back to Australia, somewhere that had been locked down and closed and off limits for so long. I was still one of the only very few internationals that came, but I loved it and I didn’t get sick…I was really happy to be there.”

Senior booking agent at Select Music, Casey O’Shaughnessy who has been attending BIGSOUND for close to a decade, also felt the return of the event in 2022 was a big step for the music industry in recovery. “It was just nice to get to see people…it was kind of great to be able to zoom with each other for a couple of years, but there’s nothing like actually being in the same room and working through things together.”

Internationally, showcases like The Great Escape in the UK, Reeperbahn Festival in Germany and SXSW in the US, attract media attention and swarms of industry representatives as major gathering points for the discovery of new music. Over the years, BIGSOUND has joined the ranks and developed into an integral hub for presenting Australian talent on the international stage. 

Don't miss a beat with our FREE daily newsletter

“I consider BIGSOUND to be one of the most important events on the international showcase calendar. BIGSOUND has a wonderful track record for finding and presenting the best new talent…one of the best in the world,” Lewis states.

BIGSOUND is not only advantageous for emerging artists, however, it has become a significant attraction for many industry representatives in booking, management and promotion for the discovery of potential clients as O’Shaughnessy explains. “Probably, eight or nine artists that I represent I’ve seen for the very first time at BIGSOUND over the years. I still represent artists that I picked up years ago at BIGSOUND…so it’s a really nice jumping-off point. As a booking agent, it’s such a great place to be able to see an act for the very first time.”

This year, over 1300 artists across Australia, New Zealand and the UK applied to showcase at BIGSOUND 2023. And with alumni including Gang of Youths, Flume, Tash Sultana, Sampa the Great, Courtney Barnett, Tones and I, Violent Soho and many more – it’s not hard to see why.

“Australian artists should absolutely try to perform at BIGSOUND,” says Lewis. “I think it’s a fantastic opportunity to create a story and start working on your narrative, and not only your narrative in Australia but your narrative on the international level because the quality of delegates that BIGSOUND attracts and brings into market as speakers and invited guests is really high.”

Of course, the opportunity to showcase at BIGSOUND isn’t equally accessible to all emerging artists. With rising costs across the board, travelling has become more expensive and inaccessible to many artists across the globe. Visa restrictions, price hikes on flights and accommodation and a rising trend of venue closures all play a part in making it more difficult for artists to gig interstate (let alone internationally) than ever. ARIA-nominated artist Sophie Payten (known professionally as Gordi) has previously performed at BIGSOUND and will be returning as a speaker at this year’s event. She says the financial aspect of participating in a showcase like BIGSOUND can certainly be an issue for artists.

“I’ve played SXSW, I’ve played The Great Escape in the UK, I’ve played CMJ (when that used to exist in New York) and I’ve played BIGSOUND – and those things are pretty financially crippling and usually they’re targeted at emerging artists, who have the least [amount of] money of all. It’s difficult because I do think that there is value in it, but I don’t think artists should have to do it for free.”

Although the opportunities afforded to artists showcasing at BIGSOUND are invaluable, a majority of emerging artists may be put off by the expense of participating.

Payten continues, “I think whether it’s government or whether it’s NGO [non-government organisation] support, or whether it’s teaming up with commercial corporations who want to sponsor events – there’s definitely ways we can solve that problem, but the emerging artists who are forking out for it don’t have the time to come up with the solutions because they’re busy trying to stay afloat.” 

At the Queensland Music Awards in March this year, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced a $3.8 million investment in BIGSOUND, following the success of the 2022 event, which generated more than $7.7 million for the Queensland economy. Due to this investment, BIGSOUND was able to offer a support package for showcasing artists this year, which included a $500 grant to assist with transportation and accommodation costs to attend. An additional pool of $30,000 was also accessible via application for First Nations-identifying artists, artists living with disability and artists from regional and remote areas.

Support such as this is a welcome relief to artists, however, there is a lot more that can be done in improving the sustainability of this industry.  

Payten will be in conversation with CEO of Creative Australia, Adrian Collette AM at BIGSOUND 2023, discussing the future of the Australian music industry and how early to mid-career artists need to be supported in a post-pandemic world. “I think that the key to working out solutions to those [sort of problems] is collaboration, and not just artists collaborating with artists, but industry collaborating with industry. And coming up with creative solutions, which is what we do best, to these sorts of problems that are plaguing the industry at the moment. Working out how people break emerging artists and how we allow Australian artists to continue to flourish domestically and overseas.”

So, why does BIGSOUND still matter in 2023?

“Honestly, I think it’s the opportunity for emerging artists to be able to play in front of such an important group of industry people and their peers who are at the same kind of career point as them,” explains O’Shaughnessy. “There’s nothing really like it in Australia and it’s proven to kickstart a lot of really incredible artist’s careers, and without it, I don’t know where those artists would be at. The first time that I saw Stella Donnelly, Private Function, Electric Fields, a whole bunch of those acts – I don’t know if I’d be working with them if not for BIGSOUND.”

With thousands expected to descend on Fortitude Valley this September, including some of the music industry’s top tastemakers from around the globe, the outcomes of having these people together in the same space will no doubt be instrumental in creating opportunities for artists and industry alike, as Payten suggests. 

“I think it matters because of collaboration. It would be a disservice to the music industry for us to be disorganised silos. When we come together, we can look at the problems facing the industry and figure out how to solve them. It’s a great opportunity for press and industry outside of Australia to come and see what we have on offer, which is a lot of talent.”

Lewis agrees that BIGSOUND has become known for offering the crème de la crème of Australian emerging acts to the international stage.

“Listen, I want to see bands live. So, you know as much as our industry is about statistics and followers and plays – that’s really boring. I want to see the band live. And Australian artists, as a general rule, punch above their weight when it comes to performing live – especially bands.”

“I think it is Australia’s premier showcase event and I think it is one of the premier events in the world – so it definitely still matters.”