Fight or flight

Local artists are sharing their experiences breaking into the national music scene. Video: Amy Figueiredo.

The Western Australian music scene is alive, unique and isolated.

New artists from one of the most secluded places in the world struggle to break into the national music scene because of barriers specific to the west coast. 

Dulcie is a three-piece girl band who have been together for five years. Members Saskia Brittain, Ashleigh Carr-White and Timieka Denton say they have faced their fair share of challenges living in Perth.

“Perth is such a secluded city to be in, compared to over east,” Saskia says.

“It’s a $100 flight from Brisbane to Sydney, whereas it’s a $500 flight from Perth. I can’t help but think if we were living in Brisbane more bands would give us opportunities because it’s easier to get us on board.”

The cost of travelling from Perth to Sydney is nearly triple what it is from Melbourne. 

Financial stress is a major barrier for WA musicians. Graphics: Amy Figueiredo.

Matthew Perrett is the music director at Perth-based community radio station, RTRFM. He says artists from Perth are often forgotten about when it comes to the national playlists. 

“When I look at playlisting for eastern states so much of it is Melbourne, Sydney, and to an extent Brisbane-centric,” he says. 

“Then you get bands from Adelaide, Perth, or even Tasmania who are all really struggling and the first most obvious difference between those cities is literally the distance.”

Darcie Haven is new to the music industry, only being discovered two years ago online.

“Radio hosts and employees probably only go to gigs that are in Sydney and Melbourne,” she says.

“There’s not really a chance of a radio host or even a label head discovering you in the flesh in Perth because it’s just too far to come over.”

Darcie Haven

The 22-year-old travels to the east coast three times a year to record music.

She says she usually runs at a loss when she travels interstate for music, but if she wants to advance her career making trips to the east coast is vital.

“I have to go just to keep in touch with everybody because it’s so different talking over Zoom than what it is in person,” she says.

“All of the people that I work with are from Melbourne, Sydney or Brisbane.

“I’ve never met my agent, for example, because I’ve just never been in the same place at the same time. We’ve spent the past two years communicating online.”

Darcie Haven says playing live has helped her meet others in the industry. Photos: Amy Figueiredo.

Organisations including RTRFM are aware of the barriers and have spent the past four decades pushing for WA music to be heard.

“It’s important on our little platform to put them on the very top at least and be like, hey, this great stuff is happening and you might not know about it, but we want you to know about it,” Matt says. 

RTRFM general manager, Simon Miraudo, agrees Western Australia’s music industry is at a disadvantage compared to the rest of the nation.

“What we’re trying to do is discover the ways we can advocate for those artists who want to make a career,” he says. 

“We want to support them and let people know they exist because they’re not getting the attraction they might in the eastern states,” he says.

In Triple J’s Hottest 100 list 2023, two WA bands were featured: Spacey Jane and Tame Impala. 

“To see two or three WA bands, three or four WA songs out of 100, knowing that it’s already a heavily Australian-skewed list – I know that is not representative of the music scene,” Simon says.

“WA is putting out music that would stand shoulder to shoulder with the songs that are topping the Hottest 100 regularly.”

Simon Miraudo

Instead of letting the excessive costs and barriers win, artists are finding new ways to make their mark in the industry. 

A breakdown of the WA music industry. Infographic: Amy Figueiredo.

“There’s all these new ways to be heard,” Darcie says, “like through TikTok, Soundcloud or Triple J Unearthed.”

Dulcie bassist Timieka says because Perth is a small city, the best way to get recognised is through live acts.

“We started off opening for the band Great Gable and playing a lot of local gigs,” she says.

“From there it just grew. We haven’t let it stop us, it’s just made us push harder.”

Simon says getting WA on an equal playing field will require a sector-wide effort, but it can be done.

“If everyone just knew instinctively that because of the way the labels are structured, where they’re placed and where the national broadcaster is, WA artists are not always at the forefront of those platforms. We just have to spend an extra few minutes asking what are they doing in WA.

“Understanding who is on our local labels who have been recommended by a music director and others in the scene, and then platforming accordingly. I think you could start to see a massive shift just by that alone.”

Dulcie guitarist Saskia says they’re in it for the long haul.

“We do it because we love it,” she says.

“At times it does get to us, but at the end of the day we just have to keep going.”