Triple J Week – the week in numbers

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Last week I spent 8½ hours each day between the hours of 9am and 5:30pm listening to Triple J. You can read about what I found each day by clicking on the following links:

During those 42.5 hours I listened to a total of 540 songs by 325 acts.

In terms of Country of Origin, Australia was streets ahead of the rest, approximately twice as many songs played as the American acts in second place, with Triple J maintaining an aural version of the Two Power Standard. The 262 Australian songs played were 48.52% of the 540 song total over the week. The breakdown by country is in the following table. Before you ask, the one ‘Unknown’ is a song called ‘Questions’ by a hip-hop artist called Skandal: Google was no help in identifying him or where he’s from. [Is is this song? – Ed.]

Country Total Percentage
Australia 262 48.52%
USA 132 24.44%
UK 87 16.11%
Canada 18 3.33%
Sweden 9 1.67%
New Zealand 8 1.48%
France 6 1.11%
Belgium 4 0.74%
Norway 2 0.37%
Germany 2 0.37%
Ethiopia 2 0.37%
Iceland 1 0.19%
UK 1 0.19%
Jamaica 1 0.19%
Netherlands 1 0.19%
Brazil 1 0.19%
Denmark 1 0.19%
Italy 1 0.19%
Unknown 1 0.19%
Total 540 100.00%

One of Triple J’s mission statement-like jingles is “We Love New Music”. Over 85% of the songs played over the week were from the last two years, with a dramatic drop off for anything from before 2009. Based on the last decade, no songs from 2002 and 2000 made it into the 540 songs played. Although I didn’t record it, anecdotal evidence from searching for the year of release seemed to show a very noticeable portion of the 2010 songs being released in the last few months; really new music. Only four songs from before 1990 were played, 0.74% of the total songs played. The four songs were ‘Lovely Day’ by Bill Withers (1977), ‘Welcome To The Working Week’ by Elvis Costello (1977), ‘Slave Master‘ by Gregory Isaacs (1979) and ‘That’s Entertainment’ by The Jam (1980). The full breakdown by year of release is in the following table.

Year Total Percentage
2010 404 74.81%
2009 56 10.37%
2008 10 1.85%
2007 19 3.52%
2006 13 2.41%
2005 10 1.85%
2004 5 0.93%
2003 4 0.74%
2001 6 1.11%
1999 2 0.37%
1998 1 0.19%
1996 2 0.37%
1994 1 0.19%
1993 2 0.37%
1990 1 0.19%
1980 1 0.19%
1979 1 0.19%
1977 2 0.37%
Total 540 100.00%

The original plan for the week was to look at how much major label music gets played on the station and compare it to a sample of the Nova playlist. However, time constraints meant this didn’t happen. A simpler comparison is to compare the bands played on the two stations. In my day of listening to Nova they played 110 songs by 72 bands. Of those 72 bands, 26 (i.e. 36% of the total) were played on Triple J over the week. The 26 bands played on both radio stations are in the following table.

Little Red Boy In A Box
John Butler Trio Washington
Ou Est Le Swimming Pool Bag Raiders
Birds Of Tokyo Band Of Horses
Bliss N Eso LCD Soundsystem
Muse Chromeo
Duck Sauce Temper Trap
Powderfinger The Klaxons
Cee-Lo Old Man River
Gyroscope Art vs Science
Kings Of Leon Philadelphia Grand Jury
My Chemical Romance Phoenix
Angus and Julia Stone Mark Ronson

Interestingly (or not) the most played song on Nova on the day I spent listening to it was ‘Barbara Streisand’ by Duck Sauce (the the DJ super-duo of A-Trak and Armand Van Helden) and this was also played on Triple J during the week, albeit just the once.  The most played bands on Nova on the day I spent listening to it were John Butler Trio and Little Red; both were played on Triple J and Little Red was one of the most played bands, with five songs played over the week.

The most played act on Triple J was Illy, whose new album was the featured album during the week, resulting in 15 of his songs being played during the time I was listening.  The following is a chart of the acts who had four or more song plays over the week, presumably because they are on some sort of priority playlist (not sure if I should count Glenn Richards as Melbourne or Adelaide by the way, but have put him in as a Victorian). They’re listed by city if Australian, and by country if not.

Band Total Country/City
Illy 15 Melbourne
Gorillaz 6 UK
Children Collide 5 Melbourne
Miami Horror 5 Melbourne
Gotye 5 Melbourne
Glenn Richards 5 Melbourne
Philadelphia Grand Jury 5 Sydney
Bag Raiders 5 Sydney
Jebediah 5 Perth
Little Red 5 Melbourne
Strange Talk 4 Melbourne
The Naked & Famous 4 New Zealand
The Holidays 4 Sydney
Howl 4 Ballarat
Bliss N Eso 4 Sydney
Magic Silver White 4 Melbourne
The Chemist 4 Perth
Hungry Kids Of Hungary 4 Brisbane
Two Door Cinema Club 4 UK
Midnight Juggernauts 4 Melbourne
Janelle Monae 4 USA
Funeral Party 4 USA
Sleigh Bells 4 USA
Mark Ronson 4 UK

The most played bands over the week show that, out of the Australian bands, those from Melbourne dominated the priority playlist.

The plays by each city became the focal point over the week with Brisbane, Australia’s third largest city coming in a lowly fourth in terms of songs played over the course of the week. If not for a last day haul it would have been behind the number of songs played from Canadian bands, not that there’s anything wrong with Canadian acts, anything but, but for as one of Triple J’s other main jingles is “We Love Australian Music”, Brisbane was very much looked over. The breakdown of Australian songs played over the week by city/region is in the following table.

City Total Percentage
Melbourne 103 39.31%
Sydney 71 27.10%
Perth 37 14.12%
Brisbane 22 8.40%
Blue Mountains 6 2.29%
Adelaide 6 2.29%
Ballarat 4 1.53%
Canberra 4 1.53%
Newcastle 3 1.15%
Fremantle 2 0.76%
Lismore 2 0.76%
Gold Coast 1 0.38%
Elcho Island, NT 1 0.38%
Total 262 100.00%

Following on from this is the pivot table that shows city, bands and number of plays during the week. I’ve also added year of the earliest song played in the final column (Dead Letter Circus had two songs played in the week, one from 2005 and one from 2009). This is probably the most important table of the whole lot for looking at the Brisbane music played and comparing it to the other cities over the week.

Brisbane Hungry Kids Of Hungary 4 2010
John Steel Singers 3 2010
Numbers Radio 3 2010
Washington 3 2010
Dead Letter Circus 2 2005
The Honey Month 1 2010
Bleeding Knees Club 1 2010
Powderfinger 1 1998
Butterfingers 1 2003
Custard 1 1996
Ball Park Music 1 2010
Gin Club 1 2010
Brisbane Total 22

Over the week, 22 songs from 12 Brisbane bands were played (although if you take Washington as a Melbourne act that would become 19 songs from 11 artists). Three of the bands, Hungry Kids Of Hungary, John Steel Singers and Ball Park Music, are playing the Triple J Australian Music Month party in a few weeks’ time and were responsible for eight of the 22 songs played (36% of the Brisbane total). Each time one of these bands’ songs was played it was accompanied by a jingle and/or plug for the gig.  The question is whether these bands would be played as much if not for Triple J promoting a gig they are organising.

The other really noticeable thing relates to the year of release, with Brisbane having four songs from before 2009 which, as was indicated in a previous table, seems to be the line where Triple J draws the line for ‘New Music’.  The four songs were:

These four songs from before 2008 are 18% of the total Brisbane songs played over the week. When you compare the pre-2009 songs from Triple J’s top three cities of Melbourne, Sydney and Perth you find the following.

City No. of Songs Played No. of Pre-2009 Songs Percentage
Melbourne 103 5 4.85%
Sydney 71 3 4.23%
Perth 37 3 8.11%
Total 211 11 5.21%

Although it’s obviously skewed by the small number of Brisbane songs played, it suggests that the people at Triple J have very little idea of what’s happening in Brisbane. It’s also interesting to note that from the list of Brisbane bands played over the week, six of the 12 bands, responsible for 13 of the songs played during the week, some 59% of the Brisbane total, played at this year’s Big Sound.  hat was that about “Current team – international and domestic recording, publishing, sync, distribution, managers, agents, etc” again?

Final Thoughts
Yes, it is very easy to criticise Triple J. There are plenty of accusations from all and sundry about what they do/don’t play, how much of certain genres get played or don’t get played, how much of the playlist is music you hear on commercial stations, how the playlist is biased to one city over another, even whether an almost 47-year-old should be the Musical Director of a radio station aiming itself at a 16–24 year old demographic. Triple J is in an impossible situation of trying to please everyone but, based on the amount of criticism aimed at it, seems to be pleasing no one.

Lies, damn lies and statistics. The original agenda was to compare Triple J’s playlist with Nova’s and see just how many bands and songs they had in common. Over the week the emphasis changed, based on what was being played, to comparing cities. But even with 42½ hours of listening, it’s still a small proportion of the whole week and it’s only one week. Maybe the remaining 15½ hours of each day were full of bands from Brisbane, maybe it was an atypical week, maybe this week’s featured album has been something from Brisbane and it’s brought all the numbers up. (I just checked and amazingly it is, the John Steel Singers’ debut album! So that would have added at least another 10 plays to the Brisbane totals, maybe even taken the city ahead of Perth.)

In terms of listeners, Triple J is way down the list; figures released this week put it in seventh place in Brisbane. And yet its influence is massive. While plenty of bands have proved that they don’t need Triple J, having its support opens a lot more doors for you; you only have to look at the majority of festival line-ups in Australia or go to a show by an act that’s been on high rotation on the station and compare the numbers in attendance to a show by a band that’s not being played almost relentlessly by them.

In doing some research I found a link on Triple J’s Wikipedia page to the ‘Inquiry into the Effects of Government-Funded National Broadcasting on Victoria’ by the Economic Development Committee of the Parliament of Victoria. Although the inquiry is over 10 years old, being from May 1999, it’s interesting how seriously Triple J and its Sydney bias was taken by a Victorian government considering Melbourne to be “The leading Australian City for popular music venues and performers”. The report included the following findings and recommendations:

The Committee finds that ABC management should be actively pursuing de-centralisation of Triple J rather than centralise programming in Sydney.

The Committee finds that there is an overwhelming concentration of Triple J resources in Sydney. The trend of centralisation has accelerated at Triple J over the past six months with Melbourne-based presenters and programs shifting to Sydney. This centralisation of activity is despite Victoria’s significant output of Australian bands and recordings.

The Committee recommends that the ABC should ensure that Triple J’s programs and staff be more evenly distributed throughout Australia. In view of Melbourne’s status as the centre for local bands and recordings, the Committee recommends that additional Triple J resources be relocated to Melbourne.

I’m not sure whether these recommendations were implemented by the ABC but, either way, listening to Triple J for a week in 2010 suggests a swing the other way, with Melbourne dominating the songs played by Australian artists and also dominating the Australian bands played. In recent years the Queensland government has been throwing money at the state’s music industry, proving funds for bands to tour and record, as well as providing money for conferences and other education programs but maybe it needs to focus its efforts more on influencing government organisations who can make a real difference to the prosperity of the Brisbane music scene.

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