In the 90s, 2000s and 2010s, some of the highest-selling albums in Australia weren’t really albums at all. They were compilations like the iconic 100% Hits and Hit Machine series. In the 2000s, as record company consolidations saw a re-aligning of ‘teams’, Hit Machine was replaced by So Fresh, the powerhouse compilation the teamed up Sony and Universal, the biggest of the three multinationals to put (almost) all the hits on one jam-packed CD volume.
The beauty of compilations were often in their diversity. You knew that they would open with heavy hitters. Your Barbie Girls or Macarenas of the time, but the trade-off for consumers was that you knew the labels would try to sneak in a few head-scratchers later in the list. Often Australian ones.
The reality was that labels were smart enough to know that a CD compilation was a captive audience. Once you got to track 15, why not expose the public to something that maybe the radio hadn’t gotten excited about? Give some Aussie music a go. And, of course, from a business perspective, throw on some tracks that had less than stellar chart success so you could help chip away at those recoupable debts.
There were artists that most Aussies would never have heard without their inclusion. When you got home from Brashes with Hit Machine 6, how many punters knew Defryme‘s Sanity or The Truth‘s My Heavy Friend? Surely Culture Shock‘s My Enemy had more people hearing it from the compilation than from the radio.
On Hit Machine 25, once punters were hit one more time from Britney; they had the privilege of getting to Cherry‘s Saddest Song and Kate Ceberano‘s I Won’t Let You Down. They made sure those discs were chocked full, even if the ‘hits’ weren’t always huge. And Australian artists benefited.
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Yes, these days, the sales on a So Fresh album are a very small fraction of the heady days of compilations past. However, they still exist, so there’s obviously still a market, and for those still purchasing the compilations, it’s a prime opportunity to get new music in front of a captive audience.
So why are we missing the opportunity but smashing them full of international acts? As an industry, we are arguing for quotas on streaming services and pushing radio to do more for Australian music. ARIA, the labels and everyone else who is passionate about Australian music is screaming from the rooftops that companies in a position to do more SHOULD do more.
So why is So Fresh, Sony and Universal’s ONE opportunity to control a meaningful playlist that can generate revenue, NOT being used to help and expose Australian artists?
So Fresh: The Hits of Winter 2023 includes just three Australian tracks on its seventeen-track playlist. That’s a 17% Australian quota…. less than what radio are hitting. So Fresh: The Hits of Autumn also only sported three Australian tracks, although the smaller track listing (fifteen) means it hit 20%. Still a full 5% shy of what it would need if it had the same quotas as radio.
So Fresh: The Hits of Summer 2023 ALSO had three Australian songs, but with nineteen on the track listing, only hit just over 15%. The Australian content on 1994’s Hit Machine 6 was 50%. Hit Machine 11 in 1995? 40%.
We understand that these compilations are marketing exercises and that particularly as sales dwindle on these compilations, the push to engage independent tracks or labels like Liberation may not be as it once was, but how good would it be to have these avenues used as a free kick to commercially viable bands like Cub Sport, Wilsn or Hatchie?
But we do live in a commercial world, so let’s focus on the possible.
So what are some awesome Aussie tracks signed to Universal and Sony that didn’t make it onto the compilations?
Perhaps some declined the opportunity? We don’t know… but we DO know that with track lengths diminishing, there’s space going begging right now that could be passed over to Australian artists, just as happened in the Hit Machine and 100% Hits days. The public don’t mind getting free music, and the Aussie artists certainly won’t say no to the royalties. These are all tracks that may not have hit the top of the charts, but surely if we want quotas for Australian content on streaming and radio, we can do the same for So Fresh.
A great, commercially viable track. With May-A‘s previous success with Flume, there’s also a commercial entry point there.
Peach PRC – Perfect For You
Sure, her banger God Is A Freak might not be appropriate for a mainstream compilation that’s probably largely bought by Mums and compilation collectors, but with a #1 album under her belt and millions of streams, surely Peach PRC would be an obvious inclusion on a So Fresh, so why not this one.
RUEL – I Don’t Wanna Be Like You
If ever there was an Aussie artist made for a So Fresh spot, surely it’s Ruel—nearly 10 million streams on Spotify.
KYE FEAT BUDJERAH – Heavy Love
Great pop banger and even features Budjerah who your mum saw at the Ed Sheeran concert.
Cat and Calmell – Overstimulated
Gorgeous commercial banger that could have used some extra ears on it.
KIAN & BECCA HATCH – All Of Me
Another collaboration that could easily have taken a “Track 18” spot on a So Fresh compilation.
Sure, So Fresh is past its peak and inclusion in it isn’t going to change the lives of these artists, but as an industry, if we’re going to tell others how much support they should be giving Australian artists, we should be looking behind the couch at every single utility we have at our disposal to be platforming Australian talent.
The compilation is not only a revenue source, but it becomes a historical document of what was happening in music at the time. While So Fresh continues to exist, like it or not, it’s setting down a physical product that becomes part of our historical memory. Let’s take a leaf out of the Australian music industry of the past and make sure that great Australian tracks are being platformed when we have the opportunity. If they could do it when compilations were doing double platinum sales, surely we can do it now.