Apr 5, 2012

Millions for a tiny record label with powerful players

The story of Melba Recordings' special deal with the Australian government shows that when it comes to arts funding, friends in high places can still deliver the goods.

Ben Eltham — <em>Crikey</em> arts commentator

Ben Eltham

Crikey arts commentator

Have you ever heard of Melba Recordings?

Unless you work in classical music, you’re not likely to. Melba is a niche classical label based in Melbourne. It was started by former ABC producer Maria Vandamme, who left Aunty in 1998 to pursue a career in the recording business. It has been in operation for roughly a decade and has produced some high-quality work featuring Australian soloists and musicians (though not many Australian composers).

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10 thoughts on “Millions for a tiny record label with powerful players

  1. Holden Back

    Liberals? Value for money?

  2. Stiofan

    I’m open to correction, but didn’t The Australian expose this rort quite a few years ago?

  3. Simon

    so er… what impact did The Australian have by exposing this rort? Not much, it seems.

  4. Peter Knight

    The special arrangement really must stop. This would not mean the end of Melba Recordings as Barry Tuckwell suggests, it would just mean Maria Vandamme will just have to get down and dirty and make her case to Ozco just like the rest of us.

  5. Michael de Angelos

    And Tony Abbott was a senior government member when all this taxpayer money was being given away (as he was during the wheat for weapons scandal) yet he is obsessed with a union’s activities when no taxpayer money was involved.

  6. edwin coleman

    Here’s another aspect – all I previously knew about Melba was that they got the right to make a recording of the Adelaide Wagner Ring. At first this seemed Ok, then I learned that it was to be only an audio recording and because of their deal there would be no video recording. I thought then and I think now that this was a scandalously lost opportunity – and it later transpired that the rather original sets which had been created would have to be destroyed after cycle 3 for lack of storage.
    Then it took about two years for the recordings to start to appear. And then they were ridiculously expensive – a full set is nearly the price I paid to actually see a cycle! [with visuals]
    I won’t be mourning their demise.

  7. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

    These days with blu-ray HD video, an audio only recording is like someone just taking notes of the words sung and publishing this as a book.

    The ABC showed a program on this ring cycle which proved that the cameras were all in place. Given the huge costs in putting on this ring cycle the extra cost of recording this in HD video would have been small.

    Unfortunately all the corporate and government sponsorship of this event was only concerned with subsidising the seats of those rich enough to pay to see it. The rest of us just pay for it (by buying products from the corporations or by paying taxes) and miss out.

    I think that major artistic events should not get any government funding unless they are recorded and released at a reasonable price so that the rest of us can also enjoy it.

    How much did the state and federal government put into the Adelaide Ring Cycle and Melba records for recording it? And what have the Australian public got out of this? I would love to see this on blu-ray, but CD or SACD only at a price more than I would pay for the blu-ray – no wonder sales would have been few.

  8. Simon

    No need to frame this as the contemporary musicians vs the classical musicians again. There’ll be plenty of classical musicians around who would be questioning this. Eg why Melba and not Tall Poppies or Vox Australis or Move, or some other label that’s doing more to promote Australian composers or new music in general?

  9. Peter Ormonde

    Gee Cr*key’s getting brave … wading into the murky swamp of Australian Arts Funding.

    Everything that moves here is venomous Cr*key… from the chardonnay backstabber to the sycophantic daiquiri giggler, toxic to the core.

    At the base of the food chain is a deep green slime of jealousy which provides the essential diet. As it passes up the heap it is transformed into anger and outrage, to gossip and scandal, only be eventually regurgitated as informed opinion.

    There are real problems for emerging musicians in a place the size of Australia. Like rock and rollers of old the only way of building a career is to leave, usually permanently.

    The idea of having a home based recording operation and making the effort to distribute Australian music internationally is a worthy goal. But from the figures you are quoting that is not happening. Production yes, sales and distribution – apparently not.

    I am also wondering why the many sound engineers and facilities already available are not suitable. Or does it require a “special” sort of person? The right dinner parties? The right pronunciation of Tchaikovsky? Is the perfect schooled intonation required to be able to capture the essence of the shy and cosseted classicisist.

    Don’t get me wrong – I’m not opposed to arts funding at all… heck no, I’m not a popular phillistine by any measure. But I really think the funding should be directed to those who need support – the actual producers of art, the musicians, jugglers and spatterers. That does not include those few really naice clever and talented friends of Mitzi or Charli who would really like a job in the Yarts.

    They should get serious money and that should be repaid when they are successful – or get a job driving a cab. Like HECS. But serious money and real help in getting their stuff on walls, on screens or on radio. This isn’t it.

    As for a recording of the complete bloody Ring Cycle that’s a sufficient basis for a full Royal Commission I reckon.

  10. Holden Back

    Rumor has it that the initial application was for $500,000.00, and in a scene straight out of Yes Minister, no-one was more surprised than Ms. Vandamme when the Feds coughed up $5 million. Maybe Barnaby was working the cash register when they were playing shops that day.

    So rather than jobs for the boys, Alston followed the money to see that nothing too untoward was done with it.

    Sadly, L’Oiseau-Lyre, Melba Records is not.

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