Contemporary music activist John Wardle has hit back at claims the Melba Recordings funding scandal was driven by jealousy, as the fall out turns into a war of words between the label’s managing director Maria Vandamme and her peers in the contemporary music sector.
The scandal erupted into the media after SLAM outed the label in an open letter to the media pointing out that Melba Recordings had received $5m in 2004 and $2.25m in 2009 from the federal government through the Australia Council, but was not required to compete in the competitive grant rounds.
They also pointed out that despite securing in excess of $7 million in funding over the last few years, the label had actually produced very little music and last year their entire back catalogue sold less than $18,000 worth of stock.
So how did they keep getting funding? Melba was able to bypass the grant rounds with the aid of “very influential friends” who went above the Arts Minister to then-Treasurer Peter Costello, and that their funding had been maintained ever since.
Costello and the Howard government granted Melba direct funding of $1 million a year for five years, and when the Rudd government took office that kept the deal in place while halving the annual amount to $500,000.
But that was soon to change. Vandamme got notice from the Australia Council over the weekend that Melba would no longer be receiving funding outside of the grants process and that any future funding allocation would be “informed by industry need, determined following a sector-wide consultation.”
On hearing the news, Vandamme hit out at her critics, labelling them ‘jealous’ and claiming her label was trying the get rid of the ‘dumb blonde’ image of Australian music overseas.
But John Wardle, the man behind the 2009 reforms that saw the NSW Government abolish Place Of Public Entertainment Licenses (POPE) that were required for a local venue to play live music, rejects Vandamme’s assertion.
“The size of the initial Melba grant was equal to the entire annual budget of the Music Board of the Australia Council, through which every other music organisation applies for funding,” he said.
“For Melba to have special arrangements outside this process is a fundamental challenge to the integrity of how the Arts are funded. It’s disappointing though not surprising to see Maria Vandamme of Melba Recordings calling criticism of her $7.25 million grant ‘jealousy’.”
“In the last financial year Ms Vandamme produced a total of three CDs at a cost to the taxpayer of $750,000.”
“We don’t feel jealousy at this sort of funding, we feel outrage at how it outflanked the rest of the music sector and the waste when so many other initiatives that apply through the normal peer review process are overlooked.”
“At a time when the music industry is in the midst of a digital revolution and an uncertain future, $7.25 million is the sort of money that could provide countless jobs and opportunities for the development of the sector as a whole.”