Listening to a 15-second instrumental piece on a loop for seven hours convinced Karen Eck that phone queues were an untapped resource for promoting Australian music.
Since she was placed on hold for most of the day while trying to change an airline ticket with Qantas during lockdown in August, the Sydney publicist and talent manager has been campaigning for Australian companies to ditch their royalty-free elevator music and turn to local content on their call-waiting systems.
Initially, Eck targeted Centrelink, Service NSW and Services Australia as well Qantas’s CEO Alan Joyce. She also lobbied the federal arts minister Paul Fletcher and New South Wales customer service minister Victor Dominello.
A petition launched on Change.org – Hold Aussie Music – has so far attracted almost 10,000 signatures, and the Australian Recording Industry Association (Aria) and the music copyright organisation Apra Amcos have both thrown their support behind the campaign.
Now Eck has ramped up the volume, with a plan to target 30 brands in 30 days over the month of November.
“The Australian music industry has been on its knees during the pandemic, so why shouldn’t big corporations give our local musicians a platform to showcase their work?” Eck told Guardian Australia.
“It’s just about choosing a playlist that supports our incredible talent in Australia.”
The companies selected for targeting will be at the suggestion of the campaign’s supporters, with NRMA, Apple, Telstra, Optus, Sydney airport and the Australian Taxation Office in its sights.
Large businesses that already play commercial music but are being asked to switch to more Australian content include Medicare, Energy Australia, Centrelink, MyGov and three of the four big banks.
On Tuesday, tagging #HoldAussieMusic, ME Bank in Melbourne announced it would update its playlist for call holding with 10 new homegrown tunes, including those from Jack River, Tones and I, Budjerah, Birdz and Gang of Youths.
Eck said she believes many companies are simply unaware of what their customers experience when they are placed on hold.
“The people in positions of power, the decision-makers, they are never put on hold with their own business, so they often just don’t think very much about it,” she said.
“There’s an awareness that needs to be encouraged from a management brand perspective.
“And there are companies that can curate playlists for individual businesses, who can make sure that the music is appropriate for the brand, that it has the right tempo, the right tone.
“A businesses can really use their music on their call-holding system as a platform to reflect their own brand.”
On Monday, Woolworths announced a new partnership with Australian Radio Network, owners of the KIIS Network, The Edge and iHeartRadio brands.
The deal includes an undertaking to play more Australian artists in Woolworths’ 995 stores across the country (subject to the tastes of each store’s demographic) and on the supermarket’s digital radio via the iHeartRadio app.
“It will be shopping trolleys at 50 paces as Australia’s two supermarket giants go head-to-head with in-store entertainment,” Radio Today declared, referring to a longstanding partnership between Woolworth’s only competitor, Coles, and Nova Entertainment.
In 2019, the Coles/Nova partnership saw Coles Radio topping the digital-only radio ratings, with 254,000 listeners across the country each week (ABC’s Double J was second, with 221,000 listeners).
Hold Aussie Music is just one of several campaigns since the start of the pandemic to push for more Australian music in the corporate sector.
In August, singer-songwriter Holly Rankin, who performs as Jack River, called out on social media Channel Seven’s failure to play sufficient Australian music during its Tokyo Olympics coverage. She also challenged Coles, Woolworths, Aldi and banks to use more local music in-store and in their ads.
Coles responded by announcing it would turn up the volume on its commitment to local music.
In October, the Aria-led Our Soundtrack Our Stories campaign succeeded in getting the Commonwealth Bank, Nissan Australia, Bonds, Channel Seven, Qsic, 7Eleven, Channel 10, Rebel Sport and Bank Australia to publicly commit to increase their support for homegrown music.