The Complete History of triplejunearthed.com
Ten years ago, triple j Unearthed transformed into something far bigger and better than it ever had been.
It was the first time most of us heard Flume, Boy & Bear, King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard, Ngaiire, The Preatures, The Rubens and The Middle East – and that’s just a miniscule percentage of the amazing artists discovered through the site.
It’s now a radio station all unto itself, as well as a portal where bands can show their music to the world and fans can find their new favourite artists. This is the complete story of how that happened, as told by the people who made it happen.
CHAPTER 1 - Lay It Down
The foundations of the triple j Unearthed website
“What if we had a scenario where people could upload their songs to a website, and those songs could not only be heard by the team at triple j, but also by the entire audience?”
It was a lofty, utilitarian dream that almost made too much sense to former triple j manager Linda Bracken. Independent, Australian artists right around the country could upload their music to a website and get radio play, get reviewed, and find real-world outcomes for their creative endeavours.
“What I wanted was to break the A&R funnel,” Bracken explains.
“The future of a band’s success in Australia shouldn’t rely on someone’s ability to hire a publicist and an A&R guy – and at the time, they were mostly guys.
"I thought the boundaries should be broadened. And if it really worked, it could change the landscape of Australian music in the simple act of changing the way that Australian music surfaced.”
And so, the idea for triplejunearthed.com was born. But how on earth do you build it?
“I had been talking to CBC Radio 3 about an online initiative they had launched called New Music Canada, which was using a platform to capture unsigned music and feature it online,” Bracken recalls.
“I remember thinking: that’s exactly what I want. And so we buddied up – me, Robert Ouimet from the CBC and triple j’s Multiplatform manager Ann Chesterman. We found the money and, using the model the CBC had built as inspiration, came up with the initial build of triplejunearthed.com.”
“She said to me: ‘I want that, Ann’”, Chesterman says. “We both knew that it was definitely the future.
"The idea then was to think about how to create a platform that would allow artists to upload their music and be discovered. For the best music to rise to the top. For a community to develop around the music, to cater to the different genres and to support the discovery.
"We saw triplejunearthed.com as being at the heart of the ecosystem of Australian music.”
And so it was, that the heart began to beat. triplejunearthed.com launched in 2006 as triple j’s initiative to take independent Australian music into the digital era.
Bracken describes it as a “democratic partnership between triple j and the audience.” Building triplejunearthed.com cut out music’s middle man. It gave independent Australian artists an easier alternative for getting their music to the national broadcaster.
“In the past, Unearthed was precious and exciting, but it was becoming hard to sustain,” Bracken said. “triple j would go around the country Unearthing different regions at a time. But bands would often form and break up before we had the opportunity to even hear them.
Obviously, when we were there at the right time – as we were for Grinspoon, Missy Higgins and a bunch of others – it worked wonderfully. But, by the mid-2000s, technology had increased to the point where artists were able to start creating high-quality songs in their own home studios. We wanted to speed up the process, and give the power back to Australian artists, by letting them submit their music on their terms and as soon as they were ready.”
It was a hit. Within the first week of launching, as Chesterman tells it, there were “thousands of tracks uploaded, and artists registered.” Which, in itself, was actually a bit of a problem.
Those early weeks of uploads created a huge queue of tracks to be listened to. Most of that listening fell on the ears of one woman: the first Unearthed producer, Janine Googan.
“In those days, it was literally me,” she said. “I would do all the listening, and manage the day-to-day operations of Unearthed as well. I was in contact with a lot of the artists, and also sending great new uploads to the triple j team. I was riding the horse Linda and Ann built, and trying not to fall off.
"The volume was incredible, which was a blessing in a way, because it made the good stuff stand out. But at a certain point we had to start getting people in to help moderate the music.”
Lots of those early moderators went have become significant people to triple j lore. Including presenters Dom Alessio, Vijay Khurana, Steph Hughes, and Nicole Cheek.
Lots of those early uploads formed the baseline for the incredible Australian music that has come through triplejunearthed.com over the past decade.
“The quality was just amazing,” said ABC Head of Music Chris Scaddan, triple j’s manager from 2007 until earlier this year.
“We really didn’t know if it was going to work, whether the artists would think it wasn’t cool, or whether we’d have a website full of tracks that weren’t quite there.
"But hearing some of those first triplejunearthed.com uploads from Oh Mercy, Young & Restless and Richard In Your Mind blew me away. When those high-calibre artists started coming through, it started to get so exciting. There was no SoundCloud or Bandcamp back then, so it truly was the right concept at the right time.
"The strength of the site, though, continues to be that there’s no easier way to get your music heard by triple j. That there’s a dedicated team who are there to listen to your music and foster the creativity of young Australians. As soon as people cottoned on to that, we were away.”
CHAPTER 2 - iFLY
The site begins to blossom
By 2008, Googan had moved on from Unearthed, and Stephanie Carrick became triplejunearthed.com’s Executive Producer. Under the custodianship of Carrick and Scaddan, triplejunearthed.com began to truly blossom.
It spotlighted and nurtured incredible Australian musicians like Meg Mac, and The Rubens. It gave the next generation of songwriters a voice through Unearthed High. Eventually, it became an entire digital radio station full of independent Australian music.
It also presented as a time for triple j Unearthed to support more diverse Australian music. Music from a variety of geographic and cultural backgrounds and from more diverse genres. Finding that avenue to support more Australian music, and forming a passionate community of artists and reviewers in doing so, has become one of Unearthed’s most important principles.
“When I started, I think the average was maybe 50 new tracks getting uploaded each day,” Carrick said. “I was told by Ann and Janine to take Unearthed to the next level. I was doing a lot of the moderating, with help from Nicole Cheek, Dom and Steph Hughes.
"I was also running all of Unearthed’s competitions and building new partnerships. I thought it was important that any festival triple j presented had an Unearthed comp, so the comps ballooned out to 20 or more per year."
Unearthed’s competitions provide pivotal, real-world outcomes for artists right across the country. Over the years they have allowed acts like Flume, The Jezabels, Northeast Party House and Tired Lion to make their festival debuts.
Others, like Courtney Barnett and Allday, won songwriting workshops, or professional video clips.
Tired Lion’s Sophie Hopes explains how exciting it was for her band to open up Splendour In The Grass in 2015.
“Winning the Splendour comp meant Unearthed flying our band all the way from Perth to Byron Bay to play our first major festival,” she says.
“It was amazing, and even led to us signing a record deal with Dew Process.
"That’s not even to mention the influx of fans we gained simply by being on the Unearthed radar and getting spins on their digital station.
"I honestly feel that this is the best route into a world that only seemed like a pipe dream.
"Having our songs on Unearthed made it feel like it’s actually very possible to make something of yourself in the music industry as an artist. No matter where you are in the country.”
In a way, that’s the beauty of the platform. All it takes is one great song, and sometimes only a couple of hours, for your music to reach a national radio audience. The process can be as quick, with tracks often finding airtime on the same day as they’re uploaded.
“In the early days I would just send the presenters and the music library great tracks when I found them,” Carrick told us. “Vijay would often play stuff I sent him that day. Big Scary’s first song was one he played within an hour of me sending it to him. I remember sending through The Middle East’s ‘Blood’ and no one reviewing it, so I sent it through again!”
“We never had a label,” Hayley and Nick from The Jezabels explained. “So when we uploaded our first single, ‘Disco Love Biscuit’, to Unearthed in 2008, it became obvious to us that Unearthed was the most direct path there was to getting played on triple j.
"The following year we were the Unearthed Feature Artist, and it was extremely exciting. I remember Alex Dyson gave us five stars. It felt very surreal hearing our music coming out of the radio.”
Carrick was also instrumental in securing funding for a Community Producer, and in developing Unearthed’s Indigenous section.
Unearthed’s connection to Indigenous Australian music has only strengthened in the years since. It's fostered through radio airplay for amazing Indigenous artists and through the introduction of initiatives like the Unearthed High Indigenous Initiative. Carrick developed that prize in partnership with the National Indigenous Music Awards.
It gives one Indigenous artist from Unearthed High (this year’s winner was Tia Gostelow) ongoing mentoring from the Association of Artist Managers (AAM), as well as a songwriting workshop with the APRA AMCOS Songmakers program. It’s yet another compelling facet to the undeniable force that Unearthed High has become.
“The thought that always gets me about Unearthed High is: I can’t believe this song came through an artist in high school!” says Scaddan, who planted the early seeds for Unearthed High in 2008.
“My inspiration getting in to music as a teenager in Geelong was that so many of my friends played in cool bands. Unearthed High really came from that idea. We know people are making music in high school. It made sense to offer that opportunity to young people to push boundaries and be creative, and encourage them to make music.The quality of songs keeps increasing as technology is made more available to young people. It’s become such a core tenet of triplejunearthed.com.”
The list of alumni speaks for itself, and we’d be remiss not to include it here. Through Unearthed High, triple j listeners have been introduced to acts like Gretta Ray, Papa Vs Pretty, Stonefield, Montaigne, Japanese Wallpaper, Vancouver Sleep Clinic, Mosquito Coast, Hockey Dad, Tom Ugly, Lupa J, Jesse Davidson, Snakadaktal, Hunting Grounds and Asta.
“I’ll never forget hearing ‘My Heart Is On Fire’ on the radio for the first time during Unearthed High 2012,” said Asta.
“And pulling up to the driveway, and yelling to my mum in the kitchen, and leaving the car running, and us dancing in the headlights. It was a moment where things felt really magical.
"I’ve been so lucky to be able to grow and collaborating with amazing artists ever since that moment. And thanks to Unearthed, I’ve been able to do that for a long time now.”
“To a 16-year-old kid, that world of trying to be taken seriously for your art seemed pretty much impenetrable,” Gab Stum says. Gab won Unearthed High for his work as Japanese Wallpaper, and has since featured in two consecutive Hottest 100s.
“Winning Unearthed High opened all of that up. Two years later, I’m here, I’m touring, and I’m making the record I’ve always wanted to make. That push from Unearthed High opened up all the doors, and made me feel like it was possible to pursue music as a career.”
CHAPTER 3 - Why Don’t We Do Something?
Unearthed becomes a radio station
“By 2010, we were hitting about 100 uploads a day,” Carrick says.
“That’s around about the time we started realising a digital radio station was viable and I could bring on someone full time (Unearthed’s Music Producer Damon Hughes).
"Chris and I worked out the parameters of what Unearthed Digital Radio would and wouldn’t be together, before we launched it in 2011.”
It was the next -most-obvious step in triplejunearthed.com’s development.
The music uploaded to the Unearthed website was of such quality, and coming in at such pace, that there warranted both the introduction of the triple j Unearthed app and an entire digital radio station dedicated to independent Australian music.
“We were able to trial a lot more music through the radio station and get a sense of how it sounds being played multiple times,” Carrick says.
“We didn’t have the luxury to do before. It’s another way to express everything that’s going on on the site, which is a wonderful thing to have.
"[Unearthed Music Director] Dave Ruby Howe has time to communicate with all the artists a lot more, which I couldn’t really do as much as I wanted. He also has a lot more of a public persona.”
Ruby Howe has been at the helm of Unearthed Digital Radio since 2011. He believes the impact it’s had on Unearthed as a part of the Australian music landscape has been pretty massive.
“The website and the station work in tandem to achieve one of our core goals of being a really high-quality music recommendation service,” he says. “We want you finding out about the best new bands first, and we’re doing that for triple j too.
"Sometimes it can happen really quickly; I remember Meg Mag uploading ‘Every Lie’ to the site one night and it being added to triple j the next day.
"Or it can go the other way – the one that still keeps me up at night is how we played Vance Joy’s ‘Riptide’ more than 100 times when he uploaded it in 2012. After he got signed, it got a re-release, and it got to #1 in the Hottest 100!
"Unearthed radio will often be an act’s first airplay or their first interview. I think we’ve been really effective at helping to tell the introductory chapter to a lot of Australian artists’ careers.”
One of Dave’s first discoveries was The Rubens, who he came across a week into his role.
“As well as having the original version of ‘My Gun’ up on their page, there was also ‘Lay It Down’ and I knew that was a special song from the first time I played it,” he says.
“I wanted everybody to hear what I was hearing. I remember on the night of the official launch, myself, Nicole Cheek (then Unearthed digital radio’s Senior Producer) and Chris Scaddan came into the office for when the programming would officially switch over at midnight.
"Chris brought some beers in and we watched the clock tick over, and the digital playout begin. I like that after Snakadaktal’s ‘Air’ kicked off things with Tom & Alex on the morning of the 5th, I had scheduled ‘Lay It Down’ to be the first song played at midnight.”
Everyone who has worked at triple j over the past decade has a similar story. You discover a new artist on triple j Unearthed, you fall in love, and you want to tell the world.
“Dave Hosking was the first artist I came across on Unearthed that really stood out to me,” Dom Alessio says. “He had this song called ‘The Storm’ which was beautiful; quite Fleet Foxes in its sound. Then a couple of months later he emailed me about his new band called Boy & Bear.”
There are so many more stories worth sharing.
“I get goosebumps every time I listen to ‘I Feel Fine, I Feel Sick’, by Melbourne band Ceres,” Damon Hughes says. “So many lyrics in that song resonate with me – not the least of which is ‘my dad died when I was young.’”
“Mine is Lucianblomkamp,” says Celline Narinli, who was a Super User reviewer on Unearthed before joining the team. “I love his complex mix of clipped beats, live instrumentation and lyrics that tap into deeper themes surrounding mortality or the disconnect in modern life.”
It’s an addictive feeling. The sense of secrecy and wonder and urgency that surrounds discovering an amazing artist. It is exciting to sit on the precipice of new Australian music every day, and to share in that experience with a community of artists, reviewers, triple j staff members, Unearthed Super Users, and Australian music lovers.
“I love being a Super User on a platform like Unearthed that levels the playing field for all Australian artists,” says Delia Bartle, who’s been a Super User for two years.
“I’m based in Tasmania and, without Unearthed, so many artists would be unable to break into the national music scene without performing interstate or paying for PR. The best part of Unearthed is being able to discover new music on a platform that enables all Australian artists to be heard equally, regardless of financial status.”
The sense of goodwill and community extends across all Australian time zones:
“I live in rural WA so in most cases, new local music is quite inaccessible,” Super User Georgie Wilkie says.
“Discovering triple j Unearthed and becoming a Super User has given me a platform to feel inspired and encouraged everyday by the Unearthed family. It's incredible to be connected to such an enthusiastic and passionate community of people who love new Australian music as much as I do!”
CHAPTER 4 - So Good
We're just getting started
“It’s a pretty pure connection,” triple j’s longtime Music Director Richard Kingsmillsays. Kingsmill has personally reviewed more than 450 songs on the new Unearthed website.
“Having triplejunearthed.com has put us and our audience directly in touch with new Independent Australian artists in a way that wasn’t possible before. It’s given us an insight into some pretty amazing talent from a very early perspective.
"Our excitement and the audience’s excitement has been like a two-way street – it’s helped feed off each other. The proof of its impact is to just see who has come through triplejunearthed.com and then developed into important acts here and worldwide.”
Frankly, that’s an absurd list of artists. Kingsmill quickly cites Flume, Meg Mac, and Courtney Barnett among Unearthed’s biggest success stories. But you don't have to look hard for more.
Remi. Tkay Maidza. Washington. Matt Corby. Tired Lion. Alex Lahey. San Cisco. Ball Park Music. Kingswood. All Day. The Jezabels. The Preatures. King Gizzard. Big Scary. Ngaiire. Airling. You get the picture.
Through triplejunearthed.com, we’ve had the pleasure of introducing more Australian acts to you than any other time in triple j’s 40-year history. And we've watched those artists go on to shape the trajectory of music both here and overseas.
“It’s been such a buzz looking back over the last decade of discoveries,” says Lachie Macara, who has been with Unearthed since 2013, and is currently its Executive Producer.
“Working with emerging artists, you’re constantly looking to the future. So it’s not often we give ourselves the time to reflect and reminisce.
"I think now, more than ever, triple j Unearthed reflects what this country looks and sounds like. Some of the most exciting sounds of the last few years have come from new acts with diverse backgrounds, perspectives and approaches. I’m really looking forward to seeing where that goes next.”
“When the Unearthed team send me songs they’ve discovered, I know they’re going to be great. Because there’s world-class music uploaded to the site all the time,” Alessio says.
“It’s amazing to hear the diversity of Australian music on there and, even though I’ve been doing this job for a while now, that thrill of discovering something new on the website has never faded.
"triple j Unearthed is all about the power of the song.
"Free from spin, free from hype, triple j Unearthed can present an artist to the nation purely based on the song they’ve uploaded.
"That’s a beautiful and powerful thing. I can’t think of anything else like it in Australia, or the world for that matter."
…And there it is. Inevitably, anyone involved with triplejunearthed.com over the past decade will come out with some variation of the same seven-word sentence. “There’s nothing like it in the world.”
During the interview process for this article, Alessio, Bracken, Carrick, Cheek, Chesterman, Googan, Kingsmill, Macara, Ruby Howe and Scaddan all said it more than once.
To do what triplejunearthed.com does for Australian music as actively and consistently as it does is undeniably special. For it to become as integrated as it has become into the careers of young Australian musicians can’t be dismissed.
For ten years, triplejunearthed.com has revolutionised the way you receive new Australian music. We’re excited to keep doing just that. Hopefully, as the website continues to grow, and as Australian music continues to be the best in the world, triplejunearthed.com will surpass all expectations Bracken had back when all of this was just an idea.
“I’m most proud of the way triplejunearthed.com has changed the Australian music industry,” she says. “It was a big dream – to give artists a better deal and a fairer go at turning their talents into careers in music. And that it has succeeded is just wonderful.”