As a conference for Australia’s music industry, from the biggest in the pond to those making their first splash, BIGSOUND does an admirable job of remembering the human element of its many delegates and attendees.
After the first big night of acts and bands – over 60+ scattershot through 12 venues across Fortitude Valley – it was a rare sight to see many shuffling from their gig-induced slumber before the Q&A with Mark Poston from EMI Music Australia before 10am.
With over twenty years experience in the industry, from manning the counter at a record store to eventually becoming the key component behind one of the labels that stocked them, Poston has that glow of wisdom about him as he converses with Jason “Jabba” Davis about the importance of “working hard, asking questsions.”
Similar advice could have been gleaned from the Triple J Unearthed Workshop, a rare chance to have an open mic discussion with three of the youth station’s key personnel – Stephanie Carrick, Nicole Cheek and Dave Ruby Howe. It’s a shame then that it looked like many of the young artists that could’ve benefited from the discussion were yet to rise to the Brisbane sunshine.
The mid-morning series of talks once again demonstrated the scope and detail of BIGSOUND’s program, catering to the specifics of breaking into the Canadian music market, the relevance of Country music – debunking the myth that it’s a dirty word in the popular circles – and a more lighthearted turn into waxing nostalgic about songs that had personal significance for a number of music figures. David Bridie, Powderfinger guitarist Ian Haug and Oh Mercy’s Alexander Gow among them.
More bodies could be found out of seats than in them, more specifically lining up for a second day of free lunch or lining James Street down at the Michael Chugg-curated lunchtime showcase. Featuring hometown acts such as the likes of the Sheppard siblings and the frilly-named Streamer Bendy giving it some pop and circumstance, namely playing to a crowd just beginning to ease into the full swing of things. Lastly, Sydney’s Lime Cordiale soundtracked everyone moving to the afternoon’s activities with their Arctic Monkeys-like guitar rock.
The big panel of the afternoon was the controversially titled ‘Are Artists Getting Paid Too Much?’ The knee-jerk reaction being ‘no’, but the slightly misleading title, considering the high-rolling representatives lining the stage, was in fact designed to chew the fat over the rising price of booking acts and the inevitable interlacing of the economy game into the music fold.
It was refreshing to hear the likes of Big Day Out’s Ken West and Splendour In The Grass co-founder/new Falls Festival partner Jess Ducrou emphasise that for them, it was as much about the love of the band as it was their brand surviving in a saturated market.
Select Music’s Stephen Wade, using the swift rise of Boy & Bear as an example, took the other side of the coin. Emphasising the importance of not breaking an act too quickly, and just how far everyone – agents, publicists, marketing – have to plan ahead to keep ahead of the curve.
Meanwhile, Aly Ehlinger of international company C3 Presents, responsible for Lollapalooza and new partners Big Day Out, offered some interesting perspective on Gotye’s impossible success in America – calling it “too much, too fast.” Saying that Gotye added value to a festival more so than he did selling his own shows.
Interesting considering that here in Australia, Mr. De Backer has gone the opposite approach – his name staying out of the recent spate of summer festival announcements. Interestingly, Ducrou admitted that she’d attempted to land the ‘Somebody That I Used To Know’ sensation when she had her “Homebake hat on,” to headline this year’s iteration only to be turned down because he “wanted to do his own stadiums” – trumping for his national tour this December.
“It would have been perfect,” laments Ducrou, while One Louder Entertainment founder and director Bill Cullen openly conjectured that “festivals with more money than Homebake would’ve easily payed half-a-million.” A statement that got to the crux of the argument, the balance between an artist going for the big dollars to capitalise on a torrent of YouTube views, Facebook likes and radioplay – or think in the long-term, deliberately downplaying the bigger stages for long-term goals.
There was much more enlightening discussion to be had, but the highlights came in the frank admittance from festival promoters that they were no big a fan of the big dollar game than the punters paying for the high-priced tickets. Such as Jess Ducrou saying that Coldplay were “not a festival band” after their name failed to help sell out last year’s Splendour, or Ken West poignantly stressing, “I don’t want to risk my house every year.”
It was less grim, but no less entertaining upstairs where several important Australian producers talked to a packed room of young artists looking for hints and tips on ‘Making The Most Of Your Debut Recording’. Aside from hearing war stories from legendary desk jockeys like Wayne Connelly and Anthony Lycenko, the general golden rules were lots of preparation, pre-production and learn your instrument.
Trying to sound like other acts to get ‘that sound’ was also chalked up as another siren that misleads young bands, while the simply sagely advice to release an album in the first quarter of the year ensured that “it’ll be a new album all year.” The outspoken Heath Bradby gave some of the juicier quotes, drawing from his long-winding career as manager, A&R guy and as the current Managing Director of Fidelity Corporation.
Leaning back in his chair in trucker cap and low-cut MC5 tee, leaning out of his seat to deliver his insight: “if you’re going into the recording studio to make money. Don’t go into the recording studio… make art!” Calling Australian acts “a bit sonically conservative when it comes to sounds.”
Meanwhile Connolly hummed with the gentle charm you’d expect of a man who has produced some of Australia’s most beloved albums (including You Am I, The Fauves and more recently Paul Dempsey), and Lycenko kept an earnest view on the direction of the industry, while also offering the tasty nugget in response to an audience question about drugs in the recording studio. Speaking of Suede in their heady London days, “they pretty much hired a drug dealer to be in the studio.”
It’s these kinds of moments that are the true treasure of BIGSOUND’s conferences. The little reminders that while the gathering of so many of the Australian music industry offers the chance to network, connect and construct – that behind the big-sounding titles, the bulking CVs and dauntingly impressive list of achievements, nearly everyone is here because of their passion for the music. For their love of the sound and the thrill.
It may sound romantic, but as the evening’s entertainment approaches, it’s that relatable aspect that ensures that everyone is on a level playing field. Because the many venues hosting many more acts will be lined with everyone from the mightiest CEOS to the lowliest of hangers-on. All there for the one reason, to be many in a crowd, watching a band do their thing.
As the quiet rumble of a million deals and opportunities being brokered up and down the bars and beer huts of Brunswick Street settles as the second day comes to a close, it’s the same question that surfaces to the lips of everyone. “Who are you seeing tonight?”