I first met Blair Hughes when he began working the door at The Zoo, one of my favourite live music venues, sometime in 2008. We’ve since struck up a friendship around Brisbane Sounds, an annual compilation CD he started producing in 2007 to promote the city’s independent music scene.
This year I helped Blair out by MCing the Brisbane Sounds 2010 media launch at The Zoo, and writing about the project in my first story for The Big Issue. What follows is the email interview I used as the basis for that story. [The first two photos are via Elleni Toumpas.]
Andrew: As you see it, what’s your role among the Brisbane music scene?
Blair: I view myself and the role which I have created with Brisbane Sounds as an educator or ambassador for Brisbane music. That obviously comes from my previous role working as a middle year’s school teacher and the fact that I’m very passionate about the Brisbane music scene and the diversity of genres and talent in Brisbane and want other people to hear that message. At another level I also see myself as an emerging music promoter that has created something important for Brisbane but knows that I still have a lot to learn in the music industry.
Was starting Brisbane Sounds one of those ‘ no-one else is doing it, so I’ll give it a shot’-type situations?
To an extent it was very much like that and it really just started out as a hobby. When I get behind an idea, I see it through to the end and I really had no idea at the start where this was going to lead. Brisbane music has been a part of my life since adolescence but I never imagined that I would end up becoming a promoter, let alone producing a compilation album.
Brisbane Sounds started in October 2006 when I was finishing up a degree in Education and Behavioural Studies at UQ and I had decided to head off to England to commence the first year of my teaching career. I produced Brisbane Sounds 2007 as a way to showcase Brisbane music to new people on the road and had a little success throughout the year, but on a coach trip from Cambridge to London towards the end of 2007, I wrote inside the cover of the book “How to succeed in the music business” a few goals for the following year. Those goals were to find a job in a music venue in Australia, promote a gig, make a professional CD release with Brisbane Sounds, and work at a music venue in England. A week later back in Australia I got a job at The Zoo nightclub in Brisbane, put on the first Brisbane Sounds gig in February 2008, have since produced three professional releases in Brisbane sounds 2008-2010 and worked at the Hammersmith Apollo in London.
How did your previous career in education help your work with this initiative?
I have always wanted to work with young people and after high school, education was an obvious choice but I also did a degree in Behavioural Studies which was also useful for understanding human behaviour. In the future I would like to find a positive way that I can combine both Brisbane Sounds and working with at-risk young people to improve their lives.
I was bullied every day throughout primary school and that made me want to become a teacher and never see the stuff that happened to me, happen to any of the students under my care. When I was transitioning from the school setting to the music setting, I found the transition quite easy to be honest as there were a lot of elements in the music industry that I found I was already skilled in from working with school students, such as planning, time and behaviour management.
From my experience, the parallels between working with children and working with musicians are that they both need guidance and counselling from time to time, they need a leader or role model with the knowledge and expertise in their area to then guide them forward, they need a lot of help getting organised and management of their behaviour and they also need someone who will help them harness their creative and hungry minds.
Sixfthick, The Gin Club, Hungry Kids of Hungary, DZ and one to watch, The Honey Month.
Of the 24 acts on this year’s compilation, which single band or artist would you recommend to the head of a major label?
If I only had time to name one band from the Brisbane Sounds 2010 compilation, I would probably go with Hungry Kids of Hungary who have a good management team, have a sound that would work for both the US and the UK music scenes and have the work ethic to make it happen. Apart from that, they have a handsome lead singer and girls just love that and it brings them to the gigs!
Is ‘getting signed’ at the top of the list of goals you’d like for Brisbane Sounds-associated acts to achieve? If it’s not, what is at the top?
No certainly not, the idea of an artist getting ‘signed’ is probably more like second or third down the batting order because Brisbane Sounds is more about promoting the Brisbane music scene as a whole and creating a movement to draw awareness to the quality and diversity of artists in Brisbane. It’s not just about promoting the artists on the compilation as Brisbane Sounds is inclusive for every band in Brisbane. The main goal is to actively promote how good the Brisbane music scene is and that more people of all ages should be coming out to gigs, purchasing local music and really supporting the artists that are part of their own backyard. I just feel that in Australia, people view ‘local music’ as being substandard and unprofessional when in fact our country has thriving local music scenes with artists creating quality music.
You’ve created this compilation to promote Brisbane music. Which is more important: the industry introduction aspect, where you’re trying to put the disc into the hands of labels, agents etc. Or is it aimed more at music fans, those who might find some new bands they love, and show all their friends?
Overall, the compilation is about putting together an item which serves three purposes. The first being that it can be used as a marketing tool for the promotion of Brisbane, the second that it can get into the hands of A&R and radio reps and the third and best point is that anyone can purchase Brisbane Sounds 2010 and play it front to back because there is something there for everyone. The way I structure the Brisbane Sounds compilations enables me to tap into those three groups by producing a CD that has all of them in mind. For example, Brisbane Marketing have been right behind the project since last year and have been distributing copies to international delegates to Brisbane, I’ve had meetings with A&R reps from Sony and Live Nation in London and the CD has been selling well through independent record stores across Australia. Red Eye Records in Sydney even sold out of stock before Rockinghorse Records in Brisbane did!
Are you able to comment on the factors that, in your mind, have contributed to Brisbane bands like Powderfinger, The Grates, Regurgitator, and more recently Yves Klein Blue and The John Steel Singers attracting attention from outside Queensland?
Overall it’s that they have hard working management and creative marketing systems and teams in place. I also believe that if an artist is to be successful then they have to have something that people want and will go out of their way to get. Ultimately the music has to stand out and be above average, but at the end of the day, it is great management and hard working people which get those artists to higher levels in the music world. There are very passionate and intelligent people who are behind the artists you have mentioned.
Have you approached triple j with the compilation? What kind of response have you seen from them?
Triple J has played the compilation which is great, but I’ve never had any direct contact or support from them as such. On the other hand, Brisbane independent radio station 4ZzZ has gone out of their way to support Brisbane Sounds. I hope that down the track Triple J becomes like the BBC in England where there are a few Triple J stations and perhaps a Triple J2 or something like that which has a main focus on local artists throughout Australia. In saying that I’m open to talks with the Jay’s so maybe Richard Kingsmill needs to give me a call.
How did the partnership with Bandtag come about?
I first heard about Bandtag through my boss at The Zoo in Brisbane. I was looking at creative and interesting ways to use new forms of technology to promote Brisbane Sounds and Bandtag was one of those exciting new opportunities. I contacted Erin who runs Bandtag on the Gold Coast and we struck up a partnership to take Bandtag to the QLD music conference Big Sound where we could promote both of our businesses at the same time. The benefits of Bandtag are that you can have the artist’s music tracks and artwork on a glossy card which has a code on the back that you enter into the Bandtag website. It means that for touring or going to conferences, it becomes a lot easier to carry and hand out then a CD. The ones which I have got for SXSW and Great Escape serve as a business card as well with my details on the back, artwork on the front and 15 tracks from the compilation embedded into the card.
What are your plans to promote the compilation in Brisbane throughout 2010?
There are many new elements that will form part of Brisbane Sounds over the next few months and leading into 2011. I’m organising a number of Brisbane Sounds spin-off gigs this year such as “Brisbane Sounds Presents….Hip-hop, Alt-Country, Rock, Indie” etc which will use artists from Brisbane Sounds 2010 as well as other Brisbane artists to create a night of that genre of music. I’ve set myself the goal of 20 gigs this year and I’m working hard to achieve that. I also now run a Brisbane Sounds stall at the West End markets focusing on what’s happening in the Brisbane music scene.
I’m also looking at starting a management side to Brisbane Sounds and down the track I would also like to develop Brisbane Sounds into an outside festival.
What about on a national level?
At the national level I want to continue to network with people in the music industry and increase the profile of Brisbane Sounds across Australia. I want to form more business partnerships and solidify my place as a promoter and producer in Australia. I’d like to do some interstate tours or rural tours with Brisbane artists as well as apply for a few national grants such as the JB Seed because like anyone in the arts, I could use a bit of extra funding. I also set myself the goal of meeting and getting some advice from all seven music industry leaders from Christie Eliezer’s book “High Voltage Rock ‘N’ Roll: The Movers and Shakers in the Australian Rock Industry” in 2010.
On an international level?
The next few months are pretty crazy with international travel to music conferences in Austin, Texas and Brighton, England for South By South West (SXSW) and The Great Escape respectively. I’m focused on networking and meeting people who work in the music industry outside of Australia to be able to increase their knowledge and educate them more about Brisbane music. I always envisaged going to these conferences as a punter, but it’s very exciting and rewarding to be able to take my business to them.
Who do you plan to meet while at these conferences, and why? What’s your networking plan of attack?
I have two goals for the music conferences that I will attend this year. The first goal is that I plan to meet radio and A&R reps as well as music supervisors who place music in films and advertisements. I have already started making contact with some of these people for both SXSW and The Great Escape in order to have meetings while I’m in the US and England.
The second goal is that I want to meet promoters, managers and artists to continue to get more skills and improve my professional development in the music industry. Overall, my plan of attack is to talk to everyone. I’m taking 500 of the Brisbane Sounds bandtags to these conferences and I’m going to try my hardest to meet music supervisors and promoters down to volunteers and local people. I’m very much the type of person who likes to talk and has the time to listen to anyone. You never know who you could be talking too and at these types of conferences that’s very exciting.
Alright then, what’s your elevator pitch at those kind of events?
G’day, I’m Blair and I work as a music promoter and cultural producer in Brisbane, Australia. I promote gigs involving Brisbane artists and produce the only annual compilation CD featuring a diverse selection of Brisbane bands called Brisbane Sounds the aim of which is to increase the visibility of the Brisbane music scene in Brisbane, Australia and across the globe.
Cheers Blair. Visit brisbanesounds.com for more information on the Brisbane Sounds compilations. Check out my related story for The Big Issue here.