Archive for September, 2011

  • AusIndies.com.au guest post: ‘In praise of earplugs’, September 2011

    A guest post for AusIndies.com.au, the online home of the Australian Independent Record Labels Association (AIR). Excerpt below.

    In praise of earplugs: A live music reviewer’s perspective

    Anyone who regularly witnesses live music and doesn’t wear earplugs is an idiot.

    This is non-negotiable. No ifs, no buts. If you watch bands playing their music through amplifiers on a regular basis and you don’t wear earplugs, you’re silly.

    It’s the aural equivalent of staring into the sun. Sooner or later it’s going to hurt, and it’s going to make your life worse.

    Human nature being what it is, I completely understand why people are hesitant to take proactive measures to protect their hearing. The conversation tends to go something like: “If there’s no problem besides the occasional ringing ear after a concert, what’s the problem? Ringing ears are part of the live music experience, right?”

    Right, to an extent. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

    Picture it like this. You started life with 100% hearing. By exposing yourself to prolonged periods of loud noise – like, say, The Drones owning The Corner Hotel for 90 minutes on a Saturday night – you’re consistently chipping away at fractions of that 100%. Human hearing has no natural regenerative properties. Hearing aids may work in some circumstances, but that’s a reactive measure; something you might look into once you’ve made the mistake of standing next to the speaker stacks once too often.

    Like mental illness, hearing loss is easy to overlook because it’s something experienced by the individual, and rarely observed by outsiders. Tangible evidence is rare. If you start losing your hearing, your friends might even notice sooner than you do. They’ll see you straining to hear them talk in noisy environments – like, say, a music venue – and they might mock you for being hard of hearing.

    They have every right to – as long as they’re wearing earplugs. Because hearing loss is preventable, even among the most avid live music fans, as long as certain precautions are taken.

    Like wearing earplugs.

    I generally encountered two main concerns when I raise this topic.

    One: “I’ll look like an idiot while I’m putting them in and taking them out”.

    And two: “They’ll ruin the gig’s sound quality”.

    To read the full article, visit AusIndies.com.au.

  • AusIndies.com.au guest post: ‘Artist patronage’, September 2011

    A guest post for AusIndies.com.au, the online home of the Australian Independent Record Labels Association (AIR). Excerpt below.

    Artist patronage: What does it mean to be a fan in 2011?

    If you tell me you’re a fan of The Jezabels or Kanye West in 2011, what might you mean by that?

    Let’s assume that you mean that, at a base level, you enjoy listening to music written, recorded and performed by a particular artist or band. You identify with their music, or lyrics, or image, for whatever reason. And so you elect to align yourself with this artist or band by listening to their music, ‘liking’ them on Facebook, telling your friends about their music, following them on Twitter, buying a ticket to their nearby shows, buying a t-shirt advertising their name, and perhaps, buying their music.

    The latter three are optional, nowadays; the last one, especially so. In 2011, buying music is like the ‘maybe’ you select on a Facebook event invite so as to not offend your friend, even though you immediately know you don’t want to attend. You know that you can buy an artist’s music, but you know that you can just as easily hear their music without making a transaction. You know that YouTube, streaming services and torrents are the most efficient methods of listening to music without having to pay for it.

    In 2011, it’s easier than ever to be a fan of an artist without ever parting with your money.

    This is a problematic situation for all but the biggest artists, many of who were already established before Napster smashed the piñata with a sledgehammer and left the entire music industry scrambling on the ground for pennies.

    It’s a bizarre situation where you can know all the words to your new favourite band’s debut album and catch their buzz-driven set during summer festival season without ever making an explicit donation into their wallets. They’ll get a performance fee from the tour promoter, of course, but generally speaking, the road to the Big Day Out is paved with poverty and hardship for every artist without wealthy benefactors supporting their art.

    Historically, this role has been inhabited by the record label: the wealthy benefactor who provided cash for talented musicians so that they might grow and mature as songwriters and performers. So that they might sell more records, play larger venues, and eventually provide a return on the record label’s initial investment. Labels were banks, signing mortgages to artists who might someday be able to own the house outright.

    Labels are banks, still, but they’re no longer the only service provider. Canny media platforms and service providers like Bandcamp and Topspin can become surrogate record labels for artists by distributing and marketing their music on a worldwide basis. Canny artists, too, can manage their own affairs, if they’re willing to invest significant attention into the business side of creativity. A third – and often overlooked – option exists: fans as artist patrons.

    We Are Hunted co-founder Nick Crocker defines patronage as, “One that supports, protects, or champions someone or something, such as an institution, event, or cause; a sponsor or benefactor: a patron of the arts.

    This notion of artist patronage is what we need to foster among the next generation of music fans. That music is valuable, because talent isn’t free.

    To read the full article, visit AusIndies.com.au.

  • The Australian live review: Elixir featuring Katie Noonan, September 2011

    A live review for The Australian. I don’t usually publish my live reviews here on my blog – I keep track of them on my Last.FM journal instead, which is also syndicated in the right column of this page – but since this is my first review for the national paper, I thought I’d make an exception. Full review below.

    Incidentally, this is the 223rd live review I’ve written since June 2007.

    Katie Noonan spreads warmth against the chill winds

    MUSIC Elixir. Featuring Katie Noonan
    Brisbane Powerhouse, September 9.

    THE true mettle of any musical outfit can be measured against how they perform in adverse situations.

    Six hours before this show, inner-city Brisbane is subject to a torrential downpour. When Elixir begin their first set of a two-night stand, a chill wind runs through the makeshift outdoor theatre.

    It stays this way throughout their 90-minute performance. Yet besides the occasional raised eyebrow and witty quip between songs, the three-piece jazz trio and their string quartet stay focused, airborne sheet music be damned.

    Eight years have passed between Elixir’s self-titled 2003 release and last month’s First Seed Ripening. Late in the set, singer Katie Noonan remarks that she was “much younger, single, and not a mum” when she first wrote Tip of Memory, the first track from their debut. Soprano saxophonist Zac Hurren — Noonan’s husband — beams approvingly.

    The trio is completed by guitarist and rhythmic linchpin Stephen Magnusson, who sits straight-backed centrestage and remains stoically poised, even while deftly navigating the fretboard.

    Unexpectedly, the insistent gusts add dramatic heft to Elixir’s elegant compositions. It’s quite something to behold Noonan’s purple dress aflutter while she emotes through remarkable voice and outsized gestures.

    At times, the purr of a side-of-stage generator is louder than the musicians; wind can be heard through the singer’s microphone.

    A couple of covers are aired, though the trio prefer to consider them “tributes”. There’s a spacey version of the 2007 Radiohead b-side Last Flowers, which features Noonan twiddling with a vocal effects unit, and a loose interpretation of Joni Mitchell’s My Old Man.

    Highlights include new track Hemispheres, thanks largely to the intricate string parts that bookend its six-minute narrative, and Tip of Memory, with contrasting string accompaniment of violence and beauty arranged by Paul Grabowksy.

    While rubbing her hands together in a final attempt to generate heat, Noonan declares the band are heading inside “to test the theory that red wine makes you feel warmer. We’ll do our own market research”.

    Their finely crafted set ends with Snapshot and words from Noonan that are less suggestion than command: “Go home and cuddle, to keep warm.”

    For more Elixir, check out the below embedded video or visit Katie Noonan’s website.

  • The Weekend Australian book review: Marieke Hardy – ‘You’ll Be Sorry When I’m Dead’, September 2011

    A book review for The Weekend Australian’s Review. Excerpt below.

    No bottom to the naked truth

    You’ll Be Sorry When I’m Dead
    By Marieke Hardy
    Allen & Unwin, 304pp, $29.99

    Life in modern Australia as a hedonistic young woman is vividly portrayed in Marieke Hardy’s You’ll Be Sorry When I’m Dead.

    Hardy, 35, charts her life so far via a series of short stories built around particular themes or events – a friend being diagnosed with breast cancer, her adolescent love of the Fitzroy Football Club, the shame of holidaying with her parents as a single adult – which allow for digressions to help assemble a fuller picture.

    We learn Hardy, the granddaughter of author Frank Hardy, is an only child raised by a pair of “theatre folk” whose open attitude toward nudity rubbed off on their daughter. Hardy writes gleefully of informing programming staff at radio station Triple J during a job interview that there are naked photographs of her “all over the internet”. She was married once, in her late 20s, to a man with a young child from a previous relationship. This relationship is mentioned on page 101, then glossed over until their acrimonious break-up is detailed near the end of the book.

    In between Hardy, a Melbourne-based broadcaster and scriptwriter for shows such as Packed to the Rafters and most recently the ABC series Laid, depicts what seems like her entire romantic history.

    From scampering around naked men in the Fitzroy changerooms as a wide-eyed, sexless child to attending her first swingers’ night, her stories leave little on the cutting room floor when it comes to sex. At the swingers’ night, after describing an excruciating series of pre-coitus conversations where both author and participants coyly refuse to reveal much about themselves, Hardy is confronted with the beginnings of an orgy:

    In the corner, just out of view, somebody was already making a spectacular amount of noise on the round bed. We edged our way towards it, stepping over the anarchy of flesh. “I do believe,” I said in hushed, reverent tones to my boyfriend when our eyes adjusted, “that nice lady in the trench coat over there is being fisted.”

    Your reaction to that particular image will determine whether or not Hardy’s eye for graphic detail is for you. It’s clear that little shocks the author, and this self-aware, detached manner of approaching her role as narrator heightens the appeal of these stories.

    Curiously, Hardy allows some of the people she writes about to respond, with revealing results. At the end of a chapter where Hardy and her then-boyfriend engage the services of a male prostitute, her ex writes, via email: “My only criticism, as a writer, would be, if you’re going to share then don’t hold back. Because it seems you want to share Marieke the caricature, when the soul of the Marieke that I knew, in dark, hard times, well, she was a real person. And a lovely one at that.”

    For the full review, visit The Australian’s website. For more on the book, visit Allen & Unwin.

  • Stilts journal submission: ‘Home is where I live and work’, September 2011

    I was asked to submit a piece for the first issue of a Brisbane literary journal named Stilts. The brief was short: I could write about anything, as long as it began with ‘Home is where…’. I decided to write frankly about what it’s like to work from home, which I’ve been doing on and off for over two years.

    I’ve included the full text below; click here to check out the rest of the Stilts issue, which includes an excellent piece from John Birmingham. Illustration by Merilyn Smith.

    Home is where I live and work

    Business and leisure, both rolled into the one location. This has benefits and costs. Benefit: No early-morning, cross-town commute. Cost: If I don’t have any meetings scheduled, I generally don’t leave the house. There’s a point each day—usually about 2pm—where I become thoroughly disgusted with myself and have to change out of my pyjamas. Benefit: A dedicated, comfortable workspace that’s free from distraction. Theoretically. Cost: Every form of entertainment imaginable is never more than a few footsteps or mouse clicks away from that same workspace.

    I am a freelance journalist. I’ve been doing this full time for almost a year. Monday to Friday I research, pitch, interview for, and write stories. I try to adhere to the business hours of the ‘real world’ so that I can interact with people at their workplaces. People, like editors, who determine my weekly income.

    I often feel as though I’m living outside the system. I can pinpoint this feeling on my choice to not partake in the work commute. I’ve been there before, and found that the cyclical nature of that process—a joyless hour or two that’s essentially lost to the sands of time—was a massive drain on my creativity and optimism. Occasionally, I feel guilty for living outside this daily ritual. I don’t take my ability to roll out of bed whenever the hell I feel like it for granted; more often than not, I feel like a cheat, a scoundrel, for having arranged my life in this way. If I’m to fully understand the world as a journalist and capture that understanding in my writing, it’s important to be able to relate to my fellow man.

    I’ve blocked off Saturday as my ‘PC-free day’. Before I made this decision, the laptop was the biggest source of anxiety in my life. I’m not an anxious person but the laptop is the source of my entire income. My mindset was something like, if I’m not using the laptop, I’m not getting paid. I need to get paid to continue living my life outside of the system. Now that Saturday is my PC-free day, I only feel this anxiety six days a week, not seven.

    Ultimately, the fact that I live and work in Brisbane is largely inconsequential. When I’m at home, working, I could be anywhere in the world. All I need is my laptop, a sturdy desk, a strong internet connection, a comfortable chair, and loud speakers. Everything else is a bonus. With those five components in place, I’m content.

    Brisbane is convenient. I know a lot of people here. There are a lot of stories to be told here. I don’t have enough experience living elsewhere to compare Brisbane’s creative communities to any another. But I know from experience that Brisbane is a fine place for a freelance journalist to call home.

    For more Stilts, visit their website. Thanks to editor Katia Pase for inviting me to write.

  • Qweekend story: ‘I went to the drive-in and this is what I saw’, September 2011

    A story for Qweekend; my first contribution to their weekly ‘what I saw’ series of observational short stories.

    Click the below images for a closer look, or read the article text underneath. Photography by David Kelly.

    I went to the drive-in and this is what I saw

    Thirty-eight kilometres south-east of Brisbane lies a large, lumpy car park just off the Pacific Motorway. It’s an unremarkable piece of land but for the two enormous white billboards at either end. At half-past five on a Saturday afternoon, a dozen vehicles are queued at the entrance. Relaxed female staff stride out to the central booth and begin letting traffic through.

    Two different sessions screen simultaneously at the Yatala Twin Drive-In Theatre – hence the name – and since seeing one costs adults $13 each and two costs $16, it seems wasteful not to commit to the double. “What movie are you watching, darlin’?” the attendant asks. My partner and I opt for the pair showing in field two: fantasy-action film Thor and medieval-themed comedy Your Highness.

    The parallels between regular cinemas and the Twin begin with “seating”. As with an indoor theatre, central real estate is snapped up first, while late entrants are relegated to the wings and neck-craning front rows. In the middle of the property, a single-storey building serves the dual purposes of business HQ and food outlet. The decor borrows heavily from the ’50s-era American diner aesthetic, right down to the life-size Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe statues in the foyer – “Please don’t touch”, reads a sign on Elvis’s guitar. A formidable wall of sweets makes young eyes water. Attendants serve dagwood dogs, Chiko Rolls, hot chips and popcorn, while an elderly manager potters behind the scenes.

    All four films screening tonight are new(ish) releases. Those parked in field one will be privy to Rio and Fast & Furious 5. This ensures that visiting the Yatala Twin isn’t a novelty excursion into yesteryear but an independent alternative to watching films at a megaplex.

    Beyond a row of tall trees at the foot of the property, the queue of brake lights on Stapylton-Jacobs Well Road extends into the fading dusk. Most headlights are dimmed once inside the theatre, as drivers heed a sign that reads: “Definitely no lights”. Seated at a table outside the diner, eyeballing the procession of slow-moving vehicles, we’re glad we got here early.

    It’s chilly in Yatala tonight. Slippers and ugg boots are common; children, especially, are revelling in the chance to publicly parade their brightly-coloured pyjamas. The painful shriek of low-bodied sports cars scraping their undersides on the bumpy terrain occasionally interrupts a PA soundtrack comprised solely of golden-oldies.

    We gaze up at the giant white billboard and attempt to estimate its height. Twenty-five metres? Thirty? (We learn on the theatre’s website later that it’s actually 13.4m.) As we walk back uphill, the diner’s painfully bright fluorescent lights destroy what limited night-sight the human eye can muster. It’s a complaint echoed by a pair of teenage girls, with whom we nearly collide. “We can’t see a bloody thing!” they say, startled.

    Dean and Jess, a couple of Yatala regulars, are lounging on a mattress in the back of their station wagon. How does tonight compare to previous outings? “It’s cold,” Dean says. “That’s about it!” We all laugh. His mother once worked for the defunct Richlands Twin Drive-In Theatre. After getting his driver’s licence, Dean and his mates often spent weekend nights within these very grounds. “We like coming here. It’s peaceful. You get to lie back,” he says, gesturing at the mattress.

    A strange feeling descends in the calm before Thor. It’s the realisation that we’re sitting in a dark carpark with hundreds of others, listening to a live Elvis album recorded in the 1950s. Parents tell their children to stay within sight. Some have brought fold-up chairs; others make use of ute trays. Blankets are a prerequisite. Many simply sit in warm little bubbles, radios tuned to the relevant frequency. Everyone respects their neighbours’ space. There’s something incredibly romantic about the manner in which this experience brings people together, far more so than an average trip to the cinema. Who knows how many children have been conceived here?

    Beside each parking space is a steel pole lit by tiny, candle-like orange bulbs. The poles hold two chunky, steel-encased speakers designed to be hung inside car windows. The units are hefty. They give off the impression that the hardware hasn’t been upgraded since the theatre was opened, in October 1974, with one screen. (It became the Yatala Twin in 2000.)

    The speakers buzz with distortion whenever things explode in Thor (which is often), or when starlet Zooey Deschanel breaks into song in Your Highness. Those who possess adequate stereos and generosity toward their fellow man blast the radio at windscreen-rattling volume.

    During the interval, the queue for the ladies’ is dozens-deep. Happily, the guys’ queue is non-existent. Most of those parked in field two leave after Thor. Some cars creep forward a few rows.

    Fifteen minutes into Your Highness, the yellow glow of the RACQ logo glides by. Three cars over, 32 year-old Alisha and her partner Frank are stranded. They had intended to relocate and watch Fast & Furious 5, only to find that their engine wouldn’t turn over. Theatre staff have a battery pack on hand to assist but it hasn’t helped. Frank’s son, Ryan, is in the back of their white wagon. “We come here every three or four months, just for something different,” says Alisha. “Ryan likes coming. In summertime, it’s awesome.” She butts out her cigarette on the bitumen. “There needs to be more of them,” she adds. “We come all the way from Ipswich. There’s one there, but it just shows old movies.”

    As soon as the credits start roll, brake lights pierce the darkness. Our neighbours shoot off a few minutes before the film’s end. They leave in such a hurry that they fail to put their rubbish in a nearby bin. It’s the sole instance of unbecoming behaviour witnessed during nearly six hours spent parked before the giant, white billboard in field two. Our engine starts with the assistance of crossed fingers.

  • GameSpot story: ‘The State of the Aussie Game Development Industry in 2012′, September 2011

    A feature story for GameSpot. Excerpt below.

    The State of the Aussie Game Development Industry in 2012

    In the wake of THQ’s studio closures in Brisbane and Melbourne, GameSpot AU investigates the path forward for the Australian game development industry.


    The State of the Industry

    Fortitude Valley, Queensland. Four years ago, this suburb functioned as the central nervous system of the tight-knit Australian game development industry. Employees of the five big studios–THQ, Krome, Pandemic, Auran, and The Creative Assembly–all worked within walking distance of one another. It was an extraordinary period of growth, wherein contracts to build licensed games for overseas publishers were relatively easy for development houses to secure, and to profit from. Studio executives, developers, and the Queensland government’s “Smart State” flag wavers toasted each other’s success.

    One by one, these companies were faced with insurmountable difficulties: new IP failing to attract adequate market attention; cost reductions by overseas headquarters; and licensed game contracts drying up, due to a rising Australian dollar. In early August 2011, another death knell sounded across the community: THQ’s sudden “right-sizing” saw the shuttering of its Brisbane and Melbourne studios, resulting in the loss of around 200 jobs. Less than a year ago, Krome Studios–once the country’s largest independent game development company, home to more than 400 employees across three cities–ground to a halt.

    Around 40 of Krome’s best talent were kept on and quietly folded under the banner of KMM Brisbane, a local arm of Kennedy Miller Mitchell’s Sydney-based animation and development studio. Yet, recent online rumours suggest that once KMM Brisbane’s current project, Happy Feet 2, is completed, the studio’s lights will be switched off. (GameSpot AU contacted a KMM Brisbane producer for comment, but they would not respond; an anonymous source said that four artists were laid off in the first week of August, that “most” would be laid off at the end of the month, and that “a core few” would stay until October, when the game ships.) Once again, some of this country’s most experienced and talented developers will return to an ever-contracting job market.

    On the first floor of an unremarkable office building, on Warner Street in Fortitude Valley, sits Sega Studios Australia, an 80-strong outfit that was known as The Creative Assembly until June 2011. They’re deep into the development of London 2012, an Olympic Games tie-in for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC. The walls are adorned with interesting artwork and materials that can’t be described, due to the nondisclosure agreement signed upon entry.

    “We’re now the biggest developer in Brisbane, and probably Australia,” says Gareth Gower, director of studio marketing. “We’ve got a bit of a responsibility to nurture as much talent as possible, and help the industry that way.” They’ve got only two vacancies at the moment, both high-level positions: studio art director and senior engine programmer.

    “It’s brutal. Absolutely brutal,” says studio director Marcus Fielding of the job market. He held the same role at Krome at the time of its closure in late 2010. “I’m seeing people at the local gym who can’t believe it’s happened again. They’re asking the question of me, ‘Is Sega secure?’ All I can do is work really hard to ensure that we are secure.”

    Of the studio’s 80 employees, 60 are full time; the other 20 are contractors, mostly animators. Fielding introduced GameSpot AU to several staff from a range of disciplines. Senior environment artist Chris Conte began his career with online gambling developer Eyecon in 2004 and then spent nearly five years with Krome and, later, KMM Brisbane. Senior animator Adam Dowley started with Ratbag Games, an Adelaide-based outfit that was acquired by Midway Games in 2005. After being closed by Midway, Krome rehired many of Ratbag’s staff and established Krome Studios Adelaide before eventually closing the doors in August 2010.

    “It throws your entire life into disarray,” recalls Dowley of the closure. “When Krome went down, I’d just bought a house in Adelaide.”

    “I’d just bought a house here in Brisbane, too,” says Conte. “It’s scary. It puts you in a mind-set where you don’t know what’s going to happen. I think we’re pretty good here at Sega, but there’s always that thought at the back of my mind now: ‘What happens at the end of this game?’ It’ll be there probably for the rest of my career, now; once we get to wrap-up time, what’s going to happen? Are we going to be able to do another project?”

    “It’s a fear that’s in the back of every developer’s mind,” says technical director Mark Rowley. “As an industry, it’s far more fragile than most.”

    “The problem is that people are very specialised in this industry,” adds Dowley. “They don’t have skill sets that are applicable to other industries. Game designers; where can they go? I can animate; how do I use that outside of games or film?”

    “You’ve specialised yourself for the love of the job,” replies Rowley.

    “You love it so much that you’ve kind of doomed yourself!” concludes the senior animator. He and his colleagues laugh knowingly.

    For the full story, visit GameSpot.

    Further reading: A Matter Of Size: The State of Triple-A Game Development in Australia

  • Freelance journalism presentation at Walkley MediaPass student industry day, September 2011

    I was invited by the Walkley Foundation to speak at the Brisbane leg of their annual MediaPass student industry days, which are held at capital cities across Australia. The brief was thus:

    Freelance Panel: what does it take to make it as freelancer? Come along and find out from a range of thriving freelance journalists, featuring:

    Before around 50 journalism students, we each gave a 10 minute presentation and then fielded questions from the audience for the remaining half-hour. I chose to spend my allocated time by giving a brief overview of my path so far, and then speaking about things I’ve learned in the past two years as a freelancer.

    My presentation is embedded below. Click here to watch on YouTube. It was filmed by Matt Shea and edited by Henry Stone. I’ve also included it in text form underneath.

    Andrew McMillen: Things I’ve learned about freelance journalism, September 2011

    The best way to be a freelance journalist is to wake up every day and be a freelance journalist. This means you’ll spend your day researching story ideas, pitching stories to editors, requesting interviews with people you wish to speak to, transcribing interviews, shaping stories until they’re as good as they can be, and then filing them to your editor. I’ve just summed up the entire job in a sentence. That’s what freelance journalism involves. You’ll think of an interesting thing to write about, pitch this interesting thing to an editor, get permission from the editor to write about this interesting thing in exchange for money, and then go out and do just that. Over and over.

    In a way, it’s not glamorous at all, but it depends how you look at it. I choose to look at freelance journalism as: getting paid to learn things, and sharing that knowledge with readers. In many cases I know very little about a particular topic when I pitch a story, but through curiosity and initiative in approaching an editor to write about it, I get paid to familiarise myself with an industry, or a culture, or an issue that affects a lot of people. I’m not saying that I become an expert on something after researching it for only a week or two, but I’ll generally know more about it than the average person. And then when the average person reads my story, they too become informed. It’s a beautiful cycle, and it’s a wonderful way to make a living, as long as you have an interest in learning things. If not, freelance journalism probably isn’t for you. But you should still try it anyway, because you never know.

    Ideas. You need to have absolute faith and conviction in your ideas, because ideas are your lifeblood as a freelance journalist. Without them, you fail. Without them, you’re nothing to nobody. But to have an idea is not enough: you need to conceptualise an idea in a full enough manner that an editor will read your idea and be willing to part with a few hundred or thousand dollars from their budget in order for you to bring that idea to fruition. When I started freelance journalism, my ideas were terrible. I look back on them now and I’m embarrassed by how lame and elementary they seem in comparison to what I’m pitching now. Like anything though, freelance journalism is a learning experience, and you get better over time. But at the heart of this game is the quality of your ideas, which you need to hone and sharpen and polish on a daily basis if you have any hope of getting anywhere.

    Curiosity. Curiosity is currency. As I mentioned earlier, I see this job as being paid to learn, and to teach. Curiosity is key, though, because 95% of my ideas come from reading or watching something and wondering, “why is that?” Or, “how does that work?” Or “why did that person or company make that decision?”. Generally, the question is “why”. The “why” should be a question that you ask yourself constantly. Not out loud, because you’ll probably sound like a lunatic, but as you move through the world, be curious. Story ideas should come easily if you keep listening to the “Why” in the back of your head.

    Mentors. This might be the most important thing I’m going to say today. You need to find a mentor. You need to find someone knowledgeable, who believes in you, who you can report to on a weekly basis and whose input you greatly value. I’m not saying it’s impossible to succeed without one, but I’d guess that it would be much harder. I’ve had a mentor for two years and I wouldn’t have achieved anywhere near as much as I have without their help. I don’t quite know how to explain it, or even how it works, but being accountable to someone other than yourself is a massive productivity boost. You need someone who’ll give you a kick up the arse if you have a slack week, or gently pick you up if you’re feeling deflated for whatever reason. This person doesn’t necessarily have to be a writer or a journalist. As long as they understand the freelance lifestyle and have a background in anything creative, they should be a good fit. But you won’t know if they’re a good fit until you try a mentor relationship. So start thinking about mentors, if you’re serious about pursuing freelance journalism.

    Always look up. Always keep moving forward. Try to have a couple of projects on the go at any one time. Even if you’ve got a few commissions in hand, always be researching new ideas and thinking of new angles that could work for particular publications. The image I like to think of is Tarzan, swinging from tree to tree, only you’re swinging from idea to idea, and from publication to publication. While you’re a freelancer, you shouldn’t settle, even if you find one or two consistent, well-paying gigs. Always be looking up, for your next opportunity, your next big break. Try not to stand still for too long.

    Set goals, but don’t be too hard on yourself. Not every day will bring you closer to your goals. You’ll have days where the thought of pitching and writing stories makes you want to crack your skull open against the wall. This is fine, as long as most days aren’t like that. Try to maintain a generally productive mindset, but pay attention to your mental state. Don’t force yourself to work if your mind is screaming out against the concept. If you do take a break, whether for an hour or a day, try not to feel guilty about it.

    Self-motivation. It goes without saying that you have to be self-motivated to have any kind of success in this game. Most of the time, you’ll probably be working alone. If you’ve never worked this way before, it can be a shock to the system. It was for me. It took me over a year to find a rhythm where I could sit at my desk all day and work alone without craving some kind of distraction or human interaction. But I found it, eventually, and it’s a nice place to be. Even if I do mess it up occasionally.

    Self-talk. In a similar vein to the last point, self-talk is hugely important in this line of work. You are directly responsible for your income. You can’t just show up at your desk and get paid. You have to research, think, send emails, and maintain relationships with people who might know you only as words on a screen. It is a pretty ludicrous situation to be in, if you really sit down and think about it. So try not to think about it. But you need to believe that you can do this, if you want to have anything resembling a career in freelance journalism. You need to believe in yourself, most days of the week. There isn’t a whole lot of room for self-doubt in this game. I think the best way to avoid self-doubt is to always be busy, so that you don’t have time to doubt yourself.

    A to-do list to keep track of your daily tasks is a must. Being a freelancer means you’ll be doing lots of follow-ups with people; chasing invoices, chasing interviews, chasing stories you’ve pitched and never heard back from the editor on. These things are tiny and easy to forget, which is why you need to keep track of them. I use a to-do list called teuxdeux.com, spelt the French way. It’s very simple but clean, and lets you see five days ahead at a time. It also has an iPhone app which allows me to refer to it and cross things off when I’m out of office. There are probably many other sites and apps with the same functions but this one works very well for me.

    Set up a blog. This is simple and non-negotiable. Set up a blog to act as your portfolio of published work. It doesn’t have to be flashy, it just has to show your work and be regularly updated. If you can, register yourname.com and set up the blog there. Doing this was one of the best decisions I’ve made as a freelance journalist.

    Set boundaries. Since you’re not constricted by a traditional workplace or business hours, it’s quite easy to find yourself working from the moment you wake up, until the moment you go to sleep. I’ve been there. It’s not healthy; it’s how you become burnt-out. It’s important to set boundaries around your workplace as a freelancer, and in this case, your workplace is wherever your PC is. For around nine months I’ve kept Saturday as a ‘PC free day’, where I don’t turn the computer on or do any work-related tasks. I also keep Sunday as a day for catching up on RSS feeds, updating my blog, replying to emails; pretty non-intensive tasks. And Monday to Friday is for work. Structuring your workweek is important. You need to respect boundaries, both for yourself and for those closest to you.

    Finally: enjoy yourself. Freelance journalism can be a huge amount of fun if you approach it with the right attitude. It’s a great alternative to the traditional path of cadetships and applying for reporter jobs, and you can start doing it today. With persistence, self-belief and talent, there’s no reason why you can’t make a living from freelance journalism. I highly recommend it.

    Andrew McMillen (@NiteShok) is a freelance journalist based in Brisbane, Australia. http://andrewmcmillen.com/

    Note: this presentation also appeared as a guest post on the excellent blog The Renegade Writer, which is edited by Linda Formichelli. If you’re a freelance writer, I highly recommend subscribing to Linda’s blog.