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  • A Conversation With Andrew Ramadge, and music journalist

    Andrew Ramadge, journalist. Serious business.Here’s a conversation I had in August with Andrew Ramadge [pictured right], one of my favourite Australian journalists. He writes about consumer technology for, and music for Mess+Noise and The Brag. He came to my rescue when I was humbled by Hungry Kids Of HungaryHe’s written a lot, but my favourite article of his – the one that really brought him to my attention – is ‘Tall Tales And True‘, a look at the state of Australian music journalism for M+N in March 2009.

    Andrew: Hey Andrew. I’m mostly interested in how you got into journalism, and how you’ve progressed from print to online journalism. When did you first become interested in writing professionally?

    My father was a journalist and he still is. He edits a newspaper now. When I was a bit younger, I swore that I wouldn’t get into the media, that I wouldn’t follow in his footsteps, which as you can tell; I failed at. [laughs]

    The first time I realised I really loved writing was when I was at university, in Melbourne. I was doing a Bachelor of Arts. Most people do a Bachelor of Arts when they don’t know what else to do, or when they just want to get on the dole for a while. I was one of those people who really enjoyed it. I loved writing essays, forming arguments, and at the same time I was reading the street press, and reading record reviews. I’ve always loved music. At that point, the street press critics were emerging writers and I thought I could do that as well. I sent in reviews to Beat and that’s how I got started.

    So music journalism was your way into the industry?

    Yeah, that and the fact that my father was a journalist, so I suppose people would say I always had it in me, anyway. After I finished my degree, I moved to Sydney. I was looking for work and a position was open at and I took it. One of the reasons I got into online journalism was because I started my career as a web developer. I sort of had a little bit of experience in journalism, and a lot of experience in online. It seemed to be the perfect synthesis.

    Was the opportunity at for a consumer tech journalist, or did that role evolve?

    I started off as a general news desk journalist. I was doing a little bit of sub-editing, a little bit of production work, as well as putting in calls, and just highlighting the news of the day. After I’d been there about a year or year and a half, I think, before put in a new section for technology. Again, because I’ve got a background in computers, and online development, I was kind of a perfect fit. I applied for that job once it became available and I got it.

    Do you find it odd that you find you got a job at News without an internship or without that kind of way into the industry, which I know a lot of students do pursue?

    I suppose; I’d already been working when I was in Melbourne, for the street press, and also editing the website for Beat magazine online, so I had an online editor experience. Also, I think internships are becoming more rare nowadays. I think Fairfax may have actually suspended their cadetship program recently.

    I think the ways that people get into journalism now are different than they have been in the past. One up-and-coming technology journalists that I know is Ben Grubb, who’s also from Brisbane. He will have a career in the industry because a lot of people know him and are keeping an eye on him. He didn’t do a cadetship. He did it himself. He started a blog. He showed he had talent, ambition, and I suppose he went around making good contacts.

    Cool. What did you learn during your time writing for street press? You started as a freelancer, I suppose, and then you became a staff member when you were editing.

    Yeah, I started out writing reviews and features. At that point, Beat had a website, but it was pretty perfunctory. It wasn’t very good. I wrote a business case for the publishers of Beat magazine to start a new website for them, and then I built it and edited it. That’s that side of it.

    What I learned about writing when I was at street press was the same thing everyone learns, really, which is a pretty good introduction: some free CDs, you get to go to a lot of concerts and meet people and figure out how everything works, really. I also eventually learnt not to be precious, which is another good thing. I learnt that there are only so many times that you can get angry at an editor for changing a few of your words. After that happens for a few years, you sort of get used to it, which is a very good lesson to learn, especially for mainstream media where the editing process is a lot more intrusive.

    Mess+Noise mag. Photo by Dan Boud -

    How did you make the transition to Mess+Noise?

    When I found out about Mess+Noise, I left Beat. I continued to edit their website but I stopped writing for them, by and large, and threw myself into Mess+Noise, which was the best experience I’ve ever had. It was wonderful.

    I joined them for issue two of the print magazine, after I’d seen issue one. That changed the way that I think about everything, really. I went from doing the regular street press thing, which is 400 word reviews and 1,000 word features, to just having free rein to do whatever I wanted. What I wanted to do for Issue 2 was write a 3,000 word piece, not about a particular band, but about a genre and scene in Melbourne, which at the time was the art rock scene, which was centered around the Rob Roy Hotel. That’s what I did.

    It was really liberating to just be able to do that. I also realised that anyone could do that. It’s if you have someone who promises they’ll publish it as well, you’ve got an extra impetus.

    When I joined Mess+Noise, the editor at the time was Danny Bos, and he really opened up a huge amount of possibilities for me. A bit later on, Craig Mathieson became the editor, and I learned a lot from him, as well.

    How did Mess+Noise come about? I’m not too familiar with its history as a print magazine, only the website.

    It grew out of another website, which I’m not 100% clear on the back story of, but it was called Mono. It was an Australian music website that was in the late ‘90s, I think. Danny Bos was a member of the team who did that.

    After Mono, Danny started Mess+Noise as a website. In some ways it was similar to how it is now. It was mainly a discussion board. He really wanted to put out a music magazine, so as soon as he got organised enough and got his money together, he started doing that. Then it was put out every 2 months for a bit over 2 years. There were 16 issues.

    I read that they were purchased by Destra a couple of years ago.


    And as of late last year, they’re owned by The Sound Alliance.

    Yeah, that’s correct.

    How do you think this site got such a strong following and such a devoted, loyal audience? That’s always fascinated me. Its audience seems to be quite opinionated and quite passionate about the indie scene in Australia. How does that come about?

    Some of it was a follow on of momentum from Mono, so a lot of the people who used to talk about music on that website followed Danny to Mess+Noise. I also think it grew a reputation over the years of publishing really high quality music journalism, which if you do it for long enough, then it can get you a lot of respect and a lot of people following what you publish.

    Do you enjoy writing for the web more than print?

    A little while ago I had my first feature in The Weekend Australian; a full-page feature. I enjoyed writing it and seeing it in print, as well. But I suppose I’m one of those writers who is at the right age to still feel very nostalgic about print, which a lot of writers my age do. I had to come to the thinking that “just because it’s in print means that it’s necessarily better than the web”.

    Mess+Noise mag. Not sponsored by Eiffel 65.

    When I opened up the paper that weekend, I still liked reading it and seeing it there, but I realised it wasn’t as important to me as some of the stuff I’ve written for online. I think for me, that sort of distinction between print and the web is starting to go. It’s much more about the quality of the piece itself. It doesn’t matter where it’s published.

    You mentioned that a lot of people still think that what appears in print is perhaps more valuable and more valid than its web equivalent.


    I think that might be related to the fact that print still pays quite well and it still has that professional reputation, whereas I suppose a lot of other online outlets aren’t..

    ..don’t have the same reputation and they don’t pay as well, is what I think you’re trying to say? It depends on the magazine, the newspaper, or the news website or whatever. Obviously, street press doesn’t pay very well at all. That’s a print title, whereas the website of Pitchfork Media might pay ten times as much as street press.

    Part of it is that. It’s not necessarily whether it’s print or web. It’s just the title that you’re writing for. I can tell you that at, we pay our online freelancers a professional rate, the same rate that they would get if they were getting if they were writing for the Sydney Morning Herald in print.

    As for reputation, you’re right; with newspapers, let’s continue talking about the Sydney Morning Herald. That’s been around for what, a hundred or more years? I think it has been around for more than a hundred years. Over that time, it has built quite a reputation. If you work a few years in there, then – in a sense – the reputation brushes off on you.

    But I guess what we’re going to see now is that websites that have been around for a long time aren’t going to go away. The big websites that are there now, theoretically, are going to continue into the future. If they don’t, another website will take their place. They’ll build their own reputations, as well. Give it another 10 or 20 years and you might end up seeing that websites have a stronger reputation for breaking news or publishing quality journalism than print does.

    I guess time will tell on that. You mentioned online freelancers for News Limited titles earlier. Do they employ many of those at the moment?

    I’m not really sure how many freelancers we’ve got all up. I know that in the technology section, we’ve had several freelancers.

    I spoke to a guy from the Brisbane Times a couple of months back and he said they’d pulled all their freelancers because they couldn’t afford them.

    We haven’t dropped any of our freelancers, yet. I’m not sure that we will, either. I think everyone realises that at the moment, online publishers are trying to figure out how to make money, and they’re not being particularly successful. That’s a whole range of reasons, and obviously, that’s why both News Limited and News Corp internationally and Fairfax in Australia have both flagged that they’re probably going to be charging for content soon.

    I guess that’s why magazines and newspapers can afford to pay writers 70 cents or $1 per word, in some cases, because they do have a traditional advertiser base who understands the rates, and the magazine editors can apportion rates per what they receive from advertising.

    Obviously I’m generalising here and trying to make sense of it, but I can see that website editors might not have figured that out yet, which is where the debate about paid content comes in. They’re trying to monetise the user base.

    I’d be happy to talk to you about this off the record, but not on record, only because I don’t want my opinions on the matter to come back to haunt me at work.

    Fair enough. You mentioned you got your first piece published in the Weekend Australian. How did you get that in there?

    Andrew Ramadge on tour with Laura in 2006

    Well, The Australian is owned by News Ltd, which is the parent company – the sister company of News Digital Media, which is the publisher of They had an article that they thought I’d be good at. They sent me an email.

    They approached you; that’s interesting. I’m sure, over the years, you’ve become familiar with and adept at pitching article ideas. When did you first start to do that, because I’m assuming that during your time at street press, you didn’t get much freedom to pitch new ideas.

    You’re right; I didn’t have a huge amount of freedom in what I could pitch. For example, I couldn’t pitch an article on a band that no one else but myself really cared about and that was never going to pay for advertising. Also, I couldn’t pitch for large opinion pieces or in-depth features that would have taken several pages. That’s not the way that street press works.

    I did have a little bit of freedom in being able to pitch about local bands. For example, if there was a really great band in Melbourne, I could pitch to the editor and if they ever had a spare half page or something, then I might be able to use that for a small article, which is one of the limitations of street press – and why I joined Mess+Noise was almost evolutionary for the way that I started working.

    I still had to pitch articles. What we used to have in the early editions of the magazine was an editorial board; when I say board, we just met at the pub, really. It was a group of writers and editors, and we’d all have to pitch what we wanted to do to the whole group.

    There were no limitations. We could pitch whatever we wanted. Half the time, everyone would be like, “Great, let’s do that.” That’s how I came to write 3,000 word articles about a particular scene. In one case, I think there was a 5,000 word article about one musician, or the ‘storytellers’ series, where I interviewed different musicians about how they came to write some of my favorite songs. That sort of stuff would never have been in street press, but it still was subject to a pitching process.

    You started with verbal pitching at the pub. Do you still pitch articles to your current editor?

    Of course. Now that I’m working for a big company like News Limited, pretty much every article that I write has to go through a pitching process.

    How does a story idea come about? Do you read something you’re interested in and you think about the angle you’d like to take? Or in some cases, would there would be a news event you have to write on, or your editor asks you to write about?

    It’s probably a mix of both, about half the time an editor asks me. There are different sorts of editors; there’s a technology editor, and then there is also whoever is actually running the news portion, whether it is the morning editor or the afternoon editor. Something might be going on that they want a story about, so they’ll ask you to write.

    The other half of the time you’ll pitch an idea of your own. You’re exactly right; those ideas come from things that you’ve read or perhaps you’ve had a tip from a source, or whatever. Also, the other thing to note is that your story won’t always come through. You might get a tip off and investigate it but find out later that it’s either not worth the story, or someone told you the wrong thing, or it doesn’t stand up.

    What makes a good editor?

    I’ve worked with different publications and different styles of publications. Obviously, a magazine editor is very, very different than a breaking news editor. By breaking news I mean somewhere at a pace like, which tries to stay up with what’s current 24 hours of the day, 7 days of the week, and tries to be informative about what’s going on at that very moment.

    I’ll talk about magazine editors in general, only because that’s where I’ve written a lot more of my feature articles for. In a good editor you need confidence; to not accept any bullshit, either. If someone doesn’t like something, they need to tell you and that’s fine. You also need to be very supportive of your writers.

    Do you see yourself becoming an editor in the future?

    Yeah, and I think I’d really like that as well, but no time soon. I’m not done with my writing yet. There are still a lot of things that I want to write.

    You have and you’ve got Mess+Noise occasionally. Do you have any other publications that you write for?

    Mess+Noise magazine. I believe this is 'Sir' on the cover.Yeah, I’ve been involved with Mess+Noise for a very long time now, and I used to be an editor there. I was editing the reviews and opinion section of the magazine before it went online. I still write for them whenever I can. It’s just a matter of finding the time now, because I’ve got a full time job and it’s very demanding.

    I also have a weekly column in The Brag called Pop In Print. Last year I published an essay for Overland, which is a literary journal. In the future, I’d like to continue publishing pieces in places like Overland and Mess+Noise, which favor in-depth, long-form journalism.

    I saw you comment on ‘Tall Tales And True‘ where someone asked you what you got paid for the article. You told them that you’ve long since given up on expecting to be paid for everything you write, and instead you try to focus on what you’re passionate about and telling the best story you can. If you get paid, that’s a bonus. Does that come back to not being precious, which you mentioned earlier?

    No, it’s not about being precious, this one. When I first joined Mess+Noise, when it was a magazine, I didn’t get paid for any of the articles that I was writing at that point, only because Mess+Noise didn’t have any money. It was a love job, a do-it-yourself job. Basically, it was just a zine, a very pretty and very high quality zine, but it was still a zine.

    Now, I’m really passionate about this; everyone needs to pay the rent, and I suppose I’m lucky enough that I can pay the rent by being a journalist during the day. Even if I couldn’t, I’d still prefer to get a day job and then write about what I want, out of hours, without having to worry about whether or not it’s going to contribute to the rent.

    The reason being is that there’s a huge weight lifted. You can write about whatever you want if you don’t worry about whether or not you’re going to get paid for it. A lot of the best things I’ve ever written were for no money and I went into it knowing, and just stopped being concerned. If that’s not a concern, it frees you up to actually prioritise what you really want, which is: “I’ll write this exactly how I want, about what I want.” I’m a big fan of do-it-yourself culture.

    It’s interesting because you did that for Mess+Noise and you started with street press, which as you say pays pretty poorly, and in many cases, for all contributors, it’s a love job. The people who write for it love writing about music. Do you find the time to write for pleasure lately? I notice you haven’t been updating your blog very often.

    The blog is simply a collection of the things that I publish in Brag, so it’s about 6 months behind the print version at the moment. I don’t have a lot of spare time lately. Hopefully, that will change.

    Do you have any daily routines?

    No, I’m incredibly disorganised. [laughs] My routine at work depends on what’s going on during the day and what I’m going to try to do in that day. If you’ve got a day where you can go and try to find a new story and break some news, your routine will be a little bit different than when something is broken in North America overnight and you’re following it up.

    Are you a procrastinator?

    Sometimes, yeah. It’s funny; when it comes to my writing outside of work, the writing I do after 9 to 5, I tend to leave things a little last minute.

    Has that been a problem?

    Yeah, it can definitely be a problem sometimes. One of the biggest problems it can cause is to add to your stress level. I don’t think anyone would argue that people who are a bit more organised tend to get less stressed out about things and stressed out about getting things in at the last minute. Then again, it depends. Every writer that I’ve ever met works in completely different ways. I’m not too worried about it.

    I ask that question of a lot of people, if they procrastinate and how they deal with it. It’s definitely a recurring theme, especially with writers, to sit on a task you know you’ve got until the very end, at the last possible moment. I often think that working that way is possibly sacrificing the potential quality of the piece. If you’re rushing to have it done by a certain time, you’re not fully thinking about the issue, unless you want to argue that by mulling it over for so long it’s just ticking away in your subconscious and you know exactly what you’re going to write.

    Andrew Ramadge

    I believe very strongly in the second model, which is that even if I’m not writing something, if I’ve been thinking about it for a month, what I end up writing in the last day of that month will probably be pretty good. Not probably, actually a lot better than if I’d started on the first day of the month. I can guarantee you I would have been sitting there thinking about the issue for the 30 days before I started writing.

    It’s interesting how that works. How do you find new music to write about?

    To be honest, probably this year, I’m not writing about new music as much as I have done in the past. As you know, the column that I write every week is about old music. I think that’s probably because when I was editing the review section of Mess+Noise a few years ago, I was totally caught up in everything that was happening that week. I suppose just for a change of pace, when I started doing my column, I started focusing more on what was really important to me and what I was really passionate about. Every record I write about now is not necessarily new but I think it’s got something in it, a reason for people to listen to it, or a reason for people to read about it.

    How do you find new music to listen to?

    Nowadays I rely a lot on my friends. As you would imagine, a lot of my friends are music critics and they’re probably doing what I used to do, which is keeping on top of things that happen every week, new releases, and who’s touring. Anything they recommend to me I usually give it a try.

    So you kind of take the back seat these days and let others drive?

    A little bit. I don’t necessarily want to do that forever, but at this point in my career and life, I’m pretty happy having music recommended to me, rather than searching it out all the time, but again, that’s just because of time constraints. I don’t have as much time as I used to, and I’m also no longer a reviews editor, so I don’t get quite as many CDs sent to me.

    Thanks for your time, Andrew!

    Andrew Ramadge writes for the Technology section of For an outdated list of his writing, check his MySpace and Pop In Print. He’s also on Twitter.

  • Waycooljnr post: “Why Beggars Group Want You To Repost Free MP3s”

    This is a guest post that appeared on in November 2009.

    Last month, Nick and I went to Perth for One Movement For Music; he as a panel moderator, and I as a reporter for the One Movement blog, which I’d edited since July.

    One Movement "Busting Open Digital Myths" panel

    Nick moderated a panel called “Busting Open Digital Myths“. My highlight of the panel was when Nick asked Simon Wheeler – Director of Digital at The Beggars Group, which consists of indie labels like 4AD, Matador Records and XL Recordings – about Beggars’ approach to online promotion, since they’re widely known and loved for allowing music blogs to repost free mp3s. Footage of Simon’s response is embedded below, as well as a transcription underneath.

    Simon Wheeler:

    “Everything we do is geared around a particular artist or release. One of the challenges we set ourselves – and it’s not a particularly scalable model – is that every campaign we put together around an artist or release is bespoke. It’s quite a labour-intensive way of working, but I think it’s very important that we try to do the record justice. When you’re working with very original artists making original pieces of work, I feel strongly that the marketing around that has got to be original as well.

    There’s no standard practice to what we do. There’s a few common traits that we have. One that started in the US particularly is to make an mp3 available when we have an album coming out.

    It’s kind of crazy how the music industry works; we shout and tell everyone about a new record. “It’s really exciting, it’s great, you can hear it on the radio.. oh, but actually, you can’t buy it for two or three months. Is that okay? Can you just not download it off of anywhere? Just wait two or three months, we’ll get it in the shops soon!”

    So, going against that, we know that fans are passionate about an artist, and they’re very excited about a new album. So to be able to give them something to satiate that demand somewhat has been quite effective. There’s also the purpose of giving people a piece of music to ‘try before they buy’, if you like. We get a lot of love and a lot of coverage in the blog world, because I think our artists are very suited to that world.

    We don’t give music blogs free reign, because you’d find that each blog would post a different track from the album, and so ten minutes after you’d publicised the album, people could just go and download the whole album (laughs).

    So by making available one chosen, one focus track from a new album – much as you take a track to radio – there’s kind of an unwritten dialogue between us and the bloggers. We don’t tell them to post it, we don’t say they can’t post it; if people post the whole album, we’ll definitely say they can’t do that, and we’ll get it taken down. But they understand that if we post an mp3 to one of our label sites or blogs, then they won’t get any grief from us at all [if they repost it to their blog].

    This really helps focus the campaign around a lead track, much as you do when taking a track to radio. There’s no new science here; this is just what the record industry has been doing for decades. We’re just applying that to the digital age.”

    I knew that the Matador’s Matablog saw traffic and sales increase after adopting regular mp3 launches, but it was so refreshing to hear Simon’s response. He showed that Beggars Group understand the value in creating a dialogue with music bloggers, as well as giving fans a portable sample of a new album to take with them.

    On a national level, contrast Beggars’ approach to what I see each week from major Australian labels, who release key tracks to radio using encrypted software, and who often disable the ability to save the audio file in a portable format.

    The Beggars Group music blog strategy filters down to indie labels like Sydney’s Remote Control Records, whose blog regularly reposts promotional downloads from the likes of Matador, XL and 4AD. I interviewed their marketing director, Steve Cross, for Mess+Noise in October.

    Simon’s outline above begs further research into how the group measures the return on the free mp3 promotional strategy. We’ll contact him for a guest post in the future, but I’m interested to know how Way Cool Jnr readers interact with label blogs.

    Beyond Remote Control, EMI Music have maintained The In Sound From Way Out for over six months now. Though they’ve been shy about giving away too many mp3s just yet – check out the downloads page – their stream of the new Massive Attack EP ‘Splitting The Atom’ brought thousands of new visitors to the blog. (Disclosure: EMI is a Native Digital client)

    Australian indie label Speak N Spell recently relaunched their site, which features a blog and free downloads. Sydney’s Difrnt Music are occasionally known to exchange songs for email subscriptions. And Melbourne-based boutique label Hobbledehoy took the unique approach of offering much of their catalogue for free download, in partnership with US provider Gimmesound.

    Which other Australian labels see the value in using promotional mp3s to drive music sales and site traffic?

  • Mess+Noise story: “The MP-Free Conundrum”, November 2009

    Here’s a story I wrote for Mess+Noise in October 2009.

    The MP-Free Conundrum

    With the advent of file-sharing, record labels have had to adapt to a new paradigm of music consumption. But by giving music away for free are they hurting their bottom line in the process? ANDREW MCMILLEN speaks to three label bosses about how they’re coping with an industry in flux.

    Steve Cross, Remote Control Records

    Steve Cross of Remote Control RecordsFounded in 2001, Melbourne-based label Remote Control represents a substantial roster of international artists in Australia and New Zealand – from The White Stripes to Radiohead, Vampire Weekend to Sonic Youth – as well as a line-up of independent international labels including XL, Matador, Beggars Banquet and 4AD. Remote Control’s in-house label Dot Dash also provides a home for local bands such as Snowman, Wolf & Cub, St Helens, Ned Collette & Wirewalker and Fire! Santa Rosa, Fire!

    Over the past few years, however, the label has had to adapt to sweeping industry changes, most notably the way people discover new music. Co-founder and marketing director Steve Cross explains: “More and more, that’s moving online, rather than being dependent on more traditional forms, like radio and print media. At Remote Control, we’re certainly not abandoning those [physical] formats. We’re working them into the mix, much the same way that we have in the past.”

    Steve, the Remote Control Records blog is big on giving away MP3s of both Australian and international acts. Why do you do this?
    I think MP3 blogs are the new radio. It’s one of a variety of ways I learn about new music. Going to an array of blogs and listening to new tracks that people are putting up is a major one. It’s kind of that democratisation that you don’t have to be somewhere, at some point, to get that track. You can just be at home or on your phone. You can go out and find it, and there it is. Hopefully, you hear it and like it. Hopefully you buy the record as a result of it.

    [But] I am a little concerned. We’ve worked with a couple of artists where I think there is so much online that people haven’t bothered getting the record. That does concern me. Essentially, if we’re going to be here in a few years time, we do need people to be buying the record in some format or other. On the other hand, there’s so much information about artists, and in some ways, I think that really makes people interested. I think Atlas Sound [aka Deerhunter’s Bradford Cox] is a great example of that. He’s just churning stuff out for his fans. People are so interested in him as a result.

    I’m also kind of worried that at the other end, perhaps, artists have a shorter lifespan. Increasingly, people kind of gorge themselves on somebody for a short period of time, and then move on.

    As you see it, what are the costs and benefits for a record label to give away MP3s?
    Singles are always an absolute nightmare for a company like us, because we hardly ever sell any physical singles, with the exception of [The White Stripes’] ‘Seven Nation Army’ and a few Basement Jaxx singles. The actual cost of manufacturing a single and then putting it out there and then having them all shipped back to you – they were kind of like the cheap soft serve [ice cream] at McDonalds to get people in the door.

    The singles are kind of like that, they’re a loss leader, really. Now, you don’t actually have to manufacture them. You can just get an MP3 and put it online. It’s a lot simpler. If people can find it, enjoy it, use it, and all that kind of stuff, then that’s fantastic.

    Are you concerned that if people are getting so much stuff for free, then they’re going to eventually be opposed to buying things?
    I think that’s a psychological reality. I’ve been concerned that there is a possibility that people will think that music is just a free service – a free product – and won’t support the artists by actually paying for it. This would eventually make things impossible, but I’m optimistic about it.

    It’s very difficult for Australian artists who, in the past, would have just sold a few hundred records. Now, they’re probably struggling to sell two or three hundred. That’s a concern, but it strikes me that there is still a range out there. People want to support the artists, and they want to have the entire album.

    There is also a convenience factor. I subscribe to various digital services, just because I don’t have time to troll around to find track seven of a particular album. I’d rather go to eMusic and get the whole album. I think that’s a fantastic way of finding new music as well, by subscribing as well, to both digital services. You can have a listen and cross-reference stuff. I’m discovering more stuff now, than I have for years, as a result of that.

    Was the decision to give away MP3s easily-reached, or was it a bit of a shitfight? I can imagine that some labels that Remote Control works with wouldn’t be too keen on giving away their artists’ work.
    There’s a limit to it, for sure. Especially on the international front, we take direction from the overseas labels. If they blog the track themselves, then we follow, pretty much immediately. It’s not that we have discussion with them on a daily basis about this, but we reflect what they’re doing. If the Matablog puts something out by Jay Reatard, we release the same track. As for our Australian artists, we make a call on those ourselves. If it’s an Unstable Ape artist, it’s obviously in discussion with them.

    There are plenty of large websites that make money out of musical content, which they sell advertising off the back of, and don’t want to reward the artist for providing them with the content that’s drawing people to those sites in the first place. Some of those websites are not just people sitting in their bedrooms, making their own blogs. We’re talking about some of the biggest companies in the world. Yet, they’re reluctant to pay back the artist. It’s not without its complexities, that’s for sure.

    Listeners’ tastes are incredibly diverse, and the more access they have to music – especially online – the more diverse they’re going to be. I think that’s probably incredibly confusing to the music industry. There has to be some kind of acknowledgement that fans are listening to a phenomenal range of music these days. It’s a mistake to think people just want the obvious stuff that’s being served up – front and centre, with huge marketing budgets – all the time.

    Cameron Smith, Incremental Records

    Cameron Smith of Incremental RecordsBrisbane indie label Incremental Records started a few years ago as a banner under which to group releases by its founder Cameron Smith, a member of Mt Augustus, Fickle Beasts and Buildings Melt. Smith, who has also recorded Brisbane acts No Anchor, Little Scout, John Steel Singers and DZ, says he wanted to give his releases a “bit more legitimacy”. The label was also borne out of a compilation of Brisbane music called Stranded, which Smith put together in 2008.

    “The act of putting out Stranded,” he says, “gave me the idea of setting up an online store for Brisbane bands to sell their wares in one central location.”

    He also wanted to help local bands release their music digitally without having to rely on big online stores such as iTunes. “By putting together something myself I can let local bands put their records up in an extremely affordable way, while giving them a lot more control on how their music is presented,” he says.

    Cam, you’ve got a few releases available on the Incremental Records web store for free download. Why?
    For some bands it’s simply because they feel like those releases are best served by being made available in such a fashion, perhaps because they’re early recordings from when the band was still finding its feet. Some bands feel that it’s a good way to get people interested – giving away the four song EP but keeping the album available for purchase, or maybe giving away the digital version but letting people buy the CD or vinyl with the full artwork etc.

    How do you measure the success of this kind of release strategy?
    I suppose there are a number of measures of success, ranging from a pure measure of how many people are downloading these free records, through to how many of those people go on to buy other records, and then to whether this maybe increases the band’s profile and maybe increases attendance at shows. Since we’ve only had the facility available for maybe a month it’s still difficult to tell what effect it’s having.

    What effect do you think digital distribution has had on music? How has it affected your appreciation of music?
    I would say that digital distribution has had a huge effect on music – people just expect to be able to have everything available at the click of a button. Personally I’ve found it to be a mixed blessing. Yes, it’s great to be able to have a record to listen to within a few minutes of hearing about it for the first time, but I do miss the excitement and anticipation of waiting for a new release. Things are so anticlimactic now, especially when records are leaked on the internet in poor quality without artwork or any sense of being part of a complete package. Then again, a lot of people don’t see music that way, and really don’t care about things that are somewhat on the periphery of the actual music…

    That being said, I like seeing bands taking advantage of the new technologies and playing with it. The obvious example is Radiohead, who popularised the whole internet release thing with In Rainbows, and somehow managed to create the release of that record into a massive, worldwide “event” … I guess the trick for artists and labels is to understand that the way people are consuming music is changing, and to not try to fight against the prevailing trends, but at the same time try to create value in their products. Look at someone like Phil Elverum, aka Mt Eerie/The Microphones, who runs his own record label out of his home, selling digital files but also physical products in elaborate packaging. He has created his own self-sustaining little industry with its own demand, and he hasn’t sacrificed his art in doing so. If anything he has used it as an opportunity to be more prolific and more unique. He has embraced his niche-ness and used it to enrich his art. His label was and is a huge influence on why Incremental was developed.

    There’s a few labels around the traps who’re giving away free MP3s as “loss leaders”, I suppose, to get people interested in their acts. As you see it, what are the costs/benefits of giving away mp3s?
    Well, I suppose the answer to that comes down to whether you think you could have made money out of those records in the first place. If someone doesn’t know about your record, or is unwilling to put down a few dollars on the off chance that they might enjoy it, then how are you planning to sell it? The idea of giving away a digital copy of a record doesn’t seem like a big deal to me. I’ve never really been able to see digital music as being intrinsically valuable to me personally. I myself would never buy an MP3 on its own.

    That’s one of the reasons why Incremental has implemented an “upgrade” facility, where you can buy the MP3 and, if you like it, upgrade to the CD version at a reduced cost. That way there is some value in the MP3: you’re giving people more of an incentive to try something that they otherwise might pass over in favour of something more familiar to them.

    As for the costs, they’re pretty much zero. Webspace is cheap, and there are plenty of ways of making music available even if you have zero programming ability. The question is how do you get people to find out about the music in the first place? That’s the idea of Incremental, to get a group of bands together to strengthen the entire system.

    How do you discover new music?
    In terms of “big” artists it’s via the usual ways, I suppose – recommendations, trusted reviews, general research of music you already like. I find that I’m probably listening to less “new” music these days, a good percentage of the new music I’ve been finding is from at least a decade ago. I think everyone goes through that transformation. On the other hand, when you’re listening to local music you just have to pay attention. It’s not hard but most people don’t seem to pay much attention, which I suppose is not surprising.

    It can be difficult to convince people that local music can be worthwhile, and for good reasons at times – production values can be low, bands can be wilfully difficult, records can be hard to find. Plus, bands tend to stick around for such a short length of time, especially in Brisbane, that as soon as people start to take notice they’ve already broken up. Still, I find local music to be so rewarding, it can be such a wonderful thing to see a group of musicians grow and sometimes totally surprise you.

    Tom Majerczak, Hobbledehoy Records

    Tom Majerczek of Hobbledehoy RecordsHobbledehoy Record Co is an independent record label based out of Tom Majerczak’s suburban bedroom in Ivanhoe, Melbourne. The label is home to acts such as Blueline Medic, Arrows, The City On Film, The Leap Year and Oh Messy Life. Hobbledehoy recently teamed up with US startup Gimmesound in August to offer legal, virus-free, high-quality mp3s of complete albums across their discography at no cost. Majerczak hopes that in previewing the music online, listeners will then purchase physical copies on CD and vinyl at its online store.

    Tom, how did the partnership with Gimmesound come about?
    Purchasing an album digitally was never really appealing to me. The records I was buying were often about the same cost for the physical CD or LP, so I didn’t really see the value. Although, I was always a sucker for nice music packaging. What I did like was the ability to listen to part or all of an album before buying a copy, kind of like when a friend would dub a tape or burn a CD for you. When Magic Bullet Records announced they had partnered with Gimmesound for an ad-supported free-download model, I decided to look into it. After about four weeks, the decision was made to go ahead with the feature, which we can choose to end at any particular time.

    How did you negotiate the partnership with Gimmesound, and how does the ad revenue model operate?
    Gimmesound were very supportive and keen to have Hobbledehoy on board. A few emails were exchanged and we were up and running quick. To the best of my understanding, 50 percent of all ad revenue goes to the artist/label, while the remaining 50 percent goes to Gimmesound. Then, two percent of Gimmesound’s net revenue is donated to a charitable cause of the user’s choice.

    I can see how this kind of announcement could be perceived as admitting defeat to the prevalence of people acquiring music for free. But you’re a boutique label, not a major. What are your goals here?
    I’m not saying this is true for all labels, but for Hobbldehoy, a larger portion of people who wouldn’t have downloaded the record in the first place now will. A small amount of those people will buy a record they otherwise wouldn’t have. Of course there will be a very small few who would have happily bought it on a paid service like iTunes and now will get it free … It’s a little strange I know, people seem to gravitate toward their preferred digital stores, despite another offering the same product cheaper, or in higher quality bitrate, or with bonus content.

    So people I believe have misread what I’m doing with Hobbledehoy, not fully understanding that the artist/label are still financially reimbursed. It essentially works in the same fashion as free-to-air television: advertising pays for shows so people can watch them for free. This is a great solution for a tiny indie like Hobbledehoy, especially since the MPs are clean of ads; only the website features banner advertising. This was very important, as I really didn’t want people downloading MP3s with voice-over advertising embedded, limits on their free-downloads, low quality files, DRM [digital rights management] etc. So it is a digital store just like iTunes, eMusic and so forth, but using a different revenue model.

    I can also see how this might be a strategy to lower the cost barriers that inhibit people from parting with $10-20 to own one of Hobbledehoy’s acts on CD. Was this intentional?
    Definitely. The days of people buying records “just because” I think are gone, for the most part. Now it’s very much a try-before-you-buy culture. The success of MySpace artist pages are a great example of this.

    As a tiny independent label, it became clear very quickly that people buy our records because they want to own them, not because they want to hear them. The Gimmesound system allows us to let people listen to and download as much as they like at no cost, and our artists still get paid. I have no plans to phase out physical product either. For me it’s a very fun part of enjoying music. This strategy not only allows more people to hear more Hobbledehoy artists, but also promotes the physical records we release.

    How often do you download music?
    Not very often. Like most people, I’m guilty of “illegally” being given, downloading or sharing music at some point. As mentioned above, I love the physical product, be it a well-presented vinyl record, or a CD. So it’s usually to access buying a record or going to a show I’m unsure of. Digital music really isn’t of big interest to me. I have my turntable set up on my desk next to a computer which I listen to a lot, and I still put CDs on at home. I transfer some of those onto my portable mp3 player for when I go running or travelling.

    How do you find new music?
    Recently, a lot of it is word of mouth, be it Hobbledehoy artists recommending me something, or my friends doing the same. Sometimes it’s through music websites and blogs, though I don’t have a lot of time to check these resources out. Years ago, it was going to shows, as the more shows you go to, the more bands you become familiar with. That’s definitely my favorite, it’s always great being really excited about a new band you’ve just seen play live.

    Mess+Noise, 26 October 2009