All posts tagged indie

  • Rolling Stone story: ‘Hungry Kids Of Hungary Stay Close to Home for Debut Disc’, October 2010

    A story for the November 2010 issue of Rolling Stone, on Brisbane band Hungry Kids Of Hungary.

    Click the below image for a closer look, or read the article text underneath.

    Hungry Kids of Hungary Stay Close to Home for Debut Disc

    Queenslanders finally drop their debut after a pair of promising EPs

    For Brisbane-based indie pop quartet Hungry Kids Of Hungary, the three-year path to their debut album was paved with transcontinental correspondence, two EP releases, and a stack of national tours supporting the likes of OK Go, Little Birdy and Bertie Blackman.

    Escapades took shape in the suburban home of producer Matt Redlich, with whom the band recorded their second EP, last year’s Mega Mountain. Over cold drinks on a warm Brisbane day, singer/guitarist Dean McGrath and singer/keyboardist Kane Mazlin reflect on a recording process that began in January 2010 and concluded six months later.

    Ultimately, the band were faced with a choice: record with a familiar face in a comfortable, inexpensive environment, or return to Tony Buchen’s studio in Sydney, where the band recorded earlier single “Let You Down”.

    As an indie band faced with financial realities, though, the decision to remain Brisbane-bound seemed simple. “We love Matt’s recording space,” says McGrath. “It’s underneath his house; it’s just cosy, and suits us down in the ground. There’s a pool out the back. We started recording in January – when it was far hotter than this – so we could do takes and then go for a swim. I was interested in doing something different and pushing us out of our comfort zone, but I think the right decision got made in the end.”

    The band also found that removing time and money constraints had a positive effect on their songwriting. “We actually did some pre-production this time,” reveals Mazlin, in reference to an exhaustive process of rehearsal, deconstruction and rearrangement of each song.

    “Sometimes you end up putting it together exactly the same as you started,” says McGrath,”but I think it’s a dangerous thing to have an album’s worth of songs ready and then just recording those 12. The cool thing about stretching it out over a long time is there’s four songs on the record now that weren’t written at the start of the recording process.”

    Hungry Kids formed in mid-2007. Drummer Ryan Strathie had played in separate bands with both Mazlin and bassist Ben Dalton; McGrath was a mutual friend. As McGrath and Mazlin share vocal duties, the band agonised over Escapades‘  tracklisting. “It was always going to be a little tricky for us to make everything flow,” says Mazlin. “But I think we managed it.”

    When asked to pinpoint the band’s sound, McGrath is laconic. “Pop’s the simplest way to describe it. It’s what we do. I think it’s unnecessarily complicated to give it a whole bunch of sub-genres.”

    More Hungry Kids Of Hungary on MySpace. The music video for their song ‘Coming Around‘ is embedded below.

  • triple j mag story: ‘Music Counts For Something’, September 2010

    A feature for the September 2010 issue of the recently-renamed triple j mag, which discusses what Australian musicians make from selling music as a proportion of their overall income. The full article text is underneath.

    triple j mag story, September 2010: 'Music Counts For Something' by Andrew McMillen

    Music Counts For Something

    by Andrew McMillen

    We asked some top independent artists to speak specifics on the art of selling music in the digital age – and to advise up-and-comers on how not to get rorted.

    Throughout the history of recorded music, album sales were a strong indicator as to artists’ personal wealth. The equation used to go: gold and platinum record sales + sold out tours = money in the bank. But in 2010, people are less and less likely to pay for recorded music, with the equation continuing to shift away from sales toward touring.

    The Presets

    The Presets’ Julian Hamilton is blunt when discussing musical economics, as an ambassador for APRA – the Australasian Performing Right Association – might well be. “These days, if you want to be a working musician can’t just rely on record sales to make money,” he says.

    According to Julian, music sales through publishing account for “around a third or a quarter” of The Presets’ overall income. “But it’s tricky because the way that musicians earn money is so varied, through so many different revenue streams that come in at different times. Some months, you might make no money.”

    His advice to aspiring musos: “Try to keep the creative and business sides of the bands different: don’t talk about money when you’re rehearsing, and don’t talk about lyrics when you’re in a business meeting. Set up a group account under the band’s name, where all members can see where the money’s going.”

    “If you can sort the shitty business side out, so that you don’t worry about it, that’s gonna make the fun stuff even more fun.”


    Under the pseudonym Gotye, Wally de Backer put himself $30,000 in debt to fund his ARIA Award-winning album Like Drawing Blood in 2006. That risk paid off: following mainstream interest in his independently released second LP, Wally eventually made over $100,000 in album sales and royalty payments.

    At the release of the first Gotye album, 2003’s Boardface, de Backer got the feeling that “making music wouldn’t ever be more than something I could produce and finance in my spare time from ‘real work’. Having been a full-time musician for a couple of years now, I’m amazed at how much time can be spent dealing with accounting, chasing and checking royalty statements, managing budgets, and basically financial planning so you don’t end up in a bus in middle of Eastern Europe with a maxed out credit card and the bank foreclosing on your mortgage back at home. I’d rather be on top of everything and organise my music-making time accordingly, rather than remain oblivious and potentially have tax and income issues down the track.”

    His advice for young musos: “If you can cover all or most bases and get your career off the ground yourself, then you’re in a strong position to negotiate good deals later on, rather than being at the mercy of ‘industry standards’.”

    Eddy Current Suppression Ring

    Melbourne rock band Eddy Current Suppression Ring’s third album, Rush To Relax, debuted in the ARIA top 20 earlier this year.

    Despite their popularity, the band’s guitarist (and manager) Mikey Young is frank about how he and his bandmates treat the project.

    “We all have other ways of making money. We treat this band like a hobby. Outside of shows, we get a random few grand every so often from record sales, APRA and publishing, but once it’s split between the four of us and we put a bit back towards the band, it’s really just bonus pocket money.”

    “None of us could solely live off [the band’s income]”, he continues, “But that’s our fault and not due to the state of the music industry or anything. We choose to keep our band a thing we do for fun when we feel like it, so we’ve never made that leap into having a crack and living off it.”


    Tim Levinson – better known as MC Urthboy, in addition to being a founding member of The Herd and head of Sydney independent label Elefant Traks – reveals that royalties from album sales comprised 14% of his overall income in 2009. The majority of his earnings came from touring and label-related revenue.

    “If a musician has only ever had a part time job to sustain their real passion of playing music for a living, you can understand how vulnerable they become,” says Tim. “It’s important to take this into account when understanding the significance of how much sacrifice artists make to pursue their music.”

    For all but the biggest fish in the Australian musical pond, Tim confirms: “If you’re a musician, you can never piece together anything resembling an income without including some sort of regular or fall back job. But if you’re instinctively passionate about it, you have no choice. You are compelled to do it. It’s art that is created out of just a necessity to express yourself, and that’s a great thing.”

    Philadelphia Grand Jury

    Philadelphia Grand Jury’s manager, Martin Novosel, runs us through the economics of a popular, self-released indie band. “Once a quarter, the band will see approximately $8-9,000, minus 25 per cent in distribution, minus pressing costs for the albums (if more needed to be pressed), minus any marketing costs, minus mechanical costs, and finally, minus management commission on profit. In real money terms, this equates to something in the vicinity of a couple of thousand dollars per quarter for the band members.

    “However it does go up if you are a commercial act,” he continues. “The reason for this is because bands are kept in consumers’ minds through media presence.”

    Martin acknowledges that the indie market is very live-driven; “An act needs to be playing often to keep its currency with media to get that exposure. And an act can really only tour Australia twice or three times in an album cycle before it has overplayed and needs to provide new material”.

    Compared with their income from touring, publishing and merchandise, Novosel estimates that the Philly Jays’ music sales comprise only 5-10 per cent of the band’s overall income.

    The Butterfly Effect

    The Butterfly Effect’s bassist, Glenn Esmond, suggests that about 25 per cent of the band’s yearly revenue is from album sales.

    Though he grew up idolising the glam rock model of luxury and privilege – private jets and the like – as he got older and started playing in cover bands at local pubs, Esmond realised that “it’s just enough to be able to pay your rent, and have a bit of money left over at the end of the day to buy a beer.”

    He suggests reading the book Music Business, by Shane Simpson. “You might decide to be independent or you might go with a label, but at least you’re informed about how the industry works, and how deals are recouped. I’ve read about some bands who signed deals where the label makes 85% of the band’s income while retaining the rights to the masters. It’s insane, man. How does anyone ever make any money? Sometimes people don’t, and that’s the reality.”

    With a laugh, he concludes: “You’ve gotta do it for love until you get too old, or your missus goes, ‘Sorry mate, you’ve been doing this for ten years and you’ve made no money – you need a real job!’”

  • The Vine interview: Megan Washington, September 2010

    An interview for The Vine.

    Megan WashingtonInterview – Megan Washington

    Megan Washington is on the cusp of something big. Her recently-released first album, I Believe You Liar, debuted at #3 on the ARIA charts. During her current album tour, she and her band are playing five sold-out shows at the 850-capacity Melbourne venue, The Corner. Successful album tours aside, she’s booked to play (at least) eleven significant music events for the remainder of 2010. Put simply, people are going bananas for Washington.

    Most people, at least. One of TheVine’s critics, Everett True, wrote a contentious review of I Believe You Liar, which was published the day before we spoke. Hours ahead of Megan’s sold-out show at The Zoo, my girlfriend Rachael and I sat cross-legged on the concrete floor of a nearby car park with the singer, who smoked five self-rolled cigarettes over the course of our 50 minute conversation.

    So tell me: what were your first feelings when reading Everett’s review last night?

    At first it was…I don’t think it was a particularly compassionate review. I think that you can state your opinion, whilst not being overly hostile. You know what I mean? It was a bit hurtful, but I guess everybody feels like that about their art and the thing they try really hard to make.

    Then I read it again this morning and realised that it makes no sense. It starts by saying that pop’s doing fine by itself, thanks very much, ask Katy Perry, blah, blah, blah. Then he said the production is ‘too pop’ on the record. How does that make sense? The production’s too pop, and [yet] pop’s doing fine.

    Do you know what I mean? I guess you’ve got to be adult enough to understand that people have opinions and even though if I really thought… he didn’t even mention the songwriting. He said the lyrics were quirky, without actually discussing any of the lyrics. Why are they quirky; how are they quirky? I thought it was more of a vehicle for him to voice his opinion about the state of the music industry in Australia.

    Full interview on The Vine.

    This was one of the most relaxed and fun interviews I’ve done. It’s another occasion where I’m glad I was writing for the web, as I wanted readers to see it all unfold. I had no desire to cut any of it, and I’m glad that my editor didn’t either.

  • The Vine interview: John Butler, September 2010

    An interview for The Vine. Excerpt below.

    John Butler at the Red Rocks Amphitheatre, Colorado. Photo by Tobin VoggesserInterview – John Butler

    It’s a pretty safe bet to name John Butler Trio as Australia’s biggest independent act. Since their humble beginnings with the 1998 LP John Butler, the singer/guitarist and his regularly-rotating musical partners released Three to wide acclaim in 2001 and have continued to grow in stature ever since.

    Butler [pictured right] owns Jarrah Records, an independent label created to release his band and The Waifs; in 2005, he and his wife inaugurated the JB Seed grant program to support artistic expression and encourage social, cultural and artistic diversity in Australian society. In the last five years, Butler and his supporters – including Paul Kelly, Missy Higgins and Blue King Brown – have given away somewhere in the vicinity of $500,000 to Australian musicians, managers and social activists through (the recently-renamed) The Seed.

    Above all else, though, John Butler is known for his music, a heady mix of blues, roots, rock, and – more recently, with the release of April Uprising – pop. When TheVine reaches John Butler, he’s on a tour bus somewhere in France, having just played at a music festival. He and his current band – drummer Nicky Bomba and bassist Byron Luiters – have spent much of 2010 overseas. The trio completed their most successful US tour thus far, which included their biggest headline show to date at the sold out, 8,500-capacity Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Colorado. Ahead of his biggest Australian tour since the release of 2004’s Sunrise Over Sea, there’s a lot of ground to be covered. Butler is up to the task; he speaks with TheVine for over 40 minutes.

    Andrew: It’s been interesting to follow you over the years, because it seems your outspoken nature and what you and your name stand for are all ideas that many Australians can identify with. Besides your music, which obviously resonates with people, I wonder if this idea, that people feel like they can identify with you, speaks to why you’ve achieved so much as a public figure. What do you think John Butler stands for in the eyes of the Australian public?

    John: Wow, what an introduction. That’s great. A real journalist, this is refreshing. Well first of all, who I am and how I define myself is a work in progress. And in another way I think it would be kind of pretentious to think of what I stand for to people. It would be almost a little bit too self-concerned to presuppose what anybody thinks about me.

    I think to some people I’m a loud-mouthed fringe hippie who hugs trees. I think other people think I’m a blues artist. Some people think I’m a sensitive new age guy who writes songs about his children and his family. Some people think I’m somebody who’s lived in Australia for 24 years, and is Australian, and loves Australia but still has an American accent. [laughs] I think I’m many things to many different people. I think some people hate me and some people love me and there’s probably a lot of people who don’t give a shit and that’s probably a healthy thing.

    Full interview on The Vine.

    More John Butler Trio on MySpace. Music video for their song ‘Revolution‘ embedded below.

  • Reflections on UnConvention Brisbane 2010

    UnConvention Brisbane 2010 happened 12-13 June at The Edge in South Bank. It was a grassroots music conference aimed at fostering a dialogue between like-minded members of Brisbane’s independent music scene. I co-organised the event alongside Dave Carter, Maggie Collins and Brett Wood. To read about how it all came together, read this blog post written a week beforehand.

    I also moderated the music & media panel. You can view some highlights here, or embedded below:

    From left to right (click their names for more info):

    Myself, Michelle Brown (4ZzZ radio), Christopher Harms (Rave Magazine), Graham Ashton (Footstomp Music), Matt Rabbidge (LickIt Media), Steve Bell (Time Off), Crystle Fleper (FasterLouder QLD), Paul Curtis (Valve Records / Consume Management) and Matt Hickey ( / The Vine). Chris Johnson (AMRAP) and Sophie Benjamin ( had to pull out at the last minute for personal reasons.

    To listen to the full music & media panel conversation, click here to use the embedded audio player on the UnConvention Brisbane website.

    UnConvention Brisbane 2010 posterIn whole, UnConvention Brisbane 2010 was a winner. I’m thrilled that 120 (or so) members of the city’s independent music scene were willing to spend their weekend – or at least, part of it – listening to and engaging with fellow venue operators, band managers, musicians, business owners and label representatives. For mine, this was the highlight: bringing people together, and putting them in a low pressure social space where they felt comfortable interacting with one another.

    While it wasn’t a perfect event – the free showcase attracted a smaller audience than the paid panel discussions, which was disappointing – I feel it was a great start to what we intend to shape into an annual event.

    I’m told that the first year’s always the hardest; having never been involved with a project of this scale, I’ll have to take my friends’ word for it. Our ‘next year’ list of learnings and recommendations is huge, though, and we’re confident that UnConvention Brisbane 2011 will surpass what we achieved this time around.

    Thanks to all involved – you know who you are. If you met me on the weekend and want to a continue a conversation, contact me via the link at the top of the page. If you want to be involved with next year’s UnConvention Brisbane in any capacity, please visit the website and click ‘contact us’. Any and all feedback and support is welcomed. Thank you for giving a shit about independent music, Brisbane.

    There are plenty of video clips taken during the weekend at the UnConvention Brisbane website, which can be found here.

    To conclude, I’ll leave the summarising to a bunch of bloggers who took the time to record their feelings on the event.

    UnConvention Brisbane by the Bloggers

    Here’s some of the cherry-picked highlights. If you’d like to add to the conversation jump on Facebook or Twitter and let us know your feedback – we’d love to hear it.

    The Good

    “I had suspicions at first that it would be simply a congratulatory circle jerk but I was wrong. Having a panel discussion allowed for an array of often divergent views to focus attention on what may be good and what may be not so good about the local music scenic. Furthermore, I also got to say ‘hey’ to some fellow bloggers, including Bianca from Music For the Laundromat and Jodi from Plus One. It’s always great to put faces to names. Congratulations to Andrew McMillen and Dave Carter for organising what was a great and badly needed conference that I hope returns next year” –  Darragh, Parallel Lines for a Slow Decline

    “Unconvention was fantastic. I’ve been involved in several “creative” conventions, and find that they’re not usually worth the hundreds of dollars per ticket, so at $20 including a sausage sizzle, Unconvention was the best value convention I’ve ever encountered. It was filled with smart, creative, fun, talented people, who were all super approachable, and keen to share and network” – Jaymis, Oxygen Kiosk (and UnConvention Tech Nerd)

    “The weekend was an invaluable experience for me. It was enlightening to hear people’s views on the ever changing music scene in Brisbane, and it certainly gave me a more positive perspective on it. If you didn’t get to make it this year, I would highly recommend it for next year” – Bianca, Music for the Laundromat

    “Undesirable questions received a Capella singing in response. Fifteen or so minutes were dedicated to stories about hair and rock stars. Tom Hall advised aspiring promoters that you could get up ‘100 posters in an hour at a good run’. Everyone ranted about the state of music in Brisbane and nobody agreed. I don’t know what happened but hell, it was good fun.” – Jodi, plusonebrisbane describing the Music as Culture panel.

    “I went and really enjoyed the whole thing. I learned a lot about how this music industry operates. … I can’t believe the whole thing cost $20. If they have one of these things in your local area you really should go.” – Brendan, Turn It Up to 10

    “I have learnt a lot, but it has also affirmed my belief in punk rock, and its ability to work outside of any conventional music industry” – Matt, Papercuts Collective

    “If their intention was to inspire, I would say, “mission accomplished.” It really was quite an experience to realise that these people who are ingrained in the industry, and who are doing great things for independent artists, had an idea and followed through with that idea, making mistakes, grasping opportunities and making contacts along the way” – Shayne, Cowbell Music (and UnConvention panelist)

    The Not So Good

    “I can’t speak for whether Unconvention was indeed unconventional in its otherwise pristine imitation of a Music Business Convention. Somehow I suspect not. But, um, good on them for bringing attendance prices down or something” – Everett True (UnConvention Panellist)

    The Plain Weird

    “Five weird things that happened to me on the weekend:

    1. I went to the Down Under Bar. Worse still, I dimly remember being pretty excited about it.
    2. Unconvention Brisbane took place for the first time. I chaired a panel on Music As Culture and during which Andrew Stafford, the author of Pig City: The Saints To Savage Garden, broke into song. Fellow panelist Everett True had decided that if we were asked a question we didn’t wish to answer, we had to sing. What did I ask Andrew? Oh just something light and breezy: ‘So what was the worst thing that happened to you because you wrote Pig City?’ (I made Everett sing as well).
    3. I walked around Highgate Hill at 3am with a cocktail.
    4. A taxi driver told me that we should just shoot people who wish to immigrate to our country. ‘Just shoot them, it doesn’t cost a lot to shoot people.’ And I tipped him. This morning I couldn’t remember why. Then I did. I tipped him because I was scared he was going to kill me and dump my severed body parts in the river.
    5. Walking up Merthyr Road last night, not 15 minutes after Ted Bundy the taxi-driver, a car pulled up next to me as I walked along. The driver said ‘You want a lift.’ I told the driver I lived closeby so it was cool. I was eating a packet of crisps. Then the driver said ‘Do you want me to suck your cock?’ and I said ‘Nah man, I’m good’ and he drove off”

    – Ian, Ambrose Chapel (and UnConvention ‘music as culture’ panel curator)

  • Mess+Noise track review: Oh Ye Denver Birds – ‘Walls’, June 2010

    A single review for Mess+Noise. Excerpt below.

    Oh Ye Denver Birds 'Walls' single artworkOh Ye Denver Birds – Walls

    Bear with me: this is complicated. On ‘Walls’, Brisbane indie folk quintet Oh Ye Denver Birds have buried a fundamentally simple pop song underneath many musical layers. At its core is a finger-picked acoustic guitar, a stomped bass drum, and Dominic Stephens’ voice, which sings of self-discovery and self-acceptance. This ain’t no introspective navel-gazing, though: the lyrics are pointed outward, toward the listener. The central, recurring motif suggests that “We all need time to get away from everything you love”, though the song’s title refers to the middle-eight (“All your fears have been realised/The wave will see the walls come down/Fall down”).

    Full review over at Mess+Noise, where you can also stream the song. It’s lovely. Find the band on MySpace.

  • UnConvention Brisbane 2010, a grassroots music conference

    Twelve months ago, my friend Dave Carter came to me with a concept called UnConvention, which originated in the UK a couple of years ago. He described it thus:

    UnConvention celebrates music. It’s purpose is to provide a forum for those of us who work at the grassroots. For artists and musicians that want to understand how to get their music heard and how to practice their craft. For labels who want to champion this music and to spread the word. For people who want to work with music whether they be promoters, publicists or creatives.

    UnConvention understands that the most interesting stuff happens on the margins. We don’t mind the mainstream. We just don’t find it relevant.

    UnConvention is a forum for ideas, for creativity, for shared experiences and knowledge and for seeing and hearing great artists.

    UnConvention doesn’t believe in ‘do it yourself’. We believe in ‘do it together’.

    Dave is a lecturer at the Queensland Conservatorium in music technology, and an acclaimed researcher (check out his online marketing research paper here, which was presented at last year’s Big Sound music conference). So I said: sure, let’s make this happen here in Brisbane.

    We asked Brett Wood – managing director of local indie label Starving Kids Records – if he wanted to get on board; he said the same thing. And as we set a date and found a venue and ironed out who we wanted to be involved, Maggie Collins – triple j radio presenter and manager of Brisbane bands DZ, The John Steel Singers, and Skinny Jean – approached us with enthusiasm. So we said: sure, you’re welcome to join us.

    UnConvention Brisbane 2010 posterNext weekend, 12-13 June 2010, the first UnConvention Brisbane will take place at The Edge, the State Library of Queensland’s digital culture hub. As the venue is in the heart of the city’s arts precinct, it’s the perfect location. There’s a poster to the right which describes what will take place: click for a closer look. Some information from the event website is below.

    UnConvention Brisbane is a grassroots-led music conference for independent promoters, labels, entrepreneurs, writers, technologists, innovators and artists. The goal of UnConvention Brisbane is to bring together like-minded individuals to discuss the future of independent music and how it will develop and flourish in the technological age. The weekend event will comprise panel discussions and networking events focussed around creating sustainable careers within the music industry.

    Access to both days costs $20, and tickets are available via OzTix.

    On the Sunday, I’m presenting the music & media panel discussion, which features the following lovely people.

    Sunday June 13, 2010, 1pm – Music and Media

    Music journalist and blogger Andrew McMillen will discuss the opportunities for mixing a passion for music with blogging, journalism, radio, marketing, publicity and other shady practices with:

    Check out the full program details here.

    We’re also proud to be presenting a free, all-ages showcase of some of Brisbane’s best independent acts on the Saturday night, which is sponsored by creative media educational institution, SAE.

    The showcase will feature:

    UnConvention logo. 'Do It Together'It’s a pleasure to be involved with an event that seeks to investigate how to sustain careers within Brisbane’s independent music industry. It’s important than ever to have these conversations. After spending a couple of years working in and around the local scene, I’m glad to be in a position to give something back.

    Follow UnConvention Brisbane on Facebook or Twitter if you’re so inclined. The weekend Facebook event is here, and the free, all-ages showcase event is here; keep an eye on the website to see how it all unfolds.

  • The Big Issue story: ‘Keeping Current: Eddy Current Suppression Ring’, April 2010

    A story for The Big Issue #353 on Eddy Current Suppression Ring. Click the image below for full-size, readable version; story text is included underneath.

    The Big Issue story: 'Staying Current' on Eddy Current Suppression Ring by Andrew McMillen

    Keeping Current

    Six hours is plenty of time to record a full-length rock album from start to finish, claims Mikey Young from Melbourne band Eddy Current Suppression Ring. Did you hear that? That was the sound of professional recording engineers, meticulous sound technicians and veteran major label marketing managers gasping in horror.

    ECSR is beholden to no such middlemen. Instead, the band have cultivated a reputation as indie heroes, of sorts: their completely hands-on, DIY approach to all aspects of their career has resulted in a steady rise in the popularity of not only the band themselves, but of the lo-fi, old-school garage rock sound that they’ve played a large part in resurrecting for a new generation of Australian music fans. Young tells me that he spent three years listening to “teenage garage records from the ’60s” while working at Corduroy Records’ vinyl pressing plant, where he realised his fondness for the distinctive guitar tone that now characterises the band: warm and clean for the most part, though prone to occasional buzzing, abrasive bursts of energy.

    None of the above would hold much weight if the band didn’t have an audience. Who cares about an indie band doing everything themselves, for cheap? But the band do have an audience, and many do care. In a transition reminiscent of fellow Melburnians The Drones in recent years, Eddy Current Suppression Ring can lay claim to a rare confluence of events: they’re lauded by music critics, and they’re popular enough to dent the mainstream (their third album, Rush To Relax, debuted in mid-February at #20 on the ARIA album chart). But most importantly, they’ve managed to keep most of their fan base intact, despite their rising profile and the inevitable backlash that occurs when artists outgrow their roots.

    Though their lo-fi garage rock sound continues to attract more ears, the band’s production costs seem to be inversely proportional. The quartet were the recipients of the $30,000 Australian Music Prize (AMP) in March 2009 ahead of competition like The Presets, Cut Copy, and the aforementioned Drones. The album that won it for them, Primary Colours (2008), reportedly cost just $1,500 to make. Young – whose roles within the band include guitarist, keyboardist, studio recorder, mixer, and manager – claims Rush To Relax cost less and took even less time.

    Where does it end, then? The logical conclusion is that they’ll record the next release in one take. Curious, I put the idea to Young. “I always thought about it, but I think it’s unlikely. I can’t see how we can do it much more quickly or cheaper than [Rush To Relax]. Definitely not any cheaper!” However, he feels that too much attention is paid to the length of time it takes for the band to record albums. “It’s not like we’re trying to prove a point. I have the recording gear, so it doesn’t cost us anything. We’re comfortable with doing it that way, and it sounds okay for what we’re trying to do. Unlike some bands who go into a recording session to write songs, we tend to have 12 to 15 songs written and ready to go.”

    On record, ECSR aim to sound as close to their live performances as possible. Young elaborates: “I always thought if you can’t play the songs you’re trying to record well after three takes, you shouldn’t be recording it. We try a song a couple of times and hopefully it’s done. There’s plenty of room for bum notes and stuff like that. We’re not trying to achieve any kind of perfection.”

    Young believes idiosyncratic singer Brendan Huntley “always seems to be quirky and out of time,” which, alongside his simplistic, honest lyrics, may influence the band’s broad-reaching popularity.

    While keeping their career completely DIY might not quite result in the proverbial license to print money, self-recording their material is “a way of keeping costs down, that’s for sure,” says Young. What of the AMP cash they won 12 months ago, then? Besides securing their own recording space, Young laughs as he discusses the photograph that adorns the Rush To Relax album cover.

    It isn’t Photoshopped: they really hired the plane that appears in the sky, high above the band, who are wearing masks (“Maybe we were just scared of our own faces on the cover,” he adds, before stressing that there’s no symbolic meaning behind the masks). The cost of this venture seems at odds with their DIY approach, until you consider the importance the band place on their artistic integrity. After speaking with Young, I’m convinced that faking the shot wouldn’t have occurred to the band at all.

    “It was pretty hard to find a company that still does those old plane banners. I always used to like those banners as a kid and I always wanted one,” the guitarist says. “Our album cost nothin’, and our friends film our videos, and I guess we won some money last year,” – he laughs. “And I felt like we should show that we spent it on something. So we might as well get a stupid big plane.”

    It turned out to be one of those we’ve-made-it moments: “When it came flying over, it was seriously the most exciting event. We were just jumping up and down going ‘yes!’ It was like, box ticked, I can retire now!”

    by Andrew McMillen

    Video for the Rush To Relax title track embedded below.

  • 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?