All posts tagged inspiration

  • Announcing my appointment as national music writer at The Australian, from January 2018

    I have been appointed as national music writer at The Australian, as announced in the newspaper on Saturday 25 November 2017:

    Andrew McMillen announced as The Australian's national music writer, starting January 2018

    Before I start my next chapter at The Australian in January 2018, I wrote a Medium post to summarise my eight years in freelance journalism. Excerpt below.

    Never Rattled, Never Frantic

    Staying motivated during eight years in freelance journalism

    'Never Rattled, Never Frantic: Staying motivated during eight years in freelance journalism' by Andrew McMillen, December 2017

    Underneath my computer monitor are three handwritten post-it notes that have been stuck in place for several years. They each contain a few words that mean a lot to me.

    From left to right, they read as follows:

    1. “Alive time or dead time?”

    2. “Success is nothing more than a few simple disciplines practised every day, while failure is simply a few errors in judgement, repeated every day.”

    3. “Never rattled. Never frantic. Always hustling and acting with creativity. Never anything but deliberate.”

    Since I began working as a freelance journalist in 2009, aged 21, I have worked from eight locations: two bedrooms, two home offices, three living rooms, and one co-working space.

    At each of these locations, I took to writing or printing quotes that I found motivational or inspirational. Most of them I have either absorbed by osmosis or outright forgotten, but there’s one I found around 2011 that retains a special resonance. I printed it in a large font, and stuck it to my wall:

    “Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is practically a cliche. Education will not: the world is full of educated fools. Persistence and determination alone are all-powerful.”

    That long quote was torn down and tossed during a move, but the message was internalised. If I had to narrow my success down to a single attribute, it’s persistence. I could have quit on plenty of occasions, after any one of a number of setbacks. But I didn’t.

    In these motivational quotes, you may be sensing some themes.

    I would be lying if I told you that the act of writing and affixing these quotes helped me on a daily, or even a weekly basis. I didn’t repeat them out loud, like affirmations. Most of the time, they were as easy to ignore as wallpaper.

    But often enough in recent years, during down moments, or in times of stress or upheaval, I’d shift my gaze from the words–or the bright, blank page–on the computer monitor, and find that these few handwritten notes would help to centre my thoughts.

    Let me tell you why.

    To read the full story of how I kept myself motivated during eight years in freelance journalism, including significant help from my mentors Nick Crocker and Richard Guilliatt, visit Medium.

    And keep an eye on The Australian from January 2018 to see where I take the newspaper’s music coverage in my new role. You can also follow me on Twitter and Instagram.

  • A conversation with Ryan Holiday: blogger, former marketing director of American Apparel, soon-to-be author; October 2011

    Ryan Holiday is one of the most influential people in my life.

    His blog,, is one of the most valuable online resources I know of. This is a statement that I know will make him blush, because Ryan is a modest guy. I know this because when I first approached him for an interview in January 2010, he deflected my questions – which were extremely detailed, potentially to the point of exhibiting stalker-like behaviour. He wrote that when he felt he deserved an interview, he’d give it to me; he also said that mine was “the most in depth, investigative email I’ve ever gotten”.

    At 24, Ryan [pictured right] is a year older than me. I’ve viewed his blog as a kind of counsel since I first became aware of his work. His thinking and writing has, in turn, shaped my thinking and writing. It is fair to say that I wouldn’t be on the path I am now if I hadn’t been closely studying another young male on the other side of the world, fearlessly kicking down doors in search and pursuit of his goals. For a couple of years, Ryan’s ambition, persistence and confidence all directly influenced my day-to-day thoughts and actions. Which is another statement that will make Ryan blush, because it’s a pretty fucking weird thing to type, let alone think.

    Ryan first attracted my attention by attracting the attention of someone who I was closely studying at the time: Tucker Max, the American blogger-turned-author who is best known for his 2006 book I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell and the 2009 film adaptation of the same name.

    Ryan wrote a review of Tucker’s website – which, at the time, was a collection of stories about Max’s drinking and sexual exploits – for his college newspaper, and sent the link to the author. Soon after, Max posted the review on his message board, which was a fairly popular corner of the web; it was deleted a couple of years ago. I immediately became interested in figuring out who Holiday was.

    That review led Tucker to hire Ryan as an intern at his company, Rudius Media (now defunct). It led Ryan to work with the acclaimed author Robert Greene as a research assistant on the strategy book The 50th Law, co-written with rapper 50 Cent and released in 2009. And it led Ryan to be hired by the clothing manufacturer American Apparel, where he worked as Director of Marketing for a couple of years. He still works as an advisor to American Apparel, but moved from Los Angeles to New Orleans in mid 2011 to work on a book project of his own.

    Since January 2007, Ryan has consistently used his blog as a platform for discussions about writing, running, online PR, media, philosophy, and stoicism, among other topics. I’ve consumed every word that he has written since his first post, ‘The Business Of Running‘. I often re-read his posts multiple times, which is something I rarely do online. That first post remains a valid starting point for understanding Ryan’s way of thinking and writing. I’ll quote the opening paragraph below.

    “I run 5 miles every night. It’s where I go to digest my day, hash out the multitude of information that’s been poured into me in the last wild six months or so, and to try and condense it down to some sort of cohesive strategy to live my life by.” – Ryan Holiday, January 31 2007

    When I visited the United States for the first time with my girlfriend Rachael in September 2010, I asked to meet up with Ryan in Los Angeles. We met at a burger joint on Melrose Avenue and talked for an hour or so. It was a huge thrill for me to meet a guy who’s been something of an internet hero to me for nearly five years. Rachael didn’t really understand why it was so important to me at the time.

    Neither did I, really, now that I think about it. All I knew then, and know now, is that Ryan Holiday is one of the most influential people in my life. It’s an honour for me to publish the below email interview.

    Andrew: When you wrote that review of Tucker’s website, what was the intended outcome?

    Ryan: I’m not sure if I ever told anyone this, but I’d noticed that Tucker tended to link to or write about any press he got (at least back then) and so I thought, “I’m a writer for a college newspaper, why don’t I try it”? It didn’t really go much further than thinking about it at that time. Then a couple weeks later I had the opening line of that piece floating around in my head: “If Hunter S Thompson had read this site, he probably wouldn’t have killed himself.” I figured I had something and eventually sat down and wrote it.

    So the intended outcome was that I’d send it to him and he’d link to it (I reposted the article on my blog) and that would be it. But the reaction totally blew my mind. Within about 20 minutes he’d responded and… I went back to my Gmail and found it:

    From: Tucker Max

    [November 28th, 2005]

    “Jesus Christ. Dude, that is fantastic. Seriously, I am awed by your grasp of me and my material. I am going to post this as THE example of a great review of me and my work.”

    It’s funny to me now because that reaction has become a pretty routine occurrence for me since then. I obviously thought I wrote a pretty good article but I was still reluctant to send it off. Is he going to like it? Did I go overboard? What are the chances of it getting a response? Turns out I had nailed the target and didn’t quite understand the extent. That seems to happen a lot to me. You’d think I’d anticipate it by now, but still other peoples’ reaction (positively, anyway) tends to catch me by surprise.

    What did that response change for you? Was that one of those ‘Fight Club moments‘ I remember you writing about years ago?

    I think it was the opposite of one of those moments. I think of a Fight Club Moment as something that breaks you down and demolishes the pretense and bullshit entitlement you have in your life. This wasn’t that. It instilled a lot of confidence in me. It was like, “ok, I am better than I knew. That’s awesome, maybe I can build on this.”

    What happened next between you and Tucker?

    I think after he had the publisher send me a copy of his book to review, which I did, and after it was published I asked for his thoughts on the writing. He went over it on the phone with me about ways I could improve my voice and tone.

    I stayed in touch—I think in my post about advice a couple weeks ago I called this ‘staying on the radar’, and that’s basically what I did. I would pop in and ask questions, for advice, send links etc. Any excuse I could think of to keep that connection alive. Only an idiot would waste that chance.

    A year or so later I was in New York, where he was living and I told him I wasn’t looking for a job, or a salary or a handout but I had some thoughts on ways I could contribute to his company, Rudius Media. After the meeting, he offered me an internship, which 6-8 months later become a job. But it was all a very fluid thing, like I was saying.

    [Andrew’s note: that post he mentionedAdvice to a Young Man Hoping to Go Somewhere (Or Get Something From Someone Successful)is an absolute must-read.]

    To me, the act of writing the review and showing Tucker is a pretty solid example of figuring out what you want, and pursuing it accordingly. Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t that lead to him offering you a job, you quitting college and moving to LA, and then working for American Apparel?

    Haha, I mean you pretty much figured out exactly what I was doing or trying to do with the last question, probably with a better sense of clarity than I really had at the time. But yeah, it was the door that ultimately led to the opening of all the other doors. I have him to thank for all of it. When I see a path to an opportunity–like a lane in basketball–I sort of put my head down and the next thing I know I’m through it and it took me somewhere I didn’t totally anticipate.

    With the Tucker thing, I knew I wanted to one day be a writer like the kind of writers he was working with at the time – I’d known this since I first saw his sites in high school – so I did that article, and then I was working for him, and then I was working for the people he was working with, and then the people they were working with, and so on. I don’t think any of them every solicited me for a job either so much; it was just that I was around all the time, doing stuff and offering to do stuff, and then it eventually became official.

    How did you come across Robert Greene’s work? Was it Tucker who first showed you?

    Yeah, I’d heard of the books obviously but I think Tucker recommended The 48 Laws of Power so I read it. I marked up my copy so much and had a million questions to ask Tucker.* Then the first time I met him, Tucker walked me to a bookstore and bought me The 33 Strategies of War and said, “if you’re going to work for me, you’ll need to have read this.” I think that’s how I found out I got the job. All I took from that exchange was: “I better read this book on the plane ride home and know it backwards and forwards.”

    * Ryan’s sidenote: that copy of The 48 Laws is priceless to me. Someone stole it out of my office at American Apparel. I was fucking distraught. It makes no sense because Dov [Charney, AA chairman and CEO] has a million copies laying around. Why would they want my marked-up personal copy?

    How did the opportunity to work for Greene arise?

    The three of us – Tucker, Robert, and I – had lunch in L.A. a few years ago and it kind of arose from that meeting. Although it almost didn’t, because I was so nervous I accidentally messed up when I gave Robert my phone number.

    I have a suspicion that working on The 50th Law might have inspired a sense of validation, given your regular documentation on your life via the blog, and your personal reading and research via your Delicious account. Am I right, or way off?

    I mean, it was very cool to have the privilege to be allowed to peek inside of project like that. But I don’t think validating is the right work. What it was was educational, from top to bottom. Researching for someone–particularly someone like Robert–is crazy because you get pointed in all these directions that you’d never have gone by yourself, given a very firm objective to gather from that direction, and a tight deadline with which to do so. When you read or research for yourself, it is kind of this wandering, directionless thing. For the book, it was like getting a crash course in a million different subjects. I was interested in all of them so I would mark down the stuff I would want to go back and look at later.

    So it’s funny, when I see the book, it reminds me of loose ends I still need to tie up for myself and am interested in looking into.

    Your stoicism guest blog for Tim Ferriss in April 2009 attracted a lot of attention. What did you get out of it? What did you learn from the experience?

    More than anything, it helped me clarify my thoughts. Tim is awesome and he’s got a very impressive commitment to expanding the scope of blog all the time. He starting writing about productivity and got all these people hooked and the next thing you know he’s totally revolutionized how they think about health and science. I was lucky that he gave me the microphone for one of those digressions.

    I got quite a few new readers out of it and he also was gracious enough to give me two more chances to write about similar topics. [The Experimental Life: An Introduction to Michel de Montaigne‘, October 2010; ‘Looking to the Dietary Gods: Eating Well According to the Ancients‘, July 2011]

    What you learn in a setting like that is how to tailor your message to different mediums. When I write for my site, I can be as self-indulgent as I want. When you write for someone else or on a bigger platform, you have to be much clearer and you have to catch them right from the beginning. They’re not YOUR readers, so you have to meet them where they are if you’d like to bother listening to your message. At the same time, it taught me that I don’t want to have to perform like that all the time which kind of freed me up to not have to chase acquiring that audience for myself. If didn’t learn that, I’d be spend all my time working to build something that at the end of the day, would make me miserable to have.

    Could you tell me about your working space?

    When I was in LA, I had a big office with 5-10 employees at any given time at the American Apparel factory. I had an office at my house at well.

    Now, in New Orleans, I sort of went in the completely opposite direction. I’m in a studio apartment so I don’t work much there. I like working and reading and writing out of the library at Tulane or, I belong to an old school athletic club in the French Quarter that has like a library/parlor work space that I use.

    On Mondays, I try to do all my administrative stuff—conference calls with employees, meetings, paperwork and then during the rest of the week I respond to AA emails in the morning and again at night. The middle of the day is mine. I try to write, go to the gym (run, box or swim), and read—in that order.

    I still have the same quote, the one from Marcus [Aurelius], above my desk:

    “When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: The people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous and surly. They are like this because they can’t tell good from evil. But I have seen the beauty of good, and the ugliness of evil, and have recognized that the wrongdoer has a nature related to my own – not of the same blood or birth, but the same mind, and possessing a share of the divine. And so none of them can hurt me.”

    The other quote above my desk is from Seneca:

    “Some lack the fickleness to live as they wish and just live as they have begun.”

    In November 2007 , you wrote that “you have to be happy with you”. I understand it’s a work in progress, but are you happy with you in October 2011, nearly four years later?

    Happier for sure. It’s not so much that it’s a work in progress as it is a process. I forget who said it, but someone smarter than me said that “happiness ensues, it cannot be pursued”. And I think it was Aristotle who said that happiness was the result of excellence.

    Either way, I take that to mean that you’re happy when you are doing whatever it is that you’re doing, well. So: are you doing well at your career? Is your relationship the best it can be? Are you handling adversity or a difficult experience with excellence? Are you behaving honorably? Etc etc.

    These are all opportunities to excel in the moment and cumulatively these moments create a sense of happiness. I’m fucking 24, there’s no way I’m doing well all the time at everything but I do feel I am getting better and more consistent.

    I want to close on a cliched question, which I hope you’ll humour me on. What advice would you give to yourself five years ago, when all you really knew about yourself was that you ‘wanted to one day be a writer like the kind of writers Tucker was working with at the time’?

    Fucking breathe. It’s not as precarious as you think it is. There’s no need to be anxious. See, it’s really easy when you’re that young and you don’t have a safety net to think you have to cling to everything for dear life, everything is a crisis, everything is mission critical, nothing else can be the priority.

    When you’re in that space, it’s really hard to have the patience and compassion or even empathy for the other people in your life because you’re fucking fight or flight all the time. In reality, it’s not as dramatic as all that. Taking a more relaxed and accepting approach might mean losing a couple opportunities here and there but down the road, you end up turning down plenty of those anyway, so what does it matter if a couple never arrive?

    If I told myself this and really listened, I feel like I’d have been happier along the way and be able to be prouder of how I behaved and the decisions I made.


    For more on Ryan Holiday, visit his blog. Hopefully he’ll soon post some news about the publication and release of his first book.

    [Edited on November 18: the first news of Ryan Holiday’s book has been announced.]

  • National Young Writers’ Month 2011: ‘Why I Write’ entry

    I’m the Queensland ambassador for the first National Young Writers’ Month (NYWM), which runs June 1-30 2011. You can read all about what that entails here.

    Below is an entry originally posted on the NYWM blog. It’s a response to the question, “Why do you write?”

    Why I Write: Andrew McMillen

    As National Young Writers’ Month approaches, guest writers will be joining us to share their perspectives on why they write.  Today Andrew McMillen, our Queensland ambassador, talks us through his motivations.

    As a journalist, I write because I want to be engaged with society. I want to contribute. I want to tap new veins of research. I want to speak with people who matter about the issues that concern them, and tell their stories to the widest audience possible. I want to be involved; to ask questions, to challenge preconceptions, to dig beneath the surface veneer. I am still quite new to this, as I can probably count on two hands the number of my published stories that have achieved these goals. But these are the goals, nonetheless.

    That’s my stance on ‘why I write’ as of May 2011. It wasn’t always this way.

    The first time I was ever published, in any sense of the word, was in 2002. I was an eager member of an online video game community, to put it lightly. I spent hours each day contributing to discussions about all manner of topics with people across the world. I started writing news for the site; a process which, essentially, involved rewriting press releases and summarising new information garnered from other websites. Totally unglamorous – and actually, kind of dirty now that I look back on it – but at the time, I loved it. I felt engaged. Empowered. People were reading my articles, and coming out the other end knowing things that they did not know before! It was a breakthrough. I was 14.

    I didn’t uphold this (clearly unpaid) role for long, but I never forgot that first experience of being published. Of having people read my words, and react. Occasionally, throughout my teens, I’d find momentary inspiration in something. I’d sit down and put my mind to writing something outside of my high school assignments. A spirited defence of a friend’s band on a local message board. Over-earnest attempts at aping Tucker Max‘s style by recounting some drunken nights spent with friends. A live review of my favourite band, and how much it blew my mind. These stories never made it far, but it was the writing equivalent of flexing my muscles every once in a while. As with bodybuilding, if you don’t use the muscle, you’ll eventually lose it.

    I moved to Brisbane from Bundaberg in 2006. I began studying Communication. I didn’t have a good reason for doing this. It essentially came down to my parents pressuring me to study something; anything. Communication seemed like the course that would suck the least. Ultimately, I was wrong in this assumption – though since I’ve never studied anything else, I can’t really compare their suckiness – but I finished my course and got the certificate.

    That first year of university, I went to a few dozen live music shows. I liked music a lot, but I’d never really considered writing about it. Especially not for money. The concept seemed faintly ridiculous. Initially, it was something of an ethical dilemma: why should people get paid for writing about something that they love? (Sidenote: boy, has this view changed.) That year, I began avidly reading Brisbane’s street press – free newspapers, delivered weekly to record stores and venues across the city – as well as the handful of online music media sites that existed at the time. Eventually, I made the connection that the people reviewing shows in those pages, and on those websites, were doing so for free. They weren’t paying for tickets. And some of them weren’t great writers: their sentences were awkward, and their facts were wrong.

    After reading one too many poor reviews of a show I’d paid to attend, I decided to throw my hat into the ring by writing my own review. And sending it to a couple of editors: one street press, one online. Both liked what I wrote, and assigned me more reviews. It was June 2007. Over the months, what began mostly as a cost-saving venture as a university student eventually became something about which I’m more passionate than ever: comprehensive, unique live music reviews.

    Nowadays, I still review shows, but my attention has shifted toward meatier targets: namely, feature stories. Big, long, heavily-researched articles which require dozens of interviews in order to condense a wide range of viewpoints into a coherent narrative. This is way, way harder than going to watch a couple of bands and filing 300 words on how they performed – which was essentially the extent of the copy that I filed as a journalist (in the loosest sense of the word) between mid 2007 and early 2009.

    Clearly, the goal has shifted from gaining free entry into concerts. It’s now about telling stories, starting dialogues. Challenging. Provoking. All that stuff I mentioned in the first paragraph. But without those experiences along the way – first, thanklessly rewriting press releases about new Nintendo games, then the equally thankless task of reviewing live music in Brisbane – I wouldn’t be where I am now. While both why and how I write have changed immensely in the last few years, my belief in – and dedication to – the craft of writing only strengthens with each passing day.

    Andrew McMillen (@NiteShok) is a Brisbane-based freelance journalist for Rolling Stone, The Weekend Australian, The Courier-Mail and triple j mag, among others. He is also the Queensland ambassador for National Young Writers’ Month 2011. For more on Andrew, click here.

    For more information about National Young Writers’ Month, visit the NYWM website. If you’re a young writer, register on the website, set a goal, and join the conversation. It’ll be fun.

    If you’d like to contact me for an interview or to arrange media coverage of any of the above events, email me here.

  • A Conversation With Ian James, Managing Director of Mushroom Music Publishing

    [Note: this post originally appeared on]

    Ian James is the Managing Director of Mushroom Music Publishing and a guest speaker for the MUSEXPO Asia Pacific component of One Movement For Music (Oct 16-18). Andrew McMillen spoke with Ian about the nature of genius, indie labels, and fostering excellence.

    Andrew: Ian, you’re involved with One Movement as a speaker, but I’m also curious about your goals when attending these kinds of conferences on behalf of Mushroom Publishing.

    Ian James, Managing Director of Mushroom MusicIan: It’s to impart information. It’s about sharing what I know with the next generation of managers as much as anything. I know that a lot of artists attend these events but I’d like to see an improvement in the infrastructure of our business, which primarily means having a lot better level of training or information going to the next generation of managers.

    What do you hope to achieve when you speak at these events, aside from imparting knowledge?

    I like to entertain people. If they don’t walk away enjoying it, it probably hasn’t been worthwhile.

    I was reading a 2003 interview with you on the AIR website, and this quote stood out. “There are so many people in the music business looking for a very limited number of opportunities. If you’re not excellent at what you do, you won’t get anywhere.” As Managing Director, how do you go about fostering excellence in those involved with Mushroom?

    The trick to the people that work for me is that you choose the right ones first. You choose people that have got something special, and then you give them as much room to move into as you can. I’ve got a great International Manager called Zoe White, who is about 26. She spent three years in London working at Beggar’s Banquet. She had her own little vinyl label called Passport over there, which you can check out. I was told by a friend of mine that she was back in Melbourne and she’s been a great International Manager.

    Similarly my A&R Scout, Michael Kucyk, who was brought in by Linda Bosidis, my A&R Manager. You find young people who really know what they’re doing and then you give them room to operate and you also give them the collective wisdom of the building. The Mushroom building is full of a lot of people who know what they’re doing.

    I can imagine. From that same interview, another quote of yours that stood out was where you sat on a board meeting once and said, “I’m not the least bit interested in competency. In fact, what I look for is genius, but I’ll settle for extreme talent.” Do you hold those same standards with your staff at Mushroom Publishing, to convince them to sign only the best acts?

    Yeah, that was in relation to the training boards and the standards that other industries apply to the people that work in them. It works just fine for the clerical world, for instance. In our world, you don’t stand a chance unless you’ve got a level of genius, or something really special.

    When it comes to the staff, there are different types of staff. We don’t want everyone to be a potential rock star marking time in a publishing company. I’m not interested in people like that. They can go and mark time somewhere else. It’s really about people who want to be in the music business, and have the aptitude to do that, and not necessarily in promotions.

    The final quote I’d like to discuss from that interview which you said in reference to independent record labels: “There is this theory that with a label you’re building a copyright asset with which you will then cunningly turn into millions of dollars.” Do you have anything to add to that statement, six years on?

    Mushroom Music Publishing logoThe ability to convert it into millions has been seriously diminished in that the little labels are struggling and unfortunately we are not seeing too many of them rise up. Certainly, the current financial situation has got something to do with it, including the fact that people simply aren’t buying or paying for things the way they used to, and particularly the output of indie labels. I find the hypocrisy almost stunning that these people can profess to have their favorite bands and not feel the need to actually do anything towards supporting them. I’m looking forward to debating that with anyone who wishes to cross the line when I’m in Perth, and explain that particular piece of self-serving philosophy.

    I find that it’s interesting that quite a lot of the labels that were the emerging labels at the time have ended up with Universal; Steve Pavlovich [of Modular Records] in particular. They’ve adopted a half-way position where they’re taking advantage of the power of the major companies, who are prepared to give those types of labels a lot of latitude. I think it’s a pretty good marriage, actually. It seems to work.

    The pure indie labels are really struggling, I think, Andrew. I think they’re really doing it hard, which I don’t like.

    To take a step away from talking about business for a moment, what are some of the most enjoyable aspects of your role? I can imagine it must be wonderful to watch the artists that you have supported and championed and the ability to support themselves via your publishing deals.

    Yeah, that’s fantastic. In terms of the warm glow, that’s the best, to see someone really make a living out of it and consistently make a living out of it, not just a living, but make great music out of it, have the satisfaction of putting out three great albums. We’ve spent a lot of time with Eskimo Joe and we find they’ve grown up. They were young guys in Perth when we first met them. Now they’re really occupying their space brilliantly. That’s very satisfying.

    Ian James [right] with Jesse Hughes of Eagles Of Death MetalAlso, the great shows. I’m a big fan of Eagles Of Death Metal, who are not everyone’s favorite band. I went to a show in London, the last night of the Raymond Revue Bar, which was a ’60s strip club in Soho with red velvet curtains. It was a ladies’ night only, except I managed to smuggle my way in because I’m a friend of Jesse Hughes [pictured right], the singer from the band and also their publisher.

    Seeing the Eagles of Death Metal with about 300 London girls and me.. it was that sort of night. That’s what it’s about. You could just imagine, Andrew. That’s the sort of stuff that’s also wonderful.

    Conversely, what are some of the less enjoyable or stressful elements of your job?

    I guess the whinge factor, with everyone wanting something for less. It’s a litany about exploitation and how important it is for the artist that they get it and how this person, who is not going to pay you any money, is going to provide it. “Opportunity” is a word I hear very often.

    Put it this way; you can’t blame people for trying but when you hear the same story, it’s a bit like those beggars in the middle of the city who have been asking for money for about ten years. You go, “Enough, we know you’re down on your luck, but you’ve been down on your luck in this exact same spot for ten years. Leave it out.”

    I find a lot of people like that come to us and kind of aggravate my licensing staff. When my licensing staff get aggravated, they come and aggravate me. I get it down the line. That always annoys me, the “Hi, I’m in marketing and I want it for nothing.”

    Put it this way; we’re a bit bulletproof here at Mushroom. It’s a big organization. Not many people try and cross us. No one succeeds. It’s not like I’m particularly vulnerable to things really annoying me because we’ve got a way to deal with it.

    Finally, Ian, what are the personal qualities are integral to achieving success in the music industry?

    I think you’ve got to be lively. I think you’ve got to have a good mind and you’ve got to be lively. That applies to both musicians, and to people that work in the business.

    Don’t miss Ian James when he appears as a guest speaker at the MUSEXPO Asia Pacific component of One Movement For Music Perth, October 16-18 2009.

  • Neil Strauss, Addendum

    How I put myself in the position to spend 45 minutes with one of my favourite writers:

    1. Read The Game by Neil Strauss in 2007. Love it; re-read it several times. Buy a used copy from eBay and a new copy from a bookstore to lend to friends.
    2. Through Neil’s mailing list, receive information that Emergency, his new book, was due in March 2009.
    3. Email several people to find the Australian publisher of Emergency. (Answer: Text Publishing)
    4. Request a review copy of Emergency for FourThousand.
    5. Inadvertently receive two copies of Emergency from different publishers. (I’m still not sure how this happened.)
    6. Review Emergency for FourThousand.
    7. Send review link to Text Publishing to solidify that relationship.
    8. Through his mailing list, receive information of Neil’s forthcoming Australian book tour in June 2009.
    9. Contact Text Publishing to request an interview Neil on behalf of FourThousand. (This request was a near-certainty, given my relationship with the publisher.)
    10. Discover that Neil’s book tour omits Brisbane. Sadly, resign the interview to a 20 minute phone call.
    11. Meet with Nick Crocker on Sunday, June 21 2009. He suggests the unforeseen possibility of flying to Sydney to interview Neil in person. (Nick: “Since he’s such a massive influence, why don’t you spend a couple hundred dollars to fly down to make a better impression?” Andrew: “…” [stunned silence, having not considered this option at all])
    12. Later that night, book flights to Sydney to interview Neil in person.
    13. Fly to Sydney on Tuesday, June 23 2009.
    14. Meet Neil. Complete my biggest interview yet by having a conversation, instead of referring to questions point-by-point.
    15. Begin transcribing the conversation at Sydney Airport.
    16. Fly back to Brisbane, head full of inspiration.
    17. Per Neil’s advice, outsource the rest of the interview transcription; in this case, to Israel, to an excellent transcriptionist named Tamara Bentzur. (I found her by Googling “outsource transcriptions”.)
    18. Spend the next two-plus months pitching the interview feature to various magazines in an attempt to recoup the $300 airfares.
    19. Get rejected.
    20. Eventually post the entire interview – 8,000 words-plus – online, free.

    Regrets? None.

  • A Conversation With Neil Ackland, Sound Alliance Managing Director

    Sound Alliance. You mightn’t be familiar with the name, but most Australian web users will be aware of their music communities: inthemix, FasterLouder, and recently, Mess+Noise. The alliance was formed when Neil Ackland joined Libby Clark and Andre Lackmann, who launched dance music community inthemix out of a spare bedroom in 2000. They’ve since expanded to a team of 45. Their influence on the Australian web industry is huge, so when the opportunity to interview Neil arose, I jumped at it.

    Andrew: Neil, you’ve obviously had a lot of experience with planning, goal setting, and so forth for the Sound Alliance. When planning a new venture, have you found it’s best to shoot for the top, as opposed to aiming for a less ambitious goal?

    Neil Ackland: Positively glowingNeil: I think it depends on how you value success, really, in terms of shooting for the top. I think we’ve taken a very long-term view to a lot of the ventures that we’ve launched. I think the game we’re in is not a make-a-quick-buck game, by any stretch of the imagination. I think our intent here is of running inthemix, for example, and sites like FasterLouder, and Mess+Noise, and [gay/lesbian community] SameSame require constant energy, nurture and investment – both in terms of time and money – to get them to continue to grow and to continue to flourish.

    I don’t think we ever went into this thinking that it was going to be a massive success [when inthemix first began in 2000]. We just saw an opportunity in the market to do something a little bit interesting. We saw some gaps there, and fundamentally just believed that online was the way of the future for the way people were going to consume content. Whether that happened in a year or ten years, we were confident that was eventually going to be the way it was going to go.

    Over the last couple of years, it’s started to really bear fruit. I think we’re an ambitious bunch and we obviously want each of our media properties to be the leading destination within that category. We didn’t come into it saying, “Let’s go global, and take in the world and become the next MySpace,” or whatever. It was always much more about providing a good solid base for Australian music fans, I suppose.

    What were your goals with Sound Alliance for those first couple of years?

    I’ll put it in context for you. Before we had Sound Alliance, inthemix [ITM] was the first business that we launched. It was set up as a hobby. We came together, the three partners here, and we’re all really passionate about dance music and electronic music, and we set it up as something that we do in or spare time, outside of our day jobs, and very humble beginnings.

    We never really had any great aspirations of it becoming Sound Alliance, at that time. It was more a case of wanting to do something we were really passionate about. All of us had day jobs that didn’t really fulfill our entrepreneurial flair, our passions, or our interests. They were just day jobs. We wanted to do something a bit different outside of that.
    It just flourished from there. The first couple of years were about were trying to establish enough of a business model around inthemix so that one day we could stop doing our day jobs and do it full-time. That was the first goal and the first dream that we wanted to achieve.

    It must have been an amazing time, at the point where you could quit your day jobs and focus on inthemix and Sound Alliance as a business.

    Yeah, I actually got fired from my job, so…

    That was convenient!

    [Laughs] It was actually the best thing that ever happened, to be honest with you. It was a good time. It was really exciting. I think whenever you’re launching a new business, you’re young, enthusiastic, and you are confident in your ideas and you want to go out there and have a go, it’s a really exciting time. I think that is what I love about setting up new businesses, that feeling of something new. I think ultimately, the three of us are all entrepreneurs at heart. We get a real buzz from seeing things, coming up with ideas, or working with other peoples’ ideas and taking them through to fruition.

    I look back on that stage of my career very fondly, because at that time, the game was much more about something that you’re really passionate about. I was just bouncing out of bed in the morning, really enthused and excited about the day. Working all the hours, going out on the weekend and getting amongst it and really immersing myself and seeing, and enjoying something that was very fresh and new at the time.

    inthemix was one of the first online communities in Australia that really had some momentum behind it. It was really exciting to be a part of that. You really felt like you were part of something bigger than just a business. It was much more than a business. It was a bit more of a movement, I suppose, at the time.

    So from starting as a part-time hobby, and not really measuring your goals in any specific way, how has that changed since Sound Alliance has become a profitable business, of late, with its numerous ventures?

    It’s changed a lot in a sense, but now there is a lot more responsibility. It’s far more professional and the scale of it has changed dramatically over those ten years. The same fundamentals exist; we’re still passionate about our product and our sites, and we’re really passionate about the subject matter: the music industry in general, and being a part of that.

    I think that running a team of 45 staff is a big responsibility. I think our business skills have probably expanded and evolved over time, quite a lot. I think we’ve really been able to refine our business model and our business skills, and learn about quite a diverse range of areas within the music industry. It’s become a real business now, rather than just a hobby.

    That’s good, because if you do the same thing for a long period of time, it has to constantly evolve and change, otherwise, you can’t stay engaged at the same level. I think for the three partners in this business, it feels like every year we’re almost taking on a new role and a new challenge. We’re constantly engaged, so it doesn’t feel like we’ve been in the same job for ten years because we haven’t; we’re always doing something new and fresh and interesting. It keeps us focused and really engaged with the business.

    You and your Sound Alliance co-founders were recognised as ‘Creative Catalysts’ earlier in the year. Are you often approached by young people who view you as a source of creative inspiration, or was that a new experience for you?

    We were really surprised by that. We were quite honored to be included in that list. I wouldn’t say that type of thing happens very often. I think we probably try to provide as much inspiration as possible to the people within our team: our staff, our contributors, our state editors and that type of thing, whenever we get an opportunity to speak to them face-to-face, or get some time with them. I think inspiration is really important.

    We put a lot of effort into trying to nurture talent within our business. We’ve had a lot of staff who joined us as contributors. Tim Hardaker joined inthemix as a part-time writer when he became a contributor while he was at uni. He’s been with us for six years and is now the General Manager of inthemix. Those are the types of things that we are quite proud of, in terms of not just giving people inspiration, but giving them opportunities to succeed, as well.

    In the early days of Sound Alliance, who were your sources of inspiration?

    Neil Ackland: eyez on the prize

    I was inspired by quite a few people in a lot of different areas, just generally people around me. I was quite inspired by different promoters and DJs. When I first came to Australia in ’98, I met quite a few different people around the Sydney scene. I found it really vibrant and really open and welcoming, versus what I’d experienced in the U.K.

    There were some interesting inspirations. Jon Peters, who was the brainchild of kGrind, back in the day. He was a really interesting guy who had some really stretched thinking and really out-there ideas. He managed to get people to buy into his ideas and I found that really inspiring at the time; that the power of an idea could be enough to bring a whole group of people together behind something. That was quite inspiring. I was always inspired by people who had come from not much, but who had still been able to achieve a lot with a bit of street smarts and because they were passionate about what they did.

    Did you have a mentor during that time?

    I didn’t, actually. I’ve always relied heavily on my business partners, and them on me in return. I don’t think it would have been possible to do what we’ve done with just me running the business, or just the two of us. I think the “alliance” part of Sound Alliance is one of our key strengths.

    There are so many facets of running a business and getting a business from where we were to where we are now. It’s not just beyond my own skill set, but just things I’m not passionate about that my other partners are, the technical or legal aspects or financial or accounting aspects of the business. All these different areas, I would look at any one entrepreneur who was able to launch a business on their own and try to do all those things and think that was pretty amazing, because the skill set required is really quite broad and quite vast. That’s why I always felt that I had support and a different skill set requirement amongst the three partners in the business.

    We help each other through the tough times, and we share in each others’ successes.

    Despite being the head of Australia’s largest independent online publisher, your personal online presence is reasonably subdued, in that you don’t tend to blow your own horn too often. Was this a conscious strategy from day one, or are you naturally modest?

    I’m not crazy about being thrust into the limelight, it has to be said. I prefer to let the results and our products do the talking rather than me, always. In the last year or so, I’ve probably taken a bit more outward approach to getting our name out there. I’ve had some success around that, but I don’t know. There is so much to our business that is just about the team effort. I’m happy to fly the flag for the team, but I don’t really see it being something that’s about any one particular person.

    You can see where I’m coming from though. Guys in their sales and advertising fields don’t tend to let their achievements speak for themselves too often. I respect that you’re pretty low key about your achievements. That’s really awesome.

    I suppose I’m very aware of the tall poppy syndrome in Australia. I’ve seen a lot of people come and go, over the years, who have come out telling a big story and shouting from the rooftops about not a lot, in terms of actual delivery, or the reality of what they’ve got. I’ve always looked upon that type of thing with a bit of cynicism, and I just think it’s never really been our style. We’ve got a slightly different approach to the way we do things and that’s worked for us so far. We haven’t really felt the need to go shouting too much.

    Is there a particular reason why you don’t share your business and motivational thoughts with the world, in the form of a blog, or is it just a matter of being time-poor?

    It’s funny you say that. I am actually setting up a blog at the moment, which will be probably going live in the next few weeks. We’re going to combine blogs, so there will be a developers’ blog, which will be Andre [Lackmann] who is the CTO here. He and his development team want to share some of the work that they’ve been doing and invite input from other developers, around some of the social media tools. Myself, and Stig [Richards], who runs the agency [Thought By Them] here, will be updating our side of the blog, which will be coming at the music industry from amarketing/brands/advertising/digital kind of perspective.

    A lot of it does come down to just being dedicated to something and being very time-poor. I’m interested in changing. I do read a lot of blogs and I follow some people whose opinion I really value. I think we’ve got some interesting stuff to share. I don’t think we’ll be updating it every day or anything, but I’m sure there will be some interesting tidbits coming through.

    Definitely. I think you’d attract a significant audience if you guys told the story behind what’s going on with Sound Alliance and how you got there. That’d be a great story.

    Cool, thanks for the feedback. Let me know what you think of the blog when it goes live.

    I will do. Personally, my connection to Sound Alliance began when I started writing for FasterLouder in June 2007. I now write for Mess+Noise [pictured below right, in magazine form], and I’ve always thought it was interesting that one of these sites pay its contributors, while the other doesn’t. What’s the difference between the two?

    Mess+Noise: definitely not available in the supermarket.When we were initially presented with the opportunity to acquire Mess+Noise, we were really interested in the community. We really loved what they’ve been able to create and recognized how unique it was, in the sense that it really didn’t take a lot of time and a lot of different factors to create success in terms of doing a community online. Those guys have achieved that really well.

    One of the things we were really attracted to about Mess+Noise is that it had a real focus on allowing its writers to focus on quality, and not be constrained by either an advertorial approach to content or word limits, or the speed at which they had to respond. They very much did things their own way, at their own pace, and they said exactly what they wanted to say. We really respected that. I liked that about what they were doing.

    I think FasterLouder, for us, is a great platform for writers, photographers, and creative people to start engaging with the live music scene. I think the way we would view Mess+Noise is that it was less about the immediacy of having the gig review and photos up a couple of days after the gig; it was much more timeless, and focused on quality over quantity.

    We wanted to take a different approach with Mess+Noise and try to focus on that; really try to nurture some of the great professional writers and professional photographers who are out there, and bring them across to Mess+Noise to engage with the site.

    Our reason, I suppose, is that a young writer could hone their skills, cut their teeth if you like, by contributing to FasterLouder, and eventually when they’re ready, they’ll be able to move up to start writing for Mess+Noise, and start to be paid for what they do. That’s the path we’re hoping we’re able to take young writers and young photographers on, and that they can see that we can nurture those skills, give them feedback, and pass them through that process to a point where they can hopefully become professional writers or professional photographers.

    That’s really cool that you talk about it like that because I’d like to continue the discussion along those lines. I found my experience to be exactly what you said. Taking the time to contribute for free is wonderful and a great opportunity for people who are just starting out in web publishing; often the experience, the community feedback and the industry freebies are seen as a reward in themselves. But as you know, there comes a time when these free contributors decide to move onto paid work. I think the Australian street press has a similar staff turnover: writers learn the ropes and then tend to leave within a few years.

    FasterLouder: goes to 11, sometimes

    I think it’s really tough. It’s changed the dynamics and the economic structures of a whole range of things. The one thing I do think something like FasterLouder helps provide is an opportunity for feedback. It gives a great feedback loop and an opportunity for writers to see how many people have viewed their articles, and to get people to ‘heart’ and comment on it, discuss it. I think that is one of the great things that FasterLouder offers, in terms of being able to get some feedback on your writing.

    You could put something out on a blog about a gig that you went to on the weekend, but the number of people who are likely to see it is quite limited. I think you get to expose your work to a broader range of people and the pressure is not as intense, and as high as it would be as if you were writing for a very critical, discerning audience on a site like Mess+Noise. The parameters are not quite as restrictive.

    I think that’s really cool that you guys have kind of had that strategy from the start at FasterLouder, and then progressed on to Mess+Noise when the time was right.

    I think we tried to adopt that approach even before we had Mess+Noise, in the sense that the heads of the talented and the really passionate always pop up above the crowd, and we try to bring them in. As I said before, we’ve got staff here who came through that contributor process, and have now come through to be full-time employees down the line, or just contributors being paid by Mess+Noise.

    There are not millions of opportunities, but they do come up occasionally. Where possible, we always try to include the people who’ve worked with us over that time.

    The people who are really outstanding do tend to rise above the crowd and receive more opportunities, so it’s kind of a natural selection process. That’s cool. Moving on; your LinkedIn profile states that you’re adept at establishing profitable business models from niche social media.

    You’ve done your research!

    How long did it take for inthemix to become profitable, broadly speaking?

    Off the top of my head, I’m not entirely sure about inthemix. I think inthemix was probably more of a phenomenon than even we thought it was going to be. Our approach with what we did with our business was always to reinvest. inthemix, in isolation, had we just kept that company running as five or six people working on the business, it would be an extremely successful business, but what we’ve chosen to do is to build our company out, create Sound Alliance, and reinvest all that money back into building the business we have today.

    I think in isolation, inthemix is still a fantastic company, business, and community; all of those things, and it continues to grow. Every time we think we’ve definitely reached our maximum audience at the site, it defies belief and keeps on going. That’s a really solid business model right there. I didn’t really answer your question, did I?

    No, not specifically, but that’s okay. [Laughs] Has Sound Alliance ever sought venture capital funding?

    Yes, we have. We’re one of the few Australian companies in our industry who have succeeded in getting venture capital funding. I know a lot of people who have tried and failed. The process is exhausting, and it’s a whole new world out there, I can tell you.

    We managed to get a round of funding last year, and the partner is Albert Investments Group, which is a parent company of Albert Music, the publishing and recording business. They have music studios over in Neutral Bay; they’ve got AC/DC and Dallas Crane, and a few other acts. They’re a really great fit for us.

    We’ve really seen eye-to-eye with them in terms of the cultural sphere of our business and the fact that they’re family-run. They’re one of the oldest music businesses in Australia, and they ended up being a really great partner. There were a lot of companies fishing around out there when we were entering that ‘boom’ period just before the financial crisis There were a lot of conversations going on. I don’t think there was a single online company worth its salt that hadn’t been approached by numerous people, at that time. It was just the way it was back then.


    We’re very fortunate. We managed to take on a partner as a minority shareholder in the business, who shares our goals and our vision for what we’re trying to achieve. They are hugely supportive in getting us there, and have been able to provide a lot of value and not just in terms of capital investment, but in terms of the network they’ve been able to open us up to, their skills, and knowledge of the music industry have all been invaluable.

    So you guys had pursued that for most of your time as Sound Alliance, but you only found a partner, just last year?

    No, we’d only been out there looking for about nine months, or something like that. It wasn’t something that had been a priority prior to that.

    Returning to yourself; do you have a daily routine?

    Not really. If I had the choice, I would probably a lot more routine focused. My day is pretty irregular, in terms of what happens. I have a lot of regularly scheduled meetings that happen week in, week out but outside of that, I could be pulled in any number of directions, depending on what’s going on at any one time.

    In a way, I kind of like that aspect of my role, in that it’s very dynamic and it requires me to use left brain/right brain, and switch on and off in different occasions and at different times. It’s what keeps it really challenging. No, I don’t have a massive routine in terms of the way I structure my day.

    Has this changed since you started ten years ago?

    I wouldn’t say I’ve always been a massive routine person, in terms of what I do. I will always try and dedicate some of my day to researching into keeping up with what’s going on out there. I don’t always do it at the same time every day, but I’ll always spend some of my day doing that whenever I can sneak it in; when I’m on a cab checking my phone, checking out news stories and blogs, or when I get home before I go to bed at night, or however I can squeeze those types of things in. I don’t say “At 9:00 in the morning, I’m going to do this for twenty minutes.” I’m a bit more sporadic than that.

    Do you ever struggle with procrastination?

    When I’m tired, yeah, but I tend to make quite quick decisions. I’ve learned over the years that you can’t dwell on things too long. You have to use your instinct and your gut to make a lot of your decisions, where when you’ve got time to procrastinate and pore over the details, that’s great, and sometimes I’ll do that. But generally, my instincts will tell me which way to go and I just don’t have the time to procrastinate.

    So you don’t have any trouble remaining focused on the task at hand? You just devote the time necessary and then move on?

    Yeah, I think I can get through quite a bit of stuff quite quickly. I can process a lot of things during the day and move through quite a few things in a short space of time. If I have to focus on something, I’ll go home and work from home. If I’m writing something really important or working on numbers or spreadsheets, I’ll put my headphones on or get out of the office and try to focus on it there.

    Let’s talk about [Sound Alliance marketing consultancy arm] Thought By Them for a moment. Is it at the stage where companies and events come to you for consultancy or do you guys still submit proposals for these projects, like regular businesses?

    Thought By Them: they make ideasIt’s a lot more people coming to us now. It used to be, in the early stages, us going out there and trying to tell people about what we’re doing. We’ve never really been out there in terms of pitching all the time, and trying to win big pitches. We have taken the approach that what we’re offering is quite a specialist thing and it doesn’t suit all brands; it only suits certain types of brands at some stage in their lifecycle. More often, they’ve kind of found us rather than us finding them.

    With Thought By Them, we didn’t want to get too big, too fast. We try to focus on delivering really good value and really good ideas, and constantly innovating, rather than exploding and taking on too many clients. We’ve really focused on having one client in one brand category, rather than having a lot of different clients in the same category.
    It’s been a really organic approach. I think that’s really suited us because we’ve been able to learn a lot during that time, and really hone our skills, like how unique our position is in the market.

    How did the music licensing and CD production arm of Thought By Them come about?

    We don’t do too much of that at the moment, to be honest. It was really more a case of just seeing opportunities for brands. We don’t tend to work within strict disciplines, in terms of our work arrangements and that type of thing. We tend to be quite fluid, and try and react as things are going on amongst consumers and provide our solutions right to that, rather than sticking within a mandate of just being a digital agency, or an events agency, or a music agency.
    With music licensing, and that type of thing, if it’s the right solution for what one of our clients is looking to achieve, then we would recommend it. It’s not something that we roll out as part of any standard product offering.

    I’m assuming that digital music distribution has affected the CD production aspect that you guys offer.

    Yeah, but the CD production stuff is such a small part of what we do. We’ve only really done it a few times for specific clients when it’s been a requirement, but it’s not really a core part of what Thought By Them is doing.

    You’re a few years older than me, so you knew a time before the web dominated our means of mass communication. Something that I’ve been doing more and more in the last year is reaching out to individuals who inspire or fascinate me, such as yourself. Do you have any tips for approaching these seemingly ultra-busy, really important figures?

    [Laughs] I can only look back on the people who have approached me, and the ones that have had success in doing so. I’ve never shut the door on anybody or denied anybody my time, if they’ve been polite in the way they’ve approached me and I think I can assist them. If they’ve taken an interesting approach, then I’ll always give my time.

    I’d be surprised if many other people who are in the industry would take a much different approach to that, but I’m sure some people do. Generally speaking, I think if people were reaching out, asking for information and advice, I’m more than happy to try and provide it, if I can squeeze in the time.

    Nick Crocker: checking all the boxes, and the checkered shirtsWith Nick Crocker [pictured right; Native Digital owner, and my mentor], for example, when he first got in touch with me, it was a matter of a mutual friend saying, “Hey, you should catch up with this person. It’s worthwhile meeting up with him,” as he came to me through Luke at Universal. There was never really an agenda. It was just an interesting guy worth catching up with, much the same way as he now passed your details along to me, and we’re talking today.

    I think it’s good to really try to work on your network. You don’t always have to start by targeting somebody who is right at the top of your inspiration tree. You can find your way there by other means.

    It’s best to just have a go. I think you’d be surprised; a lot of people have this misconception of “Oh my God, I could never just find that person’s email address, or contact them through LinkedIn or Twitter, and ask them if they fancy coffee.” There is no harm in trying. I think you might be surprised. I’ve probably had a couple of people approach me with an ulterior motive; maybe they were a recruiter or something like that and I might not have got back to them, but generally speaking, if I think it’s somebody who is doing it for the right reasons, I’ll always respond.

    I’ve definitely found what you mentioned about being surprised about who will meet up with me. It’s an approach that Nick introduced to me this year, and I’ve definitely been blown away by the response, the respect and attention that I’ve received from some people I would have never thought would have given me the time of day. It’s pretty amazing.

    There is this outward perception that the music industry is so unapproachable, and that all these people are up on a pedestal, but it’s not like that at all. I think they’re all just real people doing their thing, and one of the things that always attracted me to work in the music business is that I saw this bunch of people that had all come together of their own steam. Their own entrepreneurial tendencies and flare are at the core of what the music industry is all about. It’s a whole bunch of people who are really passionate and determined, and they really love what they do and really love the industry itself.

    I’ve found it’s quite consuming and quite seductive to be so drawn into a space by that. That’s why if you’re talking about getting someone’s time, they’ve all been in that position before, so I think most of them recognize that and they’re happy to pass on any pearls of wisdom they might have, to do their bit.

    Much as you have, today. Did you have any specific tactics that you used to connect with inspirational or motivational figures when Sound Alliance was starting up?

    Not really. I would just try and make sure that I was very present. I think if you’re really passionate about working in the music industry, you have to walk the walk and talk the talk. You got to do your research, get out there, go to the gigs, go to the clubs, or whatever your particular genre interest is. Meet the people, network, and get amongst it. That’s how opportunities and many things arise. I think you’ve got to live the life and get amongst it if you really want to be taken seriously in getting into this space.

    We’ve just been interviewing some staff this week. We invited some junior staff members to come back in and do a presentation to us on some ideas of how they would help promote some releases. The presentations yesterday were from this young guy and girl, and I was blown away by the amount of research they’d done, and how they seem to know our product. They’d gone into this great level of detail to understand what it was they were coming back with, even though they hadn’t really been given direction. Even though their ideas were slightly off in some areas, it was so impressive just to see people going to that level. I think that’s what it takes to get your foot in the door in this industry: you have to really stand out, and be really prepared to go the extra mile.

    There are a lot of people who just think “Oh yeah, it’d be cool to work in music,” or cool to work in fashion, or whatever, but it’s not really the right reason to be involved in something.

    My final question, Neil, I understand that Sound Alliance has a new web project on the horizon. Can you give me any hints on its focus?

    We’ve got quite a few actually. I don’t know which one you’re talking about. [Laughs]

    I can talk about a couple of things we’re doing. We’re re-launching inthemix towards the end of this year, though there’s no specific date set yet. It’s a fairly major sort of overhaul for inthemix, in terms of functionality, tools, the design, and what it offers.

    I think it will send that whole community off onto the next level, in terms of their engagement with the site, what they can do with it, and what it can give them. That’s something really exciting, whether you’re a DJ, producer, or just a punter, we’re going to offer a lot of things on those levels that are going to enable them to connect to other people in the same space and really take the essence of what ITM’s strengths are and style them up a little bit more.

    inthemix has been running on the same platform for about four years and we know it’s a little bit tired and dated; it’s not exactly Web 2.0. We’ve been honing a lot of those tools on our other sites and seeing how people use them and interact, and getting them ready to roll them out on the big beast [ITM]. That’s a pretty exciting project for us, pretty massive, and it brings to an end about a four-year development schedule.

    The Sound Alliance heirarchy

    We’ve basically been putting all of our sites onto one codebase, one unified codebase. It basically means you’ll be able to make a change or add a new piece of functionality and they’ll all simultaneously go across all the sites. It will just have a slightly different front-end design look and feel. It will mean we will be able to get new developments to the market quicker, cheaper, and much more effectively without reinventing the wheel every time. This is quite a big launch for us.

    We’re also working on a whole heap of mobile stuff at the moment; we’re just about to launch a mobile site for Mess+Noise, to give that a try. We’ve launched mobile sites for inthemix forums, and we’re going to be rolling out a whole range of mobile stuff, possibly some apps, and a few things down the track, as well.

    We have this other thing called Sound Alliance Labs which we just launched recently, where we’ve allocated a budget every year, and our staff can pitch their own ideas for development. We have a monthly meeting where they have to come in and pitch ideas, not necessarily revenue-generating, not necessarily great business ideas, but just things they’ve seen or things they think would complement what we’re doing. They can either pitch them to the management team either individually or as groups.

    If we like their idea, we give them a budget and they can work on it outside of their hours. So if the developers come up with a great idea for an iPhone app or something like that, we give them a budget and pay them outside of their standard work hours to go away and develop it. We’re going to give an award for the best lab project every year, based on all the submissions that come through. We’re trying to maintain a focus on innovation and make sure that our staff have an opportunity to do all the things they’re really interested in outside of work, while bringing the benefit back to Sound Alliance, for the greater good of the overall company rather than going off and doing them on their own. We can just see a lot of our team working on some really exciting things, and we wanted to bring that within these walls, rather than see that innovation go off elsewhere. It’s things like that which are exciting and fun and challenging.

    And it’s fascinating for an outsider. It’s been really interesting to hear you speak about your past, the present, and the future. It’s been great to speak with you, Neil, and I thank you for your time.

    Cool, happy to share with you. I hope it’s been useful, and I look forward to seeing what’s ahead for you.

    If you’d like to get in touch, Neil Ackland is on the emails and the Twitters. Coincidentally, Denise Shrivell of Digital Ministry published an excellent interview with Neil earlier this week that focuses on the business side of Sound Alliance. Take a look.

  • A Conversation With Jess, Sydney Digital Strategy Director and blogger

    *facepalm*It just so happens that Jess is Digital Strategy Director at a mysterious Sydney advertising agency. She won’t say which, and she also won’t let me publish her surname. Or at leaIt’s not because she’s scared or nothin’, but on the internets, Jess is best known as the curator of a rather excellent blog called Something Changed, about which I wrote lovingly for FourThousand:

    “Something Changed acts as Jess’ digital scrapbook, where she posts about new media, advertising, online campaigning, representations of the self, kids today, words, writing and books, funny things on the internets, politics, art, ideas, music, work, food, and sydney. The result is an aggregate of content that you’ll probably find either funny or fascinating if you’re a twenty-something who spends a lot of time online – and since you’re reading this, it’s not an unfair assumption to make.”

    Jess, why did you start Something Changed? Was there an influential person or moment that encouraged its creation?

    I started Something Changed almost two years ago because I was fascinated by people’s behaviour on the internet and I wanted to document my discoveries. It was partly so I could archive and remember facts, figures and links more efficiently, and partly to have something to show for the immense amount of reading and research I do! I discovered Tumblr through Gawker’s exhaustive coverage of Jakob Lodwick and Julia Allison‘s relationship which largely played out on the Tumblr platform. Tumblr was perfect for me because I like to present raw data that interests me as I find it, rather than crafting long posts.

    Where do you find the majority of the articles that you link?

    On Tumblr you can post stuff you create, post stuff that you find online, or use their reblog feature (which is sort of an automatic “retweet” feature) to post other’s content with a link crediting them. About 75 per cent of what I blog is from the second category. I find it by either investigating a topic that interests my by searching and following links, setting up RSS feeds to my favourite blogs and websites, and by following people who I respect and who will post things I find interesting.

    Does your exhaustive online presence ever spill into your professional life? Do your workmates know of the blog?

    In fact the internet IS my job, lucky me! I work for an ad agency where I am the digital strategy director. Since I work on campaigns and strategy it’s considered part of my work. My workmates and bosses definitely know of the blog, I bang on about it exhaustively. In fact my boss promised to buy me a cake when I passed a big milestone in the amount of readers I had, but I passed it ages ago and he is still yet to come through. Two of them have started Tumblrs themselves. We all love the internet at work.

    Why the anonymity?

    Well I’m not really sure now! I was doing some big work for clients around which there is some sensitivity, and I didn’t want any posts to be taken out of context and my personal views being ascribed to the client. I think in the next few months I’ll probably get with the times and put up my full name. I’ve noticed all my peers in my industry do.

    Do you often give thought to how you portray yourself online and the legacy you’re building, or do you just throw it all out there?


    Something Changed started as mainly a vehicle for professional development and research and largely it still is. I barely ever talk about myself (apart from “I saw this, I read this, I ate this, I visited this”) or my feelings. So at worst it will be a record of what interested me at different stages of my life, which is fine. Thank god I have never posted a poem or ruminations on my relationships.

    What do you think Something Changed adds to the web?

    Lots of people in marketing and advertising view the internet from very very far away with a telescope. The world does not need another “how to be a powerblogger” blog or post on “how to measure social media ROI”. I like to think I see the raw internet – the amazing stuff people create, the intense stuff people say about their lives and feelings, the fascinating ways they represent themselves online. Then I try and distill that onto my blog. It’s like a little field study from an anthropologist completely embedded in the culture they observe. Having said that, I don’t recommend people see my blog as anything special – instead they should set up their own!

    As you said, you barely ever talk about yourself. But you also barely ever talk about why you find something interesting, or worthwhile posting.

    You’re right. I tend to like information that I view as primary sources – people who produce things from scratch, whether it’s blog posts about their lives of feelings, collating things that inspire them, producing amazing things likes videos or songs. Or academic analysis- people who take rigorous, well-informed approach to analyzing the internet and its sociology.

    I don’t have time for anything in between, that whole raft of “people who don’t really understand the internet talking in vague general terms about the internet.”

    I have things I definitely won’t post, like anything about swine flu, anything about that Best Job in the World tourism campaign, or tips to become a Twitter poweruser.

    Do many of your non-ad agency friends follow the blog? How do you describe the blog to a real-life friend?

    None of my friends that I’ve known forever are in the ad industry. They all read it, sporadically. When I refer to my blog I adopt a stupid mocking tone and say “my blawg.” If they ask about it I give a knowing smile and say, “I’m so famous on the internet you guys.” If a waiter takes ages to take our drink orders I’m like, “this would never happen to me on the internet.”

    You and I both spend a lot of time online. I’ve gotten to the point where I’ve develop a kind of bias in the way that I access information online. I start to overstate the way that I operate and assume that others follow similar methods; if they don’t, I become either amused or frustrated, depending on my mood. But that’s a curious aside. When did you become a heavy internet user, and how did your skills develop to the point that they’re at now? (Because let’s face it, good internets is a skill.)

    I know exactly what you mean. Good internet is definitely a skill. I am totally self taught, I didn’t even have email until 2000 or 2001. In 2003, someone at uni said, “email me a draft of your paper” and I said, “oh it’s pretty long for an email,” and then attachments were explained to me. I couldn’t use a digital camera until 2004. I couldn’t pirate music! It all sounds a bit embarrassing now.

    It was in 2005 then that I started using the internet heavily because I joined some forums. Before that, I had always thought of the “web” quite disparagingly, “who are these people? Read a book, or go outside.” Now it’s completely a part of my daily routine. It’s really changed my life – how I think, what inspires me, how I work, the people I’ve met.

    It’s helped that I can do it all day everyday at my work. Spending ten hours a day on something is a good way to get quite good at something. In every role I’ve had in my career, to do a good job I need insight into what people think and feel, a creative spark to generate ideas, and a plan to my implement strategy. So the internet is crucial to every single element, and my employers have always let me have free reign to work that way.

    Do you keep a private journal?

    No! I’m too self-conscious. If I want to remember how I felt about something, I do a keyword search in my Gmail and cringe at old emails I wrote my friends.

    How did you become digital strategy director at your agency? Was ‘good internets’ part of the job description?

    I met the CEO of my agency when I consulted on online strategy on a big national campaign he was working on. A few months later my position was created for me when I said I was ready for a new job – so there was actually no job description! I’m so lucky now that I get to do what I love with the cleverest team and the best clients.

    Neighbours: Fucking TerribleThe career path to Digital Strategy Director was not an obvious one. I was a journalist, then moved to Melbourne and could not immediately get a journalism job so I got a job doing the overseas publicity for Neighbours [pictured right *snigger*]. I only got the job because at the interview I told the producer, “You know it’s not too late to make Izzie’s baby Jack’s,” or something. Since I was spending my days trying to get freelance writing work I had had plenty of time to watch Neighbours fortunately.

    Of course part of my job was to look after the BBC’s Neighbours website. It was my first taste of a really intense online fan community. They had a forum and everything. I learnt so much from that job. That an official website will never be as fascinating as a fan website unless you let go of the PR reigns (why would you want to read about an actors’ theatre aspirations on our site when you could go to an unofficial site to read about their love life?). That fans create the best material, that fans really get upset if you make changes without consulting them. It was a crash course in Internet.

    Then I got to do my dream job being the Online Director doing national political campaigning, where I learnt about building movements – uniting people around taking action online and offline to achieve social change. Then I consulted on another big campaign, then I got this job. I always think of that thing people say, “the jobs the youth of today will be doing when they grow up haven’t even been invented yet.” At our Careers Centre at school they basically said girls could be Lawyers, Accountants, Gallery Curators or PRs.

    I’m assuming that you went to university. Tell me about your time there.

    I did! I went to uni to study English thinking I would have a career doing some kind of writing. In first year I became interested in social justice issues and for the first time paid attention to politics and current affairs. Before then I was strictly a reading, writing, art galleries, theatre type of person. So uni was fun, I did the student politics/share house/shop at Salvos/“feed yourself on $5 a day” thing until my last year. Then I got a full time newspaper journalism cadetship, and had to do my Honours year full time at the same time.

    Was that a difficult year? Did you ever question what you were doing?

    It was difficult. Fortunately it was things I loved doing – researching and writing. I’m also one of those people who needs to be busy to get things done. I like approaching big tasks (daily deadline of journalism combined with a yearly deadline of handing in a thesis) and strategically breaking them down in an efficient way. Having said that, I am never studying again. And whenever my friends say “I’m thinking of going back to uni,” I always say “NO! YOU FORGET HOW HARD IT IS!”

    How did you land the cadetship? Was it shit or awesome?

    I can't think of an alt-text for this one. It's a pretty sweet photo though, don't you think?

    I decided suddenly I wanted to be a journalist so I got a two week cadetship at a newspaper. I was lucky they gave it to me because I think now they only take people studying Proper Journalism at uni – a bit short sighted in my opinion, but I think it’s because the universities provide insurance. I got a story in the paper almost every day, including a huge feature on mobile phone use that was published in the Features liftout on the Saturday. The story is completely lame and I am so glad it’s not accessible by Google.

    After my two weeks the Chief of Staff said they were hiring a cadet, and would I like to apply? I said “yes”. I interviewed and didn’t get it – someone else did. But a few weeks later they phoned and said I could be a cadet anyway. So that’s how I got the job, and now the other cadet is one of my best friends. The cadetship was amazing. Every day as a general news reporter is different and being a journalist is like having a license to walk up to anyone and ask them anything you want.

    Do you read newspapers? Could you imagine being a full-time news reporter?

    I only read newspapers on the weekends: the Australian, the Sydney Morning Herald, Sunday Sun Herald and Sunday Telegraph. I get rid of all the Drive, Careers, Business and rubbishy sections. Then read the news, then the Lifestyle, then glossy lifestyle supplements. It’s a habit. Print will never die while people have weekend brunch routines to uphold.

    I can’t imagine being a full-time news reporter. I would love the thrill of finding a big story but miss the calming routine of planning and strategising in advance. I get a nice mix of thrillingly busy versus long term planning in my current work, so I wouldn’t go back.

    Lots of people view their time at university as instrumental in their personal development. What did you learn about yourself during that time?

    I learnt the same thing at uni that has proved true in the workplace. Studying and work (doing your actual job as per your job description) teaches you nothing. You have to do it and do it well. But everything fun, amazing, professionally exciting or leading to personal growth has always been thanks to things I do on the side. Whether that’s groups I joined at uni, friends I made on the internet, ideas and projects I’ve suggested at work, or new career opportunities I’ve conjured up. When I think about what my life would be like without my blog that I randomly started a few years ago… I just can’t imagine it!

    Something Changed is my favourite Australian blog. You’d best subscribe via email or RSS. Unsurpisingly, Jess is also quite lively on Twitter. Thanks for the interview, Jess!

  • Bob Lefsetz On Gladwell’s Goliath-Killers

    The latest Lefsetz Letter is awesome. Bob discusses music and one of my favourite authors; how could I not read it?

    I quote freely from the letter below. I’ve added a layer of links to help you out, and highlighted some particularly good bits. Enjoy.

    […] We met at the restaurant at the appointed time.  It was me, Craig, Felice, Malcolm Gladwell…and a woman Malcolm was waiting for.

    […] And when we finally sat down at the table, I got a vibe…  We were going to leave our identities at the door, this was going to be a friends evening.  There’s no way to alienate a celebrity more than delving into their work, they oftentimes become uptight and raise a barrier, which is never ever lowered.

    […] And then dinner was finished.  And I had an internal debate.  Should I ask my one big question, the one that had been haunting me for months, whether you were fucked if you switched gears and entered a new territory, after devoting 10,000 hours to one?

    I took the risk.

    The change was stunning.  Suddenly, this wiry Canadian turned into “Malcolm Gladwell”.  The gentleman you see on television, the confident storyteller.  Malcolm said you got credit, that the hours were transferable, because those who devoted this amount of time to a pursuit were self-selecting.


    In other words, it’s hard, and lonely, to put in 10,000 hours.  You’ve seen the Olympic athletes on TV, they send a crew to shoot footage prior to the quadrennial games and the sportsman or woman is running down an abandoned highway in the middle of summer, shvitzing up enough sweat to fill a swimming pool.  If you want to be great, you have to not only work, but sacrifice.  You can’t spend endless hours somnambulant in front of the TV screen, you can’t go out partying every night.  You’ve got to dedicate yourself to your pursuit.  Which is what Malcolm did.

    He used to be a reporter for the “Washington Post“.  For a decade.  He told us about dictating a story, exactly how it appeared in print, upon deadline.  Coldly, calmly, Malcolm spoke into the telephone.  He didn’t say he couldn’t perform, he didn’t freak out.  Hell, he didn’t even think about the challenge.  He’d been groomed for it.  By himself, by his experience.

    Then Felice asked Malcolm about his TED speech.

    Malcolm winced.  He said he was so much better now.  He’d learned that what an audience wanted first and foremost was story.  This reminded me of Don Hewitt speaking of “60 Minutes”.  That’s what he said the success of the show was based on, storytelling.

    In other words, it’s not that hard to assemble the facts.  But how can you convey them in a way that intrigues your audience?

    Malcolm went on to tell us a story he’d been relaying to groups, about David vs. Goliath.  How David can always beat the giant, if he puts in the effort.  I asked him to globalize this concept, to the economic crisis, but Malcolm begged off and the dinner was over.  But what Malcolm stated remained with me.  Was it possible, could David truly beat Goliath?

    Goliath is the establishment.  Which has a set of rules to keep itself in power.  But if you’re willing to work really hard, you can beat the system.  But it requires a lot of effort.

    Today I got an e-mail from the “New Yorker“.  I’ve been a subscriber since the seventies.  I don’t read every line, there wouldn’t be enough time to read “Automobile” or “Ski” or “National Geographic Explorer” or “Vanity Fair”.  But I always comb the table of contents, looking for interesting nuggets.

    And sometimes, especially on planes, or in stolen moments, I start in on an article that appears unappealing but ends up riveting me, because it’s so well-written!  That’s what most magazines lack.  They’ll give you the information, but it’s delivered in a pedestrian style that doesn’t make your heart sing or cause a lump in your throat to form.  Great writing should be able to be about ANYTHING!

    So I’m perusing the “New Yorker” e-mail and the first article listed is “Malcolm Gladwell on how David Beats Goliath“. […] The piece begins with the tale of how an unknowledgeable coach of a girl’s basketball team brought his unskilled charges to the national championship, by challenging the accepted notions of how to play the game.  Rather than start with skills, the coach focused on the full-court press, conditioning was more important to this cause than years of training the girls missed and could not replace.

    Like Napster.  All night coding sessions by college students brought down an entire industry.  The labels had a formula, all boiling down to the overpriced CD.  But if someone did what was seen as socially unpopular, making the music free, and put in the effort to write the program that achieved this, the labels, the Goliath in this story, were fucked.

    That’s what happened.  Those seen as powerless, not given an iota’s worth of attention, decimated the major labels.  Hell, it’s happening in all kinds of industries now.  Teams of online denizens search for gotcha moments and expose the frailties of companies.  Goliaths, like Domino’s Pizza, are caught flat-footed, they’re beaten by those they never even took seriously.

    So you can beat the major labels, you can beat most of the infrastructure in the music industry today, because these people just aren’t working that hard.  They’ve got families, they go on vacation, they like to play golf.  Whereas you’ve got nothing but time and a computer, you can work 24/7 to break your band.  And you’ve got the tools to do it!  Pro Tools.  Exhibition and distribution online.  Today’s acts can give away their music, it’s their choice.  The labels HATE them for this, the old acts HATE them for this!  John Mellencamp wants a return to the old days.  But the old days are gone.

    But at least Mellencamp put in the effort, that’s why he’s so good.

    Are you that good?

    Probably not.

    Anyone can have a MySpace page, Facebook too.  They can tweet about their gigs, can add people to mailing lists that they never asked to be put on.  But none of this covers up the music.  Have you put in enough effort such that your music is truly great?

    Lindsay Lohan didn’t.  Nor did Hilary Duff.  Britney’s a performer.  The Spice Girls are a joke.  Dr. Dre put in the hours, but so many acts working with these beat specialists have a desire to be rich and famous, but that’s about it.  Desire to make it is important, but it must be accompanied with effort, with ACHIEVEMENT!

    The Goliaths believe in top-down marketing.  It’s easy to beat them, it’s very simple.  You’ve got to start at the bottom and have patience.  They’ve got no patience, they need profits NOW!  The Goliaths believe their money will triumph, that if you build it, they can buy it.  But the Net is rife with stories of acts that have been abused by their labels.  And what can a label provide other than little listened-to radio and TV play that doesn’t move the needle.  You don’t want that, it doesn’t satiate your audience!

    You’ve got to get really good and convince fans one by one.  Not by dunning them, but by attracting them, by being so damn great.

    I didn’t read the “Tipping Point” because Malcolm called me, or because someone sent it to me, I felt the buzz.  Which is hard to manufacture.  Or, if you do manufacture it, it doesn’t last.  Now I’m a fan.  I thought “Blink” was a step down from “Tipping Point”, but “Outliers” is a complete return to form, the same way the band’s third album convinces you, the first was not a fluke, they truly are good!

    But how many bands get to a third album today?

    And, let’s not forget, Gladwell had a decade at the “Washington Post“, when his national profile was almost nil.

    He paid his dues.  He invented his own genre.  Now he’s reaping the rewards.

    Don’t complain about the system, don’t bitch that you can’t make it.  That just indicates to me that you haven’t put in enough time.  Because if you’re truly good, people will find you.  Genius is learned, you’re not born with it.  If you write a song every day and perform every night for fifteen years, you will no longer suck.  Then again, there are issues of timing.  THERE ARE NO GUARANTEES!

    Can you stay the course when times are tough?  Can you live in an apartment as opposed to a house, can you drive an old car?  Can you avoid applying to graduate school? Can you not get fucked up at night so you can work clear-headed tomorrow?  Can you not have children so you can focus on your work?

    In other words, can you work hard and SACRIFICE?

    The legends did.  I don’t see why you should get a pass.

    Actually, it doesn’t matter what I think, the public at large will decide your fate.

    The public decided radio sucked.  Decided CDs were overpriced too.

    How have the industries reacted?  Radio still has twenty two minutes of commercials an hour and the playlists are boring.  Online albums cost about as much as physical ones, even though the sound is second-rate and there are no production or shipping costs.  Do you think the public doesn’t know this?  At least Amazon was smart enough to sell Kindle books below wholesale…otherwise it doesn’t make sense!

    I’m a Gladwell fan.  He’s earned my trust.  I’d rather read his work than listen to the musings of your son/best friend/lover/college buddy who’s enlisted you in his effort to break through musically.  Great stuff always breaks through.  But right now, those willing to sacrifice, to work really hard, tend to be in the tech sphere.  We’re not getting the best and the brightest in music.  Because the Goliaths have stacked the deck in their favor.

    But this won’t last.  Enough Davids are building new acts and new systems below the old guard’s radar.  They’re going to triumph.  Just watch.

    Thanks, Bob.

  • A Conversation With Tait Ischia, Junior co-founder and freelance writer

    Tait Ischia is the co-founder of an excellent resource for young creatives named Junior, a freelance writer, and a RMIT Creative Advertising graduate. The degree is listed last for a reason, as Tait believes in getting shit done, instead of basking in his own glory.

    It’s no secret that Tait’s Junior – founded alongside RMIT fellow Ed Howley – regularly kicks my inspiration’s ass. They rope interesting, real-life creatives into entertaining conversations; unsurprisingly, their no-bullshit style is a big influence on my interviews. In tribute, this piece will adopt Junior’s bright-highlight style to draw your eye to choice advice that’ll flow from Tait’s brain to yours. Eww.

    I sent Tait the link to my Tim Kentley interview, which referenced his initial piece for Junior. Since he’s such a fucking nice guy, he agreed to answer my questions that’d lingered since reading The Enthusiast‘s January 2009 interview.

    Tait, I loved your statement in The Enthusiast’s interview: “really, the economy being in the dumps doesn’t mean anything [for junior creatives]“. Marketing budgets might have contracted of late, but businesses still need agencies to develop engaging ideas to raise awareness of their products or services. Hell, you could probably argue that right now is the best time for dedicated creatives to work their arse off and make a name for themselves; on the economic ground floor, so to speak. What do you think?

    You’re really asking two questions here. One about the economy and one about juniors. It’s a fucking elephant’s cock of a question, so bear with me.

    It’s a tough time for anybody in business, and creative businesses aren’t immune. I’ve heard a bunch of stories where agencies have had budgets cut in half, projects fall over just when they’re ready to shoot, and clients taking away their business entirely. It sucks big time.

    Having said that, the creative industries aren’t a giant immovable object. Unlike businesses run by boring dudes in suits, creative businesses are run by people who can change and adapt pretty easily.

    So although it’s a tough time for everyone, this is a pretty good industry to be in at a time like this.

    The other part to that is everybody in the world right now is re-thinking what the hell they spend their money on. All of a sudden throwing money around on bitches and fine cheeses isn’t seen as a very good idea anymore.

    So as far as creative industries are concerned, especially advertising agencies, there’s a whole lot of people reading newspapers and watching TV wondering what the hell to spend their money better on. In other words, a captive audience. Which means it’s the perfect time for clients to advertise. And the word on the street is those clients that do will come out of this faster and bigger than those that don’t.

    As far as juniors are concerned, “really, the economy being in the dumps doesn’t mean anything“. I’m glad I said that. I can’t put it any better than what Clemenger BBDO‘s Emma Hill told us in her interview, “It’s the toughest that it’s ever been for juniors. That being said, their advantage is they don’t cost much. So you can look at it as glass half empty or full.”

    Many big agencies have put on hiring freezes and a huge amount of poor people are losing their jobs. BUT! And this is a huge but. Good people will always get work. If you’re awesome then businesses will go out of their way to get you in. You will make them money. It’s as simple as that.

    All you have to do is prove to them that you are awesome. How you choose to do that is your choice. Here’s a good tip though, again from Emma Hill, “If your idea is a bit gimmicky, you come across as a gimmicky creative. Rather than a genuine, intelligent one.

    Show them you’re intelligent and that your work is great – do that and you’ll be fine.

    You rose from a ‘zero’ advertising undergraduate to junior ‘hero’ over the last two years, and it’s all documented online. I’m a couple years younger than you, but this is essentially the ethos of our generation: everything we’ve ever done online will be visible to everyone, forever. Gary Vaynerchuk discusses this legacy regularly; what are your thoughts?

    That is by far one of the funniest and scariest vlogs I’ve seen in a while. Whatever that guy says should be taken with a grain of salt, then possibly spread on something to make it delicious. Unless you want to be a greasy entrepreneur and have a lot of people hate your guts, don’t talk about your ‘personal brand’ too much.

    I think smart people will be careful what they put their real name to. But I don’t think anyone should worry too much about what they put online, especially in this business. The internet is here to stay, so rather than get scared by what people ‘might’ find, embrace it. Put out a lot of stuff you want people to see, and put your name all over it.

    I’d rather there be pages and pages of things I’ve made and be proud of on Google than a clean page with nothing on it.

    Vaynerchuk reckons that legacy is always greater than currency. The latter is frequently cause for concern among my creative friends – “how do I get paid to do what I love?” Conventional wisdom suggests that the creative industries are tough to break into, in that it might take months or years to work on your passion full-time. What was your experience scraping coin together as an undergraduate – and later, junior at The Surgery – and would you advise that others follow your path?

    I’ve had a lot of fun scraping money together over the years. I moved out of home while at uni and started a profitable friendship with Centrelink [note: Australia’s welfare/youth allowance provider].

    I moved closer to the city so I could hang-out with my peers and blow my money getting drunk with people like Penny Modra at ThreeThousand. Getting drunk and spending all your savings doing it is a great investment in your career. Like those old douchebags in business school always say, you need to spend money to make money.

    If you’re really that passionate about what you’re doing then you will make enough money to survive. If you’re super smart and commercially minded you will make a decent amount of money and possibly own a Mercedes. Best thing to do as a junior is get a full-time job, get paid a salary, stop worrying about money, and focus on doing great work.

    Blogs get jobs“. A mantra you share with the likes of Craig Wilson and Gavin Heaton. My experience is that if you’re prepared to invest your time into an unpaid personal project, a smart employer will recognise that investment and reward you with an offer. It’s really that goddamn simple; why do you think people still have a hard time understanding it?

    Because everyone’s so frickin’ lazy. The problem with social media and all the ‘gurus’ it has produced is that everyone’s so caught up being a part of the conversation that they forget to actually do stuff.

    I suppose it’s OK if you want to be a planner or an accounts person because those jobs require you talk shit and be good at it. But if you want a job actually doing something, it’s not enough to merely want one. You have to prove to business owners that you are good and that you’ll make them money. And of course the best way to prove it is by doing stuff.

    Blogs are the easiest way to do stuff. It’s basically like maintaining a Facebook but isn’t a complete time-wasting exercise in vanity. If all the kids these days spent the same amount of time writing blogs that they did on Facebook, then this industry would be a hell of a lot more competitive.

    Woody Allen said, “eighty percent of success is showing up“. If you write in a blog regularly you are already doing better than eighty percent of your rivals. Now all you gotta do is write well, try not to piss anyone off and spread the love. After that, getting a job should become a hell of a lot easier.

    Procrastination. How do you deal with the urge to shirk your writing responsibilities when YouTube/Wii/the pub seems more enticing?

    I’m still dealing with this one. It’s an ongoing struggle for everyone, but I think I’m finally getting on top of it. I recently found this article on procrastination to be pretty fascinating. I think it’s something we’ve all got to deal with in our own time.

    Some people are married to their work, some want to actually have a life, and others sit at their desk staring at a blank screen for hours. I don’t have any other advice than sit down and do some work. I recommend ‘just starting’. That’s always been a good motivator for me.

    If you don’t know where to start, just begin anyway, and it will start flowing soon enough.

    Really, if it’s that big a problem, the best thing to do is to quit all your jobs and have your livelihood depend on your work. If you know you’re going to get evicted unless you write that article, you’ll be working your ass off.

    And if you don’t do it and get evicted you’ll know what it feels like and you’ll never do it again.

    You studied creative advertising at RMIT. Was it a kick-ass, practical degree full of industry-applicable knowledge? Would you recommend taking it?

    To tell you the truth, I have no idea whether taking that course was better than taking any other university course. It was as awesome as it was shithouse.

    I made some incredible friends. One of our lecturers became our weekly Junior whip cracker, Stan Lee. We were exposed to the industry and all the shit it stirs. Sometimes I wish I had gone to Melbourne Uni and done a good old arts degree but even that has its own ups and downs.

    I think the best advice is to never let your schooling get in the way of your education. University is just a building. Most of them don’t even have any good resources anyway. If you go to a uni where you can immerse yourself in culture, ideas and people than you’re on the right track.

    So as far as that’s concerned I definitely recommend it as a course. Just don’t go there hoping to learn everything there is to know about advertising.

    What’s next for Junior?

    Good question. We’ve got a few big things on the horizon. Nothing I can divulge on right at the moment because there’s a chance it will all die in the ass. But as soon as its locked in we’ll let you know.

    Otherwise I’m meeting with Woody from SneakerFreaker Magazine tomorrow for a beer and a chat and an interview. It’ll be nice to do an interview that isn’t advertising focussed. I haven’t done one of those in a while.

    What’s next for you?

    I’m headed to New York City in June. I’m done with Melbourne and this wasteland called Australia. I’m ready to be a very small fish in a very big pond and put myself to the test, Big Apple-style. I’ve got a handful of contacts, a neat little folio of work and this thing called Junior that I’ll be taking over with me. I’m staying for nine weeks but if all goes to plan I’ll be staying a little longer.

    Right now though, I’m taking some time off to read books, go to the cinema, pick chestnuts and freelance.

    Why freelance? What attracted you?

    Not having to be at work at 9am every morning and 8.30am on Mondays. I can also focus on my work much easier without an office buzzing around me. It’s a temporary thing for me before I go to NYC, but I can see why some people can’t do it and why others swear by it.

    We interviewed Todd Lamb on Junior and he told us this, “I don’t have any advice other than freelancing is 100% gambling. It’s unsteady and with no guarantees. So you better be brave and you better be OK with falling flat on your face. But I recommend everyone try it, it is a different way to live.

    So there you go. It’s helped me work better and more efficiently in the two months I’ve been doing it and I’ve made enough to pay the bills so I’m doing OK.

    Finally; why did you stop blogging? I figured that freelancing  would mean that you could better spread your time between client, publication and personal writing, as well as Junior and name-yer-social-network-flavour-of-the-month.

    Ah, that old chestnut. I literally blogged for about two weeks. That blog got me in with the lovely people at Right Angle Publishing – as discussed in my interview with The Enthusiast –  which was why I started it in the first place. So after I achieved my goal I just stopped. I was a student when I started it and I don’t really think the same as I did then either.

    I’m not a huge fan of ‘marketing comment’. I think there’s a place for it but I don’t want to be a strategy planner or a social-media guru. I want to be a creative. And a creative doesn’t comment on what other people do, they go out and do stuff themselves for other people to comment on.

    So yes I sorta do plan on blogging again, but only when I can use it to show the world my creativity and not just to add to the already saturated pool of marketing comment.

    If you’ve read this far and you haven’t yet subscribed to Junior, it’s best you click here and follow-through. Don’t be scared; it’s likely that Tait Ischia’s writing will regularly kick your inspiration’s ass, if the above interview hasn’t already. Contact Tait via email or Twitter.

  • A Conversation With Hunz, Brisbane Electronic Artist

    hunz_02Hunz is a Brisbane-based indie artist who intersects innocent pop melodies with dark electronica. He’s Johannes van Vliet when recording, but his killer sound is augmented by a bassist and drummer on stage. I first saw Hunz perform in support of Yeo & The Freshgoods at Brisbane’s Press Club in November 2008; his music is brilliant, which is why I bought his debut album, When Victims Fight, immediately afterwards.

    Hi Hunz! It’s 2009. There’s ten trillion bands on the internets who want our attention. Why should you have ours?

    My music is a throw back to my teens, when video games were my escape to the problems that surrounded me.

    I use glitches, beeps, pops and the original programs that were popular for writing music back then. I try to cram the songs full of my heart so that when I sing, it all comes out connected and very personal.

    I have visions as I write this music, and it is my hope that soon people will see what I see as I embark on animating my music as well.

    Your debut – 2008’s When Victims Fight – was marvelous, but I understand you’ve since written a new album.

    My new album is called Thoughts That Move, and it was inspired by the RPM Challenge. My wife read about RPM on a website and said, “You should do this”. The concept behind the site is to record an album – ten tracks, or 35 minutes – in a month.

    As I logged onto the website I started having doubts. It looked a bit dodgy – I should say I’m a graphics snob, and I feel I have the right to comment on web design and layout; I don’t – but as I looked around, it was evident that my initial doubts were wrong.

    The RPM competition is about community and creating an outline that will help people – from bedroom guitarists to performing musicians – record an album within a month, albeit within February, the shortest month! In a matter of moments, I ran out into the lounge room and announced that I would accept this challenge.

    A summary of what followed in the month of February was as follows:

    • “Optimistic” Hunz would wake me up.
    • “Creative Ideas” Hunz would hug me during my day-job and whisper sweet nothings in my ear
    • “Realistic” Hunz would put me to sleep (well, keep me awake).

    Halfway through the month, “Realistic” Hunz would wake me up. “Creative Ideas” Hunz had stomach cramps and had to go bye-bye, and “Optimistic” Hunz was being bashed.

    In the last week, I just let everything go, and it all fell into place. Out popped this album Thoughts That Move, and wow, RPM was done for this year. There’s a more detailed account of the challenge at

    As an electronic artist, the ability to quickly tweak and modify your songs lends itself to this sort of time-constrained project. How much live instrumentation did you use?

    For this album, I asked a friend of mine in Nashville, Jesse Palmer (from a band called Skate Party, who did some tunes for HomeStarRunner) to work on a guitar part for You Said Hello. That was it. Everything else is mostly hand-drawn, which involves drawing in your waveform; another name for this is an oscillator. I would then do some basic ADSR (Attack – Delay – Sustain – Release) on it and use multiple channels to do the Add, Subtract, Multiply setups. It’s like creating your own SoftSynth VSTI plugin, but doing it right in the program instead.

    I used the Renoise audio composition software for this project. The other instrumentation was from a lot of old, old loops I have found over time. I love flavour in drums, so I love to cut up live loops and shove them into new beats. I love it when hi-hats ring into snares or kick drums. It adds imperfections, and electronic music needs this to make sure it isn’t so rigid. I used string and Rhodes samples for a few tracks too.

    I will eventually merge the live aspect of the music into the recordings, which will be heard on the next album. The guys in my band are amazing, and I would be silly to not have them influence the outcome of my tracks. There are parts they have both come up with that I miss dearly when I listen to When Victims Fight, and I’m not going to let that happen again. The only track on When Victims Fight that mixes electronic elements and the live band was Who Knows, and I feel like it’s a good start.

    hunz_03When do you expect the RPM album to be in stores?

    This album will be free.

    We are currently working out how to present this though, as people have requested physical copies and others are interested in paying something. We are also looking at ways of getting it into some digital distribution outlets so that people get it how they want.

    I’m also releasing the original song files in a tracker format for Renoise (.xrns), which means they are 100% destructible, a bit like a GarageBand session.

    I really want to pay my respects to the scene that inspired most of how I write music today. Back in the early days when I wrote music, it just got shared around the internet for everyone to pull apart. I guess with this album, I’m going back to that mentality a bit.

    So the free album release is more a recognition of your past musical experience than a comment on the nature of musical distribution in 2009?

    For me it was just how I used to release music in the past. You just released it online and hope for the best.

    I was so excited when I saw that Nine Inch Nails and Radiohead successfully released music this way, for free. It is a step in a different direction that feels like it might just work.

    ‘Free’ for bands like NIN means that they can live off their live shows.

    ‘Free’ for bands like me may mean that more people will be attracted to the idea of my music, and then fall in love with it, which will thus provide more demand for me to tour around a bit.

    It certainly is a game of “wait and see”, because I have no idea. But it just feels right, and ultimately, I won’t be disappointed. I’m doing music because I love it, and my close friends asked me to release it.

    Kickass mindset, man. You’ve already won. I love that you’re already planning the next album. Have any themes solidified yet, or are you still mulling it over? Is it going to be another free digital release? Or more importantly – do you see any alternative to releasing music for free or near-free? I have this notion that music in 2009 primarily exists as a vehicle to get bodies to shows, which you seem to believe as well.

    The next disc is going to be more like what our live show sounds like. I’ll create the initial song ideas, work with the guys in creating fresh bass/drum ideas, then take that all into the studio and record. Then I’ll take that home and manipulate it and then go back for mix-down later on.

    The theme for the next album is  introvert versus extrovert relationships, and I’m nearly done with the creation of the first phase.

    I haven’t yet decided how I’ll approach the release of the next album, but I love the idea of free music. I agree that music might move into a promotional realm for the artist, instead of being a source of major income.

    It’s hard for me, because the city in which I work is small. If I play every other week in Brisbane and have people come along, they’ll burn out quickly and will only come to shows every 3-4 months. So my crowds thin out until I have a major release; then it packs up again.

    If you’re a touring band around the globe, I could see this working a treat; or at least, somewhere where the population can support it.

    Maybe having options for the user would be a treat. Or you sell your album with a ticket to come to any show. So people can just buy the album and support, or people can get the album for free with their ticket purchase. And that ticket works anywhere you play. Maybe it’s universal. Haha, still thinking about that one…hunz_01

    I’m guessing you’ve got a pretty sweet home recording set up.

    I have:

    I then use Buzz, Renoise and Cubase to create everything from there. I stay away from VSTIs (virtual studio technology) and instead draw the wave forms – which can represent percussion or synth sounds – into Renoise.

    I also never got into the gear race, which makes me kinda feel like I missed out on something. But it’s been only over the last few years that I’ve played my music live, so I know my future will be more gear-centric.

    I imagine that you have some mundane day-job, and that your music is your creative outlet. Am I on target? Hunz – accountant by day, musician by night?

    Haha, that’s so great. No, I’m a Creative Director for a production company running the motion design team. Motion design is best generalised as “very pretty movie titles”, but like music, it has very, very deep paths that push to the other side of the spectrum.

    I’ve just embarked on setting up my own motion design company called iv motion [eye-vee mo-shun]. It’s a partnership with the company where I work now. It has been a big dream of mine to see music and animation together, all made by the same creative agency, so this is a step in that direction.

    In the past, I tried to do all the music and animation on my own, but I couldn’t. I need help. I need crews, and I need to pay them for their work. I am hoping this year brings about some completeness in Hunz, where people will see the two together and understand the music more. My graphics team used to be a part of a production house, but by breaking off on our own, iv motion can work with many production houses to get a broader range of work.

    Okay, so I was (thankfully!) way off on my accountant-by-day assumption. Creative Director – that’s awesome. This certainly explains the kick-ass artwork and animation that accompanies your music. I friggin’ love the promo vid that you did for When Victims Fight [below].

    You mentioned that you’d like to try and integrate visuals into your live show – what do you have in mind?

    Thanks for the love on the promo vid! I stumbled on that idea during another job and saved off my work knowing no client would want zombie-like people walking across the screen! It often happens as you work: something will glitch out, but it looks so freek’n cool that you have to show it somehow down the line, and Hunz works out perfectly for that.

    The live video aspect of Hunz will happen over a long period of time. It’s more a money/time thing, and then wanting to do it right. I have invested time into researching some fresh ideas, and with technology, the proper implementation wins over simply being the first one to use it.

    I am aiming for interaction of the artist with the video to enhance the mood of the songs. The way that NIN just did their last tour was exactly along the lines of where my head space is at. I haven’t seen it, and I don’t think I am going to watch DVDs of the tour. I’ll try and remain fresh and not taint my creative ideas just yet. I heard Reznor would push on these LED displays and the video on them would move around him to make it look like he was pushing through it. Just so good to see this happening.

    Your well of creativity seemingly runneth over. Music is your passion, that much is obvious. Do you have those moments where you wake up in the middle of the night and have to record something, or do you stew on ideas before working on a track?

    Melodies greet me often. I’ll be walking along, looking around at life and then the shapes and colours start singing in my head. So I have a phone that records these moments as I hum in the melodies. Most of the time I sit down on the computer and start messing with sounds. Usually it starts talking to me, a flood gate opens up, and then the song is complete.

    I feel like I watch the music being made for me and then I pass it on to everyone else. I had this one song that didn’t make sense to a few years back and I thought “Man, How neat is that? I can sit there and create and not know at the same time”.

    The influences of artists like Boards of Canada, Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails are identifiable in your sound, but your MySpace mentions that you’re interested in “anyone who complements music with computers”. Can you elaborate on this statement, and describe how your music taste began to lean toward electronica?

    That “anyone who complements music with computers” is a way to say ‘hey’ to all the demo sceners of the day, and also to give people an idea that they don’t always have to use guitars for accompaniment. It also is a subtle request for people who use computers to send me their music. I’ve come from the demo scene, and we all used computers to help bring our ideas out into the open, and this helped introduce me to electronica. I’ve always had a soft spot for hand-drawn sinewaves and sawtooths.

    The lyrical content on When Victims Fight seems intensely personal; is this a trend you plan to continue?

    When Victims Fight was a complex one. It was about all those arguments you have in your head as you’re thinking. I do write about myself, but very exaggerated versions of it. Enough to protect the source but to still be honest and feel it. It will continue out like this; it’s just how I work.

    I have a few songs that didn’t make that album because the lyrics were so argumentative. One line is “you should do this”; the next is “well, I’m not sure if that’s where I need to go” .. and it flips around like this with no resolve.

    I’m not really into much resolve either, I’m really into the reality of the journey. It’s beautiful to watch the process of people.

    You currently handle most aspects of the Hunz project – production, visual, booking, promotion – yourself. Have you accepted this as par for the course due to the part-time nature of your musical career, or do you envisage enlisting external assistance?

    I’m really fortunate to have a helpful band. Both guys in the band are helping me out in any way they can, but that is dependent on how much I can “let go”. Which I am learning to do. I have very high standards; some would say too high. So I’m learning that it’s okay to accept what is “second best” in my eyes, because that is still higher than what most people might expect.

    I don’t know if the truth of that statement is in my heart yet, but I think it will get there.

    My wife also helps out as well and has challenged me – as only someone who knows you can – to do things differently, which has been awesome.

    Apart from that, I do need help. I’m creative, and although I’m learning that business is very creative too, it still isn’t my strong point. I do know what I want to achieve, and where the music is heading; I’ll just start constructing that now, and hope that I meet the right people to make it happen.

    hunz_04Finally – as a musician in 2009, what’s the biggest barrier to getting your music heard? How do you overcome that barrier?

    As I’ve developed as a musician, there are a few ways I’ve noted that you can explore as a band to get heard. I think for Hunz it’s all about people discovering the music kind of on their own. Because these themes are in the music, to do it any other way would be a lie.

    I don’t want to push Hunz. I want to let it sit and take on its own life. It’s been wonderful to watch, because often when someone connects with Hunz, they become a fan and want to help me out, which just overwhelms me in the best way. Because of that approach, things take a longer amount of time, so it’s finding the balance between that and connecting with the right people who can help build a platform for you.

    I will continue to perfect my art, video art and music over the years to come, and I hope you all decide to watch this process as it unfolds!

    Watch the process unfold in real time by following Hunz on MySpace, Twitter and his website. You can stream his newest creation, Thoughts That Move, through the RPM Challenge site.