All posts tagged music industry

  • Mess+Noise interview: ‘BAM! Festival’ founder Sarita Beavis, July 2010

    A Q+A for Mess+Noise about a new Queensland festival, BAM!

    BAM! Festival, October 2010BAM!: ‘We Don’t Want To Rip Off Bands’

    BAM! Festival founder and creative director Sarita Beavis sits down with ANDREW MCMILLEN in a Brisbane cafe to set the record straight about her fledgling event.

    After a week of “malicious and nasty gossip, untruths, half-truths and fear mongering”, I had every reason to suspect that BAM! Festival founder Sarita Beavis would have sharpened her knives ahead of speaking to M+N. Our insider report, which detailed a compulsory artists’ meeting, articulated many of the concerns felt within the Brisbane music scene and beyond, namely that Beavis and fellow organisers were out of their depths.

    However, over a Diet Coke in a West End cafe, Beavis emerges admirably. She answers questions candidly and is willing to admit mistakes. As a first-time event promoter, she’s learning – and fast.

    Full interview at Mess+Noise.

    This one was a bit funny to research and plan for. The festival had become a bit of a joke among Brisbane’s independent music scene since the first line-up announcement. It was greatly misunderstood by most people I know, who thought that they were trying to become a massive festival with a line-up that consists of dozens of little-known Brisbane bands… priced at $200 for a 3 day, round-the-clock camping event.

    I thought that, too. Turns out they’re starting (reasonably) small this year, with hopes to attract 1,500 payers. And the people behind it are serious about trying to make this work on a pretty small budget. So it was cool to approach this hot topic – the ‘insider report’ on M+N attracted over 700 comments in just a few days – with an open mind, to allow my subject to speak her mind and set the record straight. Which she did, to her credit.

  • UnConvention Brisbane 2010, a grassroots music conference

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Check out the full program details here.

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

    The showcase will feature:

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

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

  • A Conversation With Damian Kulash, OK Go singer/guitarist

    OK Go singer/guitarist Damian KulashOK Go are an American pop band. I don’t want to cheapen their career by naming just its apex, but it’s the easiest way to refresh your memory: they’re the band behind ‘Here It Goes Again‘, better known as ‘the treadmill video‘.

    On February 13 2010, I spoke to OK Go’s singer/guitarist Damian Kulash [pictured right] on behalf of Rolling Stone Australia. He’d been up all night shooting a second music video for their song ‘This Too Shall Pass’. The first video couldn’t be embedded anywhere outside of YouTube because of the restrictions put in place by their parent label, Capitol Records, which is owned by EMI Music. The band’s response was to upload an embeddable version to Vimeo, write an open letter to their fans explaining the situation, and seek outside funding to conceptualise and film an entirely different music video. [You should click the above links to watch the videos, if you haven't already seen them.]

    Shortly before Rolling Stone’s May issue went to print at the end of February – confusing, right? - OK Go left Capitol Records, effectively undermining my story’s relevance. [More on that experience here.]

    Below is the full conversation I had with Damian, which is one of the last interviews the band gave while still signed to a major label.

    Andrew: Before we start, are you totally sick of talking about this whole issue?

    Damian: The politics of the music industry are… tiresome. I’ll put it that way. It’s important to me and I’m fascinated by it, but I’d much rather be thinking about making things, than how to distribute them.

    What kind of response have you seen from your fans in regard to your letter?

    It’s been pretty positive. My letter has been received by some people as a polemic, or as a big screed, but truly, the letter was just an explanation to our fans about why certain things weren’t available to them, because I think people really didn’t understand what was going on. I didn’t see it as a big political move; it was just an explanation to our fans, and we’ve gotten very good response from them. I think they’re just happy that we treat them like adults.

    What kind of response have you seen from the record label? I read your interview on New TeeVee where you said your main contact at the label wants as badly as you do for the video to be embeddable.

    I think most folks at the label probably share our opinion that things should be easily distributed. There are a lot of competing agendas within the record label, so I’ve gotten a wide range of responses. The digital department of EMI France actually tweeted the letter and was distributing it because they felt it was a defense of their position. Other people felt like it was an attack. It’s a big company, so there’s been a wide range of responses.

    Beyond your fan base and record label industry people, the general public has also paid attention to the letter. I refer to your quote in Time about how you think there is a quiet majority who are just interested in seeing how the music industry works these days, and seeing your explanation from the inside.

    That’s definitely been the basic response that I’ve felt. I obviously can’t quantify it, but the loudest comments in the music industry in general are mostly from people who hate labels and who hate major labels and feel the industry is set up to screw musicians. I don’t feel like that’s generally representative. I think it’s easy to hate the machine. You really get those comments from people that actually try to make a living making music. It’s mostly people who have this purist idea of what music should be to them; give up their day jobs because they want their musicians to be absolutely conceptually totally pure and not ever have to worry about money for them.

    I read your Mashable interview where you said that a year or two ago, EMI switched the embedding stuff on all of your videos, but you didn’t pay much attention as you were making your new record at the time. Looking back, do you wish that you had paid attention? Would you have done anything differently back then?

    OK Go singer/guitarist Damian KulashWe have to pay attention to how our records and our videos and everything is distributed because we make ‘em and we care about how they get out there, but I wouldn’t be a student of the music industry’s technicalities if I wasn’t convinced that the animating passion in my life is making things, and how the distribution of them affects that. I know it sounds incredibly circular, but I don’t particularly care if the music industry works until I make something and it fucks up the way I want that thing to be shared with the world.

    I’m glad that when I’m writing music and recording music, in between records, I’m not spending my time trying to figure out the solution to the logistical problems of the music industry. Those are some things that we have to pay attention to out of necessity, not because we like paying attention to them.

    There is a quote from you in the letter where you say, “Unbelievably, we’re stuck in the position of arguing with our own label about the merits of sharing videos. It’s like the world has gone backwards.” As musicians, you must feel that having these kinds of conversations about the business side of music drains your creativity or your time that could be better spent creating music.

    It seems to me like there are a couple of things. One, the music industry is very clearly in an incredible crisis and that’s what makes this story complex. There is a lot to talk about because we’re up against what appears to be a sort of unresolvable problem. People want to talk about it. Two, I think a lot of us feel incredibly passionate about music and by its nature – almost by its definition – the important part of music kind of defies words. To me, what makes music sort of magical – what makes music the thing that I live for – is that you can communicate things like music’s four-dimensional emotions instantaneously. It’s like emotional ESP.

    I think when something comes along, something to talk about in music, something very rational or logistical and sort of left-linear logical, that’s attached to the distribution of music or to the manufacturing or production of music, then at least there is something to sink our rational brains into and some people really want to talk about it. Maybe this is something of a stretch as an argument, but we do a lot of interviews and it’s impossible to answer substantive questions about music because music is a feeling, not an argument. Whereas, everything that surrounds music – how it’s distributed, the politics, and the money behind it – gives you something hard and logical to talk about. I think that’s sort of why there is so much fascination on these things.

    Bob Lefsetz wrote in response to this situation that “if the labels want to maintain control, they have to first get the hearts and minds of the artists.” As an artist who deals with labels on a regular basis, do you share his view?

    OK Go singer/guitarist Damian KulashYes, in essence they do. I think that the value in music from which we derive the money in music can no longer be generated by limiting access. The way you assess value in most commodities is related to supply, the whole supply and demand curve. The reason you have to pay to have most things is because someone else restricts your access to them or you have to pay for the access to them. There are certain things that don’t follow that model and music has sort of jumped the barrier, I think.

    Twenty, fifteen, or even ten years ago, music was a physical thing that could be bought and sold. Even if conceptually the music wasn’t, there was a way of controlling access to it: you either owned a CD or you didn’t. Either you had access to it or your friend did, or you got it from a library. More likely, you bought it and had access to music.

    Now that has sort of broken down and the music industry is not going to be able to get that genie back in the bottle. You have to find a different level to work with, and I think that – whatever the financing situation is, no matter which body is financing the logistical mechanics of music – that body will have to have a better relationship with musicians and record labels. Record labels deal in very black-and-white terms with this restricted access thing, and now everyone is going to have to believe in a new model simultaneously, otherwise money won’t be generated for music.

    By now you’re all too familiar with the arguments surrounding this YouTube issue, having lived them out and told the world about it. If you can comment on it, I’d like to know how EMI rationalise the ‘disable embedding’ decision to the average web consumer – the one who just wants to share their cool videos with their friends?

    There has been a conceptual shift between videos being advertisement and videos being product. They’re sort of ‘on the fence’ still. All labels still want their videos to be seen far and wide, but they also want to be paid for them to be seen far and wide. Whereas once upon a time it was just amazing that there was a website out there [YouTube] that would actually help you distribute your advertising. Now, there is a website out there that is actually distributing your product without paying you for it. I think that’s how they justify it. They want people to see it like: “we paid for that thing, how come you won’t pay us for it?”

    Do you think that the thought of the average web user even comes into their equation, or is it all just discussed in terms of profit and shareholders, as you alluded to in your letter?

    They’re not such morons that they can’t take into account what people want. Labels don’t have a singular mind. It’s not like one big beast with one agenda. I think a lot of people at labels understand what people want and are frustrated with the way things are working. I think there hasn’t been a very clear-eyed assessment of that shift in music videos from advertisement to product, or in general, of the attempt to blur promotion and monetization. There used to be an obvious revenue stream, and that was selling records [CDs]. Since that is shrinking so incredibly fast, now all the things that you essentially pay for to promote that revenue stream are now things that they’re trying to turn the tables on and get money for actually having done.

    I don’t think they’re incapable of thinking about what people want. I think everybody suddenly is trying to eat the hamburger at the same time that they’re still milking the cow. You can’t have it both ways.

    Final question Damian, and it’s a bit of a philosophical one, so take a deep breath. If labels continue to herd viewers into absorbing their artists’ content in specific web destinations like on YouTube, what are the wider ramifications for the nature of sharing content online?

    American pop/rock band OK GoFirst of all, I’ve been talking this whole time as if I have a kind of answer, like I know exactly what’s going on and there is an obvious path forward. I don’t know what the ramifications will be. The first step that seems obvious to me is we do need something like record labels to perform some of the functions record labels traditionally have. This is what I think the critics of major labels often miss, is that for all of their exploitative, greedy, and short-sighted policies, they did provide a risk aggregation for the world of music making. They invest in however many young bands a year and most of them fail. Those bands go back to their jobs at the local coffee houses without having to be in tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars of personal debt for having gone for it.

    If we don’t want to be just a domain of the independently wealthy and people who can take time off from their jobs for a couple of years to see what happens, or finance their own world tour while they figure out exactly how to make the number at the end of the column black, then somebody has to be doing this risk aggregation.

    Historically, when a band did well, or an artist did well, the profits could be so substantial that they would cover the other nineteen losses that the failed bands meant for a record label. A label could take the very extreme numbers of the music industry: you might have a less than 1% chance of success, but if you do succeed there is a massive reward, and it sort of evens them out over dozens or hundreds of artists a year.

    Something sort of needs to be doing that unless we want music only to be the domain of the independently wealthy. I think then you have to figure out what that means for content distribution. Somehow, some sector of the business has to be able to make a significant reward off of the success of that one-in-twenty, or that one-in-fifty, or that one-in-one hundred in order to keep the system running.

    At the same time, we all want this magical, wonderful, instantaneous global distribution – via the internet – to make music ever easier to get to and to make it more universal and more accessible. We have to figure out how to get the money that people are willing to spend on music into the hands of musicians, and into the hands of those risk aggregation bodies.

    Right now, it seems people are willing to spend money pretty freely on music. They just tend to do it more on hardware or on their broadband connection. People are willing to pay for extremely fast connection to the internet so they can download big files. They just don’t particularly care for paying for the file themselves, or see that as something they should be doing. People will pay a lot for an mp3 player. They don’t expect that part to be free, so to get people to value their music in that way, then we should figure out how to look at the system from a macro perspective and figure out a reasonable way forward.

    Thanks Damian. I admire your ability to speak coherently about the music industry, especially after an all-nighter. [The band had been up working on the second video for 'This Too Shall Pass', which is embedded below.]

    I don’t know how coherent I’ve been, but if you can whip that into shape and make me sound like I was, then more power to you. I appreciate it.

    [You can read more about this story for Rolling Stone Australia here.]

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

    [Note: this post originally appeared on OneMovementWord.com]

    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.

  • Big Sound 2009: Online Publishing Panel Notes

    On September 9, 2009, I moderated a discussion panel at Big Sound called ‘Blogging, Twittering and Online Publishing: Tastemaking or Time-Wasting?‘. Here’s the precis, taken from the Big Sound site:

    The whole world is online! Whether you’re typing essays for eager fans or 140 character pearls of wisdom, online publishing is quickly becoming the new bastion of communication and online journalism. What is Twitter and why would you use it? How do you start a blog and why would you? Is this online thing just a waste of time? Find out how those that do it well do it and find out why those that fail miss the point.

    The panel featured the input of the following gentlemen [pictured left-right; photo by Justin Edwards just before the discussion began]:

    Online Publishing panel, Big Sound 2009. Deep in thought.

    These were the suggested points of discussion:

    • How important is blogging and online publishing in communicating with music fans?
    • Is Twitter everything it’s hyped up to be?
    • How can you use social networking online to promote your band and how SHOULDN’T you?
    • What’s the best way to start a music blog and what does the audience want?
    • What does online publishing mean for music journalism?

    A couple of days before the panel – notably, after I’d put it off for a fortnight – I sent the following email to the group.

    Hi gents,

    In addition the points of discussion that were provided, I’m going to touch upon on the following topics.

    When I have you introduce yourselves, I’m going to ask each of you:

    • When did you last buy music?, and
    • How do you find new music?

    Online engagement for bands: how much is too much?

    Reading reference: http://lefsetz.com/wordpress/index.php/archives/2009/08/14/more-imogen-heap/ and particularly this Imogen Heap quote: “About 5% of my time goes to actually making music sadly. The rest is promo, technical, planning, running around, schedules..blah”

    • Artists have a range of tools and mediums with which to connect to fans; tools such as Twitter et al have lessened the gap between fan and artist. But at the same time, if their attention is focussed on the screen instead of their instruments, will their art suffer?
    • Everett and Jakomi, I’ll use your experience of the pre-web era to draw comment on what it was like when you didn’t have the ability to know where your favourite bands were or what they were doing at that very instant.
    • The ‘always on’ internet culture allows conversation to occur across the world instanteously. Has this removed some of the mystique that has historically attracted audiences to artists and performers? What are the implications?

    Old vs new models of online promotion. Reference: http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2008/03/the-live-music.html

    • It’s a long article, so you’re forgiven for not reading the whole thing. But Godin’s point – here, and throughout his work – is that for musicians, it’s not a matter of shouting at everyone (the old model), but of whispering at your niche (the new model).
    • So instead of signing to a label who can fund mass marketing campaigns (radio, print, TV), it’s smarter for bands to work their existing audience to build it organically, while coming up with creative/interesting/share-able web campaigns to capture wider interest (eg. OK Go’s treadmill video - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pv5zWaTEVkI)
    • Jerry and Cam, have you found this to be the case during your time as a manager and artist, respectively?

    More Godin: as for messages to the fanbase from the artist, Godin suggests that these are to be ‘anticipated, personal and relevant’ in every instance. Fans should be thrilled to hear from their favourite bands, and disappointed when anticipated messages are delayed.

    • This is a lovely, utopian vision, but in the real world, is it viable?
    • Elliot, where do record labels sit within this vision? Is it just a matter of streamlining the process of delivering content from the band to the audience?

    Beyond musicians, where do label A&R folk belong in this web discussion?
    Reference: http://www.waycooljnr.com.au/2009/07/14/the-rise-of-blogranage-blog-patronage/

    • Historically, A&Rs are the people who’re exposed to enormous amounts of music, and who often dictate which bands are exposed to wider audiences.
    • Nick Crocker wrote: “I think A&R people at labels should start building their profiles online, developing a following and sharing their stories with fans. Inevitably, A&R people end up being hugely networked musically and build big, smart, connected networks of music lovers. They each have a market ready and waiting for their tales.”
    • Everett, I know you’re comfortable with calling yourself a tastemaker. Do you agree with Nick’s idea, that A&R people should establish themselves as tastemakers? What potential benefits would music fans receive?
    • Jerry, WhoTheHell.net has become a tastemaker after building an audience over several years. In your mind, what is the site’s role among music media? Would it be feasible to base a ‘new media’ music label on the WhoTheHell blog concept?

    Music criticism on the web has given everyone the ability to give their opinion about what’s good and what’s shit. Reference: http://andrewmcmillen.com/2008/11/26/gareth-liddiard-on-music-writing/

    • Gareth from The Drones wrote in a column for Ampersand Magazine: “Music criticism, to quote Chuck D: “You talk about it but you can’t do it.” But now that there is all this blogging shit going on critics have become like mild mannered primary school teachers trying to control their bitchy little charges. Which is funny cause nine out of ten critics are at uni. Blogging has cut the balls off music criticism. But even when critics are being cool it’s still weird. Rock’n’roll is pretty retarded and writing about it is really scraping the literary barrel. Why would you bother? Do something useful for fuck’s sake.”
    • Reactions from the panel? Jakomi, what’s your take on this?
    • Everett, what does this mean for established critics like yourself? I know it’s something you’ve been grappling with. (This’ll give you a chance to discuss your PhD and your findings thus far, perhaps?)

    We’ve focussed heavily on discussing online publishing. But what about the role of print music journalism?

    • Are print readers losing out due to the instantaneous commentary that occurs online, or does the latency/distance between the printed article allow a more measured, less hyperbolic approach?
    • What about album reviews? What’s the point of the reviews we read in street press and music mags, since in many cases by the time they’re printed, the web has already aggregated, rated and reviewed these releases?
    • Note that in July, Sydney street press The Brag opted to stop publishing album and live reviews due to budget quotes. (Source: http://www.messandnoise.com/discussions/1102027) In this instance, what’s the point of the mag, if they’re no longer willing to comment on the music itself?
    • Cameron, which printed music publications do you read? What do you gain from them that you can’t find online?
    • If print audiences are declining – and as a result, advertisers can’t justify their expenditure – where does this leave staffers of the printed article? As music fans, should we care? What do we stand to lose, other than these publications’ reputation and history?
    • Everett, I’ll rely on you here, as you’ve got a history in both publishing and writing for the web.
    • Jakomi, where do you see The Music Void sitting within this discussion? Why did you launch it as a website and not a magazine?
    • What are the alternatives to printed music journalism? What will the music magazine of the future look like?

    On the day, we discussed through most of the above, before 50-60 live human beings.

    I’m told the panel was both entertaining and informative, though by session’s end I was severely doubting the latter, after spending around 90 minutes talking about blogging, which is second only to talking about tweeting in terms of tedium.

    Ian Rogers of No Anchor at their Judith Wright Centre launch, 21 March 2009Ian Rogers of Brisbane bands No Anchor and AxxOnn [pictured right, playing live for the former] wrote this about the panel:

    “I write about myself because no one else will. And I write about music because it’s what I like and because it’s more interesting to other people than writing about babies”. And so Everett True, former Golden God of the British Press and present Brisbane resident introduced himself to the afternoon’s delegates. The panel was about digital publishing and contained a puzzlingly configuration of quiet bloggers (“Uhm, I just like getting the free records”) and industry boffins – one preconscious, one loud and angry. And Everett. Mr True acquitted himself well post-introduction, happily making whatever comment occurred to him – more often than not correct as I read it – as the industry folks shifted around in their seats wondering, ‘Who the fuck is this weird old guy?’.

    [I recommend you read Rogers' summary of Big Sound days one and two - he's fucking hilarious]

    In all, it was an enjoyable experience that I’d happily relive. Thanks to Big Sound executive programmer Stephen Green for asking me to take part. I know the panel was filmed by the event organisers so I’ll post the transcript and/or recording when they’re available. My wider thoughts on the event are here.

  • Thoughts On Big Sound 2009

    Studying hard, moments before showtimeSeptember 9-11, I attended Big Sound, my first music conference. I moderated a discussion panel called ‘Blogging, Twittering and Online Publishing: Tastemaking or Time-Wasting?‘, managed a showcase band, Hunz, and reported for The Music Network.

    What did Big Sound 2009 mean to me?

    It meant appearing in my first public speaking role since the occasional presentation throughout my tertiary education. On the day, it was my preparation and familiarity with the subject matter that saw 90 minutes of guided discussion pass without concern on my part. My notes from the panel are here.

    It meant representing an artist whose music I love, and actively inviting others to experience his art and understand his vision. While I’m still coming to terms with the latter, but it was perpetually thrilling to see Hunz describe himself to the unfamiliar, both in meetings and on stage. Their showcase performance was strong, and well-received by the crowd present, based on the feedback we received afterwards. [Photo from the show below]

    Throughout Big Sound, my personal goal was simply to introduce his music to new ears. That may be naive, but we agreed beforehand that there was little point in building up expectations. Whatever happens, happens, but there’s no doubt that their showcase was an overwhelmingly positive experience.

    It also meant becoming more comfortable in crowded social situations. This was networking in the truest form I’ve witnessed since a digital industry event called Interactive Minds, late last year. It was very much a case of rapid-fire socialising, smiling, shaking hands, and exchanging details. Yeah, some of it was superficial. But while the personal connections I made mightn’t all yield results in the short term, in sum, the networking was the most enjoyable element of the event.

    From my perspective, it was cool to have people introduce themselves to me after knowing who I am, which is the opposite to all of my music-related encounters in the past. The coolest example of this was Wally de Backer introducing himself the day after my panel. It took me like 5 seconds to realise that he was Gotye, and another 30 or so for Hans to make the connection to his identity – that is, a source of massive musical inspiration. But I wasn’t like ‘OMG WHAT TO DO?’, but more like ‘oh sweet, he’s keen for a chat’. Wally was there to showcase his other band, The Basics, who are self-managed.

    One of the biggest shifts in my mindset of late is that I’m beginning to accept that ‘famous’ people are just people. It’s something inherently known, but it’s still difficult to accept. Everyone knows the feeling of seeing a public figure in the flesh and being too scared to approach; more and more, I’m abandoning that mindset, and just going after it. Cases in point: approaching both The Dead Sea (whose showcase was one of my highlights) and Yves Klein Blue‘s Michael Tomlinson (who I’d interviewed for jmag the week before) at the Sounds Like Brisbane launch.

    In the Big Sound context, it’s more a case of recognising that these meeting opportunities are extremely limited, and discarding hesitation in the face of time constraints. Again, this is one of the aspects of the event I most enjoyed: the simple act of bringing together so many influential minds that have the ability to make shit happen is the main drawcard.

    Hunz: Bearded, big-mouthedI mean, the conference is nothing without its delegates. No shit, right? I’d read this beforehand and understood it at a basic level, but it really didn’t click for me until I was there among the masses that I realised – hey, any industry is built on the people who work within it. An event like Big Sound simply enables connections between people to happen at a more rapid rate.

    A few people I spoke to questioned why the openness and accessibility on display across the three days couldn’t exist for the other 362. As far as I can comprehend, it’s because shit wouldn’t get done if artists, labels, managers, and promoters kept the gates to their respective castles open at all times. Those few days of meeting and conversing are useful because of their scarcity. In an industry built upon the creation and commodification of a social object – music – it was enlightening and inspiring to meet so many dedicated to sharing with one another.

    I’ll cite Big Sound as the event that affixed a silencer to my pistol of industry skepticism. In an interview with Warner Music CEO and ARIA chairman Ed St John a fortnight ago, I related to him that my increasingly frequent conversations with the people who work within the industry has shifted my view of large companies – like major record labels – from faceless organisations, to groups of decision-making individuals. [Sidenote: read that interview on One Movement Word here]

    That might read like a basic statement to make, and a basic realisation to have. But after spending the best part of a decade – my formative adolescence – reading and participating in online forums where the loudest opinion is often taken as reality, I’m only just starting to unlearn. Nick and I call it ‘blogger’s mentality’, wherein an internal bias colours one’s worldview to the point where it interferes with learning and understanding.

    I’m not suggesting that I’m attempting to remove subjectivity from my observations, because you know as well as I that it’s fucking impossible. Instead, what I’m trying to do is approach every situation, every interaction with an open mind, while placing little value on preconceptions. It’s less naivety, than measured optimism. Lately, I’m of the mind that people – individuals – are inherently good, so I’ll treat them with that respect until proven otherwise.

    To return this realisation to the context of Big Sound, and the wider music industry: I have no time for stories of failed business deals and broken relationships. An individual’s history is less meaningful than how they present themselves in the moment.

    What I’m now aiming to do is assess people on their merits when we meet, rather than relying on markers of their past to colour my perceptions. To me, where you’ve been is less important than where you’re going. In a songwriting context, to wit: you’re only as good as your last song.

    [Thanks to Justin Edwards for the photographs]

  • A Conversation With Mike Masnick, Techdirt.com Founder

    Techdirt.com has grown from a one-man operation founded by Mike Masnick in 1997 to become one of the web’s leading collaborative voices in analysis of issues relating to technology, economics, law and entertainment. The site has amassed 850,000+ RSS subscribers, 35,000+ posts, 250,000+ comments and a consistent rating within Technorati’s top 100.

    I interviewed Mike on behalf of the One Movement Word blog, where I focussed on questions relating to the music industry. Our unedited conversation is below.

    Mike Masnick of Techdirt.com

    Andrew: What inspires you to write about the latest in digital content?

    Mike: I actually think it’s a really important issue, that is, in many ways, an “early warning sign” of some economic changes that are going to impact many other industries, from healthcare to energy to consumer packaged goods to financial services. It’s just that digital content lays out the specifics much more clearly (and yet it’s still confusing to some people!). I’m hopeful that as people start to understand these issues, when the “bigger” similar issues come to the forefront, it will be easier to point back to what happened with digital content to make it clear how things should play out elsewhere.

    How do you keep Techdirt fresh with new topics each day? I imagine that you draw from a massive pile of sources.

    Yes, I definitely read a lot via RSS and (more and more) via Twitter. When I see something that strikes me as interesting, I write it up. We also get a fair number of submissions through the site’s submission page, which often alerts me to interesting stories I would not have seen elsewhere. These days, there’s always more content than I have time to write up.

    Which are the sites you check first when you wake up in the morning?

    I have to admit that I like to switch it up pretty regularly, so that I don’t get into a rut and find myself too focused on any particular source. That said, to get a sense of what’s going on, in general, in the tech world, I probably check News.com, Wired.com, Slashdot, Broadband Reports and Techmeme most frequently.

    You tend to decide your stance on an issue and argue passionately , as evidenced by the ‘from the (x) dept‘ lines under each article. How long did it take for you to hone this instinct to see issues in such an assured manner?

    Well, I’ve always looked at the blog as a part of a conversation, where I expect some discussion to take place — so I don’t necessarily think that I take a totally “assured” position on many things. Often I’m actually looking to see what discussion occurs in the comments, and from there my position becomes more clear as I discuss it.

    But, because of that, I do think the posts themselves have become more and more assured over the years, in part because of the earlier discussions I’ve had in the comments, where people maybe challenged this or that aspect of something, and it forced me to dig deeper and to better understand an issue to the point that I was pretty sure that where I was going with it was accurate.

    I learned, a long time ago when I taught university statistics that I ended up learning statistics much, much better once I started teaching it than when I was taking all those course and passing tests. That’s because when I was teaching it, students would ask “why” or wouldn’t understand the basic explanation I would give them. So I would need to really, really understand it myself, so I could better explain it to the students.

    I think the same thing is true with the blog. I definitely understood the economic framework when I started writing the blog, but when the discussions started and people started asking questions that I really was forced to understand the economics at play at a much, much deeper level, so that I could explain my positions back to people in a way (hopefully!) that they would understand.

    But, of course it’s always a learning process, and I’m always learning more. And it’s in those discussions that I learn, and I hope that the next post I’m slightly smarter for it. I think that will always occur. And it’s great. I love continually learning new stuff.

    From what I gather, Techdirt began as a source of customised news for tech companies. How has this role evolved since 2000?

    It’s certainly evolved quite a bit. We did customized news and analysis for many companies for a while (and we still have a few “legacy” customers in that space), but we’ve definitely moved on to focusing on the Insight Community as our business model, which was a quite reasonable evolution. Basically, as we were doing analysis for various companies, we often would realize that our internal team might not have as much insight or expertise on a particular story as the large readership on Techdirt. So we started to reach out to the folks in our community… and then evolved that into a formalized process called The Insight Community, to let companies tap into our wider community, rather than just our internal team.

    A second, more recent evolution, is the realization that the Insight Community isn’t just a great tool for internal research and analysis, but for marketing purposes as well. So these days, a growing percentage of the use of the Insight Community is to host public conversations that help market a company, allowing them to talk about issues with our community in a public way. It allows those companies to help build their brand and at the same time get insight back. On top of that, we allow companies to then repurpose that content, so many of them use the content developed by the Insight Community to help create their own blogs/whitepapers written by third party content. It’s really a win-win-win situation for everyone involved.

    Seth Godin [pictured right] has been a vocal critic of tertiary education for business students. What are your thoughts on the value of business school in the modern economy?

    Seth Godin: vocal.I think it really depends on what you want to do. You get out of it what you need to. For certain jobs, it’s still quite necessary. I didn’t go the standard MBA route, but I did get a ton out of my experience, with two key points:

    1. I learned a lot more from my professors directly than I expected to. The “book learning” wasn’t a very big deal. But we had a very close relationship with our professors, and much of what I talk about today was heavily influenced by conversations I had with three or four key professors who helped me learn this stuff.
    2. The personal connections I made in business school have been too valuable to count. It’s difficult to overemphasize what an incredible help the connections have been — whether it’s in getting new business or just getting helpful introductions to people who can help or point in the direction of help.

    Which school did you attend, when, and what did you study?

    Cornell’s Johnson Graduate School of Management. I graduated in ’98. It’s a general management school, so you learn all aspects, but I focused on entrepreneurship. As an undergraduate, I also went to Cornell, and got a degree in “Industrial and Labor Relations” which is sort of an antiquated name for a combination between law, human resources, economics, business and organizational behavior.

    Do you ever struggle to remain productive? I imagine you’re constantly being pinged by emails and other distractions.

    Yes, there definitely are a lot of distractions and interruptions. Beyond all the writing, there’s actually running the business side of things as well (and having a life). So it’s pretty constantly busy around here. I generally learn to focus in on certain things and break up the day to take care of different tasks at different times.

    While the content on Techdirt appears to be heavily driven by your opinion pieces, at times, you seem to take on the role of the traditional journalist/reporter. Are you happy with the balance between opinion and fact on Techdirt at the moment, and do you have plans to direct it further down one of those avenues in the future?

    Really? I don’t think of myself as a traditional journalist/reporter at all. If I do any journalism it’s by accident, not on purpose. I think, these days, that everyone is always a bit of a journalist, so sometimes that comes through. But, on the whole, I’ve never thought of myself as a journalist at all. I don’t think that’s likely to change.

    What are the most important discussions taking place about the changing newspaper/news-media industry?

    I think there are a lot of important questions about how the news media business can survive or thrive in the coming days, and there are some great discussions going on there. A big part of it is whether or not newspapers should block off their content with a paywall (in my opinion: a dreadful idea that will fail miserably) and/or whether they should look to try to force others, such as Google to pay them (or get the government to change laws to benefit them). I think most of these discussions are misguided, and the real discussion should be on ways that news media publications can look to provide more value.

    Which writers inspired you when Techdirt began, and whose writing inspires you in 2009?

    The Public Domain: Masnick recommendsOn copyright-related issues, William Patry is fantastic, though, unfortunately he mostly stopped writing his blog altogether (he just did a post recently however, out of the blue!). He’s got a book coming out in the fall, which is wonderful.

    James Boyle is another one, whose book on The Public Domain [pictured left] came out a few months ago and should be required reading for those looking to understand the music business.

    Eric Goldman, who writes the Tech & Marketing Law blog, is a great read as well on legal issues.

    On business thinking, Andy Kessler, who’s written some great books and writes columns that every time I read one it makes me view the world slightly differently.

    As for when Techdirt began… it was a mixed bag. One of the biggest influences was actually Danny O’Brien, who along with a couple other guys in the UK ran a hilarious tech newsletter called NTK, which stopped updating at the beginning of 2007. It was a great loss. Danny works for the Electronic Frontier Foundation now, but doesn’t get to make use of his brilliant humor so much in his writings. I’ve definitely been a big fan of Clayton Christensen for a long time, too.

    As a heavy reader, what makes for engaging writing in the tech arena? Do you think that you’re a strong writer?

    I don’t think I’m a particularly strong writer. It’s something I actually work on, but I’m just so-so. I’m always amazed when I see really beautiful writing and wish I could be half as good. But, I think what makes more engaging writing is the ability to tell a story simply, the ability to have an opinion that you can stand behind with facts (rather than just for the hell of it) and the ability to interject some well placed humor. I wish I could do all of those things better.

    In your mind, what are the most important discussions currently taking place about the changing music industry?

    Techdirt logoI think there are two key issues:

    • New business models
    • New legal frameworks.

    These overlap at times, but the business models are important, because we’re seeing more and more evidence that stuff works now. That it doesn’t require some big or massive change. Artists who figure things out can make money now and do so in a much better way than they could have in the past. That said, I am worried about some of the efforts that I think are attempting to crowd out other solutions before they’ve had time to grow.

    On the legal side, I’m definitely concerned. The industry has long focused on a legal path to protecting and extending their business model in the face of any sort of innovation that challenges that old business model. And I think that harms new business models and musicians who embrace them. The innovation that’s occurring has been enormously empowering to musicians, and much of what is happening on the legal front could serve to hold that back. And the end result, I’m afraid, would actually be less creativity, less music and fewer useful business models for musicians. And that’s quite troubling.

    You wrote in a Techdirt article that you’re in the camp of “folks who never buy single tracks, but always look to buy the full albums of bands I like”. How have your music tastes changed in the internet age?

    I prefer to listen to music I’ve purchased. In fact, I still mostly buy CDs, though do occasionally purchase music for download from CDBaby or Amazon. In terms of what music I like, I listen to a lot of early ska/rocksteady/reggae honestly. So these days, it’s bands like The Aggrolites and The Slackers.

    Mike Masnick speaking at MESH conference, 2009

    One Movement For Music‘s tagline is “Artist, industry, fan united”. What’s standing between this vision of unity between artists, fans and the music industry? What do you think it’ll take to achieve this unity in the coming years?

    Yeah, actually, this is a really good question, and it’s a point I’ve been trying to make for a long time. There are solutions in this industry that truly are (as cliche as it sounds) win-win-win, where all parties are better off. Yet, so many of the old guard view the industry as a zero sum game — which is that if someone else is making a dollar, it’s a dollar I’ve lost. So the idea that someone could get something for free is viewed as a “loss” even if, in the long run, it brings back $10 dollars (or more). So, because of that view, some have always treated the market as a competition to get the very last dollar, and that doesn’t make for a very “united” front between artists, the industry and fans. Instead, you get all grabbing for scraps, even if it means everyone’s worse off.

    I’m very hopeful that a growing generation of folks are beginning to recognize that by working together, these new models actually do benefit everyone — including the fans and the industry — in such a way that everyone is happy with the results, rather than anyone having to pull one extra dollar. It may be idealistic or utopian, but I think it’s possible. It will require a lot more success stories, a lot more examples, a lot more money to be made — and perhaps a few of the “old guard” to retire.

    But it will happen, at least to a certain extent. There will never be perfect bliss, of course. But the resulting industry can be a lot more aligned where everyone benefits when certain things happen.

    Aside from Techdirt, where are the most important discussions about the changing music industry taking place?

    Hmm. That’s a good question. I think they’re happening all over the place. Hypebot is a great blog. Music Ally. I actually think that Wired and News.com have some of the better discussions on these issues as well.

    Mike’s opinions on technology, law, economics and entertainment are published daily on Techdirt.com. Contact Mike via Techdirt.com or Twitter.

  • A Conversation With Stu Watters, Australian Independent Record Labels Association General Manager

    Stu Watters - in the fleshThis is my first interview on behalf of One Movement Word, which is the official blog of the One Movement For Music  (OMFM) Perth festival and conference. In the lead-up to the October 2009 event, I’ll be speaking with a range of OMFM artists, speakers and music industry figures, and publishing the full transcripts on here.

    Stu Watters is General Manager of the Australian Independent Record Labels Association (AIR). After representing AIR for five years, he recently announced his depature from the organisation. I caught up with Stu before he heads to Brisbane to launch a new video production and licensing venture in July 2009. I came across former FasterLouder editor Cec Busby’s 2007 interview while researching, and used one of Stu’s responses during that conversation for my first question.

    Music fan to music fan: how have your listening habits changed since you first saw Dire Straits as a young tacker?

    It’d have been hard for me to avoid Dire Straits at that age, given that there were only a few outlets and media opportunities available to artists. And those guys just had access to all of it, and there was no escaping it.

    These days, it’s a very different ballgame: obviously at that age, I was very open to listening, and becoming a fan of whatever was put in front of me, whereas these days I’ve certainly developed a different palate. But I also explore and discover music in all the ways that are available to me. I have to say that there’s a lot of music that I fall in and out of love with very quickly, because something else comes along, which didn’t happen as much when I was younger.

    I would say that it’s harder to hold on to some of the music in the same way that I’d used to, in that I’d just flog stuff to death. My wife would argue that I still do, but I don’t reckon I do it anywhere near the same extent that I used to, because I’ve just got so many options that I’m exposed to on a regular basis. (The Twitter tool) Blip.FM has ruined my life this week, because all of a sudden I’ve got a whole bunch of new music that I have to listen to!

    It’s so much easier these days to get exposed to a lot more music. It’s very important to define filters that you can trust – people who you can look to, and like what they’re listening to – and that’s why I like software that can ‘plug and stream’. It’s a shame that (online radio streaming app) Pandora isn’t accessible here (in Australia) any more, because that was a really fantastic service. I could punch in something that I really liked, and it would give me stuff that I’d never heard of, but I knew that I’d like it.

    You know better than anyone in the industry that acts can come and go. I find that due to the sheer volume of music available online, it’s difficult for artists to get noticed – to be heard above the crowd, so to speak. If you were starting a band today, how would you go about getting heard?

    Eddy Current Suppression Ring. Dude in the back with the beer is loving it.As a band who wants to get exposure, you’re going to have to focus on the core outlets, which I think are still very much around community and commercial radio. I don’t think that that’s going to change for a long time. There’s certainly a greater opportunity for artists to create videos without focusing on the goal of television exposure, although that may happen naturally. Having a strategy built around covering online bases such as MySpace and YouTube is important, but I think it’s still absolutely critical that you have a very, very strong live performance that creates an amazing audience.

    Bands like Eddy Current Suppression Ring are testament to that idea: it’s a show that you go to, and you take it away with you when you leave. They sell phenomenal amounts of records (at each show), and they’ve done fuck-all in terms of production. I was lucky enough to go to the Melbourne Zoo show that they did recently, where 3,500 people turned up, purely because they wanted to see this band put on a great live show. And I still think that’s absolutely critical, irrespective of any of the changes that’ve occurred to the environment in which we distribute music.

    That live experience, that tangible, tactile thing, is still critical to the whole experience.

    AIR works with a variety of digital music services and distributors. There’s quite a few on the market – iTunes, Tunecore, and CDBaby, for example. Which of these offer among the best return on investment?

    You’ve got to identify what each one is trying to achieve. iTunes and Bigpond are retailers: Tunecore, IODA, The Orchard and so forth are all aggregators and distributors, and then you’ve got the relationship directly with the physical distributors. I think the dynamics have changed dramatically, and it would certainly appear that for a number of services – digital aggregator models which have been running off of percentages – the dynamic has changed in a huge way, in that they played a ‘gatekeeper’ role for a number of years, and I think that’s been broken down a lot.

    The Tunecore model, where they’re working off of the upfront, ‘flat fee’, is changing the dynamic considerably. And when you’ve got owners of content in the market who’ve licensed the content through a third party to a licensee, they’ve gone into those agreements at a time when there wasn’t a solution. It’s now very simple for the owners of the content – the licensors – to go directly to the licensees and offer the product. In the past, a digital delivery platform didn’t exist to enable that relationship; now, it’s very easy.

    In terms of value for money, there’s been a number of middle-men that’ve been cut out of the picture. At the bigger end of town – and by that, I mean even the big indie labels who’re still small players on a larger scale – they’re now able to be in a position where they can supply the content to the consumer directly.

    I don’t believe there’s a particular service that’s the ‘best’ value for money; the best value is the direct relationship between those two business entities. In terms of small, independent artists, services like Tunecore which offer ‘flat fee’-based pricing are probably turning out to be a better deal for a lot of companies that don’t have the leverage that others do.

    You mentioned that middle-men have been cut out of the industry. Do you think that’s for the better?

    Certainly. If you’re an artist and you’re dealing with a record label, there’s a percentage of your overall revenue that you’re losing there. If that record label is dealing with a distributor, then there’s another percentage. If that distributor doesn’t have a relationship with an online retailer, such as iTunes, Bigpond or Amazon MP3, they’ll have to use an aggregator, so there’s another percentage that the artist isn’t seeing. It’s just like continually slicing an ever-diminishing pie. The less steps there are in that equation to reach the consumer, the better off the artist will be financially. The end goal of most artists is to reach as many people as you can with your music; it’s not necessarily about making money, but reaching an audience has always been important.

    The Middle East's debut EP

    Do you believe radio airplay is still important for emerging acts in Australia?

    Absolutely. Let me give you an example – The Middle East. A colleague of mine heard them on Triple R, a community radio station, before they were played anywhere else.

    Through that, we found the band, and Triple J discovered them soon after. Their music’s awesome, and the radio airplay has created a following for them.

    I’m a massive supporter of community radio in this country, and it’s not until you visit other countries that you realise that they don’t have public radio in the same way that we have with Triple J – although, the UK has six BBC stations. We have a really strong radio culture in Australia, and I think it plays an extremely important role. And you can’t deny the impact that commercial radio airplay has on breaking artists. I don’t think it’s the ‘be all and end all’, but certainly, if an artist gets to the level where they can create enough momentum on commercial radio, there are usually excellent dividends to be paid as a result.

    It’s interesting that you mentioned The Middle East, because their release (‘The Recordings Of The Middle East’ EP) is my favourite of 2009. It’s amazing.

    Yeah, it’s killing me. I have a lot of faith in their artistic ability, to become an international act. It’s one of those records that my wife has hidden from me. I’m not allowed to play it any more! That’s a classic example of listeners having the opportunity to discover a band from Townsville, because of the shortened distance between audiences. A band like that 20 years ago, out of Townsville; it’d have taken a hell of a long time before they got to that level of exposure.

    And there’s a danger in that, too: artists who are making really good music, but who are perhaps not quite ready for the impact of their work. And I know that those guys (The Middle East) are getting smashed on every front. Who’s managing them? Who’s doing all the booking? They released the EP through Spunk, but who knows what’ll happen next?

    They’re getting belted as an act, and you wonder whether they’re professionally equipped to deal with it. There’s a real upside to the diminishing barriers to access with this stuff, but there can also be an impact that’s not always positive. I don’t think it’ll be negative in this case, but it’s not always positive in terms of – is the band ready for that level of attention? And if they aren’t what are the consequences of them not capitalising?

    For bands looking for radio airplay, do you think it’s best to start at a community radio level and move up to Triple J, or just shoot for the top?

    94.5FM - srs bsnssIt depends on the content. There’s no ‘one shoe fits all’. Community radio is the most diverse, and offers the most opportunities in terms of exposure. Triple J is more responsive to community radio than ever before – and this is just my view, which Triple J might counter – but I think that the rise of FBI, and online blogging and podcasting communities, have really impacted on what Triple J discovers and starts playing. FBI has made a huge impact in Sydney, given that most of the Triple J team is based in the same city. I’ve seen more of the ‘better’ music generate a profile out of community radio before it’s generating a profile anywhere else.

    So I support the notion that you should service community radio at all costs, and that you should also service, where appropriate, the public radio stations as well, whether it’s Triple J, ABC National, ABC Regional or commercial stations. It just depends on the content, but I think that community radio has the broadest appeal for the majority of Australian content.

    I’ve spoken to artists who feel that being signed to a label is less necessary than ever before, as determined artists can handle their own management, promotion and distribution through the web. What are your thoughts on artists who don’t particularly want to sign to labels?

    That’s fine, if they’re prepared to do all of that. I think that there’s still a place for business relationships to occur between artists and other entities, whether they’re labels, or distributors, or publicists. There certainly needs to be a central point where the act’s affairs are managed, whether that’s done by a manager or in-house. It’s entirely possibly; it’s more possible than it has been before, but I don’t think that’s necessarily an argument for redundancy, to be honest. There are more options available, but there are cases where it just makes sense for people to enter into those relationships.

    I think if it’s all handled in-house, it’s a matter of balancing self-management and writing music. I mean, if The Middle East are getting tied up in all their own affairs and they’re not writing any new music, then it’s to the detriment to the quality of their act.

    Exactly. But having seen them just the other week, and after hearing a whole bunch of new material, it warmed my cockles to know that they were doing something other than just the five tracks on the EP.

    How does AIR help indie artists who aren’t signed to indie labels, and who don’t intend to?

    About 25-30% of our indies are unsigned artists. We have a whole range of opportunities for those guys, particularly if they want to remain unsigned artists. Through the D-Star MPE program, generally you can’t open an account with those guys unless you’re turning over [a significant] amount of money. So there’s opportunities for acts to deliver their product to a whole range of media, including commercial radio, blogs, public and community radio. We also help out by giving AIR members access to our professional network. They can call us up and ask questions directly. I’ve fielded three calls today from artists who have business questions that they need answered.

    We have a bunch of members-only stuff in the back end of the website, which is probably more relevant to self-releasing independent artists, or small-to-medium independent labels. It’s a very open environment in the independent sector, and for an independent artist to be able to get onto the phone to an owner of a record label and get advice from them, that’s certainly an open part of AIR’s network.

    A change of topic. This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot, as I’m in the middle of writing a series of columns for The Music Network on this topic. Why do you think that the industry continues to push artists toward releasing albums?

    Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent ReznorI’m not sure if it’s the industry that’s pushing artists to releasing albums, or whether it’s more the artists holding on to the idea. Certainly, if you take Radiohead as a case in point, the album was very much a part of their philosophy. The ‘In Rainbows‘ release had very little to do with the consumer. I don’t think it’s the labels continuing the album trend, per se; holistically, it’s the industry that’s focussed on albums, including the artists. They generally want to do a body of work. It’s kind of like a visual artist: they don’t just exhibit one piece at a time, they’ll showcase a collection of pieces that they’ve been working on over a period of time. The idea of the album appeals to the artist, and it appeals to the consumer.

    I think for our sector, at an industry level, there’s now very much a single-track culture. It’s been reinvigorated with digital distribution. I don’t necessarily buy the argument that it’s the labels who’re keeping the album alive, I’d say that the artists are equally, if not more, influential in the idea of the album. But I like the idea that artists like Nine Inch Nails [pictured right] and Iron & Wine are repositioning their thinking around their music releases. This idea of “release an album every three years” has largely gone, and I think that acts are paying more attention directly to their fanbase. There’s a real necessity these days to ‘plug in’ to your audience on a regular basis, to keep the fans happy. Offer them something free, and unique.

    I read about AIR’s partnership with JB Seed for the ‘Independent Times‘ panel discussion at the One Movement For Music conference. The plan to sponsor ten previous JB Seed management workshop attendees is interesting. How do you think the role of the artist manager has changed during your time in the industry?

    I think there’s a distinct lack of manager development in Australia. That requires addressing, and I think that The JB Seed program has gone a long way to doing so, particularly for self-managed artists, as John Butler was in the past. He managed himself for a number of years, and worked it out himself; he now has a management partner relationship with (Jarrah Records owner) Phil Stevens, who is his manager, for all intents and purposes. I think there’s now a much greater incidence of artists working with their managers, than artists being led by the managers. I think that’s an important distinction to make, and that’s changed relatively recently.

    Managers also need to be across a lot more aspects of the industry. There are many managers these days who’re also – by virtue of their role – required to manage the recording, and virtually embody the manager of the artists’ record label, in many ways.

    Australian Independent Record Label Association logo

    I just want to clarify that AIR’s partnership with One Movement and The JB Seed. We’re supporting what The JB Seed are doing, but they’re the guys who’re sponsoring those ten managers to come in for the discussion. AIR are actually developing the ‘Independent Times’ program, which is where the managers will plug into. I just wanted to be clear that One Movement and JB Seed are the entities who’re sponsoring that initiative, not AIR! We work very closely with The JB Seed. We’ve worked with every management workshop that they’ve done, in terms of content and delivery. AIR’s relationship with One Movement is purely with delivering the ‘Independent Times’ program for that conference.

    You’ve been involved with a lot of music conferences over your time, with both (Brisbane-based music industry development association) QMusic and AIR. How do you feel that One Movement is shaping up?

    It’s really interesting. They’ve stated a strong focus for the conference and festival; their approach is probably the only music industry conference in Australia that revolves around a festival, in that the One Movement Festival is a two-day event. And I think that carries with it an immense degree of weight, particularly when you look at the partners of (Sunset Events founder, David) Chitty and (concert promoter, Michael) Chugg. Their influence adds a whole different dimension to the conference dynamic. People like the idea of going to Perth for a big conference – because it’s a fucking long way to go, you better have a really good reason to go there!

    For sure. I’m excited about the conference, but I’m more excited about making One Movement Word into a damn good festival blog. Interviews like this will greatly assist toward that end. Thanks for your time, Stu!

    Stu Watters is leaving AIR in July 2009 to pursue a new video production and licensing venture in Brisbane called Morph TV Productions. Catch him on Twitter or via email.

  • ‘RiP: A Remix Manifesto’ Brisbane Screening and Music Industry Panel Discussion

    RiP: A Remix Manifesto posterI went to a screening of ‘RiP: A Remix Manifesto‘ last night, along with around sixty others. The audience included local promoters, distributors, musicians, writers and university students. Via nfb.ca:

    In RiP: A Remix Manifesto, Web activist and filmmaker Brett Gaylor explores issues of copyright in the information age, mashing up the media landscape of the 20th century and shattering the wall between users and producers.i

    The film’s central protagonist is Girl Talk, a mash-up musician topping the charts with his sample-based songs. But is Girl Talk a paragon of people power or the Pied Piper of piracy? Creative Commons founder, Lawrence Lessig, Brazil’s Minister of Culture Gilberto Gil and pop culture critic Cory Doctorow are also along for the ride.

    A participatory media experiment, from day one, Brett shares his raw footage at opensourcecinema.org, for anyone to remix. This movie-as-mash-up method allows these remixes to become an integral part of the film. With RiP: A remix manifesto, Gaylor and Girl Talk sound an urgent alarm and draw the lines of battle.

    Which side of the ideas war are you on?

    The screening was organised by Phil Tripp, who started The Australasian Music Directory, as well as themusic.com.au and IMMEDIA!. In addition to the film screening, Tripp organised a panel comprised of five Brisbane music authorities to discuss the film, and some of the wider issues that the modern music industry is facing.

    I transcribed the majority of this panel discussion – approximately an hour’s worth – because I want to share their thoughts and opinions with those who weren’t there.

    Some of their comments are valid. Some are misguided. Some are ridiculously outdated. I’m not going to point out which is which, though. That’s up to you.

    Note that this post is quite long – around 8,000 words.  It gets into some very specific topics. I have occasionally edited their words for clarity, and omitted a couple of uninteresting bits. But you should read it to gauge the five speakers’ beliefs about what is happening to the music industry. To save you scrolling up and down, I will repeat each speaker’s title each time they are quoted,  so that you can contrast their opinions against their commercial beliefs.

    Download links for the audio files are at the bottom of this post. Enjoy.

    [Tripp gives an introductory speech before the film starts.]

    Phil Tripp – Managing Partner, IMMEDIA! [pictured right]:

    Phil TrippThe future of music, the way we look at it, is about going overseas. But not giving up your home country. You hear my American accent; I’ve been here 28 years, and I always love to come home to Sydney. And for the set of trips that I’m doing this month, I found a film at South By South West (SXSW) – which is an event in Austin, Texas that I rep for this region – to show throughout Australia. We decided to show it, not because I’m a benevolent person wanting to educate you, but because I want to give you an idea of where the future of music is going, from one point of view.

    Now, this film is propaganda. It is a film that has been made with a purpose in mind, and a message. And the message is, that when I was a kid, my teacher told me, along with the rest of the class, that “tonight, we want you to go home to your parents and we want you to cut out little pictures, and things from magazines, and bring them in tomorrow, and we’re gonna take out the paste pots, and we’re gonna glue them all down on paper, and we’re gonna put them out on the wall outside, and we’re gonna make what’s called a collage”.

    Little did she know that that was a violation of copyright. Taking other people’s images and mixing them into a ‘mash-up’ of visuals. Back then it didn’t matter. Now, you people have tools that go far beyond scissors and paste pots. You have the tools to take music and turn it into a whole new form of art. And that’s great. Except I’m a commercial bastard. I have intellectual property – the Music Directory, and our site themusic.com.au – and if anybody wants to take my intellectual property, which is basically a phone book, and put it on their website because they’re believe it’s free because it’s on the internet, they will get a hot testy letter from me, with the legal advice that I may take their house, or whatever property they have.

    So I’m not exactly the kind of guy who believes that people should take intellectual property and steal it, and use it, and make money from it. The cool thing about this film is that it talks about somebody who has done just that, but he’s done it as art. But there came a point at which it crossed over into commerce. When I found out about this film at SXSW, I thought this would be a great introduction to the conference we’re doing in August…

    [Tripp describes his conference.]

    Phil Tripp – Managing Partner, IMMEDIA!:

    I think this is the most exciting time for you people to be in the music business, because although the recording industry has gone to shit, the music business is actually doing pretty well. Especially for the live side of music, or new revenue streams though mobile phone companies, or through internet sites, and also through the future of what will evolve.

    Anyway, I hope you enjoy the film tonight. I hope it makes you think. I hope you realise that there is the commerce of music, and there is the art of music. And the two don’t necessarily mix. Unless you’re going to make money and also share the money you make with the people that actually created it originally.

    [The film plays. Tripp then introduces the panel speakers.]

    Paul Paoliello – CEO, Mercury Mobility
    Rick Chazan – Manager, The Boat People
    Lars Brandle – Australasian Editor, Billboard Magazine
    Steve Bell – Editor, Time Off

    [The panel discussion begins.]

    [Tripp describes local initiatives to help Australian artists export their work nationally and overseas.]

    Phil Tripp – Managing Partner, IMMEDIA!:

    [...]There’s another group called Sounds Australia, which this year helped Australian artists so that they were able to afford to attend SXSW and The Great Escape [Andrew's note: Sounds Australia also appears to be run by Tripp.]. And there’s AusTrade, the Australian Trade Commission, which has been one of the greatest evangelists for Australian music from our Government in a long time. The Australia Council [For The Arts] has just this year got on board, after supporting the works of dead composers for many years, and forms of music called ‘opera’, ‘classical’ and ‘symphonic’.

    This year, it’s cool to be contemporary. They have put considerable money behind the need to take Australian artists to the world. Because, let’s face it, kids: you’re not gonna ‘make it’ here. You’re not gonna make enough money in this country, at this point, to actually have a living. So you need to have an export strategy.

    [The panellists discuss their thoughts and opinions on the film. I didn't transcribe this bit.]

    Phil Tripp – Managing Partner, IMMEDIA!:

    Rick, I want you to tell us – because you have a relatively successful band here, out of Brisbane – have you made any money from mobile music? And if so, how?

    Rick Chazan – Manager, The Boat People [pictured right]:

    rick_chazanAs far as music mobile for The Boat People is concerned, it’s been an area which we really haven’t pursued. It’s one of those things that’s on the radar; everybody’s saying that this is the way in which it’s going to take over, and that everyone is going to be consuming music through their mobile phone. We’re well aware of that, but my understanding is that it’s very much a media that’s beginning, and as Paul described, it’s going to be dominated by what’s in the charts. Our music is distributed through Shock, and so Shock is working with different distributors who will likely make our music available on mobile platforms. But our mobile music income at this stage is negligible. And I’m not sure whether it will become relevant for us.

    Phil Tripp – Managing Partner, IMMEDIA!:

    Okay, what about iTunes?

    Rick Chazan – Manager, The Boat People:

    We work as an independent band with IODA, who is an aggregator for digital music. So our music is distributed by them internationally. In Australia, it’s through Shock. In terms of digital sales, our experience is that 80-90% of our digital sales are through iTunes. We’re on Napster and Rhapsody and all the different sites that exist, but iTunes is where the vast majority of sales come through. Digital is fantastic: it means that you’re very mobile, very agile, and it means that the band can be everywhere at once in the world very quickly. But it’s really the same game as it always was: “how do you sell records?” “How you sell digital?” And you need to be able to promote [the product]. Our sales internationally have happened through traditional means; namely, radio. In the US, we’ve had a good run with radio – we’re currently on about 20 stations, so we’ve had a lot of support – and when that happened, our digital sales on iTunes spiked considerably, and they’ve been growing since.

    Phil Tripp – Managing Partner, IMMEDIA!:

    What about YouTube?

    Rick Chazan – Manager, The Boat People:

    This is an area which is very close to my heart, because I think there’s such a great opportunity for bands to have an incredible reach by doing something very inexpensively. The Boat People tried to do something smart, and it didn’t quite work (laughs) We created a film clip for Awkward Orchid Orchard, where within the clip, there are clues for 54 band names, from The Beatles, to The Shins, to The Boat People. So we thought this’d be a fun game for any music nerd, and they’d share it with their friends. And it worked to some degree – we’ve had 20,000 hits, whereas our previous clip had about 5,000 – so it’s kind of worked.

    But there’s a Brisbane band called Blame Ringo, who’re pretty unknown. The band had an idea to shoot a film clip, where they got a friend to go to Abbey Road and shoot at the pedestrian crossing, to capture how people mimic The Beatles album cover. They cut a few pieces out of that and created a clip from their three hours of footage, and it put it up on YouTube using a few Beatles keywords, and in a few weeks they got, I think, around half a million hits. They had an interview on Weekend Sunrise, and they got a call from a US national TV show. This is a band that had absolutely nothing going on! This is staggering. YouTube is a fascinating tool, which if people are creative and thinking, they can use to give themselves a real ‘leg up’.

    Lars Brandle – Australasian Editor, Billboard Magazine [pictured right]:

    lars_brandleThat’s just making me think; going back to the movie, there was that comment about how the future of music will be less creative, because of the locks that are being put on copyright. But here’s this band, Blame Ringo, who have just shown us that if you’ve got a good idea, and if you can follow it through, and make it happen on a world stage. The technology’s in your hands. You don’t have to grab someone else’s inspiration, and rework that; if you’ve got an idea in your head, then you’ve got the tools to make it happen. So I don’t agree with that comment, that ‘the future will be less creative’. I think that’s wrong.

    Phil Tripp – Managing Partner, IMMEDIA!:

    Rick, how has your band been ripped off digitally? Have you got any stories of how you’ve discovered some copyright infringement?

    Rick Chazan – Manager, The Boat People:

    No, but we’re looking forward to when it happens (laughs) Nothing’s really happened like that for us, at this stage. I don’t think we’re quite famous enough to be ripped off at this particular point.

    Phil Tripp – Managing Partner, IMMEDIA!:

    You don’t have to be famous to be ripped off. You know what happened to me? Our music directory is online, and some people will subscribe to it and then they’ll pull down all the information. And we’ll find it, because we have little bots that search. We get people all the time who take our information and put it up on their website, like they’re creating a new music directory and giving it away for free. Man, I have had so much fun with them. There is a publisher named Deke Miskin who has a big house on the harbour. And Deke had some stupid intern take my information and put it in another magazine. We found it on the newsstand; I called him and said “Deke, guess what? It’s settlement time. Violation of copyright. You are now on notice. Do you want to go to court? Would you like me to shame you in the Sunday papers?” And rather than do that, Deke, being the man of honour that he was, paid me a whole bunch of money to shut the eff up. And then he withdrew the title from circulation. It was one of those little “how to get into the music business” mini-magazines, for suckers, for $6.95.

    Now, you’re in the magazine business, Steve. You’re in the new age of finding out that the print medium is being shot to shit, while the internet has everything for free. However, I must say that I do a lot of work with Street Press Australia; they’re one of our conference sponsors. What I find interesting is when Leigh Treweek [of Street Press Australia] spoke for this event in Perth and Melbourne, he talked about the whole idea of branding, and how his publications and street press in general is not going away anytime soon. He also gave some very interesting stories of how bands become brands. How do you see the internet affecting you, as a street press publication, and what are some of the more innovative ways that musicians can use your medium to push themselves ahead?

    Steve Bell – Editor, Time Off [pictured right]:

    Steve BellWell, there’s no doubt that the dissemination of information is definitely changing. We’d be fools to not realise that. We haven’t rushed into a web presence. I mean, we’ve got websites and stuff, but they’re just sort of token for the moment. We’re trying to work out the best model for going forward, and what it’s going to entail. We’ve spoken to a lot of people, we’ve actually hooked up some meetings with Craig Treweek, Leigh’s brother, this week in Sydney with some friends of mine who’ve got some really interesting ideas on the future of the web. It’s moving so fast; it’s very difficult to really work out. There’s no black or white.

    So we are very aware of it, but we’re sort of playing it by ear, because there’s no certainty as to the future. But we do realise that all the interviews Time Off has done are a resource. And by just letting them go each week, and not accumulating them into some kind of archive, we are, down the track, burning ourselves. We should be putting this together and using it as the resource that it is. At the moment we’re not; it’s just going into the paper each week, and becoming landfill, or whatever happens to it. We are addressing it, but it’s still in the infancy stages, I guess you’d say! (laughs)

    In terms of bands using us, probably the first thing that comes to mind is Savage Garden meeting through our classifieds, so there’s still that old sort of model. Don’t blame us for that! But the street press is just a different form of exposure. It’s one of many that you use. I can’t think of any real examples.

    Phil Tripp – Managing Partner, IMMEDIA!:

    What about brands using street press to push themselves forward to another level, like Chupa-Chups, for example, going onto MySpace? What sort of brands have done anything innovative with you in the last year that you can think of, and use as an example?

    Steve Bell – Editor, Time Off:

    Because it didn’t work very well, I can’t think of the company, but there was a media company that put a DVD on the front of an issue, who paid quite a bit of money to.. you know, often there’s things like that. Companies will use us as a way of disseminating their product, or samples, just because of our distribution channels. But that’s not really using our brand as such, it’s more using our pickup at various locations. Do you have anything in mind? I’m struggling to think of anything.

    [Tripp describes one of his magazines, Urban Animal, to the audience.]

    Phil Tripp – Managing Partner, IMMEDIA!:

    Lars, where do you see the future of the music industry here in Australia, and overseas?

    Lars Brandle – Australasian Editor, Billboard Magazine:

    Well, it’s the million dollar question, isn’t it? As a kind of segue to what you were just saying about the pet industry, and how “you can’t download dog food”; the one really, really strong point of the music industry in the last couple of years has been the live business. The reason why the live business is so hot is because people love to see bands, and you can’t steal a live performance. Unless you dig a hole under the fence at a concert, you can’t actually rip it off. So live performance has been booming. It’s absolutely been soaring in recent years. The future of the record industry, now, we are seeing the major record labels trying their hand at getting into the live business, because they realise, “hey, we’re kind of screwed here”. Revenues in the last ten years have dropped a lot, so to safeguard their future, the big labels are looking at investing in companies involved in live music. Or going out alone.

    In a way it’s desperate, because the record companies don’t have expertise in the live music business. There’s a lot of ‘shyster’-ing that goes on in the live business, and the record labels don’t really know this. They don’t know that sector of business so well. We’re going to see a lot of jostling in that space over the next couple of years.

    Sony Music are the first of the four Australian majors that have declared their attention to have a go; they’ve created a touring division. They’re co-promoting Simon & Garfunkel. Huge tour; there’ll be a lot of money on the table. If tickets don’t sell out for this, I’m sure that Sony Music will lose a lot of money. They will get their fingers burned, because it’s a tough business and they’re playing with some real sharks. Those Simon & Garfunkel world tour dates have only been announced in Australia so far, so the world will be watching here first.

    To date, the tickets haven’t sold out. We’re in tough economic times. No-one really knows if they want to see Simon & Garfunkel, either, or whether they can still ‘cut it’. It’s really interesting. From a journalist’s point of view, I’m interested to see how this goes, because for me, that is the obvious route that record companies will take – entering the live business – because live is hot.

    Digital.. everyone’s been talking about digital for ten years. Of course, we saw how the RIAA clamped down stupidly on Americans, in particular, but the international recording industry have done the same thing in issuing lawsuits against downloaders. It was a bone-headed thing to do, but they were desperate to get a handle on control of the dissemination of music. Now, the record labels are so far behind the game, they have to catch up. They’re also getting into bed with technology firms, and they have to. They have to get wise to the digital environment, because that certainly is the way forward.

    We’re not there yet. Digital music in Australia accounts for, I think, about fifteen percent of album sales, so it’s really ‘small beer’. Those headlines you read about “CDs are finished, it’s all about digital” – that’s not right. We’re still looking at 85% of record sales in Australia comprising CDs; although it’ll ebb away in time, we don’t know when. In a nutshell – and I’ve rambled on – the future is certainly going to be a strong live business. We don’t know if it’s peaked yet, and I suppose that it hasn’t. And digital will be the way forward, but it’s not here yet. But the record labels have a lot to learn.

    Phil Tripp – Managing Partner, IMMEDIA!:

    Two comments. Gregg Donovan, who is the manager of Airbourne, Josh Pyke, Grinspoon and a few other bands, talked at our seminar in Sydney about how he had been approached by major multinational record companies who wanted to do ‘360 deals‘ with some of his artists. For those of you who don’t know what that is, a 360 deal is where a record company wants to act as the manager, the touring promoter, the agent, the merchandiser, the publisher; essentially, everything.

    And Gregg went to them and say, “okay, I’ll tell you what”, to this American record company. “Let me see your t-shirts. Where are your t-shirts? You manufacture t-shirts? You’re a merchandising company? Take me to your t-shirt factory.” And of course, they couldn’t, so he said “no deal there”. And then he asked, “you have management? You have a management company within the label?” And they replied, “oh, no, but we’re getting it…” Gregg said, “no”. What happened here was Sony, aside from setting up a touring division, they also bought half of that doofus from Australian Idol, Paul Caplice [Andrew's note: I can't find this name online. Maybe I can't spell it.] and David Champion, who I call “tweedle-dumb” and “tweedle-dumber”. They bought into this, and they found out that it’s a very expensive job that you have ahead of you, if you have incompetence running the management side of a record company. It’s actually very funny to watch from the outside.

    And I’ll make one more comment on what you said, Lars. Yes, digital is only fifteen, maybe twenty percent of revenue in our industry, but every download sale is a sale without physical product. Most albums print out a thousand for every hundred they sell. And it takes about ten or twelve failures for one success. So although physical product is selling more, it’s also destroying more. It’s being given away, it’s been put into landfill et cetera, because you can only buy it in a record store eight hours a day. With digital, you can buy it 24/7. Steve, tell us, where do you think it’s going?

    Steve Bell – Editor, Time Off:

    I guess it ties in with what you were saying about 360 deals. For the last ten or so years, most bands have changed the way they’ve approached revenue streams. I used to run TSP, the t-shirt printers, [who are] one of the biggest merch companies in Australia. We used to represent big overseas touring bands – Green Day, Foo Fighters, Chili Peppers, Nine Inch Nails, Tool, what have you. The amount of money that we’d make out of any given show out at Boondall (Brisbane’s Entertainment Centre), and I’d see the figures for the whole Australian tours, while knowing the costs of this stuff, it was quite remarkable. There was a fad of punk kids wanting to buy those fuzzy wristbands, which were selling for around $15 at shows, and I think if you make them in bulk they cost around 8 cents per unit.

    So bands who are focussing on touring, and merchandising, and the different revenues that come with that are changing their approach to recorded music. Instead of being a cash cow itself, it’s become a way of drawing attention to the band and their different revenue streams. I mean, they still want to make money from it, of course. But I think the one certainty is that there’s always going to be a market for music. People still want to create, and there’s obviously all of us here tonight as music fans. It’s just going to be a matter of how it’s disseminated, and how it’s received. I think it’s exciting, really, that all these new models are out there, and bands are discovering that they don’t need to spend so much money to make great music. I still interview a lot of bands, though, and more often than not, they’re not spending five months in a studio, they’re doing the bulk of it at home. Costs are going down, and there’s going to be a lot of changes down the track, but I think it’s a really exciting time. Music’s going to flourish, despite what the nay-sayers say.

    Rick Chazan – Manager, The Boat People:

    The future of music.. I don’t know, of course. But as a manager trying to help artists to flourish and survive in their careers, it’s quite true that the recording income from CD and digital sales are one or two income streams, but there’s maybe 15 or 20 income streams that flow from the recording. So how you look at it commercially is an interesting question. There is no need to despair in that sense: it’s always been tough, it’s still tough and it will be tough to make a sustainable career as an artist, but the fact that there’s a decrease in recording income shouldn’t be such a big problem.

    One of the opportunities which is here now is, because of the internet, and MySpace, and Facebook et cetera, is the ability to create communities around your band. And this suits some bands better than others, but I think it’s worth thinking about. A great example is a Brisbane band called The Red Paintings, who I’m sure you all know. One of the strong things about the band, outside of the music, is that Trash, the band leader, has a very defined, strong philosophy of what the entire act is about. And I think that’s very interesting. He understands it so well that when he talks to you, you’ll get it when speaking with him for two minutes. I spoke to him briefly on a telephone call and he explained to me that, with his live shows, the philosophy is that it’s about being able to express yourself creatively and freely, without hurting anybody. So that’s the essence behind his whole live show. When you go to a Red Paintings show, you’re allowed to paint, and have a lot of fun, and do things that you’re not allowed to do normally, but you can do it at a Red Paintings show.

    Now, with that, he’s actually developed a community of people that subscribe to more than just the music. They subscribe to this philosophy that he’s espousing. I don’t know if you know this, but for his last record, he put out to his fans that if they put in $40, they’d get their name on the CD. So a thousand people theoretically put in $40, and he raised $40,000 to fund his own CD independently through that. [Andrew's note: individuum's Academy Of Dreams sponsored $25,000 of the $40,000 total]. I think that’s just something to think about: you [the musician] have the ability to create a community.

    The other thing that’s interesting is that the notion of status in our society is changing a lot. Status symbols used to be – I read this is a Sunday Mail article, so I don’t know how great of a reference it is – it used to be that if you had a gold Rolex watch, or a great house, that was a status that people would care about, that you’d show off to your friends. Now I think what’s happening is that status is more about the experiences that you have, and the ones that you can talk about. So if you went on a spaceship to the moon to have a party with U2, that would be something that would impress your friends, if you see what I mean.

    I think that what’s happening with festivals, why they’re succeeding so much, is that it’s not just about the music, it’s because you’ve got to tell your mates that you went to Big Day Out, or you went to Splendour [In The Grass]. It’s like a badge of honour. I think the other thing to keep thinking about is how you can create something that gives people that sense of good feeling that they experience.

    Phil Tripp – Managing Partner, IMMEDIA!:

    Please don’t tell me that you think the future is frickin’ Twitter. Paul, where do you see the future of music going?

    Paul Paoliello – CEO, Mercury Mobility [pictured right]:

    Paul PaolielloObviously, the barrier to entry to the music industry these days is a lot lower due to technology. Anybody can get into the business, but the bottom line is still around creativity. You cut through in this industry via your creativity. If you have something special musically, it’s going to cut through, but also in terms of reaching your fans; these days, it is about getting creative around building those communities, as the other guys have been saying. So the approach to this business, or career that you take, or this art form that you’ve embraced around music – it is more of a business, and you have to embrace it. Because it is so complex.

    The exciting thing is that you can take a more ‘do it yourself’ approach with music. There are many tools out there that enable you to create music, and to connect with a fanbase. And to monetise your music, whether it is, as Rick said, coming up with an interesting concept to get your fans to help you fund an album, build an album, sell a download, build a mobile community, or whether you want to get your music on iTunes. There is no barrier to entry to getting a sales channel for your music, these days, but it really does come down to being a lot more savvy around the music industry, and how to build a career around it. And as you go, to build up as much leverage as you can around your intellectual property – your music and all the things associated around it – and obviously, the multiple revenue streams that you are driving from your music. Whether it’s your recordings, or your t-shirts, your whatever; the more leverage you have, I guess that becomes the enabler for your future relationships with the broader industry. And that’s when the major record companies come along, and they start knocking on your door, and you’re in a stronger position to decide whether you want to work with them or not.

    These days, they [major labels] are really the bank that you need to make a big hit bigger, or a big business bigger. As the guys were saying, the major record companies are trying to keep themselves afloat, so they are trying to grab hold of what everybody’s calling the 360 elements of the industry. But they don’t necessarily have the skill set, or they, like everybody else, try to get fewer people to do more work, with less skills. So it becomes a lot tougher. But if you are driving those revenue streams, and if you are in a lead position, then you are in a much stronger position to determine whether that relationship works for you, on a 360 basis. Or whether it is only 270, or 90, or 10 [degrees].

    And I guess, having left the music industry in its tradition form and gone into mobile, my feeling was that getting into digital, I needed to build my skill set around this ‘brave new world’ that digital and mobile is becoming. In the last couple of years, as Lars was saying, it really is the tip of the iceberg. As Lars was saying, it hasn’t matured in any way, shape or form. Digital is very much driven by iTunes. Mobile is very much driven by the iPhone. And with the new application landscape, it is driving what mobile is essentially going to become. And that’s the exciting part. That access to music on-the-go, and having a device that is going to be all things to you.

    Phil Tripp – Managing Partner, IMMEDIA!:

    Okay, I’ve got to tell you that the future of music will have a lot to do with mobile handset manufacturers. I’d like to share my vision on the future of music with you, from an old fart who’s been around in the industry for 38 years. 38 years ago, when I got out of the drug trade – I mean when I got out of the fine stone trade – I was living in a small place in Atlanta, Georgia, on 14th Street, which was about one block away from Piedmont Park. One Sunday, when I woke up at about one o’clock in the afternoon, I heard this great music. I heard a guitar playing like I’d never heard, and two drummers. I walked down to the park, and there they were, in the gazebo: The Allman Brothers Band.

    They were playing every Sunday, live, free, and they were building a music community, at that time. That was almost forty years ago, and they’d been going for two years prior to that. When I was in the States last at SXSW, they did a run of the Beacon Theater in New York. They do it every year, maybe ten shows, over a two week period. And they sell out instantly, because they’ve maintained that community over many years. People believe in them, people who know their brand, wear their t-shirt, buy every single live album they ever do; they buy anything. There’s even a magazine devoted to them, called Hittin’ The Note.

    The future of music is this. I’ve experienced it and I love it. I buy music, I don’t download stuff for free. I don’t want worms, and all that other stuff [Andrew's note: he is referring to viruses]. I want either FLAC lossless, or I want 256k downloads. And I’m not going to be getting that from all of my iTunes purchases. I don’t purchase here. I don’t mind saying it: I don’t buy Australian music. Most Australian music is for you people, the younger people. The last Australian band I bought was The Greencards. I have four of their albums. Most of you wouldn’t think of them as Australian music, you’d call it ‘bluegrass’.

    Truth of the matter is, I buy about $5,000 of music each year, and it’s not just iTunes. I would love for you to go home tonight and go to a place called Munck Music [munckmusic.com]. It’s based in the US, and created by a producer and an engineer who believe that if they recorded bands and offered their live music for sale to their fanbase, they could make a lot of money. Especially if like, Little Feat, they have a hundred concerts out there. Bruce Hornsby has about 50; the entire New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival has a couple of a hundred shows by artists up there. The Grateful Dead, and others [do too], including The Allman Brothers Band.

    I’ve purchased probably 20 Allman Brothers concerts, 20 Little Feat concerts, 10 Bruce Hornsby concerts, and you can get them one of three ways. CD: $14 (USD) for a concert, usually three hours’ worth. Secondly: as a 256k download. You can sample the music, you can view the setlist, so you can see and hear what you’re going to get. You can also get it as in the FLAC lossless file format, which means that it’s not ’2 per cent milk’, like MP3s are; it’s more like ‘full-cream milk’. It takes a long time to load, and you better have a big account for it, and a large storage device. However, these bands have made a fortune from selling their own music to their own fanbase. And they also go on cruise ships, and take their fans around to Jamaica, or up and down the Mexican coast, or through the Caribbean, doing nothing but cruise ship shows, full of fans.

    The other place you’ve got to go is called Moogis [moogis.com]. It was started by The Allman Brothers’ drummer, Butch Trucks, who had an idea that when technology and downloads could meet the need for video and audio to be compressed reasonably, and give high quality, then that would be the time for a band to be able to sell a subscription to their six months of concerts, for users to pay $100 to see that show as much as they want. With backstage footage, various camera angles, and the full concert, in high definition, and with high quality audio. So Butch and the band started selling that, and I don’t know how much they’ve sold, but it’s worked for them. They’ve done extremely well.

    But to me, and you, the future of music is being able to create a brand with your band. Create an audience, and keep them as a community. Don’t ever lose that community you have ‘back home’, just because you want to go overseas and make it rich. The day you lose that is when you lose your career. [The future is] Selling your music directly to your community in any form you can, and especially if you’ve got a great song, selling it to them in ten different ways. Extended ways, mixed ways, whatever.

    The future of music is going to be about you knowing the business of music, too. Because without the business and the understanding of copyright, commerce, and a lot of other issues, you’re not going to be able to succeed. So I suggest that you line my pockets by coming to my conference, in August, because my future of music is dependent on you, too.

    The future of music of music for you [the audience] is this: get a job. Work with people who inspire you, and pay you fairly. And can give you the opportunity to do things. Don’t necessarily work for free, but ask lots of questions, take lots of notes. Watch, observe, and above all, be honest.

    What we want to do now, because you’ve been such a great audience, we want to answer any question you’ve got about the music business, or anything else you’ve got.

    Paul Paoliello – CEO, Mercury Mobility:

    Phil, just one thing. Google ‘Trent Reznor‘, because there was a case study that was done earlier this year at Midem, the music conference at Cannes that they have each year. They studied Reznor, who basically decided to revive his career, and looked at the whole digital model, and did a combination of offering his albums for free, offering limited editions, box sets, digital versions, hiding USB sticks at concerts, special versions hidden in storage drains as a treasure hunt based off his website. It’s a really interesting case study who is interested in trying to enable their fans, and keep their fanbase loyal, and building around that model.

    Phil Tripp – Managing Partner, IMMEDIA!:

    Music should always be about discovery. Questions, please.

    [Audience Q&A section commences. It comprises four questions and is fifteen minutes in duration.]

    Question 1: Just on Trent Reznor – if you look up a Digg interview with him, he talks about his entire business model, and it’s fascinating. My question is regards to copyright law: what do you think the future is going to be? How are copyright owners going to enforce their copyright? Will it go more toward the Creative Commons?

    Phil Tripp – Managing Partner, IMMEDIA!:

    They can take my copyright pen out of my dead hand, clutching it to the very bitter end. I’m gonna fight for copyright. Look, I have intellectual property. It’s boring, but it’s very lucrative, and my intellectual property has nothing to do with songs. I think copyright will continue to evolve, but unfortunately it will evolve very slowly, and far behind the ability for people to steal. Just like they haven’t figured out a way to stop people shoplifting yet, have they. Paul?

    Paul Paoliello – CEO, Mercury Mobility:

    Yeah, I was just going to say the same thing. The minute you open that door, the floodgates open, so they’ll never be able to move with the times. Country by country, it’s going to be different. That’s where a lot of the ISPs are getting frustrated, the Yahoos and Googles of the world, because they’re saying “well, cross-border, we’re trying to do this as a global thing, to try and clear copyright across borders, but we just can’t do it”. It’s still remaining territorial. Some territories are going to be more open to change than others. Here in Australia, they’ve been trying to change the law the for a while, and the cogs are still turning.

    Lars Brandle – Australasian Editor, Billboard Magazine:

    I’ll jump in here. I think that Creative Commons is a wonderful opt-in solution for people who want to allow anyone to use copyright. When the music industry initially shut down Napster, we saw Lars Ulrich speaking on the movie earlier. He made himself an enemy to a lot of people worldwide who wanted to use Napster to disseminate their music. So that a kid in Atlanta could be heard by someone in Peru. There are now platforms which allow you to do that, but I think that Creative Commons underwrites that, and enables people to create that copyright.

    But coming right back, absolutely, I don’t think copyright rules will change any quicker than snail’s pace, but anyone who has a vision and wants to create, should have the right to patent it and receive royalties, at least while they’re walking on this planet.

    Question 2: Do any of you have any concept – because I know it’s variable – just roughly what artists are getting percentage-wise for music downloads? Is there some ballpark figure to get ideas?

    Rick Chazan – Manager, The Boat People:

    If you sell music on iTunes, they’ll take their cut, which is 30%. And then the distributor will take their cut – typically between 20-25%. And then the artist gets the rest, so in the case of an iTunes sale, the artist will receive 70 or 80 cents per song. Which is actually quite good, because there’s nothing physical that’s being created, and you’re getting this invisible sale. The latest statistics show that only 5% of music online is bought, and the other 95% is ‘taken’.

    Lars Brandle – Australasian Editor, Billboard Magazine:

    We also have to look around at other ways of generating alternative revenue streams. There’s a fascinating case going on at the moment with YouTube, the user-generated content platform, and some of the major record labels who’ve nixed any of their content that’s available on YouTube. Warner Music‘s one of them. So we’re looking at transactions on iTunes as one way to make money, but in the years ahead, if your music is being used on these user-generated content platforms, you ought to – in theory – earn a cut of advertising revenue on that platform. This space is changing; there is money to be collected out there, but it gets very confusing, and very complex.

    Paul Paoliello – CEO, Mercury Mobility:

    Just on that, Gavin from Sony BMG often quotes a Justin Timberlake cases. When they brought out his last album, they found about 120 revenue streams for that album, at last count. So from a ringtone to a full track download, to a YouTube revenue stream, to an online radio stream, to a CD sale, and so forth, there was 120 different revenue streams, for that one release. And that was a couple of years ago, so these days, it’s probably even greater.

    Phil Tripp – Managing Partner, IMMEDIA!:

    The other side of the equation is – to answer your question more directly – it depends on how smart or stupid you’re going to be in assigning your music to someone to sell it. We use the term ‘aggregator’; these are people who take your music and place it on a variety of different sale sites. Some of them take a very small amount, such as Tunecore, who charge a flat fee to put the music up; they don’t take a percentage. Whereas others charge large fees and take large percentages, and don’t necessarily always report to you. There’s CDBaby, for example, which has been around for a while, and IODA, and Amphead.. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend the Australian alternative. The Orchard.. I’m ambivalent [toward them]. But the thing is, there’s a lot of people waiting to rip you off, just like there was with the compilation scams of many years ago. “Get yourself on a CD that we send around to all the A&R people, for a fee.” Be very aware that if people are trying to charge you a fee to put your music up on iTunes or wherever, you should very carefully check into them. Fortunately, it’s a lot easier these days to find out.

    Question 3: Something the film didn’t really didn’t cover is the role of the ISPs. I know from conversations that I’ve had with people from APRA, and that sort of thing, that they are trying to negotiate with ISPs to come up with a solution to this. What are your thoughts on the role of the ISPs in Australia?

    Lars Brandle – Australasian Editor, Billboard Magazine:

    We understanding of the argument is that ISPs are the ones who are getting the benefit of all the music being there – people going there [online], and getting free music – and of course the ISPs are getting their subscription. And the value of that subscription is incredibly valuable, given that you can get a whole lot of free music by going online. One solution that’s being offered up is that the ISPs are forced, in some ways, through some legislative creation, to track all of the downloads, including the free ones, and somehow compensate the artists. Similarly to the way APRA does, through the form of either radio or live [performance royalty fees]. This is just one of the possible solutions that are there; whether it will go down that way, is questionable.

    Phil Tripp – Managing Partner, IMMEDIA!:

    APRA is a great organisation that has done an incredible amount for the music industry, from bringing court cases and seeking judgements from tribunals, and increasing the amount of money that is paid to the composers, the songwriters, and their publishers. It’s a shame that the PPCA [Phonographic Performance Company of Australia] and ARIA [Australian Recording Industry Association] haven’t had the vision, the forethought, or the ability to do much more than ‘sweet FA’. As a result, fortunately, composers, songwriters and their publishers get paid. Artists often do not. And one of the interesting points that’s raised about this is that with all that money that was awarded to the record industry on the Kazaa case, the $54 million: artists didn’t see that money, and they won’t ever. One more question.

    Question 4: Okay, just before when you were talking about the royalties, about how artists generally get nothing, and where they’re making their money is through live performance.. why should we really care that we’re downloading their music for free, and giving it to other people? I would not know half of the artists that I know through free downloads, if it wasn’t available to me for free, because I wouldn’t be able to afford to go out to the stores and buy it.

    So in essence, when I’m giving all my free downloads to my friends, and the ‘word of mouth’ thing is working, and we’re all going out to the live performance when they come to town, and there’s more requests for them to play because we’ve had that whole word of mouth.. why should we really care if we’re really giving our money back to our artists anyway? Aren’t we kind of bypassing giving our money to the corporations and the record labels, by not buying their CDs?

    Phil Tripp – Managing Partner, IMMEDIA!:

    I heard it best said that “you may consider yourself to be an auto-enthusiast, because you like fast cars. But when you decide to steal that car, you are a thief.” And it’s not necessarily going to enrich General Motors, Porsche, or whatever, that you decided to steal that car. Now, what you just said made a lot of sense. A lot of people who download music do buy it. They do discover it that way. However, I really don’t believe that people like you are gonna be that generous when it comes to actually paying for things.

    Now, the same people who download music [for free] are the same people who try to get into clubs for free – get on the ‘free list’ – and stand outside the fence at Splendour In The Grass. The same sort of people who want to wear a phony t-shirt of a band, because it costs a lot less than the real thing. I do take your point that you are trying to discover music, and hopefully it [Andrew's note: money, presumably] will reach the band. But I’ve been in this business a long time. I don’t see anybody out there who does ‘sonic shoplifting’ that really thinks altruistically about ‘the brothers’ in the bands.

    Rick Chazan – Manager, The Boat People:

    I agree, and I’ll add to that. What you’re saying is that it’s actually not bad for the bands, because by allowing it to be free, you’re actually discovering the bands and therefore, you can love them and maybe go and see a live show, et cetera. And so you’re saying therefore, it’s okay. But it’s got to be the artist’s choice that it happens that way. You’re still taking something which they’ve created and paid for, and put time and work into, like anybody doing anything. And for example, you might discover that music on MySpace, which the artist chooses to allow to be free; [to be] streamed, not to be stolen of off. You can learn about the artist through five or six songs; I know in The Boat People’s case, we’ve got five or six songs up there from the last two albums, so there’s a bit of a mix to get to know the band. You could listen to it all day long, and get to know the band, and want to go and see them live. And if you loved them enough, you’d actually have to have that CD.

    As an independent band, we’re losing that opportunity, and I don’t see it [inaudible]. I’d hate to come across as a moralist, but I have a problem that what’s being lost in the whole conversation is that it’s now being said that, because it’s easy to do, and everybody’s doing it, it’s ‘okay’. So it’s like, nobody’s saying to a young person, “look, this person actually toiled, they put their work into it, their effort into it, therefore they actually have value in it, and therefore to enjoy that, you need to actually trade for it”.

    Now it’s being said that because it’s so easy and because it’s so bloody hard to do anything about it, it’s ‘okay’. So, to me it’s not all about criminalisation, because I think that’s a waste of time, to sue some individual teenager for downloading a song. But it’s more about conscience. It’s more about, you know, when they asked the people in the movie, “who downloads music for free?” and all of their hands went up, and then they asked, “who thinks they stole the music?”, or did something wrong, and it was only one out of a hundred.

    See, I know about this a lot better than anyone, because when I was a teenager I used to record tapes. I used to do that, because I really wanted the music [from the radio], and I didn’t have enough money to get it. But I knew that it was wrong, and I did feel a little bit like my conscience was saying “this is not quite right”. I feel that we’re eventually going to the lose the consciousness of taking something from another person, and that’s the part that disturbs me.

    Phil Tripp – Managing Partner, IMMEDIA!:

    Great, that was perfect. I have one other thing to say. It’s kind of like: if you think you can get somebody drunk enough at a bar that they’ll screw you because they have no more control over themselves, that’s about the same way that I equate the moral ability to download music. Because you think you’re going to give somebody else a good time. That was a good one, wasn’t it? (laughs)

    [Audience Q&A session ends.]

    Download Phil Tripp’s introductory speech
    Download the panel discussion (I transcribed from 26th minute until the 67th minute)
    Download the Q&A session

    The film will screen in Brisbane at UQ‘s Schonell Theatre from June 4, 2009.

  • A Conversation With Christie Eliezer, music journalist

    Christie Eliezer: owns more reflective sunglasses than youChristie Eliezer. Dude is one of the mostly widely-read music journalists in the world. Though I first heard of Christie through his weekly Australian music industry round-up for themusic.com.au – which is syndicated in one of the publications I write for, Rave Magazine – I soon found that his influence extends far beyond that column. He’s written three music-related books; his latest, High Voltage Rock ‘N’ Roll, was released in 2007. I asked Christie for this interview because he’s a super-huge music journalist, and I wanted to know how he does it and why he loves it. Righteous.

    Christie, your weekly industry round-ups comprise a huge amount of information. Is this your full-time job on behalf of themusic.com.au?

    Writing is my full-time job, but writing for themusic.com.au is just one of the many things that I do. I actually write for about 23 different publications around the world on music, fashion, travel and new technology. In between this, I also do projects like “High Voltage“, which was released two years ago. I’m currently writing a film script.

    I syndicate a column of music industry news not just for themusic.com.au but also to Beat in Melbourne, The Brag in Sydney, Rave in Brisbane and dB in Adelaide. So each week I collect the news, and send different items to different magazines. I also write for the US magazine Billboard, so some of the column goes in there as well.

    I’ve seen your writing in Australian Musician, too. Which do you prefer writing – artist interviews or your weekly industry round-up – and why?

    Every aspect of writing is exciting. I must say, though, that artist interviews are more satisfying. You’re interacting with someone; you’re getting access to aspects of their music that few others do. It’s exciting when the interview goes well – when the journalist has done his or her research, and the artist is responsive. If it’s an artist who has especially touched your life, the feeling is unbeatable.

    The weekly roundup is a bit of a plod; lots of double-checking and hard work. Nothing glamorous there!

    christie_hv_cropYou must get sent newsworthy items for the round-up from many sources. How do you balance keeping the PR hyperbole in check in order to report on factual content?

    The whole idea is to present a picture of what’s been happening in the music scene in any given week. Sometimes it’s a thin line between hype and news. Generally if I feel comfortable, I’ll use the PR stuff. But a lot of the items are scoops and exclusives too, so it balances it out. The amount of people who feed me gossip is amazing!

    Are you your own editor, or is there someone within themusic.com.au who proofs your work each week?

    I always ask for the editors of magazines to look over my stuff. Sometimes when you’re rushing to finish a story, mistakes do slip in. Like the time when Bob Marley‘s band The Wailers were to tour here. My brain meant to say “The late Bob Marley’s former band The Wailers are coming”. But what I wrote — and I must have written it at 2 am — was “Bob Marley and The Wailers are coming”. This would have been a mite difficult as Marley had been dead for years.

    Anyway, one of the local radio stations had a great time sending me up, by saying I had the power to make people come to life.

    I read in High Voltage’s introduction that you became a freelance writer while still at school; what attracted you to this career?

    Partly to impress girls, and partly because I loved music and had a flair for writing. I used to spend a lot of time in record stores and played drums in a high school band – I wasn’t good, nor was the band. I remember the first time I saw the video for The Rolling Stones‘ “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” which was so surreal and eerie that I knew I had to write about it.

    I sent a story to a magazine called Go-Set, and they sent me a cheque. As a 15-year old, this cheque was twice the amount of money I was earning cutting grass and cleaning gutters for neighbours.

    Jaggermouth: highly inspirationalSo I sent in another story. Back came another cheque. Another story. More cheques. Then the editor rang one day and asked if I wanted to interview The Rolling Stones. After that, I was hooked. Plans to become either a lawyer, a political journalist or a diplomat went out the window…

    You’ve been in the industry since before internet usage became widespread, and now you use its capacity for information dissemination to syndicate your column across the world. Can you describe some of the changes you’ve seen in the industry across your 30-odd year career?

    In terms of journalism, in the old days I had to “research” by going through old magazines. Now the internet gives me stuff in half a second – although, a lot of that info can be incorrect, so I do have to double check. Readers get news in seconds, so my approach to journalism is no longer just about breaking stories, but providing background to the stories.

    And yes, my stuff – not just the column, but the other stories I write – is used across the world as a result. Someone estimated I reach a readership of 2.5 million a week.

    In terms of the music industry, the short answer is that the music consumer is now in control. They can buy their record in a minute, which means the record stores or record companies who don’t have their music get ignored. There’s no longer the need to wait for weeks for delivery.

    In the ’70s, if a consumer wanted to watch a music TV show like “Countdown“, they had to wait around the house from 6pm to 7pm on Sundays. Now they can video tape it, or they can see them on their mobiles and watch while they’re on the move.

    The internet also means that music fans can find new styles and acts from other countries while surfing the net, they don’t have to wait for radio DJs or music journos to find these for them.

    However, readers will always follow respected music journos – the ones who help to find new acts for them.

    2.5 million readers per week – that’s astounding. How do you manage the responsibility associated with ensuring that your facts are correct; on deadline, do you just aim for ‘close enough’?

    If you have this attitude “close is enough”, people will stop reading you and magazines will stop paying for your stuff. You have to get it right. If you’re not sure, say you’re not sure. If not, keep the story for a week.

    Your comment about how readers will always follow respected music journalists is interesting. The manner in which blogs and web communities have allowed every punter to voice their opinion has resulted in powerful signals being lost amongst the noise; you’d understand this better than most. In this information age, how has the role of the music journalist changed?

    Christie Eliezer: more comfortable than youIt hasn’t changed all that much. A good journalist will provide info with honesty and impartiality.

    This is different from a blogger like Perez Hilton, who happens to hang out with artists and is now respected only because he breaks news stories. People love gossip!

    The role of the music journalist hasn’t changed much since you started writing?

    Nope, same as ever. Maybe there’s more of a need to be more responsible about what you write, because the internet takes you to billions of people, and you need to be careful of people’s reputations.

    What do you love about music writing?

    The sheer joy of an idea coming to fruition on the page. Your ideas are passed on to others. The biggest thrill is to do an interview which is so good that no-one else can match it.

    What makes an interview so good that no-one else can match it?

    You’ve got to research so well that the person being interviewed becomes comfortable and opens up. Doing the interview at their house helps.

    What do you hate about music writing?

    The long hours. Sometimes I have to work until 3 or 4 am. I love the fact it’s very quiet, but sometimes when the brain is tired, silly mistakes slip through.

    Do you get out to see bands often? What kind of music excites you?

    Yes, all the time! I also listen to demos, browse MySpace pages, talk to others in the music industry, and so on.

    My favourite music is hard rock – The Stones, Zeppelin, The Who, Foo Fighters – but I also like hip hop, R&B, folk and world music. Only country music is something I don’t like.

    How do you recognise a talented music journalist? Or, to phrase it another way: what qualities must a successful music journalist possess, in such a subjective industry that relies heavily upon personal tastes?

    You can be impartial, or, given that music is such a personal taste, be subjective. I personally think you make more impact if you’re impartial with a touch of subjectivity.

    Not exactly a question, but I’m guessing you have an enormous record collection.

    25,000 CDs counted five years ago. Probably close to 30,000 now.

    Whoa. Hefty. What’s your preferred method of listening to music?

    CD or radio. If I turn it up, I like the music. If I turn it down, it’s crap. Very simple really.

    So the iPod’s not good enough for Christie Eliezer?

    iPods are banned at the Eliezer residence. Into the bin!

    No, to be honest. The music’s on all day: either through the CD player in my study, or on the radio when I’m driving, or when I’m checking out acts on MySpace.

    So sometimes it’s nice to take a break. I don’t listen to iPods even though people have given me some as gifts. On long trips, for instance, I prefer to read books or watch movies, just to get a break from music.

    How do you keep your criticism in check when reporting on artists whose music you find terrible?

    You either ignore them, or try like hell to find something!

    You’re speaking at Brisbane’s Big Sound music industry summit in September 2009. Who approached you with this opportunity, and what are you planning to speak about?

    I was approached by Stephen Green, who runs Big Sound.

    Most likely I’ll talk about the need for acts to foster a strong relationship with the media, the need for them to create a strong image, and the best ways to market their acts.

    I spoke at the Fuse Festival in Adelaide in March; I had to turn down speaking at music conferences in Tasmania and Darwin in July because I’ll be overseas, and I’ll be a panellist at the Australasian Music Business Industry conference in Sydney in August.

    What do you enjoy about public speaking? Does it come easily to you, or do you find it difficult to step out from behind the pen, so to speak?

    I used to be terrified in the early days. I was always nervous, and often wondering whether I was being boring or mediocre. But nowadays, I am quite relaxed, and I do enjoy it.

    Music critic Everett True believes in being memorable, above all else, because “if you’re not memorable, then why the fuck are you writing about music?” Agree or disagree?

    Depends on what you are being “memorable” for. Because you’re talented with great taste in music, or you can provide a new perspective to an issue? That’s fine.

    Or because you’re controversial? Or just being trendy? Because you bag big names? The last three reasons are crap.

    Do you strive to be memorable in your writing? What do you want the memory of Christie Eliezer to be associated with?

    Step 1: Write about music. Step 2: ???? Step 3: Babes and profit.

    My writing is going to be around for ages, long after I’ve karked it. So I want to leave a worthy piece of work behind. If there’s a legacy, it’s that Christie Eliezer was part of a movement of rock journalists that improved the quality of rock journalism in Australia and abroad.

    I’d hope people remember me as a writer who was fair and knowledgeable. More importantly, I hope that I made a difference to someone, somewhere.

    Finally – you started music writing to impress girls, or at least in part. Did it work?

    Bloody oath, mate! But I must admit that my singer mates got the good-looking ones, my roadie mates got the ugly ones, and I got the ones who wanted to read poetry to me!

    Be a music journalist, get the babes. I knew I started writing about music for a reason. Thanks, Christie. He can be contacted via email. His excellent Australian music industry weekly round-up is updated each Tuesday afternoon.