In his first interview since his fledgling hip-hop festival came to a dramatic close last week, besieged Heatwave promoter Patrick Whyntie tells ANDREW MCMILLEN that he’s determined to prove doubters wrong.
A festival “worse than any other failed festival in the history of Australian music” was how Tonedeaf reported on the final leg of Heatwave 2012, a national hip-hop tour that began in South Australia as a three-night camping festival on January 12 and ended in Melbourne on January 22. Between those dates, capital city shows were booked in Brisbane, Sydney, Perth and Canberra, in some of those cities’ biggest venues.
The festival debuted in January 2010 with a single South Australian show, at Abbotts Reserve, 90 kilometres south of Adelaide. Headlined by American rapper Xzibit and Australian DJ tyDi, the all-ages event was attended by an estimated 800 people.
Festival founder Patrick Whyntie – who also performs under the MC name Mastacraft – was 22 when he staged the 2010 show. His LinkedIn profile states that he has “been around the Australian entertainment industry for 10 years” and has “connections from Australia all the way to Detroit”. Whyntie had previously told the Victor Harbor Times that people were “blown away” by the first event. “There are a thousand things I can grow and build on for next year,” he said at the time, “but we had tons of security and everyone was safe.” Though there was no 2011 event, Whyntie returned to concert promotion in 2012 with a significantly ballsy move: a national hip-hop tour.
Announced some 35 days before the tour’s first date, Heatwave 2012 – featuring Kid Cudi, D12, Obie Trice, Tech N9ne, Chamillionaire and Crazy Town – was an eclectic proposition from day one. By the end of the 10-day stint, D12 had missed most of the tour due to mishandling immigration paperwork, the Perth show was cancelled via Facebook on the day of the event, and the whole thing culminated in a disastrous Melbourne leg that saw liquor licensing issues, a no-show from Chamillionaire, and Kid Cudi trashing the stage after power was cut due to reported schedule mismanagement. A couple of Facebook hate pages emerged in the wake of the Melbourne show, with punters calling for refunds and describing it as “the biggest music festival fail ever”.
Schadenfreude runs rife in the notoriously vicious live music industry, so it was unsurprising to see sections of the Australian music media taking delight in Heatwave’s perceived failures, especially following recent debacles such as Blueprint and BAM!. However, recent Flo Rida and Mos Def tour cancellations have highlighted how bringing US hip-hop artists in this country can be an exercise in hair-pulling frustration at the best of times, not to mention the difficulties faced by even seasoned promoters such as the Big Day Out’s Ken West.
In an email interview with M+N, 24-year-old festival founder and CEO Patrick Whyntie speaks for the first time about the controversial 2012 events; his regrets, the so-called media “misrepresentation”, dealing with Kid Cudi, and what he’s learned after coordinating his first national festival.
What inspired you to become a festival promoter in the first place, Patrick?
Festivals are great fun and I wanted to bring some entertainment to my local area – which has never seen anything like this.
I’m guessing that the 2010 event was a big learning experience. What did you learn?
Quite a lot: from visas, to how much fencing was required, to how to deal with on-the-spot problems. A substantial learning curve.
Who funded Heatwave 2012?
Leading into your preparations for the 2012 event, were you concerned about whether or not the Australian market could support a national hip-hop festival like Heatwave?
I think if all the stars align, any genre of music can be supported. It’s always a risky business, and things need time to grow. We did go too big, too quick.
It seems to me that the festival’s main point of differentiation is its low cost. The festival’s marketing reflects this, and I saw on the event Facebook that you even taunted rival festivals about this. How did you manage to keep costs so low?
We decided to put prices extremely low – the cost of, say, one concert act – to attract more people in. We took a risk keeping them low.
Did the 2012 line-up reflect your particular musical tastes, or were you aiming to book a diverse group of bands to attract as many people as possible?
Hip-hop is obviously my fave genre, however I listen to a wide range of music. We booked a range of hip-hop – from mainstream to underground – to reach all bases.
Tell me about how you were feeling ahead of the tour’s first show, in Adelaide. Did you have all your ducks in a row? Were you happy with how the event planning and set-up went?
Costs blew out substantially and we were having battles with council and police to keep the event going. This cost quite a bit of money and time, fighting something they should have supported. The camping festival [in SA] was a huge undertaking, and in hindsight, we would preferred to have concentrated solely on this [event], and had other national promoters taken the other states.
At what point were you told that D12 had missed their flight?
D12 was an ongoing struggle to coordinate them here to Australia. There was a range of problems. We were desperately trying to negotiate them getting here for the Saturday [for the first weekend, at the SA camping event], or even the Sunday.
What happened next? Did you have a contingency plan in place, or did you have to scramble to make new plans?
Just like most major festivals, an act sometimes does miss a few dates. We moved things around, of course.
How many staff did you employ to assist with the festival?
It varied in each state. SA had well over 50 staff, and even more volunteers.
You told me via email that the Sydney and Canberra shows were “awesome”. What worked with those two shows, as opposed to the rest of the tour?
Sydney ran well both nights, though minor problems occurred. The crowd was great for Sydney, aside from a guy running on stage and quickly being removed by our security guard.
Another prime example of this type of behaviour on the Australian touring circuit occurred at the 2011 Fat As Butter festival at Newcastle’s Foreshore Park, on 22 October. Headlined by Empire Of The Sun, The Living End and Illy among a line-up of 38 Australian and international acts, event promoters Mothership Music had also booked the American rapper Flo Rida (pictured, with orange) – known for such modern classics as ‘Low (feat. T-Pain)’, ‘Good Feeling’ and ‘Right Round’ – to play the main (‘Fat’) stage at 5.10pm, after The Jezabels and before Naughty By Nature. Twenty minutes before he was due, organisers received a phone call from his tour manager: Flo Rida wouldn’t be able to make it to the show. Uh oh.
The aftermath was covered in detail by FasterLouder, and event organiser Brent Lean posted the following message on the festival’s Facebook a couple of hours after the cancellation: “We’re as upset as you are. We paid Flo to appear months ago and since he’s been on his Australian tour, he’s been an absolute Tonk. He’s been in Sydney today, and he’s had a hissy fit. We did everything we absolutely could to get him here, but he wouldn’t come. We’re absolutely devastated he decided not to be a part of Fat As Butter.”
What happens next, though? What recourse does a burned Australian festival promoter have in terms of recouping the artist fee they’d paid to Flo Rida and his entourage months in advance? I connected with Mothership Music managing director – and Fat As Butter promoter – Brent Lean back in November 2011 to find out.
TheVine: It’s been a couple of weeks since the Flo Rida incident went down, Brent. How are you feeling about it all now?
BL: Look, we’re OK about it. We’re going about the correct processes to find out exactly what happened. We know the circumstance of what happened, but now we’re in the process of seeking the return of the [performance] fee. That’s with the agent and record company over in America. Overall it’s disappointing he didn’t appear, but we’re happy that we got the message out there so that the fans know exactly what the circumstance was. We’re just being truthful in the process.
At any point during the negotiation process did you have an inkling that this might happen?
No, not at all. We bought the show from another company that was touring him in the country. We were tracking his movements at other shows, leading in [to the festival]. We were aware of certain incidents and bits and pieces that made us wary, but they were more about when he was at the event, as opposed to whether he’d turn up. At no point did we think that he’d cancel, and not show. That was never on our radar.
You always expect that something may go wrong, and you work every contingency you can to avoid that, but at the end of the day, when the news came through that he was cancelling, that was an absolute shock. We had to go into damage control straight away, because it’s a large festival – with 38 acts appearing – so we had to work out how to fill the spot and advise the punters. We understood that they’d be very frustrated and disappointed by the announcement. We had to go into contingency plans as to how to handle that.
Will you be hesitant to book hip-hop acts in future, having had this experience with Flo Rida?
Not really. You pick and choose where they’re at. Last year we had Ice Cube headline Fat As Butter, and he was an absolute joy to deal with. Very professional; met all of his contractual obligations, we met all of ours; a hug at the end of the night and ‘great job’.
What we do find with some hip-hop artists is that they tend to disrespect Australia, I think. They tend to disrespect the audience and promoters, because effectively – and it happens quite often – they don’t stick to the terms of their contracts. They arrive here, then they’re seeking additional things on top of the contract; left, right and centre. And in some cases, strong-arming promoters into paying for additional things outside of the contract.
Now, in comparison to Australian artists? That would never happen. In the 20 years I’ve been doing [event organisation and promotion], I’ve never had a contract dispute with an Australian artist. Everyone’s up front; everyone signs a contract, everyone knows what the terms are, and each party meets those terms. I find it very disappointing that, for whatever reason, some of the American hip-hop artists can come out here and think that they can disrespect promoters, events, and the audience by, clearly, wanting additional conditions – or money, whatever it may be – outside of the signed contract. And as I said, and I don’t mind saying it: strong-arming promoters into doing that. It’s disappointing.
So without a doubt, buyer beware. All you can do is make sure your contract is watertight, and then you need the strength of your convictions to say, “Well, I’m not going to give you anything outside of that contract.” I think in the past, perhaps, [Australian] promoters have given in to the additional considerations, or whatever they’re trying to put on you, and there seems to be a threat, at times. For us personally, we just don’t stand for any of those sorts of things. If we’ve got indications through the negotiating process that anything like that is going to happen, then we’d rather not have them appear on any of our shows.
One year ago, acclaimed American hip-hop artist Dante Smith – stage name Mos Def (pictured right) – was set to tour Australia for the first time. Eleven shows were booked, including headline festival appearances at Soundscape in Hobart and The Hot Barbeque in Melbourne. After failing to appear at his first scheduled performance in Adelaide, he went on to randomly skip four shows of the itinerary. Such was the ensuing confusion, that following the postponements, cancellations and sternly-worded press releases from the promoter, Peace Music, became something of a sport here at TheVine. For background, revisit our news story ‘Mos Def gone missing on Australian tour’. (I’m pleased to note that he made it to Brisbane for his Australia Day show, which was actually pretty great.)
What did those four cancellations mean for Peace Music, though? The promoters were awfully quiet for the remainder of the year, which posed the question: “Did the Mos Def debacle put an end to their live music interests?”. In late 2011, I contacted the company’s managing director, Sam Speaight, requesting an interview about the logistics of touring American hip-hop artists in Australia. “I’d love to do this,” he replied via email. “So often promoters are dragged into the street and shot (proverbially speaking) by the ticket-buying public over hip-hop artists’ cancellations and their childlike antics. Few people understand that, in many cases, the promoters have driven themselves to the brink of sanity and financial ruin to avoid an artist cancelling.”
A couple of days later, we connected via Skype. “The total chaos that seems to govern most of all the management side of these artists’ careers is just dumbfounding,” Sam told me from his new pad in London. “If people knew what went on behind the scenes, if nothing else, it would be a spectacle worth reading about.” He’s not wrong.
AM: Tell me about the Mos Def tour, Sam. Was this your worst experience with touring hip-hop artists in Australia?
SS: Oh, yeah. That was definitely the worst example of madness and insanity from an international artist that I’ve ever seen, or heard of. Utter madness permeated everything that happened, in terms of the artist’s management, the delivery and management of the artist’s live engagement. He’s since pulled similar things at the Montreaux Jazz Festival. They’ve just gone through a similar experience to what I did, but fortunately, they only had one show to deal with, whereas I had an entire headlining tour.
Let’s go back to the start. When you first confirmed the booking, was there a point at which you realised that things might not go to plan? Were alarm bells ringing at any point during the lead-up to his arrival in Australia?
Good Lord, yes. Even before I signed the contract with his “management”, in inverted commas, I was aware that this was a difficult, tricky, potentially trouble-fraught artist to deal with. I structured as best I could my strategy for dealing with this artist to minimise the potentiality for misadventure in the establishment phase of that project. But all the pre-planning in the world couldn’t have prepared me for the living nightmare that was the reality of doing that tour and dealing with Mos Def. [Laughs] I literally broke down and cried partway through the tour.
You need to set the scene. Where were you when you broke down and cried?
[Laughs] I was at home. It was a Sunday afternoon, if I recall correctly, at my house in Redfern – which I’ve now sold, by the way. I’ve moved to the other side of the world to try and forget all about this experience! [laughs].
I was at home, hanging out with my lovely girlfriend, Gillian. Earlier in the day, Mos’ tour manager had called to advise that the rescheduled make-up show, which had been put in place in connection with one of the shows that he’d cancelled on his tour – the Tasmanian show. He advised that the make-up show would not be going ahead, and they would be unable to play it. Which was a disaster. One of a string of disasters that occurred on that tour. I was in an awful state of mind as a result of that, because it meant yet more massive financial losses, and yet more damage to my company’s name and reputation insofar as I was delivering the show to a promoter in Tasmania, I wasn’t promoting it myself. So there was a third party affected by this madness.
A few hours after I dealt with that disaster, I got a call from my tour manager, to say that he’d been asked a question via [Mos Def’s] managers, the question being: “Are there any other shows that we can play on this tour? Can you please investigate booking us some more shows? We would like to try and play some more shows.”
This is three or four days before the end of the tour. I remember reaching this psychological breaking point, where I’d been assaulted by this emotional nightmare every day for a month, in the lead-up to the rescheduling of, then delivery of this project. I said to my tour manager, “I can’t believe you’ve just asked me that question. You know how much money I’ve lost here. You know that the tour’s four days from completion. Are you totally insane? Who in the southern hemisphere is ever going to book this artist ever again? After what’s gone down here, for a start. And further to that, how on earth would I be able to organise any new shows within the space of four days given the fact that I’m staring down the barrel of financial ruination?”
That was basically just what tipped me over the edge. I just remember being in my living room, just losing the plot. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back! [laughs]
But it gives you an insight into just how warped and twisted, and how absolutely separated from reality the awareness of management – within the scope of that being a professional function – is, in the minds of these artists. They seem to live in such a bizarre, self-constructed reality that is so far away from what you might describe as career management, business, or just basic logic. [Laughs] Their worldview and outlook… it’s difficult for people like me — and I assume like you, too — to understand people who have to justify their existence by earning a dollar, which is then pursuant to them doing a good job of things, and being a professional. This is just a world that a lot of these people seem to be able to avoid living in.
And Mos Def’s a great example. If you Google, you’ll see that in the last 12 months there’s been a spate of these absolute last-minute cancellations. If the cancellation or postponement is done in a way that allows the promoter some opportunity to minimise their losses and to at least deal with the ticket buying public in a professional fashion, so that it doesn’t damage that artist’s fanbase and the promoter’s business, then cancellations are unfortunately sometimes a part of doing business in the music industry. But that’s not the approach that’s usually taken in these situations by these American hip-hop artists. More often than not, there’s very little justification if any given for it. It’s oftentimes just a childish whim, whereby they’ve decided that something about the project isn’t to their liking, or they’ve got something better to do that day, or they don’t feel like getting out of bed that morning.
As a result of that, they’re perfectly happy to – in some promoters’ cases – turn people’s lives upside down, and send peoples’ whole businesses spiralling toward the ground without any thought for basic humanity.
This is probably a long bow to draw, but I see a lot of this same attitude toward happily disregarding other people within the scope of business, and totally ignoring the massive financial ramifications of doing something like cancelling a show 24 hours out, to the problems we’re seeing across the entire global financial system at the moment. You’re basically talking about an approach to doing business that is morally bankrupt. It’s the exact same underpinning ideology that I see caught up in the actions of Goldman Sachs, and Bank of America, whereby these people are perfectly happy, without a single qualm in the world, to destroy peoples’ lives, trash peoples’ businesses, send people broke, without even a second thought. Just as long as – whatever they decided to do that day, gets done. I think that’s what really drives at this. The financial system that these people are participating in, and their actions, by association and as a function of that system, are absolutely and utterly morally bankrupt. But that’s a very long view, I guess. [Laughs]
In many ways, triple j studios – located on the third level of the cavernous ABC building on Harris Street, in inner Sydney – also functions as the central nervous system of the Australian music industry. On any given day, hundreds of thousands of listeners across the country are tuned in. Label owners, promoters, publicists and musicians follow the station with relentless fascination, as its playlist and musical preferences can literally make, delay, or break careers in the notoriously fickle music business.
For decades, since the national broadcaster’s inception in August 1980, triple j has continued to grow: in terms of staff numbers, audience popularity and, as a direct result, cultural influence. With great power comes great responsibility. As triple j continues to slowly evolve into a gangly octopus whose arms now extend far beyond its initial radio habitat into print media, significant online networking, year-round event promotion, and – with the October launch of a standalone Unearthed station – digital radio, it’s worth taking a magnifying glass to the station’s many activities to examine whether their great power is being used for good or evil.
Two senses are immediately pricked entering triple j studios: the eyes are met with bloody red walls contrasting against innocuous whites, and the ears latch onto the sounds of triple j being piped through the station’s corridors, while Zan Rowe broadcasts her morning show live to air just a few metres away. Station manager Chris Scaddan strolls past their huge music library to his corner office. His coffee table is stacked with months’ worth of printed music media: street press, monthlies, international imports. A recent issue of triple j magazine sits conspicuously atop the pile.
He turns down the live broadcast to a quiet gurgle as he considers a question: how would he describe triple j to someone who’d never heard it before?
“It’s uniquely Australian,” Scaddan says. “We’re about new music; mainly, new Australian music. We’re targeted at 18-24 year-olds, so we’re here for young Australians. We play diverse styles of music; we’re independent and non-commercial, which is important. At this point, we’re a brand that reaches across quite a few different platforms. We’re our audience as much as anything, as well. We’re really in touch with our listeners, and we hope that what we’re doing is reflecting and inspiring what they want, and what they want to listen to, and what they want to know about.”
Eight minutes into the interview, in response to a question about whether triple j’s support is crucial to the success of Australian bands on a national scale, he cites a recently discovered statistic that he’s clearly very proud of: in October 2011, the station posted audience figures of 1.5 million in the five capital cities (Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide).
“At the moment, we’ve got as many people listening as we ever have. But are we crucial to a band’s success? I don’t think so,” Scaddan says. “Certainly we’re a national broadcaster, and we’ve got a really strong audience. I wouldn’t say it’s crucial to whether you make it or don’t. There are so many different ways that you can find a career or an audience through the Australian music industry. There’s so many examples of bands who may not have been played by triple j who are doing just fine.”
“Just fine” is a relative term, of course. For every Art Vs Science, Boy & Bear or Washington playing to thousands-strong crowds on the national stage, there are dozens – perhaps hundreds – of acts across Australia who enjoy strong support within their hometowns or capital cities, but struggle to make the jump to national notoriety without the nod from triple j. Does Scaddan find that bands get pissed off when they get told, ‘thanks, but no thanks’ in response to their latest release?
“That does happen,” he replies. “That’s the nature of the business we’re all in. Just like artists who are pitching for articles in Rolling Stone and don’t get a mention get pissed off, and can’t understand it sometimes. It is really, really difficult. We’re always looking to try and find a really good balance of genres, of locations – nationwide, so we’re not just picking bands from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane all the time.”
“It’s difficult, and sometimes bands who want to get triple j airplay might not crack it on the playlist. That doesn’t mean they’re still not getting played in other ways on the station. They tune in and they’re not getting played as often as Gotye, or Florence + The Machine, and they think they should be. You just hope they can understand that there’s a limit to how much music can fit on the station and make it work.”
Such programming decisions lie not with Scaddan, nor with music director Richard Kingsmill, but with the entire triple j staff. When Kingsmill is questioned – in jest – about whether he’s the most powerful man in Australian music, he practically explodes in exasperation from a couch positioned nearby the station’s carefully stacked CD collection.
“It is not anywhere near the truth. It is just such a misconception to think this place isn’t a team of people,” Kingsmill says. “I have said this time and time again, and if people still think that I sit there and basically call all the shots, they are wrong. I can’t say it enough. This station is built on teamwork. It always has been. If you’ve got a bad framework, or teamwork vibe happening in this place, it shows on the other end of the radio. When we all work together, we get the results. It’s as simple as that.”
What happens when your band wins the musical equivalent of the lottery, the triple j Unearthed slot to open the main stage of Splendour In The Grass? In 2011, the competition was won by Brisbane indie pop band Millions. Twenty-two-year-old drummer James Wright is being a little humble by equating the contest to a lottery: those rely on luck alone, not songwriting talent.
Still, it’s curious to hear Wright honestly state Millions’ intentions upon forming in December 2010. “The entire objective of the band was using triple j to get where we want to go,” he says. A four-piece comprised of members from three Brisbane bands you’ve never heard of, Millions realised during their initial rehearsals that their sound might appeal to the national broadcaster.
“There was the fleeting chance that, if we maybe more deliberately went towards the triple j sort of sound, in terms of being more accessible than our previous bands, then we might have a shot at actually doing some good, and getting played,” Wright says. “We didn’t exactly have high aspirations for it, but we were really happy with the two songs we’d written [at the time].”
He says that Millions are “the exact opposite” of their previous bands, in that their path was “extremely thought through, to the point of calculating exactly how many shows it would take us to get where we wanted to go, and to who we should play these shows with and why we should do them and where we should play them.” The Splendour 2011 slot was unexpected for the band, and “pretty much blew everyone’s mind” according to Wright, but not unsurprising given their ambitions.
Stephen Green is well acquainted with this kind of mindset among artists. Since beginning as a radio “plugger” – a guy who pitches new music to stations across the country – he now runs his own publicity consulting business, SGC Media.
“The problem of triple j being so dominant is that it artistically skews what some bands are coming out with,” he says. “If you’ve got the opportunity to do the song that’s in your head that’s not very ‘triple j’, or you tweak it somewhat and make it sound like bands that are getting airplay… I think a lot of bands are going down [the second] path a little more.”
“The tracks that I think work least are the ones that the band have gone, ‘right, we’ve got to get on triple j’, and they’ve tried to write a ‘triple j song’,” Green adds. “If it just happened like that, then – great. But I think too many bands push down that path. Being generic so that you sound like every other band is not usually the way to stand out and have a particularly successful career.”
When Green works on publicity with Australian artists, he never plans a campaign assuming that the act will get triple j airplay. “If you do that, you’re setting yourself up for a big disappointment,” he says. “I don’t think you can make assumptions that anybody’s going to play anything.” So what happens when triple j rejects the song or record you’re pitching them? “Well, you kick the wall, the client gets shitty and says, ‘you didn’t rep it properly’. You break up, and that’s the end of that!” he laughs, clearly joking.
Like Green, Megan Reeder Hope places a high value on including triple j in her marketing plans. As general manager at Secret Service Public Relations, Reeder Hope works regularly with the Brisbane-based record label Dew Process, whose roster includes Mumford & Sons, The Grates and Seeker Lover Keeper. “triple j is essential,” she says. “It’s probably the crux of my plans of how we work at Dew Process.”
“That’s not to say that we don’t value the rest of the media: community radio is really important, as is commercial radio when you get to a certain point,” Reeder Hope says. “But I think triple j is that centrepiece that needs to be in place to be able to do all of the other ones, as well. From our perspective, triple j has a high level of integrity. They really do things in a way that’s uncompromising of their own editorial policy, while still always putting the music first. It really is all about the music for them. They support artists, and they support them throughout their careers.”
Back at the station’s Sydney studios, music director Richard Kingsmill is clearly proud of the station’s success, and unapologetic to its critics. “If anyone’s got any complaints and arguments against us, or thinks that we’re in some ways trying to monopolise the Australian industry….” He pauses. “You get damned if you do and damned if you don’t. If we sat back and went, ‘Well, we shouldn’t monopolise the Australian music industry, we should sit in this corner and do our little job and not try to do anything,’ we’d get criticised for being negligent and not proactive. If you’re proactive, then you tread on toes a little bit, I guess, but we’re not meaning to tread on toes.”
“It’s not supposed to be 100 per cent,” Kingsmill continues. “No one can be 100 per cent, and no one should expect triple j to be 100%. We do what we do to the best of our abilities, and we try as hard as we possibly can, with the best of intentions. But at the end of the day, we’re all humans. So we’ll take chances and we’ll take risks, and sure, we’ll piss people off, but we wouldn’t do it if we didn’t think there was a section of the community out there who was actually enjoying it.”
I first met Blair Hughes when he began working the door at The Zoo, one of my favourite live music venues, sometime in 2008. We’ve since struck up a friendship around Brisbane Sounds, an annual compilation CD he started producing in 2007 to promote the city’s independent music scene.
Andrew: As you see it, what’s your role among the Brisbane music scene?
Blair: I view myself and the role which I have created with Brisbane Sounds as an educator or ambassador for Brisbane music. That obviously comes from my previous role working as a middle year’s school teacher and the fact that I’m very passionate about the Brisbane music scene and the diversity of genres and talent in Brisbane and want other people to hear that message. At another level I also see myself as an emerging music promoter that has created something important for Brisbane but knows that I still have a lot to learn in the music industry.
Was starting Brisbane Sounds one of those ‘ no-one else is doing it, so I’ll give it a shot’-type situations?
To an extent it was very much like that and it really just started out as a hobby. When I get behind an idea, I see it through to the end and I really had no idea at the start where this was going to lead. Brisbane music has been a part of my life since adolescence but I never imagined that I would end up becoming a promoter, let alone producing a compilation album.
Brisbane Sounds started in October 2006 when I was finishing up a degree in Education and Behavioural Studies at UQ and I had decided to head off to England to commence the first year of my teaching career. I produced Brisbane Sounds 2007 as a way to showcase Brisbane music to new people on the road and had a little success throughout the year, but on a coach trip from Cambridge to London towards the end of 2007, I wrote inside the cover of the book “How to succeed in the music business” a few goals for the following year. Those goals were to find a job in a music venue in Australia, promote a gig, make a professional CD release with Brisbane Sounds, and work at a music venue in England. A week later back in Australia I got a job at The Zoo nightclub in Brisbane, put on the first Brisbane Sounds gig in February 2008, have since produced three professional releases in Brisbane sounds 2008-2010 and worked at the Hammersmith Apollo in London.
How did your previous career in education help your work with this initiative?
I have always wanted to work with young people and after high school, education was an obvious choice but I also did a degree in Behavioural Studies which was also useful for understanding human behaviour. In the future I would like to find a positive way that I can combine both Brisbane Sounds and working with at-risk young people to improve their lives.
I was bullied every day throughout primary school and that made me want to become a teacher and never see the stuff that happened to me, happen to any of the students under my care. When I was transitioning from the school setting to the music setting, I found the transition quite easy to be honest as there were a lot of elements in the music industry that I found I was already skilled in from working with school students, such as planning, time and behaviour management.
From my experience, the parallels between working with children and working with musicians are that they both need guidance and counselling from time to time, they need a leader or role model with the knowledge and expertise in their area to then guide them forward, they need a lot of help getting organised and management of their behaviour and they also need someone who will help them harness their creative and hungry minds.
Of the 24 acts on this year’s compilation, which single band or artist would you recommend to the head of a major label?
If I only had time to name one band from the Brisbane Sounds 2010 compilation, I would probably go with Hungry Kids of Hungary who have a good management team, have a sound that would work for both the US and the UK music scenes and have the work ethic to make it happen. Apart from that, they have a handsome lead singer and girls just love that and it brings them to the gigs!
Is ‘getting signed’ at the top of the list of goals you’d like for Brisbane Sounds-associated acts to achieve? If it’s not, what is at the top?
No certainly not, the idea of an artist getting ‘signed’ is probably more like second or third down the batting order because Brisbane Sounds is more about promoting the Brisbane music scene as a whole and creating a movement to draw awareness to the quality and diversity of artists in Brisbane. It’s not just about promoting the artists on the compilation as Brisbane Sounds is inclusive for every band in Brisbane. The main goal is to actively promote how good the Brisbane music scene is and that more people of all ages should be coming out to gigs, purchasing local music and really supporting the artists that are part of their own backyard. I just feel that in Australia, people view ‘local music’ as being substandard and unprofessional when in fact our country has thriving local music scenes with artists creating quality music.
You’ve created this compilation to promote Brisbane music. Which is more important: the industry introduction aspect, where you’re trying to put the disc into the hands of labels, agents etc. Or is it aimed more at music fans, those who might find some new bands they love, and show all their friends?
Overall, the compilation is about putting together an item which serves three purposes. The first being that it can be used as a marketing tool for the promotion of Brisbane, the second that it can get into the hands of A&R and radio reps and the third and best point is that anyone can purchase Brisbane Sounds 2010 and play it front to back because there is something there for everyone. The way I structure the Brisbane Sounds compilations enables me to tap into those three groups by producing a CD that has all of them in mind. For example, Brisbane Marketing have been right behind the project since last year and have been distributing copies to international delegates to Brisbane, I’ve had meetings with A&R reps from Sony and Live Nation in London and the CD has been selling well through independent record stores across Australia. Red Eye Records in Sydney even sold out of stock before Rockinghorse Records in Brisbane did!
Are you able to comment on the factors that, in your mind, have contributed to Brisbane bands like Powderfinger, The Grates, Regurgitator, and more recently Yves Klein Blue and The John Steel Singers attracting attention from outside Queensland?
Overall it’s that they have hard working management and creative marketing systems and teams in place. I also believe that if an artist is to be successful then they have to have something that people want and will go out of their way to get. Ultimately the music has to stand out and be above average, but at the end of the day, it is great management and hard working people which get those artists to higher levels in the music world. There are very passionate and intelligent people who are behind the artists you have mentioned.
Have you approached triple j with the compilation? What kind of response have you seen from them?
Triple J has played the compilation which is great, but I’ve never had any direct contact or support from them as such. On the other hand, Brisbane independent radio station 4ZzZ has gone out of their way to support Brisbane Sounds. I hope that down the track Triple J becomes like the BBC in England where there are a few Triple J stations and perhaps a Triple J2 or something like that which has a main focus on local artists throughout Australia. In saying that I’m open to talks with the Jay’s so maybe Richard Kingsmill needs to give me a call.
I first heard about Bandtag through my boss at The Zoo in Brisbane. I was looking at creative and interesting ways to use new forms of technology to promote Brisbane Sounds and Bandtag was one of those exciting new opportunities. I contacted Erin who runs Bandtag on the Gold Coast and we struck up a partnership to take Bandtag to the QLD music conference Big Sound where we could promote both of our businesses at the same time. The benefits of Bandtag are that you can have the artist’s music tracks and artwork on a glossy card which has a code on the back that you enter into the Bandtag website. It means that for touring or going to conferences, it becomes a lot easier to carry and hand out then a CD. The ones which I have got for SXSW and Great Escape serve as a business card as well with my details on the back, artwork on the front and 15 tracks from the compilation embedded into the card.
What are your plans to promote the compilation in Brisbane throughout 2010?
There are many new elements that will form part of Brisbane Sounds over the next few months and leading into 2011. I’m organising a number of Brisbane Sounds spin-off gigs this year such as “Brisbane Sounds Presents….Hip-hop, Alt-Country, Rock, Indie” etc which will use artists from Brisbane Sounds 2010 as well as other Brisbane artists to create a night of that genre of music. I’ve set myself the goal of 20 gigs this year and I’m working hard to achieve that. I also now run a Brisbane Sounds stall at the West End markets focusing on what’s happening in the Brisbane music scene.
I’m also looking at starting a management side to Brisbane Sounds and down the track I would also like to develop Brisbane Sounds into an outside festival.
What about on a national level?
At the national level I want to continue to network with people in the music industry and increase the profile of Brisbane Sounds across Australia. I want to form more business partnerships and solidify my place as a promoter and producer in Australia. I’d like to do some interstate tours or rural tours with Brisbane artists as well as apply for a few national grants such as the JB Seed because like anyone in the arts, I could use a bit of extra funding. I also set myself the goal of meeting and getting some advice from all seven music industry leaders from Christie Eliezer’s book “High Voltage Rock ‘N’ Roll: The Movers and Shakers in the Australian Rock Industry” in 2010.
On an international level?
The next few months are pretty crazy with international travel to music conferences in Austin, Texas and Brighton, England for South By South West (SXSW) and The Great Escape respectively. I’m focused on networking and meeting people who work in the music industry outside of Australia to be able to increase their knowledge and educate them more about Brisbane music. I always envisaged going to these conferences as a punter, but it’s very exciting and rewarding to be able to take my business to them.
Who do you plan to meet while at these conferences, and why? What’s your networking plan of attack?
I have two goals for the music conferences that I will attend this year. The first goal is that I plan to meet radio and A&R reps as well as music supervisors who place music in films and advertisements. I have already started making contact with some of these people for both SXSW and The Great Escape in order to have meetings while I’m in the US and England.
The second goal is that I want to meet promoters, managers and artists to continue to get more skills and improve my professional development in the music industry. Overall, my plan of attack is to talk to everyone. I’m taking 500 of the Brisbane Sounds bandtags to these conferences and I’m going to try my hardest to meet music supervisors and promoters down to volunteers and local people. I’m very much the type of person who likes to talk and has the time to listen to anyone. You never know who you could be talking too and at these types of conferences that’s very exciting.
G’day, I’m Blair and I work as a music promoter and cultural producer in Brisbane, Australia. I promote gigs involving Brisbane artists and produce the only annual compilation CD featuring a diverse selection of Brisbane bands called Brisbane Sounds the aim of which is to increase the visibility of the Brisbane music scene in Brisbane, Australia and across the globe.
Cheers Blair. Visit brisbanesounds.com for more information on the Brisbane Sounds compilations. Check out my related story for The Big Issue here.
This is the full transcript of the December 2009 conversation I had with Steve Milbourne and Phil Clandillon, Creative Directors of Sony Music London, in their Kensington office. I interviewed them on behalf of The Music Network; you can read the published story here.[Note: if you're viewing this in an RSS reader, the video embeds might not work. I don't know why. Click through and view it on my blog.]
Andrew: The main reason I’m aware of your work is because of the few campaigns you’ve been behind in the last year, like AC/DC, Kasabian, Editors, and Calvin Harris. Those are the ones I’m aware of, but before we go into those, I thought I’d ask you how you got into the music industry, and why.
Steve [pictured right]: The reason I got into the music industry is because I’ve always loved music. From my early twenties, what I wanted was to get into the business side of it. Then I kind of got into the whole creative thing. I went to work at an indie label after graduating from uni, called Kitchenware Records, which is based up in Newcastle. They’re sort of big old indie from the ‘80s. I had lots of success in the ‘80s and the ‘90s, and then they sort of reformed the label. It was a new entity in 2003.
I went to work for them in 2004 at the exact same time they signed a band called Editors, which you know of. I got interested in their situation of not having any money to do anything with, so it was like I was given a band to work with and then I’d have to do the artwork, make a music video, do stuff online, make websites, and all that sorts of stuff with zero pounds to work with, which is quite good. I might have spent a few years just sort of honing all these skills that crossed a wide range of areas, from web programming to production and film, so it all kind of came in handy when I came to Sony about two and a half years ago, and then Phil came in. They brought us in separately but then we got put together as a creative team and that’s it.
Phil [pictured below left]: I’ve basically spent the last ten years doing half my work in the music industry and half in advertising, in sort of digital agencies. I started off doing digital work around TV and then interactive TV. Then the dot-com crash happened and there weren’t any jobs, so I came to London. I got heavily into the club scene at the time, and met some people that were running nights and things like that. I ended up getting an office in an online radio station, which is in the Truman Brewery, and basically electronic artists were coming in to do shows and DJ on the station. I just ended up getting freelance work through that and I worked for years for an outfit called Sancho Panza, who are most famous for Notting Hill Carnival, for doing a big stage at Notting Hill Carnival. They also did warehouse parties and things like that.
From there I got offered a job at a record label, Sanctuary Records, which is now part of Universal. I started doing web stuff for them and after about three years there I got kind of fed up with the record industry as it was then and went back to advertising stuff. I worked at a digital ad agency and then a larger advertising group after that.
About two years ago I decided it was a good time to go back to music. Sony came knocking so I came and met Steve and decided I could probably work with him, and that’s that. We kind of kicked it off from there, essentially.
Is Creative Director a very common role within labels? I’ve not really heard of it before.
Steve: Not particularly. We’re quite unique in what we do, with regard to the type of work that we do in the music industry, I guess. Essentially we run almost a boutique agency in-house and our clients are with various labels within the Sony umbrella. I don’t think the other labels do that.
What it means is we essentially take on various groups from the big labels in here, which are Epic, Columbia, RCA, Syco, which is Simon Cowell’s label, and then some smaller labels, as well – Jive, and Deconstruction. What we do is get a brief of a band that Sony Music want to promote this band or this artist, then we come up with the creative and sort of service them as our clients.
Phil: We sort of created the advertising creative time type model inside of the record label, which is kind of unique. There really isn’t anyone else doing that. The reason we can do it is because we’ve spent years gaining these skills of design, programming, video production, music skills in Steve’s case as well. We don’t do tons and tons of that stuff, hands on, but if we have to we can. When we’re commissioning the work we know what to go and get. It makes it easier for us to run a complex project because we’ve done it all in the past and we know how to do it, essentially.
Steve: A lot of that stuff gets really complex at times. It’s quite weird; the sort of stuff we do is often experimental. You’re kind of always sitting on the edge; “is this going to work or not? Am I going to waste loads of money?”
Phil: We’re always sticking our necks out, I guess, and one of the reasons we can do that is because what we do is very cost effective. It’s not as expensive as traditional advertising so it means we can do things that reach more people without spending as much money. That gives us a little bit of freedom to experiment and do more exciting things. To be honest, it generally goes fairly well, but if you do make mistakes it’s not the end of the world because you’re only talking about relatively small amounts of money.
Steve: Yeah, we haven’t had any that haven’t worked out, yet.
Phil: We presented all our work at a creative review conference, last week. A lot of questions we had from the audience were all about “This seems very risky. How could I sell this to the client if I was at an agency?” On the one hand our answer was you need the experience to be able to pull stuff like this off. If you don’t have the experience it will go wrong. The other thing is a lot of the stuff we do is designed to be shared. We don’t buy media. We don’t pay for advertising space, and in a way, as long as you’re doing something with good intentions, the worst thing that’s going to happen is it’s going to languish in the corner of the Internet somewhere and no one is going to see it. It’s not like putting a really inappropriate advertising campaign across London on billboards or whatever. It’s a totally different proposition. That allows us to take a few more risks, I guess.
Steve: Going back to your question about our job title; I guess it depends on what you term as Creative Director. I think that’s slightly misleading. That’s what our titles are, and it’s in the context of what we do. I guess other labels have got creative directors, but probably do different things to us. I think what other labels – I’m not aware of any other labels who’ve got a creative team, in-house, who do this sort of work that Phil and I do. There are other creative directors in this building who look after different things, like artwork, or styling, and stuff like that. That’s just a title. It’s more about what we do, really.
I mentioned the four campaigns of yours that I’m aware of: Kasabian, AC/DC, Editors, and Calvin Harris. I’m interested in how you run these as online marketing campaigns. Say, for example Kasabian ['Football Hero' video embedded below]; could you talk me through how that idea started and how it came across through the production?
Steve: We work closely with a consumer insight team here. I guess part of what is loosely termed “briefing process” is that the consumer insight team, every time there is an artist with an album coming out, they do a lot of market research on that artist, on the audiences for that artist, and we have this thing called the ‘Segment Bible’, which is the UK music market split into 28 segments of consumer, based on age, interests, everything from what brands they buy, where they hang out, how much money they spend. It’s very in depth actually, so when we take on an act to do the online campaign for, we get told who the applicable segments are, and we get the opportunity to speak to people within that segment. They come in and we can talk to them. With Kasabian it was kind of – we already sort of know about Kasabian quite well because it’s their third album and –
Phil: But there were some pretty obvious things coming out. With Kasabian, we were looking at – we have this thing called an artist DNA, which is a document that sums up everything to do with the audiences for that audience, what matters to them about the band, and so there were really strong themes coming out of that to deal with football, gaming, and the way they hung out with them, what they actually did, what they’re into.
Steve: It’s interesting, that audience actually cares more about football and gaming than they do about music. Music is sort of a secondary thing in their lives.
Phil: It was kind of sensible to try and reach them through those channels so we basically said let’s come up with a piece of content that –
Steve: Kind of seems really obvious but I guess it wasn’t like a eureka moment but it was like – Kasabian is sort of synonymous with football, especially here in the UK.
Phil: If their music is used on the titles of the iTV football program and stuff like that and they’ve been on the Sony Bravia ad with Kaka, the Brazilian and AC Milan footballer. And also, the band are fans of football. They’re fans of Leicester City.
Steve: They are big football fans. We kind of started off on this idea of doing something with football and then I guess that kind of progressed. We were thinking about loads of different ideas and kind of progressed into gaming.
Phil: I guess quite a lot of that stuff involves music as well, so that kind of came around to trying to build a giant game of essentially a Guitar Hero type game that people could play with footballs. That was the pipe dream, and from then on it was trying to make it a reality. It was quite a lengthy process in the end!
Steve: I think that we were sitting downstairs there, when we finally got exactly what we wanted to do. Especially, we knew we wanted to get some really cool, freestyle footballers to do it as well. We don’t know any, so then we had the whole process of finding out how we could build it, who we could get to play it, where we could build it, and all that sort of stuff.
Phil: Again, we always work with fairly tight budgets and that was the case with this, as well. It had to be doable for a reasonably modest sum of money so that was a challenge as well. We used the hardware, and the software was all open source and it was pretty low cost, all that stuff. There was a very big production on the day but it was only for a day. The R&D process was relatively inexpensive. Then it was a case of building it and seeing how it would go, essentially, and spending a whole day building, and filming it.
Throughout the whole process is there the risk that the thing wouldn’t work or the footballers weren’t good enough to make it work?
Phil: Absolutely, yeah.
Steve: I think so, but –
Phil: We kind of knew that it would be okay.
Steve: Just the experience, you minimize all the risks, so –
Phil: The hardware, the actual game we built wasn’t technically complicated.
Steve: No, it was one of the least technical things that we’ve done, really.
Phil: That was okay. We knew that was going to be alright so it really came down to would the footballers have enough time to practice, because it was something that wasn’t going to be easy to play.
Steve: And, just the logistics of them playing it, balls bouncing everywhere, and all that sort of stuff.
Phil: And the camera gear, as well, to be honest; there was a lot of expensive gear on the shoot and the balls were just flying everywhere. I was sure we were just going to smash everything.
Steve: Yeah, it was like – you can see in the film, there are the five footballers and each one of them has got a ball boy who is feeding them balls. Then, behind them are literally about 20 people shielding all of the cameras –
Phil: And jumping in front of the balls, saving something.
Steve: The cameras, and the monitors, and all that sort of stuff.
Phil: Yeah, the directors and monitors did get hit in the screen at one point, and it didn’t break. Luckily!
Steve: The thing is, and this is kind of what all our work is about; it’s an experiment and we’re not aiming to do things that are going to be perfect. What we want to do is to tell a story about how we did it, what we’re trying to do, and gear that towards an audience that is interested in that. No one is ever going to believe it if we made this –
Phil: It would be easy to fake –
Steve: … came in and faked it, and all the footballers play and get 100% and everyone is really happy. That’s not believable. To us, what we try and do is to create stories that people want to talk about. I think one of the main things that came out of the Kasabian one was most people said, “I’d love to have a go on that. It looks really difficult. It’s obviously difficult but how much fun is that.”
Phil: It’s like during the shoot, every time we’d stop the take and the footballers went off to have a drink or whatever, the whole crew was playing the game and we were creating just as much carnage ourselves as they were.
Steve: Most people we’ve spoke to since are like, “Where is it?” [laughs] We had to take it down, which was a shame.
Phil: As Steve says, it’s all about telling the story of what we’re doing. It’s not – we’re all about taking on ambitious experiments, trying to make them work, and documenting the process, and telling people about it. The way that works is it becomes an interesting story for people. They pass it on to their friends and it travels around naturally like that.
Steve: More importantly it becomes an interesting story for the type of people who we have an insight that they sort of might like that particular artist. Then it’s targeted marketing, essentially.
Phil: But it’s not that we’re pushing a message at people. We’re letting them spread it. It’s up to them. We’re not even expecting people to do it. It’s just if we create a piece of content that is good enough and interesting enough to those people, then they’ll naturally spread it around. That’s how your message gets out.
The way you describe it to me now, you knew that Kasabian fans were into football and gaming. It seems obvious that it was going to be a winner. I looked at it this morning. It was up to 800,000 views.
Phil: That’s been out for about a month now, so I think it’s still growing quicker than the AC/DC one did. [The Excel-based 'Rock N Roll Train' AC/DC video embedded below.]
Steve: That’s because it’s not the same segment as AC/DC. We sort of have an idea of population numbers of people in those segments.
Phil: There’s about 5 million, isn’t there?
Steve: 1.5 million in the UK. Then obviously our stuff sort of spreads around the world, as well. You can kind of get a good idea of whether you’re hitting the right people or not, and the amount of people in each territory that are hitting, and you get a good percentage on that from what you’ve spent to do it against how effective it’s been.
Beyond the view count, what are the metrics you use to measure the effectiveness of these campaigns?
Steve: We look at – I guess you could say a lot of people write stuff about what we do, and blog about it, and that’s one of the aims – to get people to share.
Phil: It’s less about the view count, to be honest – actually, those view counts, on average 70% of those views come from embedded videos and articles, and blogs and things. It’s much more about securing coverage in the right channels, that we know that the targeted audience reads. If ‘Football Hero’ pops up in the tech channels, the gaming channels, and sports channels, it could be newspapers, blogs, or whatever, then we know that we’ve done the job.
Steve: That one – most of the stuff that we’ve done often spreads out into traditional press, TV, and stuff like that as well.
Which is the ultimate, in many ways, wouldn’t it be? Obviously, your work is online based, but making that leap across is quite the achievement.
Steve: It’s quite interesting the way that you see it. It all transcends through various audience groups. When you read a newspaper, you’re kind of always reading yesterday’s news online. It’s like you pick up today’s newspaper and apart from the breaking stories, you could have read about all this stuff yesterday on Twitter, or blogs or stuff like that. It is interesting when you see – we don’t really press release what we do so it’s nice when you see a journalist has obviously seen it, and picked it up, and then written about it in the newspaper. It’s kind of cool.
Phil: Yeah, that’s kind of that natural spread. That’s what we kind of aim for. What we try and do is to earn our own media so that’s really the magic – getting in the right media and in the right place. If we did, then fine, that’s the job done sort of thing.
Steve: We believe that you shouldn’t have to pay for media, especially not online, because banner ads are really ineffective, and companies still spend a lot of money putting these banner ads on various sites.
Phil: Yeah, they’re utterly ineffective. I think it’s fair enough; if you want to advertise outdoors, for whatever reason, then you’re going to have to pay to get billboards. It’s as simple as that. But, if you want to advertise online, then it makes much more sense to me to try and earn your own media, in the editorial of sites, and stuff, rather than trying to buy ad space where no-one’s looking. And in order to do that, there’s no shortcut to it. You have to create content that people care about, essentially.
And as well as the content, the relationships with those people who write the content, I assume.
Phil: Oh, not necessarily. You’d be surprised.
Steve: I don’t think that’s as important because even the way that we sort of go about launching a campaign, we kind of experiment with a lot. Pretty much, our launch plan is to send it to a couple of blogs and –
Phil: Yeah, so in a particular area there might be a fanatical blog about something to do with electronics, or football, or something like that. Then we’ll send it to one of them and say, “We’ve made this thing. Do you like it? Do you want to cover it?”
Steve: One thing that we’ve sort of found is that generally bloggers and journalists want to kind of write their own content. They want to write their opinion on things and I think when you press release stuff, and you sort of bombard them with the copy, you tend to get a fairly uniform story but there’s not going to be much passion in it.
Phil: There is not much variety, so you get the same story everywhere. What we try and do is don’t even press release.
Steve: We just let people pick up on it because I guess if it’s good, people will do that. If it’s compelling, people want to share it. That just happens.
Phil: They’ll come to you with questions if they have questions, and you can answer them.
Steve: But you get people who write in about it for real, and you get people saying, “I’ve just seen this in Wired and here’s my opinion on it.” I guess people will talk.
I saw AC/DC on Wired last year. I saw Editors on Creative Review['Editors Hack Google Street View' video embedded below], and I’m not sure where I found the other two.
So you guys didn’t really coordinate those placements?
Phil: Well, Creative Review, we’ll tell them what we’re up to. They don’t have to cover it, but we’ll tell them.
Steve: We’ve got a bit of a relationship with Creative Review, just in terms of we speak at some of their conferences and stuff like that.
Phil: Which is like a London digital industry, digital advertising conference run by Creative Review. Inevitably, you end up making some contacts, so next time we go back to – do you know Make Magazine, which is like a – we’ve got a great contact at Make, a real nice guy who’s interested in the technical side of what we do. We’ll tell him about what projects we’re doing and he’ll go, “Oh, I like this one, and I’ll write about this one,” or whatever. He’ll ask us some questions.
Steve: Yeah, but it’s not a formal thing. It’s more like conversation, only it’s the work that we’re up to at the minute. I think that it also depends on the type of project that you do because Creative Review, I guess will cover our stuff; it’s more of an industry thing. It sort of – because the projects vary quite a bit, you’re looking at different target audiences for it. We might not always have stuff that Make are going to cover, or Wired or people like that. It’s more about allowing self discovery in the channels of that audience.
Phil: When it came to Kasabian, we didn’t really know anyone in the gaming channels at all, but we didn’t have to worry about it – or football, but we didn’t need to worry about that. It just came up in all the major gaming sites, major football sites. It’s much more about making good content. You need to get it out there, at the same time. Once it’s out there, small waves –
Steve: I guess our theory is that if it’s good, and it’s compelling for people to share, it will do it anyway. If it doesn’t, then your content’s not good.
It’s interesting to hear you say that, because it’s such a different way of thinking from the old way of spending on billboards, like you said earlier.
Steve: It’s like Phil said; instead of being a push model, it’s a pull model. Yeah, you’re exactly right; it’s completely different from just putting things in front of everyone’s faces. It’s allowing –
…the right faces, ones who will be interested in it, because it appears in those channels.
Phil: Yeah, so instead of pushing a message out and paying for media for it to be there, you are putting a piece of content out and hoping it will pull people to it, and that people will share it around. It’s totally about making the content compelling and tailoring it to the right audience. It would be difficult to be doing that without the targeting information.
Steve: We sort of talk about this a lot and talk about this with other people; I guess a lot of it is sort of digital creative agencies or creative agencies doing this type of content – I know a lot of people who do some really great work, and it’s really cool ideas, but I guess what we do which a lot of people don’t do is really think about who we’re targeting, rather than just having a cool idea. It’s having a cool idea for the right audience because it might be, sometimes, that we have to sell something to a bunch of 35-year old women, and it’s really easy to make assumptions and make mistakes when you’re making something that you think’s going to appeal to them. So having all this insight and artist DNA and stuff like that helps find something that you’ve got a good idea that they will be interested. They won’t feel like they’re being advertised to.
Phil: You’ve got to get out there and put yourself into their head essentially, and think, “Alright, if I was this type of person, what would I…” The actual people in the insight department will go as far to do this. They’ll spend a week in the life of a particular segment; they’ll consume the right media, go to the right things, so they’ll try to experience that person’s world so they understand it better.
A lot of people say, “That’s not very cool, targeting stuff, and consumer insight,” but what you’re doing is instead of filling the world with advertising which is generic, not aimed at anyone, and annoying for vast quantities of people, instead you’re trying to make something a certain type of person will be interested in. It will reach them naturally, through their friends, and the rest of them through channels they’ve been seeing, and the rest of the people just might see it. In a way, I would argue that type of advertising is more sensitive to end users than the current model of push advertising.
Steve: Yeah, and it’s interesting that it’s not really about numbers, either. It’s about quality of engagement and the people that you’re engaging.
Phil: Some of the segments have a very small active population so what we call the fanatical segments, which are really enthusiastic about music, and there’s not many of them. There might be 50,000 in the country.
Steve: If that’s who you’re aiming for, if that’s who you’re aiming a particular creative ad, in order to get something back out of it, then it’s not really about numbers; it’s about engaging those particular people.
Phil: So on the fanatics, we’ll look for smaller numbers, but engaging them for a longer period of time. The Editors project, that’s aimed at a fanatical segment, and that’s looking at smaller numbers. Something like 100,000.
Steve: But you’re looking at stupidly high engagement rates.
Phil: Yeah, like over 3 minutes per person, and an average of 4 tracks each across the application. That’s the opposite way of doing it. Some of the segments are, “Right, let’s go for a big audience, with low engagement.”
Steve: I guess it depends on the objectives of what you’re trying to do, and it really has to support the wider market and campaign for the ad, as well.
Phil: There will be other activity going on, posters and things like that, and events. Ideally, our activity will create a sort of buzz in the news at the same time as all that auxillary stuff is going around. Next time somebody’s buying some music, they’ll have it in their head that they’ve enjoyed this bit of content with that music in it.
You’ve had a few successes with these kinds of campaigns now. How do you think the label management view these kinds of campaigns? Are they starting to see more value, giving you guys a bigger budget to work with for these kinds of projects?
Steve: Kind of, I think it’s like anything; the music industry is very similar to the advertising industry as well. It sort of takes a long time to turn things around to new models, and to change the behaviors of old, in terms of something huge like advertising. Really, it’s about the way that people consume media, which is changing. Any big company that starts looking at new areas like that, it’s a bit like turning a super tanker. I guess it’s slowly but surely – we’ve kind of started rolling these campaigns out. We don’t spend enormous amounts of money, at all. In fact, anything but – it’s really modest sums, especially for the advertising world. It would be like pocket change.
I guess the labels and the company in general sort of do attach value to what we do because we’re kind of proving we don’t need to do media spend, that we get really good engagement rates, and that we’re making interesting content that people are interested in, that isn’t just a Kasabian album out now. I guess budgets are going up a bit, but then –
Phil: I think we may be seeing that over the last two years, they’ve gradually given us more freedom and more autonomy to do what we do. It isn’t directly giving us more money for our projects but they’ve made it gradually easier for us to do.
Steve: I think that’s like a trust. I think sometimes an artist or artist manager might kind of see on paper what we’ve proposed to do and kind of go, “Ew, that’s different,” and they’re very sensitive to how artists are perceived by the public and things like that. I guess when we do stuff they feel like they’re taking a bit of risk, as well, but I guess the more we do this stuff, the more people see that it actually works and we sort of do the artist good. I guess more freedom comes from having that trust.
Phil: I’d say that’s been the major change to the artists. It’s not like we’ve suddenly got tons of money to spend, but we do definitely have more freedom now and definitely have more trust from the managers and artists and people like that. That kind of comes back into the work, so that we can do better work next time around.
Steve: The other thing about budgets is sometimes having endless budgets stifles your creativity. I think it’s nice to be able to execute stuff within the budgets that we do, and execute it well. Often, it means that we are very hands on, but I guess that being hands on means we also sort of keep an element of control and ownership over what we do so we get it the way we want it. We don’t just have an idea, then pass it to someone else and say, “Go and make that.”
Phil: Under some extreme circumstances, we’ve actually been cleaning the floor after the shoot. If it has to be done, we’ll do it.
Steve: Exactly, and I think that’s good too, because you think, “What’s the best that I can achieve for this amount of money that I’ve got to spend, when I can’t actually just go in and pay for lots of people to go do it?”
Phil: It’s a bit like you’ll spend what you’re given, generally, so someone gives you fifty grand, you’ll spend fifty grand, but that doesn’t mean the work is going to be any better than if they’d given you twenty.
Steve: I guess one of the things, as well, is that because we’re kind like an internal agency, we’re not trying to make money out of anyone. We’re actually just spending what we need to spend to do the project. It might be sometimes that actually what we need to spend is half of the budget that we’ve been given, and in that case – brilliant. Often, it’s not. Often, we’re sort of sitting on the very edge of what we’ve got to spend because it’s often not very much, but –
Phil: Yeah, in theory, if we didn’t need the whole thing, we wouldn’t spend it, but in practice you’re talking about such small budgets that we do spend it all.
Steve: We’re working on a new project at the minute. It’s quite difficult. One of the guys that helped on the Calvin Harris project. ['Humanthesizer' video embedded below.]
Which other labels or teams in the industry are you aware of who do similar stuff to you guys? Do you think you’re unique?
Phil: There isn’t anybody doing what we do.
Steve: In the advertising industry, for sure.
Phil: There are some campaigns, like you might have seen the Oasis campaign –
Phil: Yeah, and that’s BBH in New York, an ad agency.
Steve: There are a lot of ad agencies that we really like the work of, and that we see doing really good work.
Phil: That’s who we see our peers as other people in the advertising industry, rather than –
Steve: Rather than the music industry. What we do is advertising for the music industry. That’s why we’ve got interesting projects to work with. We’re not trying to sell dog food. It kind of makes your job quite fun.
Phil: Less soul-destroying.
It does sound like a pretty awesome job, to get to be creative with artists’ work.
Steve: It is really cool, actually. We have a lot of fun.
Phil: Can’t complain.
Steve: We have loads of fun doing what we do. It sort of is cool to be able to have really creative ideas and then be able to execute them for products that you’re actually quite passionate about or even if not passionate about, just sort of is more interesting than something which people generally find mundane. I’m not hugely into commercial pop music, but when you’re doing something for a really commercial pop act, and you see the people that you’re engaging, they’re really passionate about it so it kind of makes what you do feel worthwhile, rather than sort of –
Phil: Trying to sell people something they don’t need.
Steve: Yeah, try to sell a product that people don’t have – don’t care about at all. It’s completely different and it does make the job sort of really worthwhile and really good fun to do.
Phil: I guess the other side of it is we’re always seeing R&D on new ideas, new technologies, and new things that we might develop and we have the freedom to be able to do that alongside our normal work, so that’s really good fun. We’re always tinkering with something, making something new, or trying to investigate how to do something.
That’s what I really enjoy, just getting my teeth into something that looks impossible and trying to make it happen. We’ll be trolling through the Internet, looking at writing programs, and drawing things, and trying to work out if we can make something work. It’s another fun side of it, what’s coming next, what are we going to do next.
I’ll leave it there. I’m out of questions. Could I grab a photo of you two as you are now?
Music videos that achieve so-called ‘viral’ spread via word-of-mouth referrals are one of the biggest components of the social web – over half of the most-viewed YouTube videos of all time are music-related. In recent weeks, the ‘JK Wedding Video‘ showed that the inclusion of a particular song can boost sales significantly, as in the case of Chris Brown’s ‘Forever’. Years ago, Australian band The Sick Puppies found the same thing when their song was included in Juan Mann’s 2006 clip ‘Free Hugs Campaign‘, which is still the #1 viewed video of all time.
Andrew McMillen investigates two tales of recent Australian viral video success: one a signed act, one unsigned.
Abbey Road, London, early one February morning. Dozens of vehicles are bound for dozens of destinations, but not before the daily crowd of tourists continually hold up traffic to re-enact that famous image from The Beatles’ final studio album. Footage is alternately fast-forwarded and slowed to normal speed as group after group step over the crossing’s well-trodden white lines, while Blame Ringo’s wistful indie pop provides the soundtrack to a mesmerising display of human imitation and reminiscence.
Released in February 2009, Brisbane’s Blame Ringo [pictured right] found a worldwide audience with their hastily-filmed video for ‘Garble Arch’; subtitled ‘A Day In The Life Of Abbey Road’. Though starring none of the band members and – aside from the name – thematically distant from The Beatles’ work, nearly 400,000 pairs of eyes and ears across the world have absorbed the band’s creation. At what cost?
“The budget was $100, which covered the express post and mates-rates wages,” reveals Blame Ringo singer/guitarist Pete Kilroy. “A mate of ours was staying near Abbey Road, so I asked him to record people crossing for a couple of hours. He express posted the tapes, and since I’m a film editor by trade, I just edited it myself.”
When asked why he thinks the video became such a hit, Kilroy explains that they tapped into an indelible element of The Beatles’ folklore. “The love for The Beatles can’t be matched, and on a world scale, probably will never be matched. Besides that, when you watch the video, you think, “Look at all these tools. Who do they think they are?”, but your next thought is, “Man, I wish I was there doing that!” It sort of shows human nature.”
Six months on, are the Brisbane four-piece still feeling the effects of the video? Kilroy is optimistic: “The video really opened some doors, as it got us album distribution. It made people interested, whereas with any kind of traditional advertising, it’s hard to get people to buy your record, to see your show; to give you their time. Creating something that people can identify with – while acting as an advertisement for our music – fast-forwarded our career around 6-12 months. But there’s no point dwelling in the past. The video will sit on YouTube and keep ticking over for years and years. We get fan mail from across the world, and that’s really cool because you’d never reach those people otherwise.”
What advice would Kilroy give other bands attempting to follow that kind of viral video trajectory? “I was a film student and all they ever told us was that it’s the idea that counts. Look at ‘Garble Arch’; we’re not even in the film clip. It’s not about us. To release a good clip, it’s about the quality of the idea and creating a concept that people will want to see. It’s important to simply offer something different and unique.”
From a story of serendipitous viral success to an adventurous, label-funded production: Dew Process signees Bluejuice [pictured left] released their ‘Broken Leg’ video on July 16. The six-minute extended version of the clip finds the band’s two vocalists portraying embittered former jump-rope champions in a mockumentary format, before the parody gives way to a choreographed World Skipping Championship Final battle between the five band members (‘Team Bluejuice’) and a children’s dance troupe (‘Shimmer Extreme’).
Though the viewer is led to believe that the performance took place before thousands of screaming skipping fans, vocalist Stav Yiannoukas – who plays the fictional character, Spiridon ‘Mr Invisible’ Savvas – reveals that it was filmed at Sydney’s Metro Theatre. Post-production wizardry blended the empty theatre with stock footage of a stadium crowd.
“The actual day of shooting was reasonably torturous, having trained for six weeks. Being filmed for 12 hours while skipping constantly is incredibly exhausting.”
Hang on – six weeks’ skipping training? That’s dedication to a music video!
Yiannoukas confirms: “Three hours a day, three days a week. It was absolutely necessary; we had to commit to the idea. And we also had to get an understanding of how good – or ultimately, how bad – we were going to be at skipping.”
The band’s dedication has paid off: besides creating a clip that’s both hilarious and memorable, the band have since amassed a combined 55,000 views for the video and its bonus mockumentary off-shoots, in addition to a mid-August triple j award nomination for Australian Music Video Of The Year. Dew Process’ Marketing Manager, Graham Ashton, elaborates on the success.
“‘Broken Leg’ was different from a lot of our other projects. While we normally work on finessing longer campaigns, we decided to go all-out for a big hit single, and that’s certainly looking like it’s going to happen. So far, it’s sold around 5,000 copies without traditional marketing. It’s all been based on a word-of-mouth online campaign in the lead-up to the song’s release. I won’t disclose the campaign budget, but you’d be surprised at how little it was.”
Ashton admits that it’s difficult to measure the returns on online marketing campaigns. “Its success can be put down to word-of-mouth, more than anything. Both externally, within the punters’ world, but internally within the music industry. We did a tastemaker mail-out at the time of launch, and the response was fantastic. Another way of measuring its effect is the email database the band has since built, based on the opportunities surrounding this video and the campaign website.”
Based on the strong responses to the band’s three Sam Bennetts-directed clips – 2007′s ‘Vitriol’ (150,000 views), 2008′s ‘The Reductionist’ (38,000 views) and ‘Broken Leg’ (55,000 combined views) – it’s fair to state that the band are adept at combining an excellent sense of self-deprecating humour with a penchant for creating memorable music videos. When asked how the band plan to top their finest visual achievement thus far, Yiannoukas is cautious: “It’s a difficult task. I think we’ll rip it away from the mockumentary format, as it’s important for us to keep challenging ourselves, and to reinforce that we’re more than that one-dimensional approach. The idea itself is ‘to be confirmed!’”
Andrew McMillen is an Australian freelance music writer.
I 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.
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]:
The 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…
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.]
[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]:
As 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.
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.
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]:
That’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]:
Well, 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 Dreamssponsored $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]:
Obviously, 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 Kazaacase, 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)
Streaming concert video hub Moshcam is a super awesome resource for viewing professionally-recorded footage of bands that tour Sydney, Australia. They’ve been an intriguing player on the web music scene since 2007, yet I hadn’t seen their story told anywhere else. I was stoked when co-founder Paul Hannigan agreed to my snooping questions in early April 2009. Here ’tis: the most complete Moshcam interview, ever. Take that, internet!
Hey Paul! I’ve researched you and your company as well as the internet allowed me. Can you describe how the idea behind Moshcam began, and how you decided to undertake the project with your two fellow founders?
I’d returned from Los Angeles where I’d been working with a couple of successful start-ups (Citysearch, and GoTo.com, which subsequently became Overture/Yahoo Search Marketing) and had been helping manage and promote a few bands over there. Living back in Sydney at the time, around 2006, I wanted to do “something with music online”, which was about as specific as my thinking was at that point.
As a fan, I found myself at shows at venues like The Metro and Enmore 3-4 times a week. As it happened, John Reddin, who was a friend and Head of Production at XYZ’s Lifestyle Channel, had worked on a number of television productions with Elia Eliades’ (the owner of Century Venues) production company. Elia had spoken to John about his desire to explore new territory with his venues online and John said “I know this fellow you should talk to”, and arranged an introduction. Through that meeting, the idea of Moshcam was born.
Did you have any experience within the music industry, or were those connections gained through John and Elia?
I’d been a drummer and a music journalist in Europe, and had some band management and production experience there and in the States. But I hadn’t been part of the industry itself in Australia, other than in a reporting capacity as Editor-in-Chief of what was initially Fairfax‘s Citysearch.
Of course, as a tragic consumer, I’d just spent 3 months digitising some 6,000 albums in my collection, so if nothing else, it felt like I was propping up the industry! And suddenly, here was an opportunity to bring a love of music together with a background in content production and technology development?
Moshcam doesn’t seem like the kind of business that’s built overnight. How long did it take to put concept into practice? I understand that you consulted with Melbourne web developers Hyro to build a custom CMS with sharing/playlist functionalities; had they undertaken any similar projects, or was this an all-new interface?
The CMS was more of an iterative process in that we were really pushing into new territory around video serving and how to manage those assets.
The Hyro project profile states that you required banner advertising intergration for revenue purposes, yet at the time of writing, I can’t see any ads on the site. When do you plan to include these, and is this the only revenue avenue down which Moshcam is treading?
As a start-up that needed to build significant traffic from scratch, we always wanted to get the product right for music fans in terms of usability, first and foremost, before we thought about how to include things like sponsorship and advertising. Moshcam was always going to be a free offering, so naturally a free-to-air advertising model was going to be a part, but by no means all, of our model at some stage.
However, I think it’s fair to say we are at an interesting juncture in the online world when it comes to music specifically, and there are a host of revenue models which may or may not play out in the months and years ahead.
Moshcam’s stated aim is to make quality live recordings available to be streamed over the web for free. I can’t imagine that every artist you approach is accepting of this goal; what is Moshcam’s strike rate, and have you found that artists have become more welcoming of the idea since Moshcam started in 2007?
Almost every artist we speak to directly loves the idea and only cares about getting their work out there.
With record companies and managers, however, who are often the gatekeepers of approval for us, there’s still a great divide between those that embrace their artists’ music online and those who are more resistant.
It’s easy to understand their concerns since they’ve seen revenues consistently eroded through free downloading but with something like Moshcam, increasingly they see it as a valuable showcase for the artist, both in terms of their existing and potential fanbase, as well as being able to show promoters who may not be familiar with their work just how well they can deliver live.
If I had to give you a number, I’d say we’ve moved the strike rate from something like 10% to 40%, which given the number of bands that comes through Sydney is a significant figure. We just filmed our 500th show, which was Gary Numan at The Enmore Theatre.
Moshcam is only licensed to broadcast each recording over the internet, so the shows currently aren’t available for download. In the coming years, do you think that labels will begin to request the ability to download recordings on behalf of the artists, perhaps at a per-song or per-show cost? This makes a lot of sense to me: stream the show for free, and include the option to buy a high-quality recording – via file download or on a physical DVD – for around the cost of an album.
Absolutely. This is something we are working with the labels to put into effect. As record labels look for new revenue streams, this is one that previously did not exist. The revenue from a gig ends the minute the merch stand shuts up shop. What better way to extend the life cycle of that show than through making it available for fans to buy?
As the aggregator of all this great footage, we are perfectly placed to offer just such a service. As you can imagine, there are a number of issues that need to be resolved in terms of licensing and technology, but we are very hopeful that this will be finalised soon.
Do you present each artist with the same contract? Do some artists try to negotiate so that Moshcam’s recordings can be downloaded?
We have a standard contract that varies only in the length of broadcast terms, from two years to ‘in perpetuity’.
The download issue is not one that really comes up in the negotiations, other than the aforementioned assurances that we don’t offer it for free.
Until we are able to put in place a site-wide download service, we link through to any band who makes their gig available for download or purchase elsewhere.. of which there are very few.
Moshcam is now working in partnership with several Sydney venues. Are you planning to transfer the concept to other cities and venues across the country?
Other than being able to drill down to a very local level, there are no real economies of scale for us setting up in other Australian cities, since almost every band from another city we’d like to film tours and plays Sydney at some point.
Internationally, I’d love to work with venues in Tokyo, London or Dublin, and New York or LA and cover the four corners of the rock and roll globe! Once we prove the model, I hope there will be opportunities to do just that.
There was some controversy in Brisbane last year when Birds Of Tokyo‘s management kicked up a fuss over bootleg footage of new material that was recorded at The Zoo – coverage here and here. As a music fan, not a business owner, how do you feel about fans recording gig footage and uploading it to video streaming sites? I know that the quality can range from cameraphone-poor to semi-professional setups, yet I feel that there’s an inherent innocence in making an effort to record musicians’ work to share with other fans.
It’s a dilemma isn’t it? As a music fan I want to see and hear anything and everything by the bands I love, but I respect the right of an artist to control their own output, particularly when it comes to quality – which, let’s face it, is the defining point of difference between Moshcam and 30 seconds of mobile phone footage on YouTube.
Obviously the internet has moved the practice of taping shows into a whole new digital distribution environment. But personally, I can’t see how this does anything but increase artist exposure, and ultimately, sales. I do think there is often a lot of disingenuous talk about downloads not affecting sales, depending on who’s making what point, but when it comes to live fan recordings I really do think that is the case.
How do you prefer to listen to music? How has this changed since you bought your first album?
I have a ridiculous amount of music stored digitally, both burned from my vinyl and CD collection and bought from iTunes.
I was a bit of a vinyl junkie originally and took a while to make to change to CDs since it seemed a real degradation of the album for the sake of convenience. Tiny artwork, illegible lyrics, reduced dynamics, etc. I think that’s why I embraced the digital format so quickly, as I’d already done my grieving for the original artifact. Now, there’s just the music, and nothing else to get obsessive about.
How do I listen to music differently now than back in the day? I’m a compulsive curator, so it’s almost always a playlist as opposed to an album.
More people are listening to more music than ever before, yet the major labels are resistant to changes in consumer habits due to an effort to retain pre-internet revenue models. Agree or disagree?
Well it’s a prima facie argument, isn’t it? There’s a lot of nonsense spoken on both sides about the effects of digital downloads on the industry. Most kids I know have never paid for music in their lives. That’s just the world they grew up in, it’s not a new digital frontier for them, nor is it a moral issue. They have larger music libraries at 16 than I had after years of buying music as a fan.
But the point is, they would never have bought that music anyway. So it’s simplistic and misleading for the labels to say that this is somehow lost revenue.
What’s more, these kids are incredibly indiscriminate about what they download, which exposes them to artists they would never have heard if they were buying one album a month with their pocket money. This gets them out to live shows; gets them buying merch, and gets them involved in online fan communities, often interacting with the artists themselves. All of which creates lifelong fans who will buy music in some form or other when a pricing model becomes both standardised and sensible.
Likewise, a lot of people who buy music continue to do so, while downloading a lot of free stuff they wouldn’t normally buy to check it out – again, no lost revenue and wider artist exposure boosting live music attendance. Can it really be coincidence that we’ve seen an explosion in live music attendance since since the advent of peer-to-peer download networks?
And then there is the percentage of people who are downloading for free the music that they would have historically paid for. That’s something you can’t refute. Human nature being what it is, and music costing what it does, means that a lot of people are saving themselves money at the expense of the label and the artist. And that’s a problem, especially for the artist. If a musician can’t make a living from their output, how can they survive to make more music?
That’s why the tour has become an income staple. It’s like a return to the strolling minstrel – bands as bards, singing for their supper!
Let’s hope we see some innovation from the labels around pricing to get fans paying for music at a price that’s realistic, in the new digital economy. Whether that’s a tiered licensing model – which would save fans like me who still buy their music a small fortune – remains to be seen, but if you look at media sectors where this has been operational, such as subscription TV, you can see how it could be work for the online music industry.
None of this is being held back by mechanics or technology. It’s all about pricing. However, I think there will always be a demand for a fan to buy an album or a song directly to own it, either as a digital file, or as something you can hold and look at.
What excites you about the music and web industries?
The immediacy. It’s like the fourth wall has been demolished. Although with that comes a loss of some of the mystique for fans and means there will probably never be any more rock gods, I think it’s really healthy.
The internet is basically punk technology for music distribution. Now not only can anyone pick up a guitar, form a band and record some songs, they can get it out there on a scale that has never been possible before.
And in the area of live music, I’m obviously thrilled that we can now capture a gig and share it with fans without having to get into the business of DVD production and distribution. As a fan, this is all part of what I love about being able to experience music outside of the established release schedule of a band’s label.
Before the web, all you heard from a band was what the label released. Perhaps an album every couple of years; maybe a live album or a DVD. Now there are all these great auxiliary moments where you get to see and hear an artist outside the studio, being captured and shared in all sorts of environments.
Moshcam was nominated for a Webby Award last month in the ‘Best Music Site’ category, although you were beaten in the end by NPR. Congrats! Was this a goal of yours, or a total surprise?
Thanks! It was great to be acknowledged by our peers as doing something worthwhile.
To be honest it was a total surprise. Obviously, we’d entered but we haven’t been doing this for too long and we figured we were probably still off the radar of the Stateside luminaries who decide these things.
What are your plans to navigate the ‘interesting juncture’ in online advertising models, and what can we expect from Moshcam throughout 2009?
One thing to understand is that we didn’t start this as a marketing model upon which to hang a product. It was a genuine project by three fans to build something compelling for other fans. That said, it’s far from inexpensive to maintain and obviously we have to find a way to pay for it.
How will we do that? Well, one thing Moshcam enjoys is a startling level of engagement with it’s users. Fans are watching for an average of 31 minutes per show, which is almost 10 times the average for a website visit. And when you realise that video advertising is the fastest growing sector, it’s not hard to see a model there that could work well for us as the market matures.
As discussed, we’re also very keen to work with bands and labels to facilitate a download service, should they wish to sell their shows. We’re also working on some neat licensing and distribution partnerships, and we have a 13-part TV show featuring signed and unsigned Australian bands running on cable at the moment called “Moshcam: Live and Kicking”. We’re not in the business of re-inventing the internet’s business models; we just want to be in a position to offer a valuable service to bands, valuable content to fans and be able to work with whichever models shake out as viable for us.
As for the rest of 2009, you can expect hundreds more great gigs filmed, as well as a lot of new types of content, from backstage interviews to artist-curated playlists. You’ll also see Moshcam on the road around Australia capturing the best local bands in each capital city, and a couple of other cool initiatives we’re developing that will focus on getting some unsigned bands we love much wider exposure!
As you can see, Moshcam is kind of a big deal. Unless I’m mistaken, their streaming concert concept is sailing uncharted waters on the national level, so to speak, and they’re probably a trend-setter on the international front, too. Remember, you read it here first! All 2,900 words! Congrats. To reward yourself, head to Moshcam and watch a show. They’ve got over 500 available, so if you can’t find one that you like, you’re not a music fan. Get the hell off my blog!
The latest Lefsetz Letter is awesome. Bob discusses music and one of my favourite authors; how could I not read it?
I quote freely from the letter below. I’ve added a layer of links to help you out, and highlighted some particularly good bits. Enjoy.
[...] We met at the restaurant at the appointed time. It was me, Craig, Felice, Malcolm Gladwell…and a woman Malcolm was waiting for.
[...] And when we finally sat down at the table, I got a vibe… We were going to leave our identities at the door, this was going to be a friends evening. There’s no way to alienate a celebrity more than delving into their work, they oftentimes become uptight and raise a barrier, which is never ever lowered.
[...] And then dinner was finished. And I had an internal debate. Should I ask my one big question, the one that had been haunting me for months, whether you were fucked if you switched gears and entered a new territory, after devoting 10,000 hours to one?
I took the risk.
The change was stunning. Suddenly, this wiry Canadian turned into “Malcolm Gladwell”. The gentleman you see on television, the confident storyteller. Malcolm said you got credit, that the hours were transferable, because those who devoted this amount of time to a pursuit were self-selecting.
In other words, it’s hard, and lonely, to put in 10,000 hours. You’ve seen the Olympic athletes on TV, they send a crew to shoot footage prior to the quadrennial games and the sportsman or woman is running down an abandoned highway in the middle of summer, shvitzing up enough sweat to fill a swimming pool. If you want to be great, you have to not only work, but sacrifice. You can’t spend endless hours somnambulant in front of the TV screen, you can’t go out partying every night. You’ve got to dedicate yourself to your pursuit. Which is what Malcolm did.
He used to be a reporter for the “Washington Post“. For a decade. He told us about dictating a story, exactly how it appeared in print, upon deadline. Coldly, calmly, Malcolm spoke into the telephone. He didn’t say he couldn’t perform, he didn’t freak out. Hell, he didn’t even think about the challenge. He’d been groomed for it. By himself, by his experience.
Malcolm winced. He said he was so much better now. He’d learned that what an audience wanted first and foremost was story. This reminded me of Don Hewitt speaking of “60 Minutes”. That’s what he said the success of the show was based on, storytelling.
In other words, it’s not that hard to assemble the facts. But how can you convey them in a way that intrigues your audience?
Malcolm went on to tell us a story he’d been relaying to groups, about David vs. Goliath. How David can always beat the giant, if he puts in the effort. I asked him to globalize this concept, to the economic crisis, but Malcolm begged off and the dinner was over. But what Malcolm stated remained with me. Was it possible, could David truly beat Goliath?
Goliath is the establishment. Which has a set of rules to keep itself in power. But if you’re willing to work really hard, you can beat the system. But it requires a lot of effort.
Today I got an e-mail from the “New Yorker“. I’ve been a subscriber since the seventies. I don’t read every line, there wouldn’t be enough time to read “Automobile” or “Ski” or “National Geographic Explorer” or “Vanity Fair”. But I always comb the table of contents, looking for interesting nuggets.
And sometimes, especially on planes, or in stolen moments, I start in on an article that appears unappealing but ends up riveting me, because it’s so well-written! That’s what most magazines lack. They’ll give you the information, but it’s delivered in a pedestrian style that doesn’t make your heart sing or cause a lump in your throat to form. Great writing should be able to be about ANYTHING!
So I’m perusing the “New Yorker” e-mail and the first article listed is “Malcolm Gladwell on how David Beats Goliath“. [...] The piece begins with the tale of how an unknowledgeable coach of a girl’s basketball team brought his unskilled charges to the national championship, by challenging the accepted notions of how to play the game. Rather than start with skills, the coach focused on the full-court press, conditioning was more important to this cause than years of training the girls missed and could not replace.
Like Napster. All night coding sessions by college students brought down an entire industry. The labels had a formula, all boiling down to the overpriced CD. But if someone did what was seen as socially unpopular, making the music free, and put in the effort to write the program that achieved this, the labels, the Goliath in this story, were fucked.
That’s what happened. Those seen as powerless, not given an iota’s worth of attention, decimated the major labels. Hell, it’s happening in all kinds of industries now. Teams of online denizens search for gotcha moments and expose the frailties of companies. Goliaths, like Domino’s Pizza, are caught flat-footed, they’re beaten by those they never even took seriously.
So you can beat the major labels, you can beat most of the infrastructure in the music industry today, because these people just aren’t working that hard. They’ve got families, they go on vacation, they like to play golf. Whereas you’ve got nothing but time and a computer, you can work 24/7 to break your band. And you’ve got the tools to do it! Pro Tools. Exhibition and distribution online. Today’s acts can give away their music, it’s their choice. The labels HATE them for this, the old acts HATE them for this! John Mellencamp wants a return to the old days. But the old days are gone.
But at least Mellencamp put in the effort, that’s why he’s so good.
Are you that good?
Anyone can have a MySpace page, Facebook too. They can tweet about their gigs, can add people to mailing lists that they never asked to be put on. But none of this covers up the music. Have you put in enough effort such that your music is truly great?
Lindsay Lohan didn’t. Nor did Hilary Duff. Britney’s a performer. The Spice Girls are a joke. Dr. Dre put in the hours, but so many acts working with these beat specialists have a desire to be rich and famous, but that’s about it. Desire to make it is important, but it must be accompanied with effort, with ACHIEVEMENT!
The Goliaths believe in top-down marketing. It’s easy to beat them, it’s very simple. You’ve got to start at the bottom and have patience. They’ve got no patience, they need profits NOW! The Goliaths believe their money will triumph, that if you build it, they can buy it. But the Net is rife with stories of acts that have been abused by their labels. And what can a label provide other than little listened-to radio and TV play that doesn’t move the needle. You don’t want that, it doesn’t satiate your audience!
You’ve got to get really good and convince fans one by one. Not by dunning them, but by attracting them, by being so damn great.
I didn’t read the “Tipping Point” because Malcolm called me, or because someone sent it to me, I felt the buzz. Which is hard to manufacture. Or, if you do manufacture it, it doesn’t last. Now I’m a fan. I thought “Blink” was a step down from “Tipping Point”, but “Outliers” is a complete return to form, the same way the band’s third album convinces you, the first was not a fluke, they truly are good!
But how many bands get to a third album today?
And, let’s not forget, Gladwell had a decade at the “Washington Post“, when his national profile was almost nil.
He paid his dues. He invented his own genre. Now he’s reaping the rewards.
Don’t complain about the system, don’t bitch that you can’t make it. That just indicates to me that you haven’t put in enough time. Because if you’re truly good, people will find you. Genius is learned, you’re not born with it. If you write a song every day and perform every night for fifteen years, you will no longer suck. Then again, there are issues of timing. THERE ARE NO GUARANTEES!
Can you stay the course when times are tough? Can you live in an apartment as opposed to a house, can you drive an old car? Can you avoid applying to graduate school? Can you not get fucked up at night so you can work clear-headed tomorrow? Can you not have children so you can focus on your work?
In other words, can you work hard and SACRIFICE?
The legends did. I don’t see why you should get a pass.
Actually, it doesn’t matter what I think, the public at large will decide your fate.
The public decided radio sucked. Decided CDs were overpriced too.
How have the industries reacted? Radio still has twenty two minutes of commercials an hour and the playlists are boring. Online albums cost about as much as physical ones, even though the sound is second-rate and there are no production or shipping costs. Do you think the public doesn’t know this? At least Amazon was smart enough to sell Kindle books below wholesale…otherwise it doesn’t make sense!
I’m a Gladwell fan. He’s earned my trust. I’d rather read his work than listen to the musings of your son/best friend/lover/college buddy who’s enlisted you in his effort to break through musically. Great stuff always breaks through. But right now, those willing to sacrifice, to work really hard, tend to be in the tech sphere. We’re not getting the best and the brightest in music. Because the Goliaths have stacked the deck in their favor.
But this won’t last. Enough Davids are building new acts and new systems below the old guard’s radar. They’re going to triumph. Just watch.