All posts tagged University

  • A Conversation With James Drewe, Digital Planner at Starcom Worldwide

    james_dreweMeet James Drewe, Digital Planner at Starcom Worldwide‘s Brisbane office. Starcom is a media agency that focuses on the strategic implementation of advertising and marketing objectives. James deals with sweet digital projects every day. Jealous?

    James, Starcom seem a lucrative company to break into. How’d you first hear of them, and how’d you talk your way inside?

    I had the possibility of taking two subjects’ worth of work experience in my final year of university and I really wanted to take advantage of that opportunity, so I did a lot of research on advertising agencies and weighed them all up based on a few factors which I thought (at the time) were important to what I wanted to get out of my career. I looked at the global size of the company and their clients. Starcom was on the list, along with half a dozen other agencies with offices in Australia.

    How did I talk my way in? The old fashioned way – networking. University is about what you know, but the workforce is also about who you know. So I began to network in order to approach the right people in the industry. Timing was also on my side, as Starcom happened to be looking for a new digital person at the time I made contact with them.

    Which degree did you study, and, thinking about your career, how effectively did the coursework prepare you for life in the real world?

    Originally I wanted to study 3D animation and work at a company like Pixar, but in my first year I discovered advertising and in my second year I switched to the Queensland University of Technology’s Bachelor of Creative Industries. It was an open-ended degree that allowed me to study the bulk of marketing and advertising subjects from a full Business degree, but also continue my passion for arts by taking electives in film, television and website development.

    After looking at how many business subjects I could take, I took as many advertising specific courses as possible, everything from consumer behaviour to copywriting, marketing and PR. Some subjects prepare you better than others, but I can’t comment on the current course because it might have changed.

    There are very few courses which focus specifically on media. A Business degree and in particular the Marketing/Advertising Major is very broad in its scope because marketing is a very broad field. Marketing covers advertising, public relations, the look and feel of your brand, consumer behaviour, media, research and more, so it is very tough to focus on your particular interest unless you went on to do post-graduate work.

    At the end of the day, you can only learn so much at university and most of it will be theory rather than practical. There are a few team-based subjects where you get the opportunity to prepare a marketing/advertising strategy for a company (made up or potentially real) and these are the closest you will get to applying the theory in a real-world context until you actually land on your feet in the industry.

    Tell us about your role at Starcom. How has it has changed during your time there?

    My role at Starcom is Digital Planner which encompasses research strategy, media planning, campaign implementation and reporting and analysis. This means that I sit in with our client teams at the time of briefing and help develop their campaign strategies, specifically how those campaigns will play out in the digital space (be that online, digital video, social, mobile or other forms of ‘digital’). I also plan the intricacies of the campaigns, including which sites we will use suggesting ad formats to creative agencies, and implementing (booking) these campaigns. Once a campaign is over I assist with the reporting and analysis of performance and what we can learn for future campaigns.

    And, because I know digital (and therefore computers), I’m also substitute IT guy when ours is out of the office!

    This role has evolved since I started in 2006. When I was fresh to the agency my primary role was to look after reporting and material management (making sure the correct ads appear in the correct places). The role has definitely grown and my responsibilities are now far greater.

    In this Mark Pollard article, he and his merry band of marketing/advertising commentators joyously bash the words and phrases with which you deal each day. Is your blood boiling, or do you agree that the industry tends to disappear up its own arse on occasion?

    As you can tell by the number of comments on Mark’s article (45 at last count), this is a sentiment shared by a quite a few people within the ‘digital’ community – I’ve even thrown my two-cents into that post as well.

    Marketing as a whole is full of jargon and catchphrases, it’s not just the digital fraternity. However, it seems to me that along with the rise of online and digital marketing, the number of buzzwords has proliferated – you can’t just use generic terms anymore, you have to put your own spin on it.

    My blood certainly isn’t boiling after reading the article, it’s been a great opportunity for some of us to have a laugh at ourselves, because at the end of the day we’ve all been guilty of using at least some of ‘those’ words – I know I am.

    What are your thoughts on the recent commercialisation of social media – wherein many companies are realising that people are talking about them online, and that they’d best monitor those conversations – and do you think this concept is solid, or a mere phase?

    Social media still has a ‘flavour of the month’ feel about it to me but I don’t mean that in a bad way. It just seems that a lot of companies see social media as something they have to jump into because everyone else is. Unfortunately, very few people know how to do it properly and actually turn it into something which can drive measurable business results.

    Social media has been around a long time, digital has just made it easier for groups to congregate and get their voice heard. I’d include word-of-mouth marketing, public bulletin boards and to a certain extent free newsletters in the social media category because these are all about people voicing their own opinions. However these three examples are much easier for mass audiences to ignore due to the limited reach these mediums have.

    The internet made it a lot easier for groups of like-minded people (say, bitter Walmart employees) to get together and share their passion. When the issue of physical distance is removed from the equation, you no longer have just a small, local community – instead you have a national, or even global – group which has a lot more weight behind it.

    I think social media is a great way for some companies to extend their customer service and public relations into an environment that their consumers are actively engaged in; however, there is a very fine line between utilising this space correctly and simply jumping in because ‘Twitter is in the press at the moment’. There are some great examples of companies using social media to their benefit, including Dell and Zappos on Twitter, and there’s just as many examples of companies who have created a lot of bad press for themselves, such as RyanAir.

    Financial crisis. Big and scary for advertising agencies. Right? Have the last six months been kind to you?

    The financial crisis is affecting different companies and agencies in different ways. There is certainly an overwhelming mood of cautiousness at the moment. Many companies, regardless of industry, are doing it tougher this year than they were at the same time last year – some are choosing not to increase their budgets, others are cutting theirs, some are continuing on with business as usual.

    Okay, recession. We get it. Tough times for the job market. Near-impossible to get a start in the creative industries if you’re a recent graduate. Fact or fiction?

    Near-impossible might be taking it a bit far, but it certainly is a lot tougher to get a job at the moment, and it is the same in many industries. That doesn’t mean that without some determination you can’t land a job though.

    Bearing in mind that Craig Wilson at Media Hunter has recently opined on how to avoid the ‘resume run-around’: if you’d just graduated and wanted to get a start in the advertising industry – with no formal experience – what would you do? You mentioned networking earlier, and that Starcom were on your hitlist when you were looking for a job in 2006. Run us through your self-marketing pitch at the time, and advise how you’d approach the same task in 2009.

    I quite liked Craig’s article – I hadn’t seen it previously – and the overall tone of the article certainly rings true. Personally, there is one sentence that stands out for me, right at the start: “I encourage starting a relationship before asking for the job,” and this can only be more important in the current environment.

    If you are still at university (or out of university, it doesn’t matter) the best way to build a relationship in an industry you have no contact with is to do work experience. Your course co-ordinator can help you out with organising this and will more than likely they have a few contacts in the industry to help get you started. This is how I got my foot in the door.

    I worked at a media agency for two full days a week for 13 weeks with no pay. A lot of people won’t like the ‘no pay’ aspect but to be honest, if you enjoy it then it shouldn’t matter. Build up a rapport with your co-workers, ask if you can go into meetings with them with the media, ask to meet clients and, if you are enthusiastic, and get the work done. Then people will take notice.

    This is the same route I took – except I also ended up joining my co-workers when they went to the bar every other Friday night, it’s a great way to meet people in the industry! – and while I didn’t get a job with the agency I did work experience for, I was able to make some calls and find a placement. I had an interview the day after I called in, and a job that afternoon. Sure, I still had a formal interview and had to submit a resume, but I was able to avoid a lot of cold calling and rounds of interviews.

    In today’s job market, a similar route will still get you in the door, and that is the important part. You might not be able to land a job with the company you do work experience for, but it will allow you to add some real experience to your resume and you will be able to demonstrate a knowledge of the day-to-day tasks and workings of a company that university can’t teach you.

    Great advice, James. Finally, Simon Van Wyk of Hothouse Interactive spurred discussion within the advertising community by declaring that interactive web agencies need to stop behaving like digital advertising agencies. Since Starcom seem to be positioned directly between the two – I might be wrong here, please clarify – what’s your take on Van Wyk’s rant?

    First off, I’ll try to clarify the different types of agencies that make an appearance in Simon’s article, and then I’ll get back to the question.

    HotHouse Interactive is a company that produces websites and content management systems for their clients (purely based on the content of their website). Then we have digital advertising agencies, I would put companies such as Amnesia|Razorfish and Tribal DDB in this category. Starcom is a strategy and media agency, in that we focus on our clients’ messages being in the right place at the right time. We don’t focus on one particular medium over any other, nor do we create any of the ads, since this is usually the role of a creative agency. For me, when digital suits a client’s objectives, that’s when I get involved.

    So back to your original question. Not having worked in an interactive agency (such as HotHouse), I can’t really comment on how much these agencies do (or don’t) want to be like digital advertising agencies, but there is obviously a bit of contention in the industry about how these agencies fit in and act within the industry as a whole. There’s also a slight issue (as many commenters have pointed out beneath that article) that Simon’s rant is exactly that, a rant. Like many rants, it gets off topic a little and I feel like he contradicts himself in places too.

    I agree with the stance on social media, as I’ve stated above and some of his points in this industry code of practice also hold some weight. Unfortunately there aren’t any facts or case studies to back up the claims he is making. Ashley Ringrose made a great point that the valid points are muddied by some invalid and sweeping statements.

    If the purpose of the rant was to start a discussion about where the different agencies fit within the industry – and there is quite a lot of overlap these days – then Simon has done a fantastic job. However I think a few revisions might have given the article a lot more weight.

    James – thanks very much for your thoughts, advice and time.

    You can get in touch with James via Twitter.

  • Hi, I’m Andrew

    I’ve been hesitant to press ‘publish’ of late.

    There’s so much bullshit flying around the whole marketing/social media fields that it’s temporarily killed my interest in both.

    Twitter has started to become more of a hindrance than a help, wherein the benefits of constantly monitoring my channel is increasingly outweighed by the cost. The Dunbar effect in action: following >150 people = discontent.

    But staring too deeply into the web’s bottomless pit can cause a loss of focus. It’s time to step back.

    My reality is this: I recently quit my job to focus on projects that interest me.

    I’m studying my final course toward a Bachelor of Communication. It’s a creative writing elective. It interests me greatly, as I’ve rarely dabbled in fiction or narrative writing.

    Incredibly, I look forward to class each week. Can’t say that I’ve felt excitement toward university very often as an undergraduate.

    This is the narrative introduction I used during the first creating writing tutorial:

    Andrew has stretched his three-year Bachelor of Communication into four years, in order to latch onto the Australian myth of tertiary education for as long as possible.

    This course was chosen as an elective because Andrew has always avoided writing fiction, but he has decided that 2009 is the year for trying new things.

    This yearning for new experiences is the reason why Andrew quit his first real job yesterday, and is also the reason why Andrew is travelling to Japan in June, although he does not know Japanese.

    Andrew is extremely fond of music and writes for two local publications – Rave and 4T – and one national website called FasterLouder.

    Andrew wrote and spoke this introduction in third person because he really likes the sound of his name.

    Such introductions are always interesting to write and speak, as one tries to find the balance between fact, humour, and appearing clever. Everyone wants to appear clever, always. Wit as a currency.

    2009_bioThis is the reason why my current bio [pictured right] makes me look like an asshole, although when I wrote it last year, I thought I was being clever.

    I’ve worked reasonably hard to keep this blog ‘clean’. Professional-like. I carefully consider everything that’s shared on here; whether it’s appropriate, whether it’ll reflect well on my character. Whether I’ll appear clever.

    I could trace this moderated perfectionism – which is perhaps dangerous and restrictive in itself – to the enormous amount of time I spent on video game message boards throughout my youth, effectively sharing my life with a bunch of strangers.

    Call it mature, call it neurotic, call it overly analytical. Or all three.

    The point is that since I want to be known as a writer, I need to improve my ability to articulate and share my thoughts.

    To this end, self-administered publishing filters aren’t very helpful.

    So I’m going to attempt to reduce their influence on my psychology.

    It’d be awesome if you could help me out, by calling me out on any unjustified or unclear bullshit.

    Hi, I’m Andrew.

  • A Conversation With Hannah Suarez, Creative Industries Undergraduate

    Hi Hannah! You popped up on my radar at Noise Theory around 18 months ago, and from there I’ve watched you flit between (seemingly) a zillion projects, both in Brisbane and abroad. Come, tell us: who are you, and what do you do?

    Hannah Suarez, Brisbane Creative Industries

    I’ve figured that there will be two main details about me which are more relevant to your readers:

    a) I am the student representative and event coordinator for the Queensland committee of the Australian Interactive Media Industry Association (AIMIA), and 

    b) I am the founder of Brisbane Creative Industries (BCI).

    What are some of the other initiatives you’ve been involved with locally, here in Brisbane?

    To certain extents and with varying roles/tasks:

    You seem focussed on issues that relate to graduates entering the workforce. Is this interest based on your experience as an undergraduate? 

    Yes, I am currently studying QUT’s Bachelor of Creative Industries (Media and Communication). I will probably write more items for the undergrad audience seeing as uni have started because that reflects one of the environments that I am in.

    Issues relating to the workforce are big in general and because uni is one of my environments, I tend to write about topics relating to this environment.  I am also fairly involved outside of the web; I  speak at a new media and business panel at QUT and I’m involved in organising the student showcase for AIMIA Queensland last year. I received feedback that at least a couple of students obtained work from the showcase, which is great!

    If someone wants to talk about the workforce, they are welcome to have a chat about it with me.   I am interested in young people in the interactive/digital media, creative and enreprenuerial spaces. I understand that this is really quiet broad, and I may get feedback from 10 or 10,000…

    Everything you’ve ever published online will be visible to everyone in the world for the rest of time. Scary, or awesome?

    Thinking about the massive amount of information, including personal information, that is available online, say, in 20 years is indeed a scary thought.  I have a website that I made in 1999 and it’s still online!

    Assume that you’re a fresh graduate and, for whatever reason, you’ve entirely neglected to build an online presence.  You want to impress a potential employer with your mad web skillz. How would you go about it?

    When I think of ‘online presence’ I am thinking of having a central online hub with a certain objective (ie building personal branding) in mind.  For example, having an online hub where all of your relevant projects, achievements and more are available to be checked out by the user alongside a CV or resume that can be downloaded. 

    These can be:

    • Facebook/LinkedIn/Ning/etc groups that you have created
    • Links to formal and informal groups that you are a part of
    • Your blog, or just a showcase of the relevant blog posts
    • Any other relevant output, such as online accounts, PDFs of your portfolio, multimedia pieces, newspaper clippings, podcasts etc.

    I have deliberately added my blog link to my recent CV’s because I want employers to find my blog.  After a day doing job applications last year, the blog stats would peak.  I believe that there is a connection where potential employers look up the link in your CV because they want to know more about you, what you do, etc.

    You can get stuck in the details so perhaps pair up with a student who really knows their social media tools to help out.

    But what about those juniors who’ve yet to attain a start within their industry? Since LinkedIn relies primarily on workplace connections, how do you recommend that undergrads use the service?

    I didn’t use LinkedIn a lot until I started getting involved with the groups on a proactive level (co-managing or managing a few groups, being involved in discussions, submitting news items etc) and when I started using their widgets.

    Some suggestions for LinkedIn:

    • Upload your resume/CV/portfolio samples using the Files widget
    • Use Huddle to collaborate with your employers, colleagues or other students
    • If you have a blog that you are comfortable in sharing to potential colleagues/employers/industry people, there is a WordPress widget that allows you to share posts with the tag ‘LinkedIn’
    • Anything that you want to communicate to others concerning work experience, professional interest, etc is to be on LinkedIn.
    • If you are a Twitter user, you can use the ‘Company Buzz’ widget to key in certain tags (ie momobris) and keep track of who is tweeting about that tag

    I would get messages from people about, say BCI, and it would be easy for me to look at their professional profiles and see how they are coming from with their introductory email.  

    Are you at all worried about this here global financial crisis?

    It’s about how you approach this crisis that can really help you weather the storm. 

    I am really determined to make my commitments work for me and for anyone else involved in it (internally or externally).  I am inspired by a certain individual who has said that it will work, perhaps at a smaller scale due to tighter budgets, but it will work. 

    Face it with determination, rather than with defeat.  

    Great advice. What motivates you?

    People and ideas motivate me a lot.  I think that the key thing that I aim to address each day is how do I keep myself motivated? I find that people and ideas are a great source of motivation.

    Doing work is motivating in itself, yet at the same time it can be exhausting.  It’s an interesting cycle.

    Networking. Not the one where you sit in your room and build relationships with others based on your online identity; the one where you meet people in person (gasp!), shake hands, smile, talk and listen. What’re some tips you’ve picked up on your travels?

    Chances are, the people at that event will have a similar interest to you so use that as a common ground point for conversation. 

    Use your online networks to find out who else is going to the event – ie ‘Who else is going to x event?’ on Twitter.  Event organisers use Facebook or LinkedIn to promote their events so use that to introduce yourself.  

    I once went to my first digital-oriented event in Melbourne knowing absolutely no-one and thinking that I’ll have a free drink  on the bar tab provided by one of their sponsors, sit somewhere, just be really casual for about half an hour then leave.  I ended up having great conversations with people and left after a few hours!  

    Just go to networking events and be prepared for introductions and conversations. 

    Tell me about your creative partner, Roundhouse. How did that relationship come about?

    Saul Kallio Edmonds, the partner/producer of Roundhouse, has been a BCI supporter since the beginning and it wasn’t until January this year that we met after exchanging a few emails about doing a partnership together.  We have mutual respect for each other in what we do for the creative industries – for example, at a time when I needed to obtain a creative partner for BCI due to growth, Roundhouse had just finished work for IdN magazine, amongst others.

    Saul and I also presented at Pecha Kucha night at the Brisbane Powerhouse. I’ve always felt like as if I have a connection with the PKN presenters after my ‘moment’…a bit like an alumni.  

    Roundhouse’s involvement in the creative industries in Brisbane and beyond impresses me. BCI is proud to have Roundhouse as its creative partner.

    We’ve both grown up with the internet, and we’re only just beginning to realise the possibilities of the social web. Adelaide University has switched to Google Apps, for fuck’s sake. This is the golden age of technology, and as Communication students, we’re right in the middle. Awesome, right? What’s your ideal position once you graduate with a Bachelor of Creative Industries?

    I don’t really know!  So far, I’ve been asked to be involved in a national event (or part of a national event), apply for a job as digital producer for a large media company… 

    When I am finished with 2009, I will come out with The List which is basically a list of objectives, goals, outcomes etc that I want to see achieved – from myself and from others.

    Okay, smartie pants! Care to share any of those outcomes, or are you keeping ’em all to yourself? Or to broaden the question scope a bit – which industry do you see yourself most happy in, given that you’re busy sticking your fork into as many communication/creative power outlets as possible?

    I guess this means sharing a bit, generally, of what’s in The List.  I will have to do some research and reflection on it so I am hesitant to say what’s in it…

    I guess think of it this way:

    1. Develop an overall mission/vision.  I’m going to quote Edgeware because I think it is a perfect example of one and that is ‘Make money. Have fun. Change the world.’
    2. Address the how’s and the what’s.  How are you going to make money?  How are you going to have fun? How are you going to change the world?
    3. Then comes the meat, which is The List – it can be a guide to help you make decisions on ‘the how’s’ and ‘the what’s’.  It can be a list of organisations that you want to work for.  Or a list of position titles that you want to hold.  Or a list of things that you want to experience.

    Thanks for your time, Hannah. Best wishes for your final year of uni, and beyond!

    If you’d like to know more about Hannah, it’s best to visit her website at

  • Interview: Denis Semchenko, undergraduate music journalist

    Griffith University Communication almost-graduate and current Rave Magazine writer Denis Semchenko kindly saw fit to answer a series of questions regarding his career path, university and internship experiences, and the current state of music journalism on a local and national level.

    Thanks for your time, Denis. You’re nearing the end of your Bachelor of Journalism, majoring in Communication (or is it the other way around?) at Brisbane’s Griffith University. How’s that working out for you?

    Yes, fingers crossed I’m graduating this semester after finishing my journalism major in Bachelor of Communication (same thing – they make journos!). I have to say it’s a pretty stressful time of the year – I’m the news editor for the Griffith University annual student newspaper The Source, the making of which constitutes the News & Current Affairs Production module (third year journalism subject), so there are always issues with obtaining photos for stories, finishing up others’ work, proofreading, subediting as well as last-minute alterations and unexpected story material, and with the semester’s end looming, I never seem to get bored. Bring on the graduation!

    Can you elaborate on your previous tertiary education experiences? 

    It’s been a long and somewhat strange trip, to be honest – I wanted to become a journalist since my early teens, but got dissuaded by my parents and their friends who thought it wouldn’t be a suitable career path for me unlike, say, business, accounting or law.

    I first started studying Commerce 9 years ago in Canberra; I wasn’t even 18 at the time, fresh out of my high school in Russia, and I ended up hating that course so much I dropped out after a year and went to study IT (again after the suggestion it was the ‘big thing’) at the Canberra Institute of Technology, which I finished after 3 years with a diploma. I did some further IT studies when I moved down to Melbourne 5 years ago but eventually realised my heart wasn’t in programming or systems administration either.

    Having relocated to QLD 4 years ago, it took me a further 1.5 years of office work to want to study again, and this time I decided to pursue my original passion – journalism.

    I understand you’ve undertaken some rather interesting internships. 

    Yes, I’ve managed to accrue a somewhat unheard-of grand total of 6 weeks’ work experience this semester, including 3 weeks at ABC Online, 1 week at Channel Nine and 2 weeks at Rave Magazine.

    Were these organised by Griffith, or a result of your own initiative and enthusiasm?

    Both I guess – the actual internships were organised by my course convenor at Griffith according to the preferences I’ve specified and the slots available – I didn’t end up getting The Courier Mail, Channel Seven or Channel Ten gigs, for example.

    The Rave gig was largely a result of a mutual understanding between me and my teacher who seized on the fact that I tended to write my best assignments on music and art themes; besides that, I had always wanted to write about music and being an avid street/music press reader, it meant a lot to me to be writing for Rave.

    How did that eventuate? Had you considered music journalism beforehand?

    Chris Harms, the Rave editor, seemed to be impressed by the amount of work I did for the magazine during my 2 weeks of internship, including music news, tour announcements, artist interviews, feature stories, CD and live reviews and was happy to give me extra work to do.

    By the time my internship ended, I stated I was more than keen to keep doing it – being a musician and a band-member as well as a journalism student, I felt I could contribute to the Brisbane music scene by putting out the word for numerous bands and providing more recorded and live music coverage, as well as learn from the masters while I was at it. 

    I was also told that not many uni students who do internships in music press are actually music fans, nor do they particularly wish to attend gigs, so someone like me – a music/guitar nut – was a find.

    All said, I feel I’ve finally become someone I always wanted to be – a music writer.

    You mention ‘learning from the masters’ during your time in the Rave office. What’s your opinion on the current state of Brisbane’s four regular street press publications – Rave, Time Off, Scene and Tsunami?

    Without being biased, I think Rave is doing a great job – quality written material, extensive live event coverage and people who actually live and breathe music despite the daily stress.

    From my memory, Time Off used to be better back in the day than it is now  – we don’t really need Sydney ads here in Brisbane and I don’t have a lot to say on their new website design and structure.

    Scene is doing a good job on covering dance music/hip-hop/club events, however the print version has this very odd and not particularly pleasant whiff to it, which still doesn’t necessarily stop me from reading it.

    As for Tsunami, I used to think they were primarily dedicated to heavy music but they actually encompass a broad selection of genres, which is definitely a step in the right direction.

    You mentioned that Rave do well despite the daily stress, which I took to mean the difficulty in assembling the content for a widely-read publication week after week. Could you elaborate on this stress, based on your time spent in the office?

    Story/news requests pile up every day – everyone wants to be in the magazine! I have witnessed how the artist-publicist scheme works, and while I cannot question its effectiveness, it’s what keeps Rave on their toes.

    During my internship, I was in the Rave office every day and that’s when my multitasking skills came to force – I was either writing newsbeats, newsbites, album reviews, feature stories or interviewing artists practically every day. There was a number of interviews that other people could not do so I had to step in and do them, or the opportunity of speaking to an artist you like would pop up and you would miss out because you’d be too busy writing and a fellow contributor would beat you to it!

    Having said that, however, the notions of seniority, experience and familiarity with a particular artist/genre are also involved in the interview distribution. The same goes for live gig reviews – the assistant editor is working overtime organising those. It does indeed get rather hectic sometimes but not every day in the Rave office is immensely stressful as you also get relatively cruisy days where you just do things in your time. 

    Monday is traditionally the busiest and the most stressful day of the week at Rave, as the print version comes out on Tuesday and you’ve got to make sure you’ve handed in all your copy and corrected all the typos and blunders. I twice helped proofread the print version of the mag and stayed in the office until 7pm with the rest of the staff.

    These days, I’m only in the office when I have to interview a certain artist by phone, copy the recorded audio file for transcription and pick up some CDs for reviewing purposes – usually once or twice a week during business hours, but I wouldn’t mind becoming a permanent staffer… if I end up sticking around in Brisbane for longer, that is.

    Street press exists for several reasons – to promote artists; to provide critical commentary on artists and their output; to provide advertising space.. you can probably think of more. What role do you think the street press should serve, and how are the above four measuring up to these objectives?

    I think the primary role of street press is informing people about the wide variety of music, including live music, available in their hometown – and the above four are answering to the challenge, maybe not 100% because it’s impossible to cover absolutely everyone who’s playing in town during the week, but I still reckon it’s a pretty big effort and I have enormous respect for fellow writers and musicians, particularly when I can tell they feel compelled to do it.

    The veil of objectivity among music writers is something I find particularly interesting and amusing. I only write about artists I expect to be entertaining or interesting, and I suspect you’re much the same. Thus, we usually already possess a positive connotation of an artist before we see them play live, or interview them, or listen to their album. What’s your take on objectivity as a music critic?

    My take is normally ‘objectivity first, subjectivity second or last’ depending on whether I like or don’t like a certain artist – I agree with you on possessing a positive connotation of an artist and I expect them to deliver.
    Chris, the Rave editor, told me it was important that my writing stays objective; at this stage, I feel I’m still largely ‘beyond good and evil’ when it comes to reviewing music that I don’t particularly like, however I also agree that sometimes you’ve got to give flak yet be able to back it up sufficiently.

    Another contentious musical topic is individual taste. Music fans will rise to the defence of artists just as soon as they would a family member. It’s a really interesting phenomenon that I was reminded of when Everett True made some inflammatory comments about some Australian artists back in August. With regard to the musicians you write about – do you try to steer away from outright criticism, or do you aim for honesty? I guess this comes back to the objectivity/subjectivity argument, too.

    Again, I agree (but not always conform) with the notion that outright criticism is great when you can back it up, otherwise it’s not far removed from shitting in your own nest when you’re reviewing Australian artists. Everett True said something not everyone else dared to and copped all sorts of righteous “how dare you, you stupid bloody whinging Pom!” response from all corners, which wasn’t surprising at all considering how much an average Australian cherishes their middle-of-the-road “big” bands like Powderfinger and Silverchair.

    Honesty, objectivity and confident criticism are my primary aims as a reviewer – I might be a bit subjective towards the abovementioned Powderchair phenomenon due to my consistent failure to grasp it, being a bloody foreigner and all, but my love for original Australian (and international) music remains undiminished.

    You seem heavily into music writing at this point in your life. Can you see yourself carving a name for yourself as a writer in that industry, or do you have greater designs for your career?

    Yes and yes – I’m going to keep combining my aspirations as a musician with music writing and I’m prepared to do the hard yards on both accounts.  

    Given the people you’ve met throughout your course and your time spent engaging with the media industry itself, have you got any advice you’d like to impart on would-be journalism undergraduates, media personalities or music critics? 

    Firstly, ask yourself why you want to do it. Secondly, be yourself and thirdly, don’t get starstruck but be patient, persistent, creative, brave and take chances – the last two are from the advice John Birmingham gave me and I think these are the words to live by.   

    Thanks for your time Denis. Good luck with the graduation; I’m sure we’ll be reading more of your work in the near future!

    Denis Semchenko is a Communication undergraduate and enthusiastic contributor to Brisbane-based music publication Rave Magazine. He can be contacted via email, LastFM or Facebook. His published work can be found with the assistance of Google.

  • Presentation: A Recent History of Music

    This is a transcript of a presentation I gave as part of my introduction to marketing course on Monday. There were three others in my group; our topic was digital music marketing, focussed specifically on the success of the iPod.

    It’s compiled from several sources, including Wikipedia, and it’s over-simplified and facetious.. but it’s okay.

    So, the music industry today. 2008.

    I downloaded Metallica’s new album on Saturday afternoon. Its official release isn’t until Friday. What happened was, someone close to the band or their record label or one of the many pre-release reviewers obtained the completed album, copied it to their computer using an MP3 encoding application, then uploaded it to a file-sharing site on the internet.

    I downloaded the album. Tens of thousands of others had done so before. Many more will do so before Friday, which is when the album will be available legally, in both physical record stores and digital music stores.

    (*group member interjects*) Hold on a second. Music, on a computer? Download? MP3? I thought that music was only available from my local record store, in CD form. (*holds up CDs*)

    Ah, so you’re a bit behind the times. How’s 1998 treating you? Just kidding. Allow me to indulge in a cursory overview of the last ten years in music.

    The long-play vinyl record was introduced to the commercial market in 1948. The compact disc was released in 1982. Music was released by artists in one of three forms – single, album, or EP, which was a little longer than a single but a little shorter than an album.

    The content of these recordings were created by musicians – songwriters, singers, guitarists, drummers, keyboardists, violinists – and recorded and released by record companies.

    A recording contract – commonly called a record deal – is a legal agreement between a record label and a recording artist or group, where the artist makes a record – or a series of records – for the label to sell and promote. 

    In the age of vinyl and CDs, labels typically owned the copyright of the records their artists make, and also the master copies of those records. Promotion was a key factor in the success of a record, and was largely the label’s responsibility, as was the proper distribution of records.

    This was how the music industry operated, for almost two decades. In 1999, a computer filetype known as MP3 and a handful of enterprising music fans changed everything.

    MP3, short for Moving Picture Experts Group, Audio Layer III is an audio format that compresses files with only a small sacrifice in sound quality. MP3 files can be compressed at different rates, but the higher the compression, the lower the sound quality. A typical MP3 compression ratio of 10:1 is equal to about 1 MB for each minute of an MP3 song.

    To put this into perspective – (*holds up iPod*) this 20 gigabyte iPod has the theoretical ability to store roughly 5,000 four-minute, four megabyte files. All contained within this portable device, which allows me to play music anywhere. 5,000 songs is 500 ten-track albums.  I don’t know about you, but I find it difficult to carry 500 albums in my pocket.

    From the first half of 1995 through to the late 1990s, MP3 files began to spread on the Internet. The filetype’s popularity began to rise rapidly when the software company Nullsoft released their free audio player, Winamp. The small size of MP3 files enabled widespread peer-to-peer file sharing of music ripped from compact discs, which would previously have been nearly impossible due to hard drive capacity restrictions. The first large peer-to-peer filesharing network, Napster, was launched in 1999.

    Napster, the name engraved in internet history, was developed by nineteen year old university student, Shawn Fanning. His idea was to allow anyone with an internet connection to search and download their favourite songs. By connecting people, Napster created an online community of music fans practically overnight.

    As you can imagine, this free, unchecked distribution method didn’t sit too well with record companies. Music fans ripping, sharing and downloading the creative output of artists meant that nobody got paid. Instead, a lot of people got angry. Most notably, the Recording Industry Association of America, and Metallica.

    I’ll cut this history lesson short with a few choice quotes from Metallica’s drummer, Lars Ulrich, in 2000. This was around the time that the band were embroiled in legal proceedings against Napster.

    “Napster hijacked our music without asking. They never sought out permission. Our catalog of music simply became available as free downloads on the Napster system.”

    “Every time a Napster enthusiast downloads a song, it takes money from the pockets of all members of the creative community.”

    Now, Metallica have changed their tune, eight years on. Many artists across the world have. CD sales are still in decline, and will probably stop being a viable music distribution mechanism within five years. Imagine CDs relegated to the same rare, limited edition status that vinyl copies of new albums currently inhabit.

    So Metallica probably aren’t all that happy that I downloaded their album for free, especially before its official launch. They’re probably not happy that I have no intention of ever buying the album. But I would pay to see them perform live. And this is the direction that I think the music industry is heading in – an artist’s recorded work, regardless of its method of distribution, will function solely as an advertisement to sell tickets to an artist’s live performances. But that’s an entirely different discussion.

    In the place of the physical album sits this (*holds up iPod*). The encoded data contained within 5,000 computer files is processed by this device to produce audio. Music. Songs. Albums. It doesn’t matter. Digital music sales have eclipsed CD sales. iTunes has sold 5 billion songs in 5 years. Five billion songs. And this is within Apple’s closed sales environment, where they receive a significant revenue percentage of each 99 cent song.

    Naturally, someone had the common sense to incorporate MP3 playing functionality into the mobile phone. The Apple iPod is the world’s most popular MP3 player. You’ve probably heard of the Apple iPhone, which functions as both a phone and MP3 playing device, among other features. Apple weren’t the first to make this connection. But the immense purchasing power behind the Apple brand has placed them in a pretty solid position to dominate the music phone market. They’re already so far ahead in the MP3 player market that new entrants are at a significant disadvantage. 

    170 million iPods have been sold as of March this year. And Apple are continually producing new hardware and functionality upgrades, further segmenting their existing market, and attempting to attract those who are still undecided.

    (group member) is going to tell you more about Apple’s history and marketing strategy. Personally, I recommend that you download Metallica’s new album as soon as you get home.

    I’ll write more about Metallica in the future.

  • Anti-Lessons In New Media

    I’m sitting in class, waiting to learn. The lecturer’s attention turns toward me when he asks for a critical reflection on a course reading that we’d been set a fortnight ago.

    “The young man in the green shirt. Give us a summary of the reading’s content.”

    “I didn’t read it.”

    “You didn’t read it. There I was, sweating blood with my colleague while writing this chapter several years ago, and you didn’t read it.”

    I forgot to mention – he co-wrote the article in question. His tone is more sarcastic than argumentative.

    “Do you have any reason or explanation for this?”


    “Did anyone else in this man’s group read the article?”

    They had. I appreciated the lecturer’s reasonable approach to the situation. If I’d been in the same situation with the course co-ordinator – who happened to be sick on this day – he’d have spent at least five minutes attempting to belittle and antagonise me. I’ve seen him do it to others in the class. It’s disgusting. It’s an example of extremely poor marketing on behalf of the School within the University that he represents. Ripping into students for their omissions and oversights is counter-intuitive to the enjoyable learning environment we’re ostensibly here to experience.

    This entry is less about what might be perceived as an act of academic rebellion on my part, than the fundamentally flawed nature of studying ‘new media’ within an archaic institution.

    After some viewpoints were expressed by members of the class regarding the statement at hand – “does the nature of web-based technology bring people together, or push them apart?” – the lecturer asked for a show of hands for people who agreed, disagreed, or were neutral. Mid-way through this exercise, he looked at me again.

    “You haven’t read the article, so you don’t have an opinion.”

    By tilting my head slightly downward, I acquiesced to the lecturer’s superiority and power, which he seems to value above giving his students the chance to express their opinions.

    This is fine.

    I have no problem with keeping my mouth shut in academic situations. The chance to observe and analyse the responses of my classmates is far more profitable than sharing my thoughts – which would have been in agreeance that the nature of the internet brings people together.

    Since the cost of all information – including information about individuals in the form of social networking profiles – approaches zero, we are generally able to gain personal knowledge and interact with each other more easily than ever before. You’ll note my definition of ‘closer’ doesn’t include physical touch, but a less tangible connection between individuals that is symptomatic of the nature of web-based communications.

    Clearly, this isn’t a fully-developed opinion, but it’s on-par with the arguments raised by my classmates.

    While sitting silently and observing my classmates – each of them endeavouring to become the “communication professionals” that my lecturer talks endlessly about – I wryly made the point in my mind that I didn’t read the text: so what? I’m interacting with some of the most forward-thinking, intelligent individuals in the world, on a daily basis. In my mind, their opinions and reactions to developments in the world of new media are worth far more than the ironically outdated opinions of a ‘new media’ lecturer.

    Do not mistake this as a personal slight on his character – I like the guy, as he’s generally amusing to listen to – as I mentioned earlier, his approach is characteristic of the fundamentally flawed nature of attempting to write tertiary education courses based on an industry that evolves faster than he could possibly write textbooks.

    Fuck textbooks, and fuck course readings. If I were in charge of co-ordinating such a course, I’d prescribe neither. Beyond the classroom, I’m a student of new media for my own enjoyment. I’m learning about literally world-changing events as they occur, and contributing several brushstrokes to the incomprehensibly large canvas that the web provides.