An aspiring music industry professional, today was my turn to take on the 2017 Face the Music Summit, and honestly, it was something I had been looking forward to all year.
It was a grey, cloudy day in Melbourne and the rain came sporadically, but that didn’t deter myself, other media professionals, industry professionals, or fans, from making the most of everything the Melbourne music industry had to offer.
Kicking off the day was the beautiful Stella Donnelly out on the Carpark Stage, next to St. Pauls (the hub for this year’s Melbourne Music Week). As someone who has been the 2017 definition of success, she gave everything she possibly could to those who were brave enough to face the light showers in the skies at 9:30 on a Friday morning. Her song writing is outstanding, as she manages to cover topics from AFL, to working in a bar, to the Perth lifestyle. She rounded out her set with her single Boys will be Boys, and let me tell you guys, that is a song that people will be talking about for years to come.
Following on from Stella, I managed to catch the legendary Mikey Cahill in his Let There Be Rock City conference. When it comes to music journalism, particularly in the Australian music industry, you really can’t go past Mikey. His Rock City column has been featured in nearly every single Sunday Herald Sun for the last 11 years, keeping Melburnians up to date with everything going on in the music world.
As an experienced journalist, he had a lot to say. As a journalism student trying to break out into the bigger world, I had a lot to take in. According to Mikey, persistence and sheer hard work is the key. Seems straightforward enough- get the experience, take the interviews and get the internships, but there had to be more. There had to be more Mikey could tell us about standing out from the crowd.
He recalled attending and reviewing Meredith Music Festival one year, and this particular story has stuck with me since. He discussed being vigilant, and being alert to what you could see around you – especially in the craziness that is a festival, what people were doing and what people were saying. The ever too-true quote “the easiest thing to do is to go to the event, the hardest thing to do is write the review” came out, but he made it clear that by incorporating every single element possible of an event, it’ll be far easier.
Mikey also discussed the importance of being open-minded when you write: stick true to it, but it’s okay to be wrong about something, and it’s okay to change your mind. His string of guests on the panel, mostly Melbourne-based musicians, spoke of the importance of appreciating live music, and the initiatives supporting live music, and also the importance of equality in the industry.
Staying seated in St. Paul’s Cathedral, we were then graced with the presence of three incredible female songwriters. Ali Barter, Gretta Ray and Stella Donnelly joined journalist Chris Johnston on the Songwriters in the Round panel. Each artist discussed the writing process of one of their biggest songs, and then gave the audience a live-and-intimate performance of that song. It was incredible to be able to connect directly with each song right after delving into it and obtaining intricate knowledge about how it came to life.
Stella took to the spotlight first, discussing Boys will be Boys. Having already heard it that morning, I was left wanting more. Chris turned to her and opened up the discussion, saying that “the content of this song is direct and confrontational.” And as I had just heard it, this couldn’t be more true.
Stella replied that at the time of writing, she was confused and angry about rape culture in society, but what started out as a release from this became something much bigger.
“The first line is the real story and the rest is a conversation around the culture,” she told the audience, “it goes beyond that one story.”
Stella defies the usual societal expectation in the song, going beyond discussing rape culture and sexual assault and actually using the word “rape” in it. She admitted to feeling powerful in being able to do so, as most artists tend to avoid using such direct and confrontational language, but she also believed that it was worth doing so.
“If you’re pissing someone off, you’re doing something right,” she said in regard to the response about the song being so blunt, right before performing it again for a second time that morning.
Less intense, but not less well-written or performed was Gretta Ray’s Towers. Gretta has had a phenomenal year, and only continues to grow and get better. She discussed Towers in relation to being overly invested in a relationship, and the negative consequences this dedication can have. It addresses putting people on a pedestal and thinking they’re wonderful, and the feeling in learning that this isn’t the case.
One particular element of Gretta’s writing that was discussed was her use of rhyming and alliteration, and her love of the English language. Chris couldn’t believe that a nineteen-year-old would use the term “lucent” in a song, but Gretta admitted that Towers wasn’t her first example of that.
Despite this, she finished the discussion saying that she doesn’t intend to always write this way, and is concerned that if she is constantly focusing on creating the perfect rhyme, or finding a fitting metaphor for what she’s trying to say, it will cause writers’ block. Her performance of the song was near-flawless, as Gretta generally is, and the echoing from the church only enhanced this more.
Ali was the last songwriter to take to the stage, and potentially the one I was most looking forward to. Ali gives her songs her all, she has a slight cheek about her and completely embodies the whole “look” that supports her music. She performed her track Please Stay, a tune that was stuck in my head for a few days after the event.
Ali described the song as basically “an apology for being a bitch.” She goes on to explain that she often finds it difficult to use the word “sorry,” as does most of Australian culture, but actually includes it in the song. She’s brutally honest, and lays it all on the line whilst staying true to herself. Her performance of the song was everything you’d expect from Ali Barter- fun, somewhat upbeat (despite being an apology track) and her incorporation of a cheeky offside only enhanced this.
The last panel I sat on for the day was at Taxi Riverside, on the Yarra River. Start Me Up: Home Truths on Starting a New Business in Music with Bona Fide Entrepreneurs covered everything to do with the business side of the industry.
This was one panel that any industry professional – present or future – should’ve been attending. Led by industry expert Leanne de Souza, the line-up included Parlour Gigs’ Matt Walters, Collective Artists’ Rebecca Young, The Hills are Alive Group’s Aidan McLaren, and Pixie Weyand of both The Zoo and Feed Music. I’m fairly certain there was something for everyone.
Whilst the professionals did a lot of talking, and had a lot of beneficial things to say, there were a few things that stood out to me above the rest:
- You’re very rarely only going to do one thing if you’re in the business side of the music industry. Be prepared to be flexible.
- Outsource though! You don’t have to do it all on your own. Find people that want the same things as you, and form partnerships with them. Two heads are better than one.
- From an artist’s perspective, the business/art balance is one of, if not the most crucial factor in becoming successful.
- Learn how to differentiate and consequently balance your company or organisation’s brand with your own brand.
- How you present yourself, and how you treat other people, is everything in the industry.
The panel also discussed the money side of the business- something that can often be forgotten about in the music industry, but at the end of the day is the driving factor behind any of us working in any industry at all.
If you’re thinking of starting a business and are looking for a name, the guys recommend not to get too “trigger happy”. This means that a name doesn’t have to be rushed, and it doesn’t have to be the be-all-and-end-all. As they said, some of the best brands have the worst names. It’s also crucial to trademark search a name you’re wanting to use before you settle on it, so that you know it’s all good to be used.
When it comes to money, they recommend saving as much as you can, if you can. Keep your costs as low as possible, even if it means working from home. On that note; however, Leanne recommended to never work in your pyjamas, and get out of the house at least once for the day before you start working, if you are working from home.
“We’re way more productive in the office than we’d ever be from home,” Matt added.
That wrapped up what was a slightly-overwhelming, but positively beneficial day. I recommend the summit, and even Melbourne Music Week as a whole for anyone who works or is thinking of working in the industry because the knowledge I have gained from the guys who know best is second to none.
The Real Songwriters of Melbourne team would like to thank Music Victoria and all the team behind Melbourne Music Week and Face the Music for having us, and we hope to be back next year!
Written by Jordyn Hoekstra