Success in the music industry takes more than a little hard-work, inspiration and, in many cases, dumb luck. But most importantly it’s about building relationships. Little BIGSOUND is an event which recognises the importance of people coming together to connect. Looking to give younger minds a leg up in The Biz, the conference sees QMusic pulling together some of the industry’s brightest and most active figures to help navigate the business end of Australian music.
Things kick off with a keynote delivery by Hannah Sheppard (better known as Airling). Hannah speaks candidly about her connection with music. For her it’s something which runs deeper than commercial aspirations. “We had this relationship with music, we would sing together,” she begins steering the conversation towards her mother who passed away after a struggle with cancer-related illness. “I couldn’t sing for almost a year after” Sheppard admits. But captivated by live performances she witnessed in Fortitude Valley she again found herself pulled back in.
Jumping from the personal to the professional, the she highlights that there’s little overnight success within Australian music. The Brisbane songstress spent years fronting and self-managing a 6-piece folk outfit that “didn’t quite make it” and playing within Emma Louise’s touring band before success on triple j Unearthed landed her a midday slot at Splendour in the Grass. Sheppard also urges younger musicians to keep the personal aspect of music part of their professional dealings. The relationship she has with her managers and agents are underscored by the same trust she would place in friends.
Hannah then reflects on the more collaborative approach to song writing expected from up-and-coming artists. For her, it’s a positive. “I’ve found that collaborating has really helped me…I need to actively make it happen, but it can be the fuel which clicks you to a new sound or a news style of writing,” she shares. Sheppard caps things off with a preview of forthcoming track ‘Mona Lisa’.
From here on out the day offers a number of workshops and face-to-face Industry Roundtables. ‘The History of Synth’ gives a historical overview of synthesised wizardry. Covering everything from Robert Moog to Daft Punk, there’s plenty of opportunities to get hands on with 11 pieces of jaw-droppingly expensive gear.
Hammered home by Comes With Fries’ Vanessa Picken, the ‘Digital Media 101’ session outlines why connecting with fans online is every bit as important as live performance. Picken’s words cover digital marketing and social media approaches that every artist or industry aspirant should know. “There is never an off time when it comes to all things digital,” she stresses.
A lunchtime break accompanies performances from Asha Jeffries and Ruby Gilbert. The two acts are eager to impress. Both showcase aching vocal deliveries and hard rocking backing bands. For anyone turned on to music with a more countrified edge via Julia Jacklin’s Pool Party or Sharon Van Etten’s recent appearance on Twin Peaks, these two local talents are worth getting acquainted with.
Speaking with many of the attendees it becomes apparent that there’s a surprising diversity amongst those in attendance. Granted everyone is aged 17-25 and brimming with passion for music, but these aren’t just Brisbane locals. In fact, a large contingent has come from outside of the city and some have even shipped in from interstate. Just as diverse is their involvement with music. Most if not all are creatives, some with aspirations to take their music further while others are looking to grow their careers behind the scenes. This could perhaps be the event’s greatest success, bringing together different outlooks and ideas, not just amongst those presenting but also amongst those within the audience.
As both a street press and public relations veteran Nick Lynagh follows on with his ‘Publicity 101’ workshop. Nick wastes no time in zeroing on his personal approach to the PR process. As Habit Music’s director, he clues attendees in on the idea of going past the musical elements and building a broader story around an artist. It’s all about providing a hook, standing out. His key philosophy is surprisingly simple. “Great music plus a good story equals a lot of interest” he muses. But tapping into a common theme for the day, at least on the PR side of things, it’s great songs which will cut through and make an artist. Breaking it down with effortless ease and simplicity, it’s difficult to leave without feeling everyone in attendance has been given everything they needed to kickstart their own promotion.
A younger face in local music, Heapsaflash’s Jess McMahon was one of the many professionals lending their insights at one of several highly sought-after Industry Roundtable sessions. Like fellow publicist Nick Lynagh, she demystifies the process of how artists are getting the media talking about their work. She also fields a range of questions on how she forged her own career in the field. Here mentoring and internships were integral in staying a cut ahead of the rest, especially when trying to get a foot in the front door.
At the same time, The Kite String Tangle’s Danny Harley is unpacking the sound files of some of his most memorable tracks. He takes his audience into the logic behind the creative process which landed him in triple j’s hottest 100 two years running. Despite his elaborate Ableton and Pro Tools setups, Harley’s song writing starts off in a surprisingly traditional way. In many cases, he’s still sketching out early ideas on piano or guitar. As an artist, he doesn’t view the more traditional outlook on songwriting as being exclusive from digital technology. “For me they draw inspiration from each other,” he contends. He touches on a host of other topics including his decision making when it comes to getting an outside help with mixing and mastering and why his desktop icons are so darned huge. “I did that on purpose, I didn’t want things to get messy,” he reveals.
After a quick networking session comes a final address from event director Trina Massey and QMusic’s Executive Officer Joel Edmondson. Edmondson’s closing words linger and perhaps sum up what the event is at its core. At the spiritual heart of music is live performance and from these events spring communities. The ambitious can network but just as importantly it’s bonds of friendship and almost delusional passions for music that drives of Australian music.