I was having lunch with a dear friend of mine recently. She is also a musician but spends most of her time writing articles for music websites in Australia and abroad. We were having a long overdue catch up. We talked about life, the kids and then went on to music. As musicians do.
We got on to talking about why we write music and in part of that conversation I said, “I don’t care one way or another if any of my tunes get commercial airplay or not”.
She instantly went from musician mode to interviewer mode and remarked on how interesting that comment was for a recording artist to make. After I reminded her that as a middle aged independent artist, no commercial station would give a shit but if by some weird chain of events it did happen that was great. The thing is, I don’t write or record music for the sole purpose of getting airplay. I do it because its what I love to do and if I get to hear it beaming off a transmitter then its a bonus.
She then threw another hook and asked me if I thought commercial radio helps promote new music. To which after I stopped laughing, I replied “nuh”! It just swallows what Sony gives it and spits it out.
To back up my point, I asked her which commercial radio station is she aware of that plays music by Gurrumul for example. What commercial radio stations play new music by artists like Paul Kelly, Deborah Conway or Russell Morris? The latter three only get airplay of their back catalogue which were released in an era when commercial radio actually promoted local artists. That’s how they became classics. The figures for local content on commercial radio today are a joke. Commercial radio is irrelevant when it comes to promoting music.
Now I was on a roll… And I asked her to make sure the batteries on her i-pad were full because I couldn’t guarantee how long this rant will go for.
Commercial radio is merely a collection of ex-football players, very bad comedians, B-grade celebrities and loud mouthed self opinionated arse holes. You can count the number of contrived laughing fits “the crew” have to keep people believing that the shit they’re talking is actually funny. It’s formula driven mind numbing rabble.
I was asked if I was being a bit harsh and I gave her one of those swashbuckling laughs.. “haHAAA” I’m not finished yet!
To prove just how low the talent pool is, stations resort to stunts to keep ratings up. Putting 14 year old little girls on lie detectors and admit to having sex (all for the offer of concert tickets), or being really really clever and pretending to be the Queen and calling hospitals. Really fucking clever! It’s a competition for media notoriety. The music is an afterthought. Anyone who puts “Commercial Radio Music Programmer” down as their occupation is lying. The music on commercial radio is filler between ads and to allow “the crew” to recoup some undeserved oxygen before starting on another brainless dumbing down of the masses.
Commercial radio was not always like this. Yes you did have your madness, the competitions, secret sounds, who can burp the longest. But you also had shows that featured artists, there were album shows, live concert broadcasts, music jocks who earned the title of Disc Jockey who knew their music and interviewed artists about their music and not who they shagged recently. Commercial radio simply does not do that anymore.
Commercial radio is desperate. Just like newspapers and magazines. In order to keep their flagging sales up, they resort to the low denominator tabloid stunts because some people get off on other people’s misfortunes.
Maybe the reason they don’t do music well anymore is because they realise that real music fans don’t actually need them. I didn’t know about Gurrumul’s music or Russell Morris’ new album listening to Triple M, Fox or 2DayFM. I didn’t hear about Deborah Conway’s latest work by tuning into Eddie Maguire or Kyle and Jackie O.
People are getting their music fixes from other sources. To which at this point in the interview I said, “I find it very flattering when a broadcaster on a community, public or internet radio station plays my music”.
As a Melburnian, I think I’m blessed to have access to so many non-commercial stations. Yes we do have the ABC of course and they still do a great job promoting local music of many genres but we also have stations that are unique to Melbourne such as Triple R, PBS, MBS, 3CR and 3KND.
I have driven around the country and avoided commercial radio by finding a local community station that’s got something different and interesting to listen to from baroque to hard core punk to country to blues, soul, jazz, metal, indigenous Australian music to Cambodian and Hindi music. Even when there’s no music you get to learn a bit about the region you’re driving through rather than listen to some networked syndication from Sydney or Melbourne.
There is a huge family of community radio broadcasters out there. Some have more exposure than others but all share a love and knowledge of the genres of music they put to air and to be included in their playlists is a real treat. This is where music is played for the love of it. This is where you get asked questions about your music and get a word in to answer it.
In addition to that, there are other public and internet radio stations around the world who play our music and it’s through them we get our music out there. It’s really cool receiving an email from a radio station in Aberdeen, Scotland or a listener in Denmark who loves your music and purchased your album.
There’s Channel 31 who feature music from all over the place. Wrok Down, Tone Control, Melbourne Muso’s etc. All by people with a passion for local music.
The real champions of radio are out there working on small to non-existent budgets, relying on faithful subscribers and fundraisers etc. They deserve all the kudos and support they get. Local and independent artists owe a lot of their successes to community and public radio and those who have moved on to bigger and better things should never forget the role non-commercial radio played in their rise to success.
Video didn’t kill the radio star. They just found a new place to groove. More is the pity that those who advertise on commercial radio cannot see the growing potential of the alternative. Then again that might not be such a bad thing after all.
Let me start with a rant… If you’re offended by rude words don’t read what’s coming up next!
Here is a message to people who want to lodge complaints against live music venues … FUCK YOU all who sail in you …
You want the city lights and the convenience of being close to everything AND the serenity of a rain forest… FUCK YOU and all who sail in you …
You want a seachange or a tree change and then bitch that there’s nothing and you try turning it into an inner city hipster village. FUCK YOU and all who sail in you …
This guy wasn’t making a profit. He was holding house gigs on his property and people paid to cover the cost of the artist. People brought their own food and drinks and everything was fine until some no life moved in to the next property and reported him to the council alleging just about everything from loud noise, cars doing burnouts, shit he may as well have said they were sacrificing virgins too.
Of course those allegations were lapped up by the local council who tried to railroad my friend into having gigs at an exhibition park the council owned that was losing money faster than a hooker with a public itch. So began four years of throwing everything at him. Noise control, building permits, health and safety you name it. They tried it and each time, my friend and his partner batted them away and came up with the goods.
So after four years of being lied to, being made to look like a liar, financially squeezed my friend and the council faced off in the Civil Appeals Tribunal. And he lost…
Did he lose on environmental grounds? No.
Did he lose on liquor licensing grounds? No.
Did he lose on any safety and security grounds? No.
He lost on the grounds that its prime farming land… PRIME FARMING LAND!!!!!!!!!!
This is the same council that has approved the selling of prime farming land to developers to let them turn this rural hamlet into yet another outer suburb ghetto of small blocks of land, pizza and pasta shops and nothing else. FUCK YOU and all who sail in you …
Now I’m bringing up this case because I have only found out about it last night but this is a very familiar story being told everywhere.
It doesn’t take much to kill off a live venue. All it takes is for one complaint and the council are on to it like a flash, More’s the pity they don’t act as fast when people trip over footpaths. Councils should stick to collecting rubbish and stop interfering with enthusiasts and legitimate businesses who promote local culture.
What pisses this author off even more are the people who make the complaints in the first place. You know the type. The one’s who move next to airports and complain about aeroplanes or move next to a school and bitch about kids and traffic in the mornings and afternoons. These people give me the fucking shits! The majority of people are being hamstrung by a bunch of cretins who either don’t do their homework who need a lesson in astronomy because they think the world revolves around them.
In addition to councils, live music venues and events are being strangled by liquor laws, the cost of security, the police and public liability. Add them all together and you get a nanny state. Politicians and councillors are bowing to business owners and developers who feel that live music venues are a detriment to business and property values in the area. It is NO COINCIDENCE in Melbourne that no sooner do we see more residential dwellings in the inner city appearing, that the squeeze has been put on live music venues. I mean, no real estate agent would want to sell a house with all that racket down the road so they’ll blame all the ills of that area; the crime rate the syringes, the traffic on that pesky venue down the road… FUCK YOU and all who sail in you …
Musicians depend on venues being kept open to make some sort of living. I don’t know of any other business that has to face so many restrictions in order to scrape the meagre incomes that most of us do. The draconian laws brought in and the lawyers picnic of public liabilty is killing a vital part of our culture. People who enjoy live music rarely cause trouble yet they are treated with the same contempt as dance clubs that are riddled with ecstacy, GHB, gangs, knives and violence. More and more of these clubs are opening up while live music venues close. How the fuck is that allowed to happen?
Live music will soon be completely dead if we allow gentrification to bore the shit out of our towns and cities. To all of you who bitch and complain and want to destroy the very things that attracted you to where you live, all I can say is FUCK YOU and all who sail in you …
I don’t know why I keep doing it but I somehow always seem to find myself dragged in front of the TV when The Voice, X-Factor or one of those “reality” talent shows are on.
Now don’t get me wrong. I have no trouble with talent shows. My earliest memory of TV Talent Shows goes back to New Faces on Channel 9 with Bert Newton or Pot of Gold with Tommy Hanlon Jr. and Bernard King .. The original Kyle Sandilands arsehole judge.
Now I will save my thoughts on the current crop of TV talent shows for another time but the thing that makes me yell at the television is the crying and the bloody sob story that comes with contestants.
OK.. The kid tells us a story of misfortune, heartbreak and misery. What would be even more heartbreaking is if after all of that, they’ve got no talent after all.
I should also add that My Kitchen Rules and Masterchef have the same sook segments too. “It would me a lot to me (sniff) to win… I live for food (sniff)”…
WE ALL LIVE FOR FOOD! Now COOK!
Now before I get accused of being harsh, allow me to add some perspective to all of this.
Did the audiences in Hamburg in the early 60’s know or care that John Lennon was being looked after by his aunt because his beloved mother was run down and killed by a drunk, off- duty police officer? Did they care how he had been a troubled child knowing his dad had run off and he had lost his Mum?
Did Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles or Jose Feliciano let their blindness get in the way of their music? Did you ever see them give a sob story on TV?
Roy Orbison lost his two sons in a house fire and lost his first wife in a road accident and he grieved as we all would have and he kept going.
Beethoven was deaf… Enough said there!
The list goes on. In fact, heartache and misery are what makes many artists who they are. I would rather see someone get up and say “I’m here putting it on the line and ready to sing and I’m not letting my baggage stop me”.. No crying, no sympathy vote, just up front confidence and courage and allowing their music to tell their story instead.
Susan Boyle, god love her, came out on stage, got mocked and judged because of her appearance and stuck it up everyone’s collective arses when she started singing. There was no sob story on the night. Her voice did the job and it transcended everything else. It was later that we learnt she had a learning disability, was bullied as a child and was unable to keep a steady job as a result.
I’m now middle aged and many musicians and entertainers I work with, are in the same age group. Many of us are taking drugs to help keep us alive as opposed to the stuff we took in the 70s that nearly killed us.
We don’t go on stage and tell our audiences before we start that we have heart conditions, are being treated for cancer, coming off rehab, a divorce or that our kids are giving us grief etc. All we’d get back is “get on with it”.
We get out there and do what we love and more often than not, do it to forget about all of that baggage for a while.
So forgive me if I’m being a callous bastard, but at the end of the day, we all have our issues. I wish we could all live in an ideal world and be free of the shit life throws at us. At the end of the day however, when you stand up and say you have something to offer, don’t let your life’s baggage get in the way of what you have to show us. Let your talent speak for itself.
I don’t think I’m passing on any new revelation here when I say that at every woken moment of our lives, the world is constantly trying to screw us over. In fact, I’d even go as far as saying that most of the plotting goes on while we’re asleep. So yeah.. 24/7 the world is constantly trying to screw us over.
We have , bills to pay, kids to feed, rents and mortgages, pressures at work or at school, health issues, loneliness, financial issues, we lose faith in those we want to look up to, put up with shitty and stupid decisions by people who get paid to make smart and good decisions, you worry about friends and family dealing with their own demons and you feel the whole world is claustrophobically crushing you and stretching you to the limit at the same time.
Then one day, you convince yourself to get out of your fortress home and routine, meet up with people you like to hang out with and go and take in some live music. You really look forward to this because this may be your big night out for the week, month or even the year.
It could be a local beer garden listening to an acoustic act or it could be at a stadium watching a major touring act. From the moment the music starts, it takes you away from all the shit. Whether it’s just one 3 minute song, or a whole gig, the music brings back blue sky, let’s in fresh air. It let’s you breath and allows you to be the emotional being you want to be rather than who or what you’re expected to be.
You may hear a new song or an old favourite that brings back a memory or an emotion and whether it’s happy, sad, funny or angry it let’s you feel it the way you want to feel it.
When the music is good, you spend that time immersed in the moment, with the people you like to hang out with, and exorcising the demons that posses you during the week and you are no longer just another expendable member of the ant farm. When the music is good, it doesn’t matter who or what the songs are about, in that moment those songs are aimed right at you and you’re convinced that you and the writer of that song have a connection. When the music is good, you head back home with a smile on your face. cleansed from the grey grit of the working week and when the music is really good, that experience can stay with you for weeks, or be the epiphany you needed to make some life changes for the better.
And then we ask what musicians really do for a living!
Musician’s are not like doctors or plumbers or tax accountants who you see regularly and pay for their services. You’ll see a doctor because you’re sick. A plumber because you’re knee deep in shit or a tax accountant because you’re also knee deep in shit. You may never hire the services of a musician and if you do you’d be one of the many who yell “HOW MUCH???” when they quote you for a gig.
Surely a band can’t be that expensive. It’s only music right? I mean it’s not like a doctor who’s making you feel better or like a plumber who’s getting you out of the shit. It’s just music for goodness sake. Well the fact of the matter is, that music DOES make you feel better and it DOES help to get you out of emotional shit even if it’s momentarily. When the music is good, it helps to recharge your emotional and mental batteries and allows you to face “the shit” again recharged.
But none of this emotional liberation happens without musicians. Whether they take part in their vocation on a full time or part time basis, musicians are as valuable a vocation as doctors, plumbers and accountants. Just like all professionals, musicians have to learn their craft, invest in plant and equipment, practice their skills, travel to and from jobs, eat and pay bills too.
The relationship between a musician and an audience is very similar to that of doctor and patient or teacher and student. It may not be as personal or on a one to one basis, but when the music is good, the connection is definitely there.
It is rather puzzling that a profession that directly impacts on one’s deepest emotions is treated with less respect than someone who can run real fast and kick a ball between two wooden posts. Now don’t get me wrong. I am not devaluing the value of sports people but geez a lot of them get paid a lot don’t they!
So when you’re humming along to a song on the radio, kicking back with friends at a pub watching a band or tearing it up at stadium concert, just remember that none of this can happen without the hard work of musician’s and other professionals who work with them!
THE VICE VERSA
Now bearing all of the above in mind, there are members of the music profession who either don’t realise what effect they have on people or they simply don’t care.
Musicians need to understand that the biggest compliment anyone can pay is just showing up to a gig. For all of the shit they have to face ever day and for all of the other things they could do to cheer themselves up, they have chosen YOU play a major part in their emotional and mental liberation. It doesn’t matter whether they have paid to see you or not, the simple fact is that they are there in front of you.
They may even pay you the extra compliment of buying your CD and T-Shirt and asking you to sign it for them. For all the things they could spend their hard earned money on at any given time, they have chosen YOU.
Because at that moment, they thought that the music was good and when the music is good….. ( refer to the paragraphs above).. and just like a doctor or a plumber you made them feel better and dragged them out of the shit for a while. They will take that memory and/or your CD home as a reminder of that.
Musicians ask a lot from their audiences. No… They really do. They want them to come to gigs, buy their merchandise, “like” their social media and support them in all of their endeavours. But with some musician’s the compliment isn’t returned. The public are being asked by supermarkets, retailers, banks etc to buy their products, like their pages, go to their stores and musicians add to that commercial pressure.
When someone goes to a gig and really enjoys it, they often talk about it with friends or colleagues the next day and if the music is good, they may even look the artist up, buy some back catalogue, join a Facebook page and even leave a comment.
There is NOTHING cool about not replying. Especially when you are an idependent act with a few hundred friends. It is WAY COOL to reply back with a “hey thanks for coming along, we really appreciate it”. Some musicians have no idea how that makes people smile. OK if you’re a Keith Urban or Taylor Swift it’s hard to reply and if you do, punters won’t believe it’s you but who cares? A nice comment never goes astray.
When a musician is booked to do gig, don’t accept the booking unless you are willing to play to the heads that are going to be in front of you. If you don’t want to play Creedence, don’t accept gigs where people want to hear it. You’re only doing your image harm and you are ruining the experience for the audience.
Now I’ve been around the traps long enough to know that we don’t live in a perfect world and that some times, despite our best intentions there will always be people who won’t be happy with the music being played. Not everyone is going to have the same emotional and mental liberation but it doesn’t help when musicians get all self indulgent and act too cool to give the audiences what they want to have a good time.
Sometimes musicians need to be able to adapt to veer away from what they prefer to do in order to get more gigs. There is nothing wrong with that. A smart musician would use well paying gigs to find their own projects that ninety-nine out of one hundred times, won’t earn them any money.
When the music is good, the musician has aimed the music on target to the people watching and the more people a musician can do it to, the more often they will be accepted and people will continue to come back and use you as their emotional and mental liberators. And when the music is really good, the musician just might be able to make a half decent existence out of it.
The last couple of weeks have been very interesting. I managed to play several gigs which was pretty cool but the types of gigs were varied to say the least. Most of them were pubs and clubs. No worries there, nice people, regular income, sold some merchandise and some of them even were nice enough to provide a cola and better still a meal. Apart from a couple of ticketed shows, the rest were “rostered” pub and club gigs that in reality, wouldn’t have matter who played really.
The music was wall paper and thank Christ it wasn’t football season yet otherwise we’d have been competing against the giant plasma on the adjacent wall. I mean really… What dickhead puts a TV next to the stage??
But one gig was very different. It was a first for me and sincerely hope it won’t be the last. It was a house gig. What was so different about this gig compared to a pub gig or even a birthday party gig at someone’s home?
The one big difference? A total absence of pissheads and dickheads who won’t let you pack up after your gig for starters.
This gig was run by a couple of people who love music. They set up their house as a tiny little live club. They sell tickets to people who also have a love of music and who LISTEN rather than watch the footy, play the pokies bogging into a $15 chicken parma.
The hosts were gracious, extremely hospitable, all the money went to covering our costs to play, the audience were polite, music loving people who brought their own drinks and food in addition to the snacks our hosts provided. They also bought our CDs too.
We played to about 45 people up close and personal and every member of the audience was part of the gig. It was lovely and it reminded me of the days when our cities had music clubs dotted all over the place. Sadly they’re all but gone save for a handful and those venues who do have live music are full of singers with backing tracks (don’t start me!) or bands like Bon Jovi, Cold Chisel, Lady GaGa.. Oh shit sorry.. I forgot to mention they’re all tribute bands.
House gigs are a growing phenomenon and I’m not surprised.
1. The people who run them are all about the music and often do it for the love of it rather than making a buck.
2. The people who attend these shows are equally as passionate about the music and often don’t like going to pubs because of the reputations some of them have and of course they don’t like poker machines.
3. They get to be up close and personal to the artist and also get the opportunity to chat and provide that instant feedback that only a live gig can give.
OK I listed the pros now what are the cons? I can’t think of any!
I know of many house shows that are being held on a regular basis around the country and I take my hat off to the organisers of these great gigs and to the people who support them. May they continue….
Who was the bright spark in the Tamworth City Council who moved the goal post to allow nearly every busker in the Tamworth Country Music Festival to have a PA system which churns out backing tracks? Since when did Peel Street become Karaoke Avenue?
No seriously… Singing with a black box churning out backing tracks is NOT busking. It’s Karaoke! The whole idea of busking is for entertainers to stand out amidst the din of the street and attract the attention of passers by.
How the bloody hell can one do that when there is a PA system literally every ten feet? You’d think if all one has to do is stand on the street and sing that they’d be something bloody special to be able to stop people and make them part with their money. But nope.
Peel Street sounded like one very bad LSD trip and I couldn’t wait to squeeze into a hot sweaty crowded pub with a real live band for some peace and quiet.
Now I have read comments and had arguments with people over this issue but I’m standing firm.
Some singers say they can’t play an instrument and therefore “they have to use a backing track”. Really? Well maybe if these singers would tear themselves away from their I-Bands and join a real band with musicians, they could actually get some gigs or at the very least may be able to put together a duo to perform live on the street.
Then there are those who do play an instrument and say “My guitar playing isn’t confident enough to busk”. Well then, DON’T BUSK! It’s as simple as that really! Spend some time practising instead of listening to your family saying you can be whatever you want to be and telling you how good you are. You’re shit unless you practice. That’s life! If all else fails find someone who is competent and is able to accompany you.
Singing to backing tracks is bad for a singer. It has its uses but only to a point. At some stage every singer who is serious about performing outside of their bedroom will come in contact with other musicians. Maybe a full band, a church organist, a couple of dudes playing acoustic guitars, they will eventually work with other musicians. They cannot spend their whole life singing to a black box. But the longer they are tied to the I-Band umbilical the more unbearable they are going to be for musicians to work with.
So back to Tamworth. Gone are the days when you could walk down Peel Street and be impressed by raw talent of street entertainers playing warts and all and doing their best to get your attention. Now, Peel Street is a din of MIDI laden backing tracks with singers standing rigid and competing with the next singer 10 feet away who is doing the same thing.
So… If you’re thinking about busking in Tamworth next year, you had better keep it live and un-amplified. Doesn’t matter how old you are. Yes even you, the cute little 9 year old NO BACKING TRACKS or you will be heckled until you cry.