10 things we learned at the ARIA Masterclass

Wednesday, 12 Dec 2018

Photo: Sam MacDonald

ARIA welcomed the music industry into the state-of-the-art Telstra Customer Insight Centre during ARIA Week for an insightful Masterclass that covered export and making it on the global stage, the evolution of Australian hip-hop and how to make a great music city. Here’s a few takeaways we noted from the keynote and panels.

1. More Australian artists are hitting the global stage than ever before, and if you think that things don’t go wrong on tour, you’re dreaming…

When SOUNDS AUSTRALIA’S Dom Alessio asked panelists Esti Zilber (Creative Producer, SOUNDS AUSTRALIA), Jaddan Comerford (CEO & Founder, Unified Music Group), Michael Taylor (Managing Director, Universal Music Australia) and Nick O’Byrne (Co-owner and Director at Look Out Kid Artist Management and Barely Dressed Records) to reveal their biggest overseas touring disaster, some sage thoughts were shared. Nick’s gauge of a successful day on tour is an 80% OK day. Take anything less as a not-great result, and anything above as a fantastic result. Michael suggested that it’s such a process and expense to take an artist overseas that you really have to strategise and plan, especially if you don’t want to be woken up in the middle of the night with dramas unfolding.

Esti contributed that things can go very wrong when an artist is not prepared for the showcase element – eg: performing in a venue that isn’t a traditional venue, you might encounter a sound problem and lose seven minutes of a 25 minute set. The artists who are successful in the showcase environment are usually those who can roll with it in the moment. Also – VISAS! As soon as you have your eye on an international market, research visas and start working on getting one.

2. It’s ok to aim for success in just some overseas markets. Blanket global domination might not be for every artist.

While Nick suggested that only a handful of Australian artists can now have a sustainable career without an overseas audience, Jaddan pointed out examples like Violent Soho who made a conscious decision not to spend too much time overseas and instead focus on monetizing their masters globally through streaming.

Michael noted that some artists don’t cross all borders. America might not be your market, but you might find interest in a European country, so start where there’s a spark. Eg: Hilltop Hoods found interest in Germany, and then other European cities, and targeted those markets specifically.

Focus on markets where an artist has opportunities – find out which cities the most successful playlist curators are in, get in front of audiences there, and present local gig success to the local Spotify or Apple Music office, and other tastemakers.

3. There’s huge value in touring Australia LOTS to prepare for overseas touring

Two big reasons why you should be a seasoned Australian touring artist before going overseas – firstly, it’s how you get good! Touring locally across this vast country is a great training ground. Esti pointed out that she constantly hears important international industry people say how impressed they are with Australian talent and the quality of their showcase performances. It’s no coincidence that plenty of local touring helps prepare artists for international markets.

Secondly, it costs a lot of money to showcase or tour internationally! Australian touring income can help fund overseas initiatives.

4. Do your research before embarking on international trips

Too many artists get to SXSW thinking they know what they are getting into, but they really don’t…It’s a good idea for managers or self-managed artists to attend international showcases ahead of the artist performing at one, to understand the landscape. Put funds aside to do a reccy. International touring demands a focused and clear idea of outcomes that you want to achieve.

Once you’ve done your research and have a strategy, ensure that you have a longer term plan – when can the artist come back to the market? How will you fund the next trip?

Networking is key to research and being prepared. Tap into people who’ve done it before – artists and managers. Ask if you can buy them a coffee and pick their brains on how to get the most out of the showcase event, festival or market you intend to pursue.

More tips on showcasing here

5. Finding the right team overseas to work with is crucial

How do you find the right people and build the team an artist needs to have success overseas?

Jaddan suggested finding people who are really passionate about the artist, and only signing with a booking agent who really loves the artist.

Finding people you really trust is a very important thing, according to Nick. There’s no way you will know everything about a particular market. An artist or manager needs to rely on an inner sanctum that are trusted, to give advice when they don’t know that market. Never be afraid of asking questions of the team!

Start your international connections locally. Esti noted that BIGSOUND is key to forming international connections and networking. It’s good practice to be bold enough to introduce yourself to a stranger. They might become your next agent, or introduce you to someone who will be.

Check Coach Viv’s tips for networking here 

6. The Australian hip-hop scene is exploding with a multitude of young, diverse artists telling their stories

Apple Music’s Creative Director & DJ for Beats 1, Zane Lowe, led a panel of some of our brightest hip-hop artists - Briggs, Hau Latukefu, Kwame, Sampa the Great, and journalist Chris Kevin Au – and discussed the importance of telling their own stories.

Sampa the Great found her voice as an African first; then tackled how to express herself within Australian culture. Briggs spoke of how Reclaim Australia was a reaction to right wing Australia; it was the kind of record they needed themselves as kids.

Hau pointed out there’s been an evolution in recent years – it’s not just one hip-hop scene anymore. There’s pockets and different styles, and multi-cultural backgrounds play a big part in this diverse scene.

Kwame shared that he’s not afraid to take a risk musically. Individuality is so key (especially for Kwame, coming from a neo-soul jazz angle).

7. It’s about inspiring the next generation. Be the person or artist you needed as a kid to spark your journey.

Briggs left his ARIA in a mate’s coffee shop in Shepparton so the community could feel what an ARIA felt like, and gave his share of the Australian Music Prize money to the local footy club. In fact, all of his awards for Reclaim Australia went back home to Shepparton – it was important for his community to share that win. After seeing the impact that his album Sheplife had, Briggs was in a position to start a label, Bad Apples, to inspire kids and give back.

Kwame felt that his triple j Unearthed award was a win for his culture. Hau donated his ARIA award to the Australian Music Vault for their upcoming hip-hop installation, and spoke of how vital is it for people from multi-cultures to able to see the likes of these artists in positions of influence.

8. Your audience is a click away

Understand that when you put your music out there on a streaming service, it’s global. Zane suggests you tell your friends and fans that it’s up there to listen to!

Check out The New AUSTRALIA Apple Music playlist

9. It takes strategy, a roadmap and a great civil mindset to make a great music city like Austin, Texas

What makes a great music city? In a keynote with Music Canada’s President Graham Henderson, he spoke of ‘The Tale of Two Cities’ 2012 report commissioned to compare Toronto to Austin, Texas (home of SXSW and Austin City Limits), so that Toronto could leverage best practice from Austin to create their own plan to grow the music sector.

Recommendations from that report included creating a music industry board, creating a music industry office, creating a state level music office, and expanding a music production tax credit.

Importantly, it was noted that Austin used ‘live music capital of the world’ slogan in their tourism marketing; and stressed that it was a civic mindset that influenced policy in that city.

Music Canada published a guide to mastering of a music city – to provide a roadmap that communities of all sizes can follow to realise the full potential of their music economy.

10. We have a responsibility as people in the music industry to make our voices heard

A panel following Graham’s keynote theme delved into what it will take to make Sydney a great music city again (with a self-imposed rule NOT to use the “L” word – lockouts – in the discussion)

“If you want change to happen, you have to get loud and talk to your local member”, is good advice from panelist Kerri Glasscock (Festival Director/CEO at the Sydney Fringe Festival, and Director of venues 505 & Old 505 Theatre Sydney). There are 60 recommendations in the music and arts economy in New South Wales report handed down last month, and we need all of those recommendations to become election campaign policy.

City of Sydney Councillor and Arts Curator Jess Scully stressed that those in the music industry can contribute to Sydney’s late night trading draft planning controls at sydneyyoursay.com.au. The council need to hear from the community to support this.


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