Meet the newest APRA AMCOS Ambassadors: Alex Burnett and Justine Eltakchi

Wednesday, 05 Feb 2020

Our first two APRA AMCOS Ambassador appointees in 2020 are both starting out the year with incredible songwriting achievements to their credit

London-based songwriter/producer/artist Alex Burnett was a key collaborator on Thelma Plum's acclaimed album Better in Blak, which scored three songs in the triple j Hottest 100 countdown, including the album's stunning title track at #9. From his early days as frontman in Sydney band Sparkadia to focusing on co-writing (Hayden James, Alison Wonderland, Flight Facilities) and his own artist projects in the UK, Alexander's breadth of work is diverse and always evolving and next he is sets out to start his own publishing company. 

Songwriter/musician/artist/producer Justine Eltakchi has been working hard behind-the-scenes and on the live circuit over the last decade, and the song she entered in SBS' Eurovision - Australia Decides, 'Proud,' will be performed by powerhouse vocalist Casey Donovan. Justine's visual impairment has presented a completely different set of obstacles to overcome in the music industry, but it's her creative drive and resourcefulness that propels her forward.


Is there a song that set you on your musical path? 

'Tune in / Tune Out' by Red Riders. I saw them at the Hopetoun (RIP) by accident one night and thought they were amazing. Just incredible. I knew Alex, the singer, from my high school and thought...if he could do it, then at least I could try and see where it took me.

What’s your favourite song right now?

 'Lost in Yesterday' by Tame Impala. I've always dug them but this one might be my fave 2020 song already.

In contemporary music, what is setting the great songs apart from OK songs?

I think it's about resonance. Not catchiness or big production. It has to be a song from the heart with interesting production that compliments the vocal.

I think the days of making songs sound like other songs on playlists are over and people want to hear weird, wacky, fresh, heartfelt songs. 

As someone who has collaborated extensively and widely, what is your advice for helping get the best out of others in those situations?

Always do your homework and be patient about what the others are looking for before just doing what you think you want to do. The gold is always in the middle. 

What are your tips for re-locating and establishing a musical career in London?

Well...firstly it's really hard. It just is. No one in a different territory really cares about you until you've proven your worth and turned up to loads of sessions. That being said, the experience really gave me my skills to become a better writer and work with loads of amazing artists and producers. I don't regret taking the risk.

What is the biggest challenge facing songwriters in today’s industry?

Where do we start? I feel that there's currently a greater value on production or the recording of the song rather than the melody and lyrics which is going to have to change for the songwriters of tomorrow in order to survive. 

Copyright is meaningful to me because…

It protects my work and allows me to keep making and creating music.

I am an APRA AMCOS Ambassador because…

APRA have always had my back and their door is always open. I'd love to fight for Australian songwriters and help APRA move into the global marketplace.


What are three words that describe you?

Persevering, optimistic, eccentric.

What is a song that changed your life?

If I had to choose one, it would be 'Ready for Love' by India.Arie.  The very delicate production of a vulnerable song, delivered by one of the best performers of the last 20 years.  This song was one of the first I ever learnt, performed and truly connected with.

Can you talk about the inspiration for the song 'Proud'? How did it end up getting selected for Eurovision Decides?

'Proud' is such a significant song to me in my career. I actually had a truly inspired moment where I felt compelled to sit at the piano. I was overcome with emotion and the song wrote itself. It was inspired by two people close to me in the LGBTQI+ community, and grew to be a story of overcoming the obstacle that most people face: being yourself in a world that wants everyone to be the same.  

I submitted the song into the song portal for SBS' Eurovision Australia Decides, and the song was sent to Casey Donovan. We met recently and both laughed and cried together. Having someone connect with your music so much, is something very, very powerful as a songwriter.

You have played an incredible 700 gigs in the last 5 years. How has gigging made you a better songwriter and performer?

It has been a ride!  I have pushed myself these last five years, and experienced so much on and off stage. As a performer, I have learnt connecting with an audience is a conscious effort, that you are by far your worst critic, and that performing is not just a physical experience, but a mental and spiritual one, too. I think it has made me more real about my songwriting, it has pushed me to understand people more, and how music connects with different audiences.  

What is one accommodation that can really help with accessibility at venues/festivals/gigs of any kind?

Venues, clients or agents can often have a hard time understanding the scope of disability or the individual needs of someone. I think what is important to highlight is that much of disability is invisible. One in three Australians with a disability avoid social situations so we need to continually address the issue of accessibility in our industry, ensuring there is equal opportunity.

I have congenital night-blindness and low vision. I struggle to see in dark venues and in general life – steps, deciphering surfaces and recognising people. Explaining this to venues is often redundant, as people assume if you aren’t using a cane  you don’t need assistance.

What I think this means is, we have to start taking people seriously when they reach out. For any disability, extending a hand of support is always going to be appreciated, as the mental and emotional stress caused by a disability, for many, is very real.  

Speaking from someone who has a visual impairment, there is extra preparation that goes into everything. For example, finding an alternate mode of transport, memorising EVERYTHING (or face reading five words per screen on your iPad, in my case) and managing the inevitable stress of entering and setting up in a new venue. I memorise labels, buttons, floor layouts and the way someone walks  a hilarious gift and an alternative to ignoring people by accident!

As a visually-impaired songwriter/performer, do you have any advice or tips for others with a disability that are trying to establish a musical career? 

I will give the advice I wish my 18-year-old self had: you can literally do anything. Also….zoom function will be your best friend forever.

We are in one of the hardest industries in the world. Much of our time is spent solving “how to do something” whether you have a disability or not. Obviously there are limits put on us through access, system structures and society and thus the odds are stacked higher, so being resourceful is very important.

Find people who respect you, who make an effort to support you where your limitations are, and continually work on your craft and expand your skill set.  

I have recently started getting stuck into production, and I have memorised the buttons I need to know and zoom is on max. Yes it is harder, but my desire to learn is greater than that difficulty. In general, your desire has to outweigh the challenges, because they will always be there.

If you’re like me and struggle at nighttime events where you can network, follow organisations like APRA AMCOS, Women in Music Sydney and MusicNSW for events that are more structured and/or in the day time. For extra support, Australia Council for the Arts are just one of the bodies that provide funding to people with a disability. 

I want everyone to believe in themselves, because it took me such a long time. Overcoming my self-limiting beliefs opened up so many opportunities. The person who told you, "You can’t do it because of xyz" is wrong. 

Copyright is meaningful to me because…

Copyright is important to me because it protects the very foundation of music.  It is important to have laws in place for creatives, that put our minds at ease when we are making art. Having a body like APRA represent us, takes much of that stress away.

I am an APRA AMCOS Ambassador because…

APRA AMCOS is a thriving organisation that cultivates community and camaraderie in an industry that thrives on these two things. Not only do I love the very real impact that APRA AMCOS is having on our industry, but the events and SongHubs they are producing. I really didn’t start understanding the scope and layers of our industry until I started attending events held by APRA AMCOS.

It is an honour to be an Ambassador and I hope to make an impact not just as a songwriter, but a young woman living with a disability. I really hope to help encourage and support as many people as I can, as I take on this responsibility. 


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