When I first started out in music I had no idea what I was doing.
I moved from Sydney because I heard the live scene was much better in Melbourne and that the pokies hadn’t taken over the venues yet. I went to parties and met people jamming at houses on Jackson Street in St Kilda, people who went onto become my band The Endless Sea. I applied for an Arts Victoria recording grant because the guitarist in our band told me I should.
We had some little wins along the way. An ARIA nomination for our first album Dead Wood Falls, some great support at ABC and community radio, a wonderful publicist who spent hours working hard to spread the word about our music.
Small rooms of sixty people turned into bigger rooms of six hundred. We played with artists we love like Neko Case, Mia Dyson, Laura Veirs and Liz Stringer, stepped onto the stage of major festivals including East Coast Blues, Woodford and Homebake and released our second album Hidden Hands. And I lost a lot of money.
It’s something we talk about amongst ourselves but rarely speak about in public. MONEY.
How do you make it? How do you tour a band without it? How do you earn a living from music these days when apparently, no-one is buying it?
So here’s my Carrie Bradshaw Sex in the City question for today’s independent self-funded musician:
How do you record, release and tour music without going into debt?
You’d be amazed at the number of artists we perceive as success stories in this country who are in debt. Why? Probably the biggest factor is that we live in a vast country with a small population, but there are other factors too. Radio stopped supporting a lot of Australian music a long time ago. Live venues couldn’t see a big enough return in staging original music. Our only national broadcaster has a youth focused programming directive without the means or time to cater to all markets. We still have the mentality that there isn’t room enough for everyone.
People now expect to receive their music for free but it’s rare to hear of an artist who can make that music for free.
These are all of the issues we have been examining at our workshops this year. Without a big financial backer, whether that’s a label, parents or a partner who is willing to dedicate their life to your music – how on earth do you sustain a career when you live in a vast country with a comparatively small population?
Wally de Backer, the voice and creative talent behind Gotye spoke candidly at our June workshop about his experience of touring as Gotye and with his other band The Basics. Without the support at radio, touring as The Basics was hard yakka. He would come from playing to 20,000 on the main stage at Homebake as Gotye to 200 people at the Empress with The Basics. Now there’s nothing wrong with playing to 200 people at the Empress, it’s just that it’s probably not going to fund your next album or make a living for the members of your band.
So what will it mean to make music without going into debt? To live within our means without our means defining us? Will we have to work those ‘other jobs’ and save the money to fund our music? Probably. Will it mean that our art supports itself as a business consideration but that we have to work another job to meet our personal expenses? Most likely.
It’ll mean we have to be a lot more creative about how we spend our money to record, release and tour for a start. Especially as we’ll still need to pay the people who join us on the creative journey because no-one else should go into debt for our art either.
We’ll get a lot more creative with how we raise money. From writing our own grant applications to crowd funding, to examining ways we can use our skills to develop further income streams.
We’ll have to understand what is happening at the cutting edge of music promotion. We can outsource the work we can’t or don’t want to do, but we need to know what we’re asking them to do for us.
We’ll be partnering with other artists who are business savvy, motivated and creating opportunities for their music.
We’ll be a lot smarter as to how we spend our creative dollar. If you’re a business offering us a service, we’re going to want to see returns for the money we spend on marketing and promotion. If you want to publish or distribute our music, we’ll want to see your plan for the future of the music we give to you.