February 21, 2009
A 17-year old girl died from a reported drug overdose at the Perth Big Day Out music festival earlier this month, after taking three ecstasy pills to avoid being caught by police at the gate. This was an unfortunate, but unsurprising occurrence.
The surprising element is how Big Day Out publicity have marginalised her behaviour by silencing their highly active online community.
A statement published on the BDO site on 2 February 2009 reads:
Perth drug overdose statement
Early yesterday afternoon a 17-year-old girl was taken to hospital after a suspected drug overdose at the Perth Big Day Out. Tragically she died overnight.
While details have yet to be confirmed, it has been reported that the teenager consumed a number of pills outside the event to avoid being detected by police sniffer dogs that were in operation, in this instance with fatal consequences.
Big Day Out does not condone the use of drugs at the event. The same laws of the outside world apply inside the event. Over 3 million people have attended the Big Day Out in its 17 year history and this is the first time an incident of this nature has occurred.
Sniffer dogs are commonly used outside large events like the Big Day Out and are part of the police’s harm minimisation responsibility.
The investigation is being followed up by the Police.
To respect the privacy of the family, no further comments will be made.
In contrary to that final statement, there’s also a dedication page on the BDO site, containing a message from the girl’s mother.
While the Big Day Out brand will remain untarnished by this event – it’s arguably stronger than ever – this sad occurrence is now inextricably linked to the event’s brand in the same manner as 16-year old Jessica Michalik‘s death during the 2001 tour.
Where Michalik’s death was the result of inadequate crowd control measures – a mistake rectified from the 2002 tour onwards – Thoms’ drug-related death requires a conversation between Big Day Out publicity and the hundreds of thousands who attend the tour across Australia and New Zealand each year.
Critically, the online community who follow the event have been silenced: the highly active Big Day Out forum was disabled immediately after the news of Thoms’ death broke, and it remains closed almost a month later.
Silence isn’t the best response here.
In this case, Big Day Out publicity invite criticism by refusing to allow a dialogue to occur.
The only publicised offshoot of Thoms’ death is a Western Australian police commissioner agreeing that “amnesty bins” should be installed outside music festivals, to allow punters to deposit their drugs without fear of prosecution. And to minimise the likelihood of festival attendees overdosing in a panic before entering the venue, as in Thoms’ case.
There’s nothing new about youth drug culture. But when an unfortunate event such as an overdose occurs, people start asking questions of the police, of the festival organisers, of each other.
In a time of crisis or confusion, people want to connect with each other. And while an isolated festival overdose isn’t the strongest catalyst for either impulse, it’s still an occasion better met with community encouragement than marginalisation; with noise instead of silence.
I understand that moderating public opinion becomes exponentially more difficult as a greater volume of people converge in one location. The need to consistently and accurately monitor the fine line between opinion and libel is likely at the forefront of the organisers’ swift decision to close the public forum.
Censorship aside, an alternative forum named Small Night In has sprung up following the closure. But many questions remain unanswered:
- Why silence an established, highly active online community following a drug-related death?
- Why not encourage a dialogue between festival attendees and festival organisers?
- Why not partner with an established organisation such as the Australian Drug Information Network (ADIN) and encourage participation – both online and in BDO-sponsored community forums held in capital cities – to gauge youth opinion on drug use, so as to minimise the chances of a repeat e?
- Most importantly: why not work harder to turn a negative event into a positive by reinforcing a sense of community?
Funnily, I was only provoked into thinking about the BDO organisers’ handling of the Thoms death after I received an email sent to the BDO user database advertising Lily Allen’s June Australian tour.
Promote a tour; marginalise the voices of Australian youths itching to converge and converse.
Poor form, Big Day Out.
November 12, 2008
I attended Q Music‘s workshop at the Troubadour last night. The topic was music promotion, marketing and public relations; speakers included Brent Hampstead (Media Hammer), Jo Nilsen (Butcher Birds), Megan Reeder (Secret Service/Dew Process) and Kellie Lloyd (Q Music/Screamfeeder). The venue was filled with seated bodies, mostly youngsters, who were privy to some valuable advice from the four experienced industry representatives.
What follows is a series of notes I took in chronological order. It’s best to take each paragraph as a separate thought, though they are all joined under the umbrella of music promotion, marketing and public relations. My interjections are italicised.
Introduction: marketing your music incorporates promotion and publicity.
Steps as an artist:
Record some music.
Decide whether you’re distribute it online or in physical form.
Write a marketing plan with specific targets. Budget? Street press goals? MySpace? Pitching to radio station? How do you plan to spend your budget?
Decide and arrange how you wish to present your image as an artist. Use a creative photographer.
Conduct a cohesive launch of your product into the market.
Create a community from a grassroots level – since that’s where you’ll be starting.
Don’t overcommunicate your message; people have their own lives.
Andrew: If they’re willing to take the time to listen to your music, that’s great. If they’re willing to reach out and communicate with you, that’s amazing. I don’t think enough time was spent discussing this. Getting a person to hear your music in an accomplishment. Being remarkable enough for a person – not a friend, family member, or acquaintance – to take the time to add you as a friend, send you a message, give you feedback on your creative output – that’s incredible. That’s to be cherished. It’s the equivalent of a person stopping you in the street and commenting on your appearance. That shit rarely happens. If I were a musician, I would not take my first fan for granted. The first ten. The first hundred, the first thousand. Attention is a scarce resource, and I think this is absolutely worth keeping in mind.
Personalise your responses to any feedback or thanks, wherever possible. To be successful and valuable at any level of media, ensure that you engage in personal, polite and professional feedback.
Acquire or subscribe to the Australasian Music Industry Directory (AMID). This contains key information that you’d otherwise spent hours Googling. Brent mentioned that the importance of the AMID was one of the strongest take-away points.
Electronic press kits aren’t used much anymore. Instead, press releases via email – bio, photo, compressed mp3.
Mailing physical copies of your recorded CDs is a waste of valuable merch money. These products are just added to a pile in an office and are easily ignored.
Megan explained that Dew Process have people devoted to digital content creation and maintaining interest in their artists, through MySpace updates, video blogs, regular content to reminder each artist’s fanbase of their activity.
Brent stated that you should think about online content as early as possible. Record and document as much as you can, as you’ll never know when you’ll want or need it. Andrew: This is an important point that they didn’t really dwell on – this generation has greater access to information and the ability to record and publish than any other. The cost of storage and data is constantly decreasing. Take advantage of this.
Brent mentioned Short Stack as a great example of a band who have built a strong online community around them which has translated into success, popularity, tours and a record deal.
Some web companies will provide content for free. Jo mentioned Moshcam, who’ll record your show (in Sydney) and provide you with a DVD recording free of charge. Andrew: This sounds a little hard to believe and requires further investigation.
How do you attract people to your site, or your online community? This relates to setting out a coherent marketing plan. Target, in order: blogs, street press, newspapers, community radio, JJJ, television.. solidify each community before moving on. Andrew: They forgot to state that this takes time and requires patience, and dedication. But I guess that goes without saying.
Prepare a biography that tells a story. How do you want to be presented? Answer the obvious questions – how you met, where the name came from – to avoid these being repeated in interviews. Though you’ll always get writers who have under-researched. Brent stated that your bio needs a hook – you need to give someone a reason to want to read about you.
Print media runs on two types of lead times: long and short. Bigger publications such as Rolling Stone and Jmag tend to set a deadline six weeks in advance for the majority of content. Street press generally run on a one or two week lead time. Online is shorter again, due to the ability to quickly turn around content. Andrew: I just discovered that Rolling Stone Australia has no online presence. What a missed opportunity.
Set a release date for your product – single, EP, album, gig – and work backwards from that point. Stick to it. Plan ahead so that you’re not caught out. Organise marketing efforts – remember, this incorporates promotion and publicity.
With regard to street press – don’t hound them. Politely request interviews, reviews, features. They’re generally nice, but constantly under pressure to turn content around on a weekly (in the case of Rave, Time Off and Scene) or monthly (Tsunami) basis. The best way to get your name out is to gig regularly and be heard. Social proof! Again, Brent stated the importance of personalised invitations – in the mail, if you’re willing to go to the effort, since it will often be appreciated. Email costs nothing and takes little time.
Extensive discussion which indicated that Richard Kingsmill decides whether you’re played on JJJ and effectively holds the keys to your national career. No one commented on how sad this is. Brent cracked a joke about how JJJ is taxpayer-funded: if you’re a taxpayer, it is your right to be played on the station! Though perhaps you’ll require greater tact than this to improve your chances.
Create a network of friends – interstate bands, radio announcers, street press and blog writers. If they like you, they’ll become your champion. Andrew: This is absolutely true. Word of mouth musical recommendations are still my biggest influence; if the word’s coming from a respected or esteemed mouth, then I’m highly likely to listen.
Being a musician is a constant juggling act: releases, gigs, merch, press, radio. Brent stressed the importance of multiple impressions across as many media as possible. Be relentless! But don’t overcommunicate. The more impressions that you’ve got circulating out there, the more potential eyeballs and ears to see and hear your output.
Advice on approaching bands, promoters, street press, radio, or anyone throughout your life in general -just ask. Put yourself out there. Be tenacious, and sneaky on occasion. If you’re serious about making this work – what the hell are you holding back for?
Advice on the music industry in general – be meticulous, patient, and prepared. Always.
Andrew: Hopefully this’ll be of some use to those who missed out, or whoever stumbles across these notes in the future. The above summarises the thoughts and opinions of four music industry figures in late 2008. It’ll be interesting to look back on this post in 12 months’ time.