November 12, 2008

Notes on Q Music’s PR, Promotion and Marketing Workshop

Posted in Music tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , at 11:54 pm by Andrew McMillen

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 suggested targeting blogs before street press. She didn’t really expand on this. Jo mentioned Before Hollywood, Is By Bus and Turn It Up To Ten.

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.

LastFM, FasterLouder, Mess+Noise, FourThousand and The Dwarf were all mentioned as valuable online resources and communities that should be leveraged on a local, national and international level.

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.

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November 6, 2008

Interview: Denis Semchenko, undergraduate music journalist

Posted in Music tagged , , , , , , , , at 9:55 pm by Andrew McMillen

Griffith University Communication almost-graduate and current Rave Magazine writer Denis Semchenko kindly saw fit to answer a series of questions regarding his career path, university and internship experiences, and the current state of music journalism on a local and national level.

Thanks for your time, Denis. You’re nearing the end of your Bachelor of Journalism, majoring in Communication (or is it the other way around?) at Brisbane’s Griffith University. How’s that working out for you?

Yes, fingers crossed I’m graduating this semester after finishing my journalism major in Bachelor of Communication (same thing – they make journos!). I have to say it’s a pretty stressful time of the year – I’m the news editor for the Griffith University annual student newspaper The Source, the making of which constitutes the News & Current Affairs Production module (third year journalism subject), so there are always issues with obtaining photos for stories, finishing up others’ work, proofreading, subediting as well as last-minute alterations and unexpected story material, and with the semester’s end looming, I never seem to get bored. Bring on the graduation!

Can you elaborate on your previous tertiary education experiences? 

It’s been a long and somewhat strange trip, to be honest – I wanted to become a journalist since my early teens, but got dissuaded by my parents and their friends who thought it wouldn’t be a suitable career path for me unlike, say, business, accounting or law.

I first started studying Commerce 9 years ago in Canberra; I wasn’t even 18 at the time, fresh out of my high school in Russia, and I ended up hating that course so much I dropped out after a year and went to study IT (again after the suggestion it was the ‘big thing’) at the Canberra Institute of Technology, which I finished after 3 years with a diploma. I did some further IT studies when I moved down to Melbourne 5 years ago but eventually realised my heart wasn’t in programming or systems administration either.

Having relocated to QLD 4 years ago, it took me a further 1.5 years of office work to want to study again, and this time I decided to pursue my original passion – journalism.
 
I understand you’ve undertaken some rather interesting internships. 

Yes, I’ve managed to accrue a somewhat unheard-of grand total of 6 weeks’ work experience this semester, including 3 weeks at ABC Online, 1 week at Channel Nine and 2 weeks at Rave Magazine.

Were these organised by Griffith, or a result of your own initiative and enthusiasm?

Both I guess – the actual internships were organised by my course convenor at Griffith according to the preferences I’ve specified and the slots available – I didn’t end up getting The Courier Mail, Channel Seven or Channel Ten gigs, for example.

The Rave gig was largely a result of a mutual understanding between me and my teacher who seized on the fact that I tended to write my best assignments on music and art themes; besides that, I had always wanted to write about music and being an avid street/music press reader, it meant a lot to me to be writing for Rave.

How did that eventuate? Had you considered music journalism beforehand?

Chris Harms, the Rave editor, seemed to be impressed by the amount of work I did for the magazine during my 2 weeks of internship, including music news, tour announcements, artist interviews, feature stories, CD and live reviews and was happy to give me extra work to do.

By the time my internship ended, I stated I was more than keen to keep doing it – being a musician and a band-member as well as a journalism student, I felt I could contribute to the Brisbane music scene by putting out the word for numerous bands and providing more recorded and live music coverage, as well as learn from the masters while I was at it. 

I was also told that not many uni students who do internships in music press are actually music fans, nor do they particularly wish to attend gigs, so someone like me – a music/guitar nut – was a find.

All said, I feel I’ve finally become someone I always wanted to be – a music writer. 

You mention ‘learning from the masters’ during your time in the Rave office. What’s your opinion on the current state of Brisbane’s four regular street press publications – Rave, Time Off, Scene and Tsunami?

Without being biased, I think Rave is doing a great job – quality written material, extensive live event coverage and people who actually live and breathe music despite the daily stress. 

From my memory, Time Off used to be better back in the day than it is now  – we don’t really need Sydney ads here in Brisbane and I don’t have a lot to say on their new website design and structure.

Scene is doing a good job on covering dance music/hip-hop/club events, however the print version has this very odd and not particularly pleasant whiff to it, which still doesn’t necessarily stop me from reading it.

As for Tsunami, I used to think they were primarily dedicated to heavy music but they actually encompass a broad selection of genres, which is definitely a step in the right direction.

You mentioned that Rave do well despite the daily stress, which I took to mean the difficulty in assembling the content for a widely-read publication week after week. Could you elaborate on this stress, based on your time spent in the office?

Story/news requests pile up every day – everyone wants to be in the magazine! I have witnessed how the artist-publicist scheme works, and while I cannot question its effectiveness, it’s what keeps Rave on their toes.

During my internship, I was in the Rave office every day and that’s when my multitasking skills came to force – I was either writing newsbeats, newsbites, album reviews, feature stories or interviewing artists practically every day. There was a number of interviews that other people could not do so I had to step in and do them, or the opportunity of speaking to an artist you like would pop up and you would miss out because you’d be too busy writing and a fellow contributor would beat you to it!

Having said that, however, the notions of seniority, experience and familiarity with a particular artist/genre are also involved in the interview distribution. The same goes for live gig reviews – the assistant editor is working overtime organising those. It does indeed get rather hectic sometimes but not every day in the Rave office is immensely stressful as you also get relatively cruisy days where you just do things in your time. 

Monday is traditionally the busiest and the most stressful day of the week at Rave, as the print version comes out on Tuesday and you’ve got to make sure you’ve handed in all your copy and corrected all the typos and blunders. I twice helped proofread the print version of the mag and stayed in the office until 7pm with the rest of the staff.

These days, I’m only in the office when I have to interview a certain artist by phone, copy the recorded audio file for transcription and pick up some CDs for reviewing purposes – usually once or twice a week during business hours, but I wouldn’t mind becoming a permanent staffer… if I end up sticking around in Brisbane for longer, that is.

Street press exists for several reasons – to promote artists; to provide critical commentary on artists and their output; to provide advertising space.. you can probably think of more. What role do you think the street press should serve, and how are the above four measuring up to these objectives?

I think the primary role of street press is informing people about the wide variety of music, including live music, available in their hometown – and the above four are answering to the challenge, maybe not 100% because it’s impossible to cover absolutely everyone who’s playing in town during the week, but I still reckon it’s a pretty big effort and I have enormous respect for fellow writers and musicians, particularly when I can tell they feel compelled to do it.

The veil of objectivity among music writers is something I find particularly interesting and amusing. I only write about artists I expect to be entertaining or interesting, and I suspect you’re much the same. Thus, we usually already possess a positive connotation of an artist before we see them play live, or interview them, or listen to their album. What’s your take on objectivity as a music critic?

My take is normally ‘objectivity first, subjectivity second or last’ depending on whether I like or don’t like a certain artist – I agree with you on possessing a positive connotation of an artist and I expect them to deliver.

Chris, the Rave editor, told me it was important that my writing stays objective; at this stage, I feel I’m still largely ‘beyond good and evil’ when it comes to reviewing music that I don’t particularly like, however I also agree that sometimes you’ve got to give flak yet be able to back it up sufficiently.

Another contentious musical topic is individual taste. Music fans will rise to the defence of artists just as soon as they would a family member. It’s a really interesting phenomenon that I was reminded of when Everett True made some inflammatory comments about some Australian artists back in August. With regard to the musicians you write about – do you try to steer away from outright criticism, or do you aim for honesty? I guess this comes back to the objectivity/subjectivity argument, too. 

Again, I agree (but not always conform) with the notion that outright criticism is great when you can back it up, otherwise it’s not far removed from shitting in your own nest when you’re reviewing Australian artists. Everett True said something not everyone else dared to and copped all sorts of righteous “how dare you, you stupid bloody whinging Pom!” response from all corners, which wasn’t surprising at all considering how much an average Australian cherishes their middle-of-the-road “big” bands like Powderfinger and Silverchair.

Honesty, objectivity and confident criticism are my primary aims as a reviewer – I might be a bit subjective towards the abovementioned Powderchair phenomenon due to my consistent failure to grasp it, being a bloody foreigner and all, but my love for original Australian (and international) music remains undiminished.

You seem heavily into music writing at this point in your life. Can you see yourself carving a name for yourself as a writer in that industry, or do you have greater designs for your career?

Yes and yes – I’m going to keep combining my aspirations as a musician with music writing and I’m prepared to do the hard yards on both accounts.  

Given the people you’ve met throughout your course and your time spent engaging with the media industry itself, have you got any advice you’d like to impart on would-be journalism undergraduates, media personalities or music critics? 

Firstly, ask yourself why you want to do it. Secondly, be yourself and thirdly, don’t get starstruck but be patient, persistent, creative, brave and take chances – the last two are from the advice John Birmingham gave me and I think these are the words to live by. 

Thanks for your time Denis. Good luck with the graduation; I’m sure we’ll be reading more of your work in the near future!

Denis Semchenko is a Communication undergraduate and enthusiastic contributor to Brisbane-based music publication Rave Magazine. He can be contacted via email, LastFM or Facebook. His published work can be found with the assistance of Google.

October 29, 2008

Interview: ex_king_john, Brisbane concert bootlegger

Posted in Music tagged , , , , , , , at 10:26 pm by Andrew McMillen

A man seemingly inextricable from the Brisbane music scene of late goes by the pseudonym ex_king_john. He attends shows most weeks, and records the majority of performances he sees. He regularly blogs and posts recordings at Turn It Up To 10, while past recordings can be found on his LastFM journal. He’s kindly taken the time to reflect on several topics, including his motives for recording shows, street press, rock music and the wider Brisbane music scene.

Thanks for your time. First and foremost – why do you record shows?

In 2006 my kids finished high school.  It is surprising how much time that frees up for anyone who is even remotely involved in their kids’ education, especially on the weekend.  Weekend television is a wasteland and my social life – which had pretty much consisted of school-related stuff – fell off as well.  So I went back to doing what I had done before I had children: going out to watch bands.  I’d been taking the kids to the Big Day Out for a few years and listened to ZZZ [mainly The Yard] and JJJ so I knew a bit about the music scene but not a lot really about the local scene.  For a birthday present that year I bought myself tickets to Teenage Fanclub, and Bob Mould at The Zoo [my first time there].  Started going to Ric’s and seeing local bands ’cause it was free. I was getting morning coffee from Jamie’s in the Valley at the time and met Bo. who played all this reggae which I also love passionately and went to a couple of shows in the carpark there before it was closed down.  Saw I Heart Hiroshima, Nightcrash, early Scul Hazzards with Lachlan on vocals, Shakes, couple of other noise bands, Heavyweight Champion.  Suddenly you’re going out every weekend, sometimes twice. 

But before this I think it was the year before, I went to an Ed Kuepper show at The Troubadour and had a great time. Later I noticed it had been bootlegged and I emailed a couple of the guys who had it up on trading sites and asked if there was any way I could get a copy.  No one even answered the email.  So I figured if I wanted any recordings I’d have to have something to trade.  So I spent some time looking at the different technology options ranging from hideously expensive to really cheap and eventually went with cheap but good quality.

I got a basic [cheap run-out of an old model] Mini-disc from Sydney and ordered the mics and pre amp from the US. They all arrived the day before Market Day 2006 and I worked out how to use it that night and went along the next day and recorded Sekiden, IHH, jump2lightspeed, Iron On, a couple of others.  And finally went along to the next Ed Keupper show at Ric’s and hey presto, I’m a bootlegger.

Can you describe your recording setup?

A picture paints a thousand words.  Here’s the setup I used at Splendour this year.  Actually it’s the contents of my pockets.  Nothing bigger than a cigarette packet.  

ex_king_john's bootleg configuration

ex_king_john's recording setup - click for full size

The little foam balls are the microphones with windshields on them – they sit in my ears.  The small black box is the pre-amp and the gray thing is the mini-disc.  The other items are phone, spare discs, batteries, wallet, change and programme.  Technically I use Sound Professional binaural mics and a Sound Professional  Pre-Amp.  I record as wav files onto a Mini-disc [Model MZ-NH600]  The Mini-disc I use is inexpensive and only has a line-in not Mic-in plug so I need the pre-amp unit.

It seems to me that this has evolved from a curious hobby to something of a mild obsession – you said yourself that you aim to record every band you see. Do you remember a distinct point where you made this realisation?

There wasn’t really a distinct point. Early on, I do remember looking at the lists of taped shows and thinking, “I could get a copy of every show The Church ever did but there are no Sekiden recordings out there”.  And everyone asks if there are any <insert obscure 1970’s local band name here> tapes around but no one is recording anything except their reunion shows. Even now, all the tapers want are the big names. Fair enough, but it didn’t seem like it was helping the music.  In 20 years time when someone says “do you have any Nightstick or Sekiden tapes” at least they’ll be able to say yes to Sekiden.

You can see that it’s not exactly a heavy load to carry round.  I don’t mosh so I’m usually just standing watching the band anyway. Doing a shuffle and nodding in time is about as active as I get.  So it’s easy to have it and record.  I don’t see it as an obsession really.  I just go out a lot to see bands and I carry the rig with me so if I see a show, it’s probable that I’ll record it.  It’s not so much an aim as a natural consequence.  If anything I’m obsessive about going out to see bands.  I’m happy to admit to that.

What do you aim to capture when recording a performance?

Because I have a fairly basic recording setup, I pretty much capture what I hear and I’m stuck with that though that is also the beauty of what I do.  I try to avoid doing anything to the sound cause I’m not very technically smart in that area.  The most I do is put the recording through a compressor if it’s a bit quiet.  Makes it a bit easier to hear over loudspeakers. On a couple of recordings I’ve filtered out some really low buzzy bass noises that made it hard to hear detail.  Usually it’s the drums being mic’d to hell but these days it could be aggressive bass amping. So it depends on the room and the sound engineer on the night. But I do like the room noise.  I have a couple of soundboard recordings and they are very clear but dead silent between tracks, and they lack that spark that a good audience recording can have.  I also like some of the audience noise though it is really annoying when people stand next to you and have a conversation about something.  I can’t really tell them to shut up ’cause I’m recording.  Though I have told a couple to shut up because they were actually interfering with my enjoying the show. 

What is it about rock music that you find exciting? What do you look for in a band’s live performance?

I am piss poor at analysing this side of it.  Music is transcendent and the best live music takes me out of the now, or arouses or hightens emotions, usually positively.  The physicality of rock adds another dimension.  In fact I’m musically fairly diverse and some of my most memorable musical experiences have been a children’s choir; the first time I saw Jay Reatard; a church pipe organ recital in a Brisbane suburban church; Little Feat at Festival Hall, and Eddy Current Suppression Ring at the Step Inn this year.  I never know what will happen, so I look forward to any musical experience and I’m rarely totally disappointed.  I’m just lucky I guess.

What do you find appealing about the Brisbane music scene?

First up, the music.  Then the people.  Plus it’s all pretty accessible in the Valley with a few venues outside like Rosie’s or Fat Louie’s in the City and the Hangar in Red Hill or a couple in West End.  Not like Melbourne which has a great music scene but way more spread out.  But seriously when I started going out again it was not like the old days. Pig City made it sounds great but once you got past The Survivors and The Leftovers and Razar and The Go-Betweens and The Saints etc doing one-off shows at suburban halls that hadn’t heard of them yet, there just wasn’t much else on.  Now there are hundreds of good bands and tens of venues.

And the people are great.

Since you’ve become friendly with many members of the Brisbane music scene, do you occasionally feel obliged to attend certain shows?

No. I don’t think I’ve felt that at all.  I try to avoid promising that I’ll tape particular shows because that generally means something will go wrong.  But I’ve never felt anyone expected me to go to certain shows.

I may have the year wrong, but I recall that Pearl Jam were offering live recordings of their 2003 Australian shows soon after the band had finished playing. I think Something For Kate did something similar more recently for a special show that they played at The Corner in Melbourne. Do you think that there’s a market for venues to offer similar limited edition recordings? This question immediately sends copyright alarm bells ringing, but I’m interested in your thoughts. Places like The Zoo get loads of quality bands each month, and I think they’re missing a legitimate opportunity by not recording. Or maybe they do, secretly…

Pretty sure The Zoo is not secretly recording anything.  If venues do record I’m also pretty sure the bands agree and get something for it.  The Drones seem to have a habit of recording their live shows and selling them in various formats to fans.  More and more bands are seeing these as legitimate recordings for fans and using them to make money or at least as marketing tools.  It’s becoming more common I understand for venues in the US to record and sell live shows to punters as they leave the venue, especially the larger venues and chains like Clear Channel’s live venues.  There are a couple of venues in Melbourne that record shows regularly and make them available on line like Moshcam, but audio instead of video.  I don’t know how money is made there but it is a commercial operation.  Copyright is relatively easy to work out I expect.

What do you think about Moshcam?

Moshcam is great.  I visit there occasionally. 

Does MegaUpload offer traffic stats? If so, which of your recordings have proven most popular?

MegaUpload offers basic statistics.  There’s a number of downloads for each file but there’s also a stat that should show where the downloaders come from.  Some files that have been downloaded 30 times according to the number of downloads haven’t been downloaded at all if I ask where the downloads went.  But I think at least the relativities are probably correct.  So far the most popular download by far has been the Wolfmother @ GOMA show – over 500 downloads.

Wolfmother – Live @ GOMA Warhol Up Late – 12 April 2008 – 504

Powderfinger – Live @ Splendour In The Grass – August 2007 – 170

Sigur Ros – Live @ Splendour In The Grass – 03 Aug 2008 – 168

Wolfmother – Live @ Splendour In The Grass – 03 Aug 2008 – 102

The Grates – Live @ The Troubadour – 24 June 2008 – 80

The Saints – Live @ Pig City – 14 July 2007 – 74

Band Of Horses – Live @ Splendour In The Grass – 02 Aug 2008 – 72

The Drones – Live @ Splendour In The Grass – 02 Aug 2008 – 71

Editors – Live @ Splendour In The Grass – August 2007 – 58

Battles – Live @ The Zoo – 22 Jan 2008 – 56

What role does the Brisbane street press currently fulfill, and where do you think they’re missing opportunities? 

Street press is important because it’s an easy-to-access guide to what is happening in the city.  Maybe not every single thing, but generally the gig guides are essential as is the advertising for upcoming tours etc.  Time Off‘s gig guide has gone off a little since the recent change and I hope they can bring it back up to speed.  The web is much less useful for gig guides.  It’s great for finding out stuff you know about already.  And I find it a lot easier to browse a single A3 sheet of closely-packed type than scroll through pages of sparsely-populated web pages.  Plus I read most live reviews and record reviews.

You’ve seen a lot of shows in Brisbane and visited most, if not all live venues. Is there anything you feel the scene is missing, or opportunities that haven’t been fully realised? We all know there’s a gap between The Arena/The Tivoli and the Convention Centre

If Brisbane has a problem it is too many good bands for the size of the fan base.  Many more venues might run the risk of spreading the numbers too thin.  The other problem is that for all the going out that’s going on, most of the people going out are going to clubs.  Music is secondary for them.  Not that there aren’t dedicated dance music fans who do follow the music.  

But the lack of a venue between the Tivoli and the Brisbane Entertainment Centre is a problem I think.  Pity they pulled down Festival Hall.  There is a rumour of a 1000 person venue in West End coming up.

Looking back over your recordings thus far, you seem to lean heavily toward rock acts. Are there certain genres you steer clear of? Can we expect to hear ex_king_john recordings of touring metal or hip hop acts?

I try to see different genres but obviously I’m a fan of rock music.  I don’t steer clear of any genre in particular but I’m not a big fan of metal so it’s unlikely you’ll hear too much of that. Or musical comedy.

Finally – 2008’s been a great year for live music in Brisbane. I’ve been to loads of shows, though mostly touring Australian bands. What are some highlights of this year on a local, national and international level?

The aforementioned Jay Reatard, and Eddy Current shows.  Golden Plains was a whole weekend of highlights.  The Drones at Splendour.  John Cale at the Tivoli in Nov last year, Battles at The Zoo.  Last week at the Step Inn was just about the perfect lineup of local bands – Violent Soho, Eat Laser Scumbag, No Anchor, Turnpike, Dick Nasty – just add Nova Scotia.  But then I’d go see I Heart Hiroshima, The Grates, Sekiden anytime, anywhere as well.  I will shamelessly plug the Before Hollywood compilation “Stranded” here as one of the best compilations ever.  If you don’t have it, get it and use it as your guide to Brisbane music as it exists in 2008.

Seconded – Stranded is great. Thanks for your time!

ex_king_john’s name isn’t John; he would prefer to remain anonymous. He can be contacted via email. His blog is Turn It Up To 10. If you spot a guy at a Brisbane concert wearing earphones and staring intently at the stage, say hi – just not while the bands are playing.

October 20, 2008

Website review: Time Off Magazine

Posted in Web tagged , , , , , , , , at 11:55 pm by Andrew McMillen

Imagine that you run a free weekly music publication. A pretty popular one named Time Off, that’s read widely across Brisbane, a city home to 1.8 million. You recently got bought out by – sorry, merged with – Street Press Australia, who own several similar publications across the country. You decide to upgrade the magazine’s website, which has become outdated.

You’ve got two options: fast, easy and crappy, or slow, meticulous and attractive.

Which option do you think Time Off chose?

Time Off Magazine website screenshot, 20 October 2008

Time Off Magazine website screenshot, 20 October 2008. Click for full size.

I think it’s pretty obvious. 

It’s an out-of-the-box, CMS-based site with minimal focus on design. Okay, fair enough; not every site needs to be eye-catching, so long as it gets the job done, right?

Unfortuntately, the redeveloped Time Off site fails to get the job done. Content is cumbersome and slapped onto the site directly from the latest printed issue with little rhyme or reason. 

Mysterious capital letters abound throughout the site’s content. Album reviews are awarded SEO-unfriendly URLs, and they’re grouped per-issue on the same page. Nice one.

Two live reviews from last week’s issue – #1395, 15 October 2008 – are attached to the same article named ‘Feedback’, which is the name of the live review section in the print magazine. The fact that they opted to devote that issue’s entire Feedback section to 2000 words about the Time Off-sponsored Sounds Of Spring festival is another discussion. What’s more, that review was part one; part two will be printed in #1396. Can’t wait.

Clicking the top-level Time Off item on the site’s menu results in the following page, cleverly named ‘Rock’:

 Rock

Wow, useful! When were these articles published? Let’s click one to find out. Gig guide, sure. Oh, another page, that lists those three associated articles. Two named ‘gig guide’ and one named ‘venue guide’, all authored by ‘Webmaster’. I’m really glad that it shows me how many ‘hits’ each article has! Unsurprisingly, the gig guides are pasted in a plaintext format that’s needlessly difficult to process.

Okay, so their content sucks, and it’s evident that no one within Time Off gives half a crap enough to check for consistency, or anything resembling quality control. That’s fine, I didn’t really want to use the website much anyway.

But after clicking around a bit, I uncovered some truly awful content that I must paste for posterity, as they’ll surely change it once someone decides to actually.. I don’t know.. look at their fucking website.

This is under the readership section. Subtitle: Who are our readers?

Time Off readers are divided equally between male and female.

Time Off readers are predominantly aged between 17– 30 but the nature of the industry and the refusal of bands such as Rose Tattoo to call it a day suggest readers will more often than not continue to pick up SPA publications well into their 40’s.

Time Off readers are avid consumers of music, entertainment and technological devices and products. They own iPods, Blackberrys, video game consoles, Macs, Laptops, Wiis, records, record players, Mobile Phones, DVDs and MP3s. Their need to have the latest model/product available coupled with the urge to spend rather than save sees readers replacing said items as frequently as once every 6 months.

Time Off readers have access to the internet both at work and at home, on which most time is spent accessing websites of bands and performers, shopping online, watching video clips on You Tube and blogging about how the band they saw play last night changed their life…. or destroyed it.

Time Off readers go to shows, get their hair cut, buy new jeans, are addicted to coffee, see films, occasionally turn up to Uni and party hard. And wherever they are doing these things, SPA publications are within reach.

Time Off readers are a product of a consumer driven age where brand awareness has taken place of literacy and social etiquette. They were born in the ‘80s when greed was good and they know what they want and when they want it, which is sooner rather than later. This puts them and their peers ahead of their game.

Time Off readers have one best friend that never lies – the mirror. They preen, puff, spray, squeeze, flash and luck all in the name of fashion. They buy what they don’t need and are willing to try anything once if it’s considered hip, regardless of cost.

Time Off readers are educated and informed. They value substance over transparency and integrity over wit. The wool is not often pulled over their eyes.

Nevermind that it’s the most awkwardly-worded piece of copy you’ve read this month, possibly this year. Nevermind that nobody at Time Off cared enough to edit out all the instances of ‘SPA publications‘.

No – most of all, I’m genuinely disgusted that Time Off, or moveover, Street Press Australia felt it necessary to attempt to classify their readership using some broad, sweeping statements that are neither funny nor accurate. I’m not sure which outcome is more disturbing – the fact that someone was commissioned to do a half-arsed hack-and-paste job to create content just for the sake of it, or that the above paragraphs made their way onto the site apparently without quality control.

What a fucking shambles.

Hey, Time Off. This is 2008. People use the internet all the time; they check your website, and if it sucks, you’re going to get called out about it. Invest the time and money into planning a genuine strategy for the website to complement the printed magazine, or don’t do it at all.

The old site sucked too, but at least it didn’t describe me as someone who “preens, puffs, sprays, squeezes, flashes and lucks”. 

The bullshit readership copy quoted above was at least partially correct, though: I’m educated and informed. I value substance over transparency and integrity over wit. The wool is not often pulled over my eyes.

So who the fuck are you trying to kid, Time Off?

Disclosure: I write for fellow Brisbane street press Rave Magazine – who have a functional, attractive and well-utilised website – and I work for a Brisbane-based web development company. The sentiments expressed above are my own, and should not be attributed to any entity other than myself.

September 6, 2008

Music Excites Me

Posted in Music tagged , , , at 3:27 pm by Andrew McMillen

The quantity and variety of music available in the current market is staggering. I listen to a lot of artists, but these represent a thin slice of the pie graph. On a local level, a national level, an international level – there’s a lot of music I’m not aware of.

This isn’t a bad thing. I’m not worried. I’m recommended new artists all the time, thanks to the rich network of friends I’ve developed as a result of my position as an extroverted music fan. I’m happy to slowly cultivate my tastes and preferences at my own pace, but these recommendations are much appreciated. 

My network of fellow music fans and my position as a live music writer present ample opportunities to witness and consume the output of musicians. I watch and hear local Brisbane bands while they’re still finding their collective voice and tone. I’m employed to critically assess their performances, and – while consciously attempting to not appear too delusional or hubristic – it’s nice to imagine that my words and thoughts have a perceptible effect on the music scene, both local for Rave and national for FasterLouder.

Of course, the web-based nature of these publications transcends geographic boundaries. Which is also pretty cool.

I rarely consider the act of being published when I’m writing and editing my articles. I’m far more concerned with achieving a clear and consistent tone. 

I don’t consider what I do to be all that skilled, or talented. I may spend a couple of hours crafting a piece, but once it’s submitted, it’s released from my mind. I acknowledge that there is some degree of skill attached to writing coherently and at-length about an event which may be attended by hundreds or thousands. But I don’t sit around self-congratulating.

I suppose that critical thinking is the single most important element of what I do. Not just when analysing a band’s sound and style. But when taking a step back from the noise and observing my fellow attendees.

My frequent concert attendance allows great opportunities to people-watch in a relatively closed environment. Here’s people who have, in the majority of cases, parted with a market-nominated fee so that they can inhabit this environment for a couple of hours. They have forgone the opportunity cost of every other potential activity. Which is why I’m always intrigued when watching paying concertgoers talk to their friends throughout performances.

One of the most affecting performances I’ve witnessed this year occurred late last month. Local band Skinny Jean supported fellow Brisbanites The Boat People. This was singer and keyboardist Heidi Minchin’s last show with the band. I hadn’t heard Skinny Jean before the night, but had read some encouraging words written by fellow Brisbane street press contributors.

For a few songs, I stood entranced. Minchin delivered a vocal solo that raised my neckhairs and brought tears to my eyes. Holy shit. These are the moments that I love. Needless to say, I bought the band’s EP immediately afterwards, and wrote positively about their set. This is a video comprising the twin highlights of that night’s performance – first the excellent Anhedonia, then Anti0kie, the song which features Minchin’s vocal solo. 

I didn’t intend to cite specific examples when I began writing this entry. It developed organically. It felt right to reference a band whose performance moved me.

Music as a social object. It’s a concept that I think about often, and one that I will return to in future entries.