Why Brisvegas totally rocks
Great music cities don’t just suddenly emerge, although some have their genesis in rebellion or in the emergence of some artist or event.
Brisbane is known as one of Australia’s great music cities mainly by people who’ve grown up here over the last 40 or so years or the lucky blow-ins who’ve come to love the place.
Robert Forster, now an elegant elder statesman of Brisbane’s music scene, closed the 2010 Bigsound conference last week talking about his early connections with music.
It was about snatching sounds from the radio – as a young teenager there was no record player at home so he’d hear Davis Bowie or T-Rex and have to wait a day or so for the track to be played again.
There was also the tribe of like-minded music fans who would turn out for what were at the time a once every three month visit by an international act to the River City.
These same people would appear from the suburbs – some with space suits and others with truly fascinating hair – and in a few years would also front up to concerts by Forster’s band The Go-Betweens and other ground-breaking groups like The Saints.
The Bigsound conference Forster was closing – in a delightful chat with The Courier-Mail’s Noel Mengel – has now arrived as Australia’s own destination on the international music business get-together trail.
In its own way, Bigsound is in the same league as Austin, Texas’s South By South-West (SXSW) and Toronto’s Canadian Music Week.
While SXSW is much bigger – some argue it’s almost too big but that’s never going to fly with music fans – it did start off small and grew out of energy, music and the organisers’ keen ear for a conversation about music that hits the spot.
Anyone who’s spent time in March walking along East Sixth Street or South Congress and heard music come from every window and door knows the magic of he Austin music scene. At times it’s like walking into a massive aircraft hangar that’s been taken over by 200 adrenaline-charged bands all practicing for their own version of Idol.
Brisbane’s Bigsound is not quite like that but it’s well on the way to being the Australian version of it.
In marquees in car parks and on stages down otherwise disused laneways in Fortitude Valley, bands are playing. The Artisan Guns from New Zealand kick out like a 2010 incarnation of The Jam while around the corner in Bakery Lane there’s a whole showcase of groups from the Gold Coast – or “the GC” as the singer for Brothers tells the crowd.
On another occasion Glenn Richard, the singer-songwriter from the loved and lovely Augie March, parades his new material with a band he calls the DSM Borthers which will feature on a CD supposedly out before Christmas.
Elsewhere in this three day conference and festival, there were some brilliant conversations with not just Forster but American music critic – and indie band chronicler – Michael Azerrad, Mushroom’s Michael Gudinski, museum curator and former Violent Femmes bassist Brian Ritchie and Australian music all-rounder John O’Donnell.
There were plenty of panel discussions about everything from what the future holds for musicians, those in the business and the fans to why having a lawyer’s phone number matters and what role does passion play in modern music.
Benji Rodgers from Pledge Music – an organisation that builds relationships between musicians and fans aimed at sustaining a living in a world where a diminishing number of people pay for music – talked about a world without a buy button.
Pointing out that the latest generation of devices that play music – typified by Apple’s iPad – have no space to put a CD into, making it necessary to download all music, whether its paid for, from the multiplicity of free filing share sites or the increasing practice of getting an email containing an MP3 audio file.
Pledge Music’s answer to this is have fan communities built up around a band or artist and are financed by annual contributions. The organisation has found that a typical fan is willing to spend just under $100 a year on particular artists – meaning that with a “paying” fan base of 1000 to 2000 people music acts can have money for rent and food.
Record companies being record companies, these fan relationship model can easily get out of hand. The long-running Chicago music festival, Lollapalooza, this year offered ticket-packages worth up to $US45,000 a head which included your own private cabana with a wet bar, souvenirs including musical instruments and back-stage dinners with your favourite band.
Bigsound, however, had a more grounded view of how music and musicians will work in the digital world.
The common message from everyone –senior representatives from music labels, promoters and those programming radio stations – is that hard work comes first, second and last.
That hard work is cushioned a bit for young musicians who attend gatherings like Bigsound and hearing the old war stories from veterans and enthusiasts as well as advice from those in the trenches as music faces the challenges of that “world without a buy button”.
Bigsound has grown through the enthusiasm and hard work of a dedicated and growing bunch of Brisbane music aficionados as well as the industry. Like most of these events it’s also got the essential support of the Queensland Government, particularly the Trade and Investment division.
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