Interviewed by: Anthony Worrall
With the Western Australian Music (WAM) Festival coming up on the 5th to the 8th of November, I sat down with Greg Sanders, head of local record label Gun Fever & Coordinator of the WAM Festival 2015, to acquire a better understanding of what’s going down across four jam-packed days, what WAM’s trying to achieve through the Festival, and its implications for the Western Australian music scene as a whole.
Thanks so much for your time – firstly, can you give me some general information about the 2015 WAM Festival?
The festival consists of three main components: there’s the WA Music Awards, the WA Music Conference, and there’s a shitload of live music showcases. In total, there are over 150 artists playing, something like 28 events, and twenty-odd venues. It’s pretty epic. The awards night is all about recognising achievements from Western Australian artists in the last 12 months, and there’s 35 of those handed out. It’s always a big party, and this year it’s at Jack Rabbit Slim’s.
What’s the purpose of the Conference?
The Conference is basically for the music industry to get together and sort of talk about topics relevant to the WA music industry. It’s a good learning experience for up and coming industry workers, either young managers or old managers, plus artists as well. We fly over people from around the country – for example we get some representatives from Triple J to come over, booking labels and agents from the East Coast, publishers, you know. There are about 64 delegates flying over to speak this year I think.
So basically all aspects and roles within the WA music industry are fairly well represented then?
That’s right yeah. We keep it as broad as possible so there’s something for everyone, without sounding too cheesy.
Looking at previous years, what are some of the topics mainly discussed at the Conference?
Good question. There’s a lot of talk about live music venue closures, and the state of live music culture in Perth – a lot of people talk about that. There’s a lot of talk about upcoming and planning festivals, and there’s a lot of workshop stuff, where bands learn how to run social media accounts properly, and learn about publicity campaigns. There’s a whole world of stuff coming out. The Conference and Festival programmes are coming out next Wednesday, so you can read in-depth about what’s happening and when in those, on the WAM website.
I know you’ve had all sorts of experience in the music industry, playing in heaps of bands such as Emperors and managing Gun Fever, but how did you end up becoming Festival Coordinator this year?
I’ve been playing in bands and stuff for years, and working for other bands doing small-time promoting across Perth. I applied for a Festival Assistant position at WAM a few years ago in 2013, then the Festival Coordinator at the time left, and the year after WAM offered me the job.
So you were Festival Coordinator for the 2014 edition as well?
So I guess you’ve become fairly experienced then?
Not particularly, actually. There’s heaps of stuff in this role and you never stop learning. Something can always come along and throw a curve ball at the last minute, and you’ve got to learn how to deal with that. Yeah, I’m getting there.
What do you think is the main driving force behind Perth’s local music scene, and how does WAM help nurture this?
This may be subjective, but I think there are a lot of local talented bands in Perth, but when they start, they don’t really know how to get gigs. They’re good at making music, but initially, they don’t really know much else about the music industry, about the business side of things. WAM exists to give them a bit of a helping hand in every aspect of the music industry, from giving them advice on where to record to putting on events, who to work with, and also putting people in touch with each other. This is where the Conference fits in. We organise this big sort of event where everyone can learn a bunch of stuff and meet people. So yeah, WAM’s job is to essentially champion West Australian artists and to help them take steps forwards in their careers.
Yeah I’ve had that problem myself – admittedly now it’s kind of dropped off, but I used to love recording demos on my laptop but really didn’t know where to go from there. It’s easy to be passionate about your music and playing your music, but once you get out there in the real world you realise it’s still a business, and it has so many different aspects to it that you need to learn and understand.
Yeah man – I’ve been playing in bands for roughly 15 years, and you still always learn stuff. There’s never a point where you say, ‘right yeah okay, I know everything there is to know about the music industry’. So you know, you can never stop learning, and that’s what WAM is here for – to help people grow a little bit I suppose. There are always people asking crazy questions about it, like one time we had a guy come to our WAM office in Northbridge asking how he could get an open mic gig, asking ‘what kind of music do you play’, and he started whistling melodies for us.
Weird. So do you think the WA music scene is building a reputation, both nationally and internationally?
I think we’ve already got a reputation, but its reputation evolves. There are a lot of great huge bands from Perth, like you know, Tame Impala & all the Spinning Top bands, and then you’ve got bands like Jebediah, Gyroscope, John Butler, Karnivool, San Cisco and so on, so we’re definitely on the map in a national sense, and an international sense as well. But once there’s a trend, a lot of people tend to ‘pigeonhole’ a scene. In the 90s, Perth was known as a hub for indie pop bands and stuff, then a lot of heavy rock bands emerged in the 2000s such as Karnivool, and now there are a lot of young bands being influenced by Tame Impala, like there are a shit load of young psych bands playing around, and that’s great. Kučka is a young electronic artist influencing a lot of young bands, like you turn on the radio and a lot of bands begin to start sounding like her. So yeah, I think Perth has a really solid reputation already, and WAM’s job is to push it in the right direction, and keep it on track. You don’t have to do a lot to help out – there are a lot of bands out there who want to be the next Tame Impala and those are the people we help.
So what advice would you give young bands like these, who are ambitious and want to make it in the music industry?
First of all, you’ve got to be careful about what your goals are. I think you’re definitely setting yourself up for a big fall if you specifically aim to be “the next Tame Impala”, or if you want to get rich, I don’t think you’re in the right business. I’m not just talking to you here – in general, those goals tend to be misguided. Your goal in making music first of all should be to make music you like playing, and will continue to like playing for a while, as your taste grows, and work on your songs as much as possible- your songs are the most important thing. However also, learn to know the business as well, like learn to manage the band yourself, because there’s not always gonna be someone to do it for you. I mean, a lot of bands kind of wait around for someone else to do something for them, and then they get to the point where they have a manager, but don’t really know what they’re paying for, because they haven’t done anything like that themselves. That’s a really common thing.
And I suppose the worst-case scenario for something like that would be having a dodgy manager who screws you out of your own money.
Yeah there are so many stories in rock ‘n’ roll like that, like old, experienced managers screwing money out of young, inexperienced bands. But yeah, it’s really important for young musicians to learn how to do everything themselves, like running their own social media, which seems like a really simple thing, but a lot of bands get it wrong. It’s all about knowing the basics like, you know, don’t do more than one post a day, what your reach means, what your engagement means, that kind of thing, and how to spend your money wisely, how to make sure you’ve got a budget when you’re recording and don’t just make it up as you go along, make sure you’ve got a plan, you know, don’t just go from a week-to-week basis, plan it out in terms of the next two or three years of what you want to do. You’ve got to set goals for yourself. Yeah, there’s a lot of advice I could give on that.
How I would I go about being able to attend the Awards?
You can get tickets by buying a WA Music Conference pass. This pass allows you to get into anything – all the festival events: all the ticketed events, the Conference and the Awards. You can purchase these from WAM’s website.