The Hot Seat, Rebecca Batties, MTV

Published in The Music Network

 

The General Manager of Music & Comedy for MTV Australia & New Zealand, Rebecca Batties, tells TMN of future plans.

So, what’s news at MTV?
We’re in a position of transformation at the moment around music. Our head of programming Janelle McCarthy has left and we’re looking for someone new to take over. Where something like that happens, it really gives you an opportunity to look at what we’re doing with music on the channel, and what the channel represents. We’re also launching Local Produce, which is an opportunity for us to really get behind Australian music in a way that is meaningful and consistent.

OK, let’s look at Local Produce. How does it work, and what are its goals?
We choose an Australian act – it might be a breaking act or an existing act. And we really put all the might of MTV behind it, across every platform – TV, online, mobile. It’s not about dropping parachutes on things. It’s about creating a project that everyone in the company is behind, that the labels support and that we consistently show across the channel over a period of ten months, beginning in January 2012.

So who will decide which artist and song to champion?
MTV executives will choose. Labels will submit their preferred acts to us and we will choose one a month, which means ten acts throughout the year. We will shoot songs — we’ll probably shoot three songs for each act. We’ll put behind-the-scenes stuff online and on mobile, and we’ll play the video on the channel.

Will there be a one-off administration fee?
There’s no fee. We just choose the act and then really get behind it. How will you critique them? It’ll be across many different areas. Whether it’s the music, or whether we think it timely at that point. We’ll look at the artist themselves, accessibility to the artist, and their ability to perform, because we’ll shoot three songs with them.

This comes very soon after Triple J launched its Unearthed initiative on the 24/7 digital platform. Is that a coincidence?
Yes, it’s a coincidence. For us, the artists we will be choosing definitely need to be signed.

Why are you doing this at the moment?
Did you feel there wasn’t enough Australian music on the network? No. This was about us deciding to get behind an Australian act and putting all our might behind it. Rather than just doing it a one-off here and there, we wanted to create something really significant.

What are the chances of taking some of these Australian acts and pushing them through MTV’s global network?
[It’s] absolutely possible. Whoever these acts are, and if they are distributed worldwide, there’s an opportunity for us to really have an impact. The MTV Europe Music Awards are coming up on November 6 in Belfast and we have Gotye and Sia nominated for Best World Wide Act. It’ll be interesting to see how they fare in that category. That’s an example of how acts from Australia really get exposure overseas.

What’s happening in the space left by the MTV Australia Awards?
We have a lot awards shows on our channel: the Video Music Awards, the Movie Awards, the Europe Music Awards. Instead of the [MTV Australia] awards, last year we launched MTV Classic with Slash. We really like to reinvent ourselves, look at what the trends are in the market, and just shake things up. And it meant that we had the ability to spend the budget across a number of different areas. Local Produce is an example of how, instead of doing an awards show, we can put our money into some other areas. You’ll see us do more around music over the coming six to eight months. So there aren’t any plans for another awards ceremony in Australia in the near future? Not in the next 12 months anyway. I can’t see that we’d be doing that.

What are the big challenges for MTV at the moment? Is YouTube one of its big rivals?
In some ways it is. We are playing more music than we have ever played before in this country. In terms of our audience, we do a lot of research worldwide on young people. It’s what keeps us fresh, being able to speak to the youth. As part of this research, we’ve come up with a new position which is about young amazing lives, and how we reflect those lives. We call them Millennials. So, it’s about looking at the things that motivate them for the future around music, around content, about choices they make, about technology. Our goal on-air is to reflect and complement what’s happening online.

What’s the state of the ad market?
I’m not sure if it’s in the doldrums, but there are always challenges across the market when other countries are feeling financial impacts. I believe we have a really strong product and we’re really clear who our audience is. If you’re really clear about your audience and how you speak to them, then advertisers recognise that and acknowledge that if you have similar goals you can reach those people.

 

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The Hot Seat: Bill Cullen and Brett Murrihy

Published in The Music Network

 

Bill Cullen, Director, One Louder and Brett Murrihy, Co-Founder, Artist Voice chat about the rigmarole involved in placing secular music in churches.

Seeker Lover Keeper has been embraced as the “Holy Trinity” of Australia’s indie folk scene. Next month, Sarah Blasko, Sally Seltmann and Holly Throsby will embark on a unique tour which should enhance their divine reputation. The trio’s Heavenly Sounds national tour will play a string of intimate all-ages shows in churches and cathedrals throughout the land.

The trek is the final series in support of the act’s self-titled Dew Process debut, which entered at #3 on the ARIA Albums in June. Seeker Lover Keeper has since achieved Gold status and a stint as Triple J “Album of the Week”. TMN caught up with One Louder’s Bill Cullen and Artist Voice’s Brett Murrihy, who are co-promoting the tour.

Why have you gone off the beaten track, taking these shows into houses of worship?
Brett: It started to feel like the touring market in Australia has gotten harder and harder and perhaps a little stale. It seems to be taking more to entice a punter to buy tickets, so we wanted to create something unique that gives a great experience to both the artist and the audience.

What were the main obstacles to making this tour happen?
Bill: It took a hell of a lot of work finding the right venues. We’ve been working on it since March. Some were up for it straight away, and there were others that weren’t so easy. One vicar sent us a two-page essay explaining why secular music should not be played in churches, including quotes from the Pope and the Bible backing up his argument. We approached 19 churches in Perth before we found one that was up for it. However, the churches we have chosen have been an absolute pleasure to deal with, and have been really open to being flexible enough to meet our requirements.

Will these be “dry” gigs, or will you be able to buy a beer or wine inside the house of God?
Bill: The gigs will be dry, although all venues are strategically located to very hospitable bars, who would love the patronage of our audiences (laughs). Of course, churches and cathedrals don’t typically offer the infrastructure you’d need for a gig. Brett: Some are surprisingly accommodating, and have three phase power, dressing rooms, pianos and even staging. Others require parking a generator on the street 200 metres away, and literally building a venue within a venue.

Will this be a more costly exercise than a traditional sweep of theatres?
Brett: Ooh yes!

Can you give me a sense of the production equipment you’ll have to bring in?
Bill: The audio gear will have to be absolutely top class to take advantage of the amazing acoustics, and we can’t have massive stacks of PA that would ruin the beautiful aesthetics. The sound system will be distributed right around the churches. The lighting will really focus on bringing out the stunning architecture that all these rooms have. We really want the buildings to be an integral part of the shows. Seeker Lover Keeper were amazing on their last tour, and seriously underplayed doing really small rooms. Seeing and hearing them in these rooms should be stunning.

You won’t be allowed to poster outside the venues. How will your promotion of these shows differ?
Brett: We’ve done the normal street press and poster-runs, but have really focused on an extensive online campaign trying to reach the demographic we are after. We also want to establish Heavenly Sounds as a brand, and aim to do at least one tour per year, so we have tried to build the brand in our marketing. So far, sales are solid, and the marketing seems to be effective.

Bill, when might we see a follow-up to Heavenly Sounds?
We’re talking to a few artists at the moment about the next instalment. It’s too early to say who or when. This will be Seeker Lover Keeper’s last run of dates on this record – they’ve knocked back a fair few festival offers, as they were determined to present something different and special to their fans. The girls will now all scatter and get back to their own projects. Sarah started demoing for her new record just a couple of weeks ago, which she hopes to record early in the New Year.

Seeker Lover Keeper’s Heavenly Sounds national tour starts November 21 at St John’s Cathedral in Brisbane. Tickets for all shows are on-sale at Ticketek

The Hot Seat: Nick O’Byrne

Published in The Music Network

TMN speaks to Nick O’Byrne, GM of AIR about the Independent Music Awards.

Nick, why does the indie music community need its own ceremony?

One of AIR’s main goals is to publicise and promote the music of the independent sector. The Jagermeister Independent Music Awards is the most effective means we have of attracting widespread coverage of indie artists, their music and the sector as a whole. We’re not trying to be a “little ARIAs” and we’re not trying to fill the same role as the AMP (Australian Music Prize). We’re creating a place where truly great music of all genres is put on a pedestal for the public to admire regardless of commercial success. There’s a stack of artists who combine serious talent, resourcefulness and hard work to achieve a hell of a lot without major label backing. A celebration like this makes our members, artists and labels feel good about the work they do. It should make them proud to be independent.

There’s a seemingly never-ending stream of conjecture about what an “independent” really is? How does AIR define an “independent”?
If the masters aren’t owned by Sony, Warner, EMI or Universal. If they’re 100% Australian-owned by artist or label then we classify it as independent for the sake of the awards.

The Awards took some criticism in the music press last year for honouring artists whose works were distributed by major labels. How does AIR respond to that criticism?
I understand the point-of-view and I respectfully disagree. We need to take into account the commercial realities of a changing industry. So many of our members are vehemently independent but they still enter third- party relationships with major labels for distribution. When you talk to labels like Soulmate (360, Pez), UNFD (The Amity Affliction, The Getaway Plan), Ivy League (Cloud Control, Sparkadia) or Golden Era (Hilltop Hoods, Funkoars), there’s no mistaking the fact that they run their own businesses, as they want, independently.

Is there a chance your Awards will ever journey north to Sydney?
Of course! There’s even a chance we’ll travel further north to Brisbane… or west to Perth! This is a national event and we’ll move the event to a city and location that we think serves it best.

The ARIA nominations are on the same day as your ceremony. Is ARIA stepping on the toes of AIR?
Yes. While I know it wasn’t intentional, I do think it was careless. We’re trying to solve the issue. ARIA have always made it clear they support AIR. But it’s a kick in the teeth for us and our sponsors. We’re worried that an ARIA nominations event will overshadow any press that we can get for the winners of our award.

Let’s consider the indie music community. Is it in a healthy state?
We did some studies last month at AIR based on market share of sales in Australia. We realised that our combined members were consistently achieving 25% – 35% market-share in Australia. That’s a massive chunk of our industry. We also estimate that more than 85% of the different titles commercially-released in Australia are indie. We’re seeing many of our members diversify their businesses into publishing, management and touring. We’re also seeing more artists and managers establishing their own labels in order to develop careers where in the past they might have signed their acts direct to a larger label. That said, there’s still a bunch of issues that indies are faced with.

What are those issues?
We’re worried about how many of our distribution channels are owned by our major label competitors. We’re worried about collection agencies worldwide adopting systems which inherently favour major labels. We’re worried about any situation where an imbalance in bargaining power affects indies’ ability to get fair remuneration for their music. These are things we work against on a daily basis. It’s the reason we’ve needed to acquire the ability to collectively bargain on behalf of our members.


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The Hot Seat: Chris Scaddan

Published in The Music Network

 

With the launch of new 24/7 digital Unearthed station tomorrow, we speak to Triple J’s manager, Chris Scaddan about how it will all work.

It’s been more than two years since the Australian rollout of DAB+. Why launch a 24/7 digital Unearthed station now?
We’ve tested the Unearthed station twice during Triple J’s Ausmusic Month (November 2009 + 2010) on the ABC’s extra digital channel, to see how it would sound as a service and measure the audience’s reaction. We’re really happy with the way it was received. Digital radio listenership has been steadily growing since the initial capital city rollout to the point that almost 1 million people out there are listening to radio via digital. So that gives the station the best chance of finding a regular audience. Of course, Triple J Unearthed will be streaming online too and we expect a fair proportion of the audience will listen online or via the Unearthed iPhone app. We’re glad to be taking the next step.

How will the new station be curated?
Triple J Unearthed will follow the curation that already happens on the triplejunearthed.com site, with feature artists, competition winners and other highlighted tracks rising to the surface. The Unearthed team will work with the Triple J music programming team, the Triple J presenters and producers to get feedback on good tracks and artists. We’ll also have artists themselves picking tracks and playlists, reflecting songs that have caught their attention. And we’ll look at what the Triple J Unearthed community is reacting to online, what they’re reviewing, what is charting. It’s all quite collaborative. It’s going to be a broad and varied playlist, highlighting the very best stuff from triplejunearthed.com.

Will there be on-air DJs or just a continuous stream?
It’ll fall somewhere in-between. There won’t be any regular announcers, but plenty of segments and song introductions from artists talking about themselves, picking other people’s tracks, well-known acts sharing their favourite Unearthed tunes and triple j presenters introducing short playlists. It’ll be a continuous stream punctuated by commentary setting-up different tracks and playlists.

What are the targets for the new station?
The main target for the first twelve months is to raise awareness about the station and about the great new Australian music playing on the station. Also to take-on feedback about the service from the audience and the broader Australian music community. We’re confident that it will find an audience pretty quickly.

Apparently the Unearthed website has a community of more than 250,000 users. Will this new service simply “preach to the converted,” or do you anticipate it grabbing new listeners?
Initially, we’re expecting the audience to come from the site and from the existing Triple J audience. Triple J Unearthed is the biggest Australian online music community; there’s nothing else that comes close. So having 250,000 users who have already engaged with the triplejunearthed.com site gives us good start. It’ll cater to those people who drift in and out of Triple J, or don’t engage with radio at all anymore. Certainly there’s an audience out there looking for new music all the time, especially online. The focus of Unearthed is very much on music discovery and there’s more people passionate about that than ever before. We know that a strong station like this will prove that Australian audiences want to hear Australian content on the radio. That it’s not a handicap as it has sometimes been portrayed.

How will you promote the new service?
We’ve got free public launch parties happening on Wednesday October 5 in six cities – Melbourne, Sydney, Canberra, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth. We’ll be telling people about the station via Triple J – which at the moment is enjoying a weekly five capital city reach above 1.5 million listeners. And we’ll be asking the hundreds of artists who are being played to tell their fanbase where they can hear the songs. It’s a community that supports itself and the acts want to support each other. So the word will spread. You launched an app for Unearthed.

What has been achieved with that?
The app was an instant hit when it was launched in January 2010. Within a month, we had doubled the activity on the Unearthed site. More streaming of tracks, more downloads, more everything. Proving again that people want to engage with music on their own terms and on the device most convenient for them. It’s still one of the ABC’s most popular apps, which is pretty phenomenal considering the content – it’s unsigned Australian music that people wouldn’t have heard before. People really want to hear it.

What next for Triple J?
We’re pretty focused on this new station for the time being. We’ve just launched the Triple J app for iPhone and that’s going really well, and we’ve got more plans for the mobile space. As we move into 2012, we’re focused on our core radio programs because they’re at the centre of everything we do.

 

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