The Hot Seat: Wendy Were, WAM

Published in The Music Network

 

If size really does matter, than Wendy Were has the biggest job in the music biz. She’s CEO of The West Australian Music Industry Association, the peak body for contemporary music in Australia’s most vast state. Were is six months into her role at WAM, a non-profit membership-based association whose activities include the WAMi Festival, the Song of the Year competition, and educational and training opportunities through WAM Workshops. In short, Were’s mission is to develop the WA contemporary music industry. Were brings to the organisation a background in arts management, having enjoyed stints as Artistic Director and CEO of the Sydney Writers’ Festival and at the Perth International Arts Festival, and most recently served as a Business Adviser at the Creative Industries Innovation Centre.

There’s talk that WAM probably needs an overhaul and re-brand. Is that on the cards?

Absolutely yes. It’s on the cards and it’s one of the key priorities for us at the moment. Paul Bodlovich, the former CEO, did an amazing job building WAM’s foundations. In terms of looking to the future, it’s really important we get the external communication side of things into a world class level. So we’re going into a rebranding process. There will be a brand new website, we’re working on developing a WA music app.

What other changes are on the road ahead?

External communications is really important. And international export is important; we recognise WA has a limited market. We’re developing markets within the state. We’re working on a regional touring circuit in the wheat belt. We did six tours over six months and at every one of the three gigs we did on each of those tours, we were pulling 180 to 200 people a night. For a WA band, if they were to head over to Sydney, that’d be quite a task. That audience development is really important to us both within the state, on the East Coast and with other major markets. WA has that specific geography that lends itself to looking quite seriously at the Asian markets. Developing an international strategy along those lines is certainly up there. We want to focus on those things that are unique here. WA doesn’t have top-tier professional recordings studies, and we need to do more on the advocacy side with contemporary music not necessarily being the priority for governments. We really want to focus on music business skills and the knowledge gap, which is not something restricted to WA but is something really important to recognise. It’s not just about the art, it’s about the business.

Surely funding WAM is one of the big challenges?

We receive strong funding from the state. The Department of Culture and the Arts are our core funders and they provide about half our annual budget. The rest we source through various other public and private sources. For funding, it’s an ever-increasingly competitive environment. WAM, like most of our interstate counterparts, sit in this interesting position. We’re not quite an arts organisation, and not quite an industry organisation. It’s about trying to find the right niche for funding that.

WAM lead the charge on many fronts for such a long time but some say it’s now time for you to look to others to identify where to go next. Do you agree?

I do. WAM has been around for 25 years. We’ve been a bit of a trailblazer for this particular kind of organisation, and it’s done great work. But I absolutely think a number of the other sister organisations, like Q Music and Music Victoria in particular, there’s a freshness and newness to their approach which is always worth looking at. We talk very closely with all the heads of the industry bodies and do a lot of information and knowledge sharing.

How’s the mood there post One Movement?

One Movement carried a lot of hope with it, and a lot of excitement. The fact that it didn’t necessarily deliver on all those expectations was a bit of a downer for the industry. From WAM’s point of view, we weren’t running that event. But we were certainly involved in it. It’s about recognising what is possible and capitalising on the strengths that are here. There are lessons to be learned from that as well. It’s been long enough now that I don’t think people have forgotten it, but they certainly look towards having something significant in WA. The WAMi festival has the potential to fill that gap. I’d like to see it become a far more strategic kind of event and figure how best we use the WAMi festival as a vehicle for people to succeed.

The Perth Arena will open any day soon. What does that mean for the WA biz?

It’s great that we have a venue for that size. There are opportunities for a number of uses. Obviously for a venue that size, it’s going to bring in other acts not from WA more so than acts within WA. So we have to figure out a way that can actually benefit local music on that front. We’ve begun discussions with the arena and they’re keen to work out ways to support. And in terms of the Asian focus, the WA Government has been working for some time at setting-up trade ties with Singapore. Alongside that, we’re keen to set up cultural ties. There are discussions which are beyond embryonic now. They’re reasonably well-formed. Also it’s about looking at key markets. WA has some amazing metal bands, and Indonesia is an amazing market for metal. We need to recognise those strengths and capitalise on them, and strategically put into place programs that can benefit.

 

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