The Hot Seat: Lindy Morrison, Go-Betweens

Published in The Music Network

Those drummer jokes guitarists love to tell. Well, they don’t apply to Lindy Morrison. Morrison is a whole lot more than just a time-keeper. She’s one of the Australian music industry’s great all-rounders – an artist, a teacher, an advocate. Morrison got her break as drummer with the critically-revered Brisbane band the Go-Betweens.

Her work can be heard on Cattle and Cane, selected by APRA in 2001 as one of the Top 30 Australian songs of all time. Lindy is the National Welfare Co-ordinator for Support Act Ltd, the benevolent society for musicians and workers in the music industry. She also teaches Music Business at Sydney Institute Ultimo, sits on the board of PPCA (representing recording artists) and in 2013 received an Order of Australia (OAM) medal, for services to the Australian music industry as a performer and an advocate.

You juggle so many roles. How do you describe yourself on that sheet of paper you hand to immigration?

I have no idea. I’m constantly amused by what occupation I have to put down when I’m filling out paperwork. I make a decision based on how I want them to treat me. The last time I was at a dentist, I wrote “social worker.” Because that’s how I wanted them to see me. If you want to be treated like you’re working in side-show alley, then put “musician”.

I’ve met many folks over the years who’ve been taught by yourself. What’s some of the best advice you give to music business students?

To understand how copyright works. To advocate on behalf of recording artists’ rights. And to take control of the contracts; you can understand the contract, you can understand the language in the contract. It’s not that hard. I love teaching music business and I love teaching copyright. I’ve the most extraordinary Powerpoint presentation on the history of copyright law which I’ve built up over ten years. That’s how obsessed I get. I went to the University of NSW a few years ago and got a Master’s in Legal Studies, and I really concentrated on the intellectual property subjects just so I could be more ‘conversent’ with people when it came to talking about copyright.

What drives you? You have an OAM. These things don’t just fall from trees.

What drove me to take an interest in the music business was when the Go-Betweens broke up in 1990, and I was completely unaware of how the royalty streams were operating, what contracts were in existence. And I slowly uncovered those contracts over the years and then began looking closely at accounting. Most labels will inadvertently make mistakes with accounting. People are often down on the majors, but for mine, it’s been the independents that I’ve had to really keep a track on, what licenses have occurred, whether or not the payments have been made, whether the deductions match up with the contract. By way of example, Beggars Banquet were taking a 25% deduction on packaging (with the Go-Betweens), before we got on top of it and realised the contract only said 20%. These little things add up. Particularly when the Beggars contract is 90% of a 100% anyway. To this day that figure is because of vinyl breakage.

What is your role with Support Act?

I have a social work degree, and I work part-time with them as a social worker. We provide grants to people who work in the industry, not just musicians but roadies and others, who become ill or fall on hard times. We pay bills, up to a certain amount of money each year. My job is to help people with their applications, to advocate on their behalf with other agencies, to help them decide which is the best way to spend their grant, then keep in contact with them during the time they get their grant from us.

One of my favourite jobs is working down at the Bondi Beach at the community center. There’s an intellectually disabled band I’ve worked with for many years, called the Junction House Band. They write and record all their own material, and have done for 20 years. I can do all this because I love the music industry. I’m not one of these people who bag it. The great thing about the music industry is that it attracts so many people who live on the margins. So many people couldn’t exist outside our industry and they’ve managed to have successful careers, or just made a living.

You’re on the board of the PPCA. We’ve seen an escalation in the simulcast situation with close to 200 stations pulling regional simulcasts.

It’s a shame they did that. I think they misunderstand the issue. Basically the full Federal Court and the High Court have said a simulcast in not a broadcast. A broadcast is a specific technology, a simulcast can reach a much wider audience. We’re just asking for compensation for the use of our recordings over the web, for streaming on simulcasts. I’m involved because the PPCA pays recording artists. And I want to see recording artists paid for the work they do in creating these unique pieces of copyright. We just want to negotiate with Commercial Radio Australia. Malcolm Turnbull, the Minister of Communications, has said the Government can’t legislate this. It has to be sorted out in the marketplace. It’s a commercial transaction, the independent arbitrator the Copyright Tribunal can make the decision on what the fee should be. Very learned people sit on that tribunal.

In your time with the Go-Betweens, did you know you were doing something important?

I knew that the work was brilliant and I thought the boys’ songwriting was brilliant, which is why I joined the band. As a three-piece we cut a fine figure as a group; the chemistry between members of the group is often underestimated. It’s what happens within a group that becomes fascinating and it comes out in the instrumentation and other finer details. And then getting Robert Vickers (bass) and Amanda Brown (violin, oboe, guitar, keyboards), it was such a unique group of individuals, a unique sound. We were very interested in culture, reading, film, galleries. Of course when we started we were very inexperienced on our instruments. And we grew together.

It’s curious that the Go-Betweens haven’t been inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame.

There’s a reason for that. Robert won’t do it. He and Grant discussed it before Grant died, that they’d never want to be a part of that Hall of Fame stuff.

Do you think he can be swayed?

I wouldn’t try. That’s just how he feels. But they did accept an ARIA Award, post the “classic” period (laughs).

Incredibly, the band has a toll bridge named after them in Brisbane. But officials didn’t quite get the name right. It’s missing the hyphen, and the “S” at the end.

That was Campbell Newman, Queensland voted and that was the name they wanted. But then the politicians decided to have it go both ways by having a name that could mean two things. But it is a beautiful bridge. It’s so elegant. I went to the opening ceremony and it was the first time I’d seen Robert Forster for such a long time. It was truly amazing, walking over the bridge and catching up on 20 years. I’ve had Brisbane friends complain about the toll, and that people don’t use the bridge. I don’t care. I’m happy about the fact the bridge is named after the Go-Betweens.

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