Photo credit: Tajette O’Hallaran
I guess like many young aspiring musicians I was introduced to songwriters that I could relate to and looked up to. For me it was people like Bob Dylan, Townes Van Zandt and Neil Young, and great Australian songwriters like Tim Rogers, Paul Kelly and Dan Kelly. I just couldn’t really think of anything else that I wanted to do other than attempt to do what they do.
Well if I was to be honest, I did music in year 9 and it was the only class I ever failed at school. But that might have been a reflection of the style of teaching at the time. We learned more from a classical training perspective, which I didn’t understand. I just wanted to write songs and play rock n roll. I’m sure music at schools is far more progressive and relevant now.
Most of what I learned in those formative years was playing in bands with my friends and sort of figuring out things ourselves. I was taught how to play guitar in private lessons in my early teens, but it was playing with other musicians where I was able to really define my skills.
I left school in Geelong to go to Melbourne University to study history. In my first semester I went to a music festival called Golden Plains and had a revelation that if I was going to find true happiness and self worth it was going to be through playing music. So I just started playing a lot of gigs in venues around Melbourne and started a little solo project/band.
We played about 90 gigs in our first year mostly around Melbourne. After that my name got around town and people started showing up to my shows. So management/labels/agents/publishers came along not too far after that.
I’ve been lucky enough to know some great older musicians and have some great role models in the industry when I was younger. One piece of advice I received from my friend Ross Lipson was that, ‘don’t ever sell yourself short and always know your worth’. The better you are being paid by a festival or a promoter, the better they will treat you. Don’t let people try sell you “oh we can’t pay you, but it’ll be great exposure”. You can’t top up your bank account with exposure.
As young musicians, you will get people trying to rip you off all along the way, especially if you are starting to gain traction with your music. Don’t be scared to turn down offers for shows either. If your music and your show is good enough, the offers will keep coming back around.
I’ve been lucky enough to tour the UK, Europe and America multiple times, playing club shows and festivals all over as well as in Australia too. A particular highlight was getting to play at Meredith Music Festival when I was 21 years old, which was a bit of a ‘bucket list’ goal for me since a young age.
I’m also lucky enough to be apart of a great record label called Milk! Records, started and run by Courtney Barnett. Playing alongside some of your favourite bands is always a bit of a spin out too. It’s all just good fun.
My advice is, if you love something do it. When I very first moved to Melbourne after school, I was a bit scared of putting myself out there and kinda buried my head in a job I hated and didn’t play much music. I quickly became very depressed and bitter and jealous towards my friends who were having heaps of fun playing in their bands and touring around. And even though I had a lot more money that most of them because of my job, it didn’t mean anything and it sure didn’t make me happy.
Even though I am a professional touring musician, I still have to work part time as a carpenter now to help pay my rent and that kind of thing. But I’m a very happy person and I love my life. So I guess, if you love something, do it. And if you aren’t earning heaps of money, you’ll find a way to do both and keep your head above water. You just gotta be smart about the way you go about things.
I’m unsure if I can actually pinpoint what it is that is fulfilling about what I do. It’s kind of a deeper feeling than that. It’s not as tangible as “I play music because of this….”. It’s just a thing I do, like a reason to get out of bed in the morning. I don’t really question it. It’s like a purpose in life. Without music I’d probably be a bit lost in the world. It’s just a vice that I use to create my own happiness and deal with my problems. And it’s also really fun and addictive. It’s like a drug or something. A drug that won’t kill you, it’ll just make you better. Deep.
I’m currently finishing writing my second album which I’m looking forward to releasing next year. Then I’ll start touring again and spend a bit more time overseas. My goal is to write great songs, perform them to anyone who wishes to listen and enjoy my life.
I would say, for young musicians, the very crux of the entire thing is to make sure your music is good before you do anything else! Make sure your music/songs are good, and if it is, then make sure your live show is good. Get that sorted first. And the rest will follow.
I see a lot of young bands these days getting really hung up about getting record deals or booking agents or all the music industry stuff that at the end of the day means not too much….if your music is good. And your band is good. And people enjoy it. The rest will follow. Grab your mates, get in the garage, and have a goddamn crack.
Also do things because they are fun, and make you happy. If what you are doing becomes no longer fun, and makes you sad, have a look at your life and adjust it accordingly. I have to remind myself that a lot.