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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

For Singers: On Being a Bitch

Hi there,

Since it's the season of goodwill, I thought I'd talk about the importance, as a singer, of being nice. Niceness is underrated. People almost have an expectation of diva-ish bitchy behaviour from female singers, especially if there's more than one of them on the same stage. I ran 'PopTarts', a weekly female singer-songwriter night, for almost 10 years - dealing with female artistes en masse - and I completely disagree that un-niceness is the norm. I was always impressed at the warm camaraderie between the singers and not only do I think it's the right way to be, I think it's good for your career.

I do a piano bar-type gig once a week, largely attracting international tourists. It's quite common for visitors to come and get their photo taken with the piano player and I, at the end of the night. Recently, a family came up to the piano and I got my best smile ready. Instead of posing with us, the mother glared at me, snarled 'excuse me' as she pushed us to the side and deposited her 20-something daughter at the piano. Mother instructed daughter to place her hands on the piano as if playing and then directed her (also snarling) son behind his camera phone, in what became a mini photo shoot. 

 Just after they left, my boss approached us laughing. Apparently this family were his guests this particular night. He had invited them because the mother had enquired after the singing gig for her daughter. The venue hires singers every night of the week so he is always interested in new performers. When my boss sat down with them for a while, during my performance, he asked the group what they thought of me. Apparently they stuck the boot in. There were harumphs and comments like 'oh she's very average'. Perhaps this is what they really thought, but is this the way to get yourself a gig?

Well you'll be pleased to know it didn't work. When the mother asked Bossman when her daughter would be able to start, he said something to the effect of, 'you can have the gig when this singer is finished with it and that could be another 20 years, so don't hold your breath.' Didn't she realise she was not only putting me down, but also criticising the judgement of the person that had hired me, ie Bossman himself? The Maitre d' told me the group had been disparaging of me to him as well! So with all the staff talking about it, and laughing at what they considered their transparent efforts to land the gig, they had managed to absolutely guarantee that no kin of theirs would ever work at that venue.

In any industry, people want to work with nice people, right? It makes life run more smoothly. Anyway, everyone knows Santa strikes naughty people off his present list, so here's to nice!

Merry Christmas everyone,

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Four Extra Inches? Always Say Yes

Hi there,

A muso friend receives an email offering a too-good-to-be-true career opportunity. What is she to do? My advice is 'just say yes!'. What if it is actually the real deal? You're going to say no because it's too good? When an unknown Madonna got offered her first record deal, did she say 'Nah, that's exactly what I want but it seems way too good to be true so I'll pass thanks!'

I got a strangely-worded email a few years ago asking if my band and I would like to come to Malaysia as guests of a world-famous cognac company, to perform as part of their publicity campaign. It would entail being treated like rockstars, staying in luxurious accommodations, doing gigs in Kuala Lumpur and Penang. Oh, and how much would you like to be paid for the privilege? And did I mention we need you here in a week? The email lacked punctuation and had no signature at the bottom - it certainly didn't look corporate. What was being offered was almost dream-like. I had a little laugh when I received it, but instead of pressing the 'delete' button I employed the 'R.Fukert' attitude and replied. I came up with a figure I thought would be pretty generous on their part and promptly forgot about it and went on with my real life. 

The next day I received the paperwork to sign, including the generous figure I had proposed - really! Of course I got the contracts checked out and then we all had to scramble for visas and re-organise our lives for the next couple of weeks. But that trip still goes down as one of the most rockstar experiences of my life. As well as everything they had promised, they put on a huge press conference, with us as the star attractions. I did a photo spread for Malaysian 'Cosmopolitan' magazine and there were larger than life size banners of my face in the centre of the city. Sitting down one tropical evening - with drinks provided by the sponsor of course - I had an interesting conversation with our host. He was the one who had sent me that initial email. He asked me if Australian bands were perhaps not very internet savvy - a very large percentage of the emails he had sent to bands apparently went ignored. I'm sure it was because the bands had assumed the email was of the same ilk as those offering 'up to four extra inches'.

So now my credo is, 'just say yes - until you have to either sign something or pay any money'. Of course you have to be careful if it involves contracts or cash, but until then...why not go with the flow and see if it leads to an exotic rockstar experience? 


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

8 Things Pop Singers can Learn from Cabaret

Hi there,

You may have heard about my love of the old-school entertainment values in cabaret. In the world of pop and rock, where I mostly reside, cabaret can be a dirty word. It shouldn't be! Here's what I think pop can learn from cabaret...some of these are my notes to self!

1. Arrive an hour before the gig starts
How many rock gigs have I done where a singer has turned up just in time to grab the mic and sing the first song? Not cool!

2. Dress appropriately
I'm going to sound like a cranky Gen Xer here, but when did dressing with just a bandaid across our bits become OK? 
Appropriate dress for a B&D gig!
Singing in a nightclub? Well, get 'em out a little, perhaps. Singing at a wedding? Some respect please - mystery can be sexy too! 

3. Sing for the audience, not just yourself. 
aka 'If they want 'Brown-eyed Girl' give it to them! 
When we're hired for a covers gig, we're hired to entertain a specific audience. Of course we want to enjoy it too but if we play obscure indie b-sides just to show how hip we are, then we're not doing the job properly. Unless the audience are all sick man! scenesters of course.

4. Work the stage
I know music went through a fashionable shoe-gazing moment, but not for me - then, I've never been cool! Of course, great rocks acts ride the mic stands and pose on the foldback wedges - in any genre it's a good thing to work that floor baby!

5. Connect with the audience
The difference between a video and a live show is the lack of a fourth wall. At the risk of sounding new-agey, I think performers should connect with an audience - talking, eye contact, and even - God forbid - smiling!

6. Mic technique-dynamics
Years of performing in front of loud bands on stage made me into the type of singer that delivered at the highest volume all the time - just so that I could be heard. It was all about 'kissing the mic'. Cabaret set-ups allow the singer to use dynamics. I've had to re-learn mic technique, pulling the mic away on that big note, whispering sweet nothings into it at the tender moments. 
7. Work to a time
Everyone knows that an 8 o'clock rock show starts at about 9pm right? In cabaret you usually work to a specific time frame and the start and finish times tend to be accurate within the space of minutes.

8. Know your charts/arrangements
I love that in cabaret it's expected that you're familiar with how your tunes go, you know, important stuff like what keys they're in or how many times you repeat the chorus at the end. To be on the same page as your band is what it's all about! 

Btw, if you want to see me (completely out of my depth) try my hard at cabaret, please come along to the 10th Annual Cabaret Showcase at The El Rocco Room (Bar Me) 154 Brougham St, cnr William St, Kings Cross, in Sydney, on Wednesday December 19. I'm up first, at 7pm, where I'll be given 8 minutes to show how Cab Savvy I am in front of judges including David Campbell and bookers from Australia's major cabaret festivals. Eek! Tickets are $25 from Moshtix.

Wish me luck!

Friday, November 16, 2012


Hi there,

A few years ago I was travelling through Europe with one of my BFFs. We got to Germany and went to stay with friends in Berlin. After a day out, BFF and I returned to the apartment block but the names of the occupants, rather than apartment numbers, were listed next to each doorbell outside the main door. As we scanned through the list to find our friends, we came across the name 'R.Fukert'. We both saw it at the same time and howled like teenagers and the phrase 'R.Fukert!' became the theme of our trip. We got to Cologne airport to travel to Prague and found out we didn't have the appropriate visas. What did we say?' We said 'R.Fukert!' and jumped on a train to Paris instead.

'R.Fukert' doesn't end there. I like to incorporate the 'R.Fukert' attitude into my everyday life as much as possible. If you have read my blog before, you might know that I have been a pop and jazz singer for more than 10 years now but have recently decided to become a cabaret artist. I did a lot of band competitions, talent quests etc when I was starting out in the music business and frankly couldn't think of anything worse to do again at this stage of my career. But I feel like I am starting again in the cabaret world, so when I saw that applications were open for the '10th Annual Cabaret Showcase' in Sydney, I said...
'R.Fukert!' and submitted mine.

The heats and finals for the Cabaret Showcase are going to be in late December. I don't know yet whether my application has made the cut, but will let you know through the mailing list. To subscribe, please contact me here.

We never did meet R.Fukert, but whoever you are, be it Mr, Mrs or Miss Fukert, thank you for, ah, being you!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Sex - Scene it?

Hi there,

I've joined NaNoWriMo to finish the first draft of my novel this month. Writing every day makes the book really come alive in your head and I feel like I'm living simultaneously in parallel universes. The characters tend to take on lives of their own and start making decisions and choices that you hadn't planned for them. 

So what do I do when two characters decide they want to do the rumpy pumpy? Far be it from me to stand in the way of lust. Trouble is, I have to write it! I mean, my mum is going to read this. Do I put all the detail in, complete with throbbing members slipping into ham wallets (thanks for that lovely phrase, random Google search)? Or can someone just say, 'Take me darling!' closing the literary door before the x-rated stuff starts? I know 'Fifty Shades of Grey' is making squillions but personally those sex descriptions far from tickled my fancy or anything in the proximity. I wonder sometimes if a bit of mystery isn't better. 

What do you think - should I let my characters do the jiggy jiggy in private or do you want a blow by blow of bumping of uglies, every dirty detail of the doona dance?


Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Money for Nothing and your Chicks for Free

Last blog, I talked about Amanda Palmer's recent hoo haa in the hornet's nest - caused by her attempt to cadge free musos on her world tour. Could be she's simply not high enough up the rockstar ladder to get away with it. I had the chance to examine the relationship between celebrities and money close up, this one time at band camp...

It was the late '90s and Bryan Adams was on a world tour. In each city he played he would recruit half a dozen models to strut the stage with him in his opening number. At the time, I was working as a cover band singer, six nights a week in Japan. An American model friend of mine invited me along to her casting and a few hours later I found myself stalking along the catwalk of the Nagoya Entertainment Centre in front of thousands of people with one of the most popular rock performers in the world. (I phoned my own band and begged for forgiveness - I'll be a bit late for my gig tonight because, well, I've got a show with Bryan Adams.) Bryan personally made sure we girls were very well looked after throughout, even sitting down with us for a dinner provided by his personal chef. 

After prancing around during 'The Only Thing That Looks Good on Me is You' we were asked to gather on a set of bleachers set up behind the band and just jump around and enjoy ourselves - thus providing 'colour and movement' for the show. The crew were very friendly and one, knowing that I was a professional singer, gave me some headphones. I was now listening to the same live mix Bryan had in his in-ear monitoring system - cutting edge technology at the time. After the concert I told Bryan that I might need a late note for my own show and so he  - along with his entourage, band, crew and the posse of models - agreed to come to my gig as proof of my excuse.  I've got to admit to never being a particular devotee of Bryan's brand of rock but my Japanese band were fanatical about it and we had at least six of his songs in our repertoire. All of which got trotted out in front of our hallowed audience, once the shock of his entrance had subsided (they hadn't believed a word of my excuse until that point). Some of Bryan's band even got up and jammed with us. When we performed his hit tune 'Everything I do I do it for you' Bryan gave us a standing ovation and yelled out, 'you do that better than me!' 

Did I mention how much we girls got paid to work as part of Bryan's show that night? Now I appreciate I am no professional mannequin but even the kosher models felt the same as I did. What we got out of the whole Bryan Adams experience was worth so much more than any dollars or even yen, the thought of being paid anything at all never crossed our minds.

I talked about currency in my last blog - it's not always the hard stuff. Bryan and co. gave us memories (and bragging rights!) far more valuable than any paypacket and at no time did we feel shortchanged for working for 'free'.

When Bryan and his party left my club in the wee hours, they said their goodbyes and glided right past the cash register where bills, including the $60 entrance fee per person, is usually settled.  I tagged Bryan's manager as he left and he stopped, smiled and shrugged, saying, 'Sorry, but Bryan doesn't pay to get in anywhere. Just the way it is.'  As the rarefied atmosphere of the rockstar party disintegrated, I was faced with the ferocious glare of my boss through the club's everyday smoky haze. His finger was angrily stabbing at the - not inconsequential and not paid - bill. 

To give you an insight into my sudden change of fortunes, let's just say that rumours abound about Yakuza-ownership of nightclubs in Japan.  I don't know for sure if that were true in this case, but a lot of my club owner's cohorts were missing their full complement of fingers. My usual mediocre grasp of the Japanese tongue now completely deserted me so I just gaped at him. I then realised my boss had been outside the main part of the club the whole night and probably hadn't even recognised Bryan. I started singing 'I got my first real six string...' pointing at the receding backs of the entourage as I sang. By the time I got to '...was the Summer of '69' I was thanking God and even some Shinto deities, that music is a universal language. And Bryan's star did shine particularly bright in Asia. Some suitable Japanese words tripped back on to my tongue and in no time my boss was clapping his hands with excitement and looking at me as if to say 'Ah, well why didn't you say so?!'  And I still have all my fingers.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Want Money to Make Music? Pah!

Hi there,

Indie goddess Amanda Palmer really put herself in it, didn't she? She raises $1.2 million for her tour through crowd funding then puts the word out that in every city on said tour, horns and strings players can perform with her...for no pay. After a massive outcry she has changed her tack but it still goes to show how common that expectation is - you play music, it's fun, so don't expect to get paid for it! Never mind the years of sweat, blood and practice that goes into getting good enough for it to look like fun.  How many jobs could you do that require massive amounts of training and proficiency to arrive at a point where you're good enough to actually sell your skills  - only to be expected to do it for free? Hey I'm in need of a kidney transplant, any surgeons out there free this Friday - there's a slab of Tooheys in it for ya?

I am the first one to demand that people get paid what they're worth but sometimes there are better things than money. When I started performing my own original material, most of the gigs worked like this: a local venue would let you use their stage as long as you promised to bring 30 of your friends willing to pay $10 to get in the door. The bands got paid by splitting the door money. You probably shared the gig with two other bands. The sound guy would need to be get paid, as well as the door person. If you had to pay players to accompany you, you would be lucky to finish the night with $5 in your pocket. Now this is not necessarily about the venue being stingy, it's about market demand. It's very difficult to get people in to see original music, particularly if they've never heard of you. Pubs need punters, so this is their way of trying to make everyone happy and keep their business afloat. 

The problem for the bands is, they're screeching to the converted - their audience is filled with only friends and relos. Well I got jack of doing these kinds of gigs, and my friends got jack of paying $10 to see my band over and over again. How could I play a venue where everything was provided but the door entry was free? So that new potential fans would be willing to take a risk on experiencing my music without having to part with the readies? 

I started a night called PopTarts. It was a series of weekly events that female indie artists could use to showcase new material, network with other artists and sell CDs. It was free to get in, so people off the street weren't shy to pop their heads in and the bands got to increase their exposure beyond Auntie Ethel. As a music artist I am happy because I get to air my new songs at a well organised, publicized event. The pub is happy because there are more punters drinking, which also pays for the sound guy and a bit of promo. Sure the artists don't get paid in cold hard cash but money isn't the only currency there is - opportunity is worth its weight in gold. You use gigs like this to build up a great fan base so that you can put on your own show for which you get paid handsomely. So, playing your music for money? Fabulous. Getting your music to a new audience? Priceless!

P.S. PopTarts' live shows aren't running at the moment but you can check them out in the PopTarts TV Series that ran on TVS and C31. 
The whole series is here:

Keith Armitage runs a great series of similar nights around Sydney called Songwriters Live.


Monday, September 10, 2012

How Do You Remember All the Words?

Hi there,

Remembering all the lyrics to a tune, in the right order and attached to all the right notes can be a challenge! Over the years I've developed a technique that works for me and now, depending on the complexity of the song, it can take as little as half an hour to get a song into my noggin. Although I do believe it takes two performances of the song to get it to really stick. You have to break its cherry before a real live audience and then bed it down, so to speak. 

Anyway, I recently read something to suggest some scientific justification for my technique so thought it was worth sharing. I am reading 'The Talent Code' by Daniel Coyle. 
Through his study of 'talent hot spots' around the word, he has come up with some of the secrets to effective learning. He comes to the conclusion that talent is more grown that born. 

We all know that repetition is important when we're learning something but that's not the sneaky little key. It's all about making mistakes. Hey I'm good at that! Your mind needs to be tested on what you're learning, making errors and fixing them. If you just sing along to the voice on the original track you're not ever truly being tested and it will take quite a long time to get the song words to stay put. 

Here is my technique:
1. Get a recording of the song you need to learn 
2. Get a backing track of the same song, in the same arrangement (itunes or are good)
3. Put the two tracks on a CD, playlist etc
4. Press play and repeat as necessary. You'll learn the song by listening to the original singer and the backing track will be testing you each time.
5. When you're comfortable, sing it for your flatmate (without looking at the lyrics of course)
6. Then sing it for the postman.

If you can do numbers 5 and 6 without any mistakes, then it's in baby!

The Talent Code also talks about a sweet spot. What you are striving for has to be only just out of reach - not miles away. It might be too big a task to do the whole song at one time. Break it into manageable bites - verses, choruses, 'la la' bits etc. 

Like that smart ancient guy once said 'The longest journey starts with a single step'.

Monday, August 20, 2012

'Take the Money and Run' Gigs

aka The Corrimal Leagues Club Syndrome

One day I got a call from ah...Mr S, offering me a gig at a leagues club down the South Coast of NSW. Mr S's regular singer had a family function on this particular night so he needed a replacement and a friend of a friend had recommended me.  The gig would be a duo gig - I'd be singing along to backing tracks with some guitar strumming courtesy of Mr S, most likely surrounded by poker machines and disinterested punters. I said yes to the gig, even though it was far from the type of work I wanted to do. At this time, I was in the middle of recording my first album and I was doing lots of wonderful band gigs with talented musos in great Sydney venues. But as a freelance singer relying on the ups and downs of work in the music world, I sometimes filled the gaps with what I called 'take the money and run' gigs like this one.

Anyway, a month later - two days before the gig - Mr S calls me to say his regular singer could do the gig after all so I would no longer be needed. Now to describe how I felt at this... I didn't really ever want to do the gig, but I wanted to be the one to say no! I thought I was above the gig - yes arrogant I know - yet I was the one being rejected. Mr S actually said, 'look I'm sorry, but this is not just any gig, it's Corrimal Leagues Club you know. I don't want to lose the gig by using just any singer.'

Now I'm going to name drop here but I need to put this into perspective. At this time, I had just performed with Powderfinger at the ARIA Awards at The Entertainment Centre and was about to go on tour with Wendy Matthews. I was speechless when Mr S made it clear he didn't think I was good enough for his corner-of-the-pokie-room gig. But I did manage to regain my voice in time to spit out the most impressive parts of my musical cv down the phone line. And I do remember finishing with something like: 'so I think I could probably handle Corrimal Leagues Club don't you?'

I didn't handle the situation with much grace, and I know it was my fault I was in the situation at all. Mr S didn't know me from Adam and he was only protecting his turf. He shouldn't have cancelled me last minute but if I thought I was so good, what was I doing accepting a gig that I considered so far beneath me? I would have been better off leaving myself free in case another, 'better' gig came along.

In a similar situation a few months later I took a gig with a Mr H. He didn't cancel me last minute - unfortunately. I did the gig with my eyes on the door the whole time - worried someone I knew might walk in and see me. After the gig, I got in my car to head the hour and a quarter home. Ten minutes into the drive my car broke down. I sat by the side of the road waiting for the NRMA for over an hour. Did I mention the torrential rain? I had to be towed to a mechanic near my home and the towing charge cost me $20 more than my gig earnings that night.

I did eventually learn my lesson and I now call this the Corrimal Leagues Syndrome. And whenever I get asked to do something that doesn't feel right for me, but I'm tempted to do just for the money, I remember Mr S!

Disclaimer: Corrimal is a nice place and I'm sure they've got some great entertainment at their local Leagues Club :)

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

In Praise of the local RiSsoLe

Entertainment in RSL, Leagues and Bowling Clubs in Australia gets a bad rap - a proliferation of mother-in-law jokes, and over-ruched and bedazzled frocks are probably to blame. But I think it's time that cabaret became cool again. After all, it doesn't sit too far upstage from Burlesque which is enjoying a major renaissance. Think Marlene Dietrich in a man's suit or the smoky charisma of Edith Piaf rather than bad wigs and over-emoting Shirley Bassey wannabes (don't get me wrong, I love the real Shirley!). I've been thinking about this for a couple of weeks now, ever since I did my own first solo cabaret gig - and loved it. Friends have been telling me for a while that these kind of gigs would be my bag - with your style being so 'theatrical'. It would be rude, after all to actually call me a 'ham' directly.

For many musos nowadays, their bread and butter gigs look like this: three to five sets of 45 minutes each, packed with popular hits ('Play Khe Sahn, ga wonnn!) They're told to set up in the corner of a room usually occupied by the pool table. They're one of many distractions in the room including the telly, the Keno and the pokies. They have to drag in their own sound system, set it up and be their own sound engineer. The crowd in the room completely ignores them until the last song of their final set at 1.05am when they cheer and stomp and beg the exhausted musos to 'play one more, ga wonnn!' The 'backstage' area is otherwise known as the public toilets and they'll get dirty looks for their trouble if they dare ask if the soft drinks are complimentary for the band.

OK, this is worst case scenario - I am very lucky to be mostly playing venues with old school entertainment values like The Basement, Notes, Vanguard, Lizotte's and Blue Beat. And it is this old-schoolness that so impressed me at my cabaret gig. On arrival I was ushered into a spacious dressing room with lights around the mirror. I was offered cold drinks, tea and coffee. I was introduced to the MC, the sound and the lighting engineers. I was welcomed on stage by the more than 600 audience members who were there specifically to be audience members and who proceeded to hang on ever word sung and spoken. They clapped, cheered and laughed appropriately and enthusiastically. After my 50 minute set (yes, one set of 50 minutes) I thanked everybody, picked up my cheque and was home by 1pm - yes, 1 in the afternoon. And on a Wednesday I might add!

After such a pleasant experience, I sent emails to eight other cabaret agents asking for more gigs. Each one replied to my email within 24 hours. If you'd like to come along and see what I'm on about, check my calendar for the gigs I've titled 'Cabaret'. Of course your presence will be helping to bring down the average age of the cabaret audience, but being among the youngest people in a room is actually quite nice. And look, I know that 'Clubland' is hardly musical nirvana but after what I've discovered, I do think that Cabaret doesn't have to be a dirty word.  

Monday, July 2, 2012

Video Thrilled the Radio Star

Video Thrilled the Radio Star

Hi there,

I interrupted my 'How to Get on the Radio' series by putting in my 2 cents about The Voice last blog...but that actually segues quite nicely back to this topic today.

The best way to get on the radio is to get on the telly. I've been told this directly by people in the industry - 'Go forth and get thyself on a soapie!' Certainly worked in Oz for the two Natalies, Kylie, Jason and even cooler indies like Clare Bowditch are currently giving the box a try. And why not, the exposure is fab - you're all colour and movement in thousands of living rooms simultaneously? My problem with using the telly as a promo vehicle for the radio is that TV is even harder to get on to than the radio! It reminds me of 'There's a hole in my bucket Dear Liza Dear Liza'. Poor Liza can't get any water in her bucket because of said hole but the only way she can fix it is by using water - from said bucket...

Of course now we've got multiple audio visual mediums to aim for. YouTube and its cohorts should never be overlooked as promo vehicles - make your own music video, do a tour v-log and film your live shows. Ask fans to make a video to your new song. Don't forget Community TV - TVS in Sydney is great and is always looking for good content. 

Metropolitan Radio has to sit up and take notice once there is enough groundswell from other sources. These sources include metro regional radio stations. If you're touring in their area, organise to drop in - you're newsworthy on the Gold Coast just by touring the Gold Coast. Gold FM might get you on air for a live acoustic version of a song. Of course by this stage you've already sent a press release to the Gold Coast Bulletin (and followed up with a phone call) and maybe they've interviewed you and published a story and photo in their music section about your gig at a local venue.

An old marketing adage states that a consumer needs to see your 'message' seven times before it registers. Music promotion has to be a multi-pronged approach, so use every vehicle at your disposal until the big guns clock you. Once there's a buzz, to really get under the noses of the likes of Nova or 2Day Fm you need to save quite a few pennies and get yourself a radio promoter. Russell Thomas and Stephen Green are the two that seem to have the goods in Australia. They have already built up the networks and relationships that ensure radio programmers take their calls and listen to their recommendations. 

Monday, May 7, 2012

In Defence of 'The Voice'

Everyone's talking about it. Channel 9 execs must be punching the air. But a lot of people are saying that they don't understand why professional singers, particularly those with family connections, are part of a TV show like The Voice. Surely Mahalia Barnes, daughter of Aus Rock royalty, doesn't need a leg up in her career? My answer is, you are talking about her now and possibly keen to buy her records now. Was that the case before you saw her on the show, even though you had heard of her? In this extraordinarily competitive industry, family connections don't ensure success. I didn't even know Guy Sebastian had a brother till The Voice told me.

Even with the power of the internet and its importance in building music careers, a national TV show watched by almost three million viewers a few times a week is the most potent exposure an artist could get. TV is the king in music promotion. Surely singers that have already done the hard yards, that have got to the point - on their own steam - where they are good enough to be Delta Goodrem's backing singer, deserve and can make best use of an opportunity like The Voice. It's the chance to become known by the masses. We already have Australian Idol, X Factor, Australia's Got Talent and previously, Pop Stars, to unearth brand new talent.

When I ran the singer-songwriter showcase 'PopTarts', I worked with a lot of refugees from shows like Idol, great new artists who became bitter and despondent from their TV experiences. In most cases it was because it was all too much too soon. Their careers hadn't been given the chance to develop naturally before they were thrust into the limelight. That light can get switched off very suddenly, leaving the subject ill-prepared to stand in the shadows. A singer who has done the groundwork over the years and proven their commitment to their art is best placed to sustain a successful career after this kind of intense TV exposure. What percentage of Idols or products of the X Factory are still going strong?

Like many of my pro singer friends, I got an invitation from the producers of The Voice to audition for the show. Hold on to your hats... I said no. 'But you said...!' I know! I get why people like me want to be on a show like this. But it's not for me. I should probably admit to some fear about these kind of shows, after watching Idol and their ilk as they shoot for ratings dominance by often publicly tearing down their acts. As an already established performer, that felt like an awful lot to risk. Of course I now see that The Voice is taking a much kinder, more supportive approach to their artists, which thankfully seems to be striking the right chords with its audience.

The other reason will no doubt see me labelled as a freak, of the control variety. I have done the requisite bleeding, sweating and crying of tears to develop the career I have. It may only be a little one, held together with bandaids in part, but I'm proud of my career and it is all mine. Handing it over to the producers of a TV Show, and all that entails including control of image and output, was a step I was loathe to take. But now - at the risk of sounding like a football commentator - we, the audience, are the winners in all this. How many times can you switch on the TV and see a gathering of such fine talent all in the same place? And more power to them!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

How to Get on the Radio Part 3

Hi there,
The last coupla blogs have been concerned with getting music onto the all-important community radio networks in Australia. Don't worry, I know you want the low-down on commercial radio in Australia - that's coming in the next blog. But I thought I'd attack the more achievable stuff first.

Internet radio is everywhere on the, uh, internet nowadays. So how do you pinpoint which stations to target in the vastness that is cyberspace?

Two of the best directories for interent radio I've found are: and
They have listings by genre and indie/unsigned sections as well as the typical music genres. It's a matter of filtering down to the ones that are right for your style of music and visiting the websites individually - it may be a long process but you've got a pretty good chance of airplay if your targetting is good. 

iTunes is also useful - there is a Radio link under the Library header in your iTunes navigation menu. Click on that for a catalogue of hundreds of internet radio stations, categorised by genre. While you're there, don't forget the podcasts. 

Here are a few of the net radio stations worth singling out:

Pandora. Apparently it has more than 50 million listeners worldwide. It uses the Music Genome Project to delivers customised radio to each one. Once the Pandora system learns someone's musical preferences, it serves up a continuous stream of music the listener should actually like. Check out Pandora’s not-exactly-straightforward artist submission guidelines here: It's free to join.

Jango customises radio for its users too. "Jango Airplay" is a promotion service that gives emerging artists guaranteed airplay on Jango's stations, as "similar artists" alongside the popular artists of their choice. Packages start from about $10 for 250 plays. also matches new music to users' tastes. It's free for artists and labels to register but Australian listeners have to pay a subscription fee.

Radar Music is an Aussie music site that features interviews as well as streaming music. Upload your music for free.

One of great things about a lot of internet radio is their ability to link your tracks directly to iTunes or Amazon - and that's pretty hard to do from a stereo!

See you next time - I'm going to be talking about getting onto Commercial radio in Australia...

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

How to Get on the Radio Part 2

Hi there,

My last blog was all about the importance of community radio, particularly for indie artists. Check that out here for info on an Australian service that distributes your CDs to this national radio network.

We live in a web world now. Most artists and their record companies deliver new songs digitally to the commercial radio networks (more on commercial radio in a later blog). Some community stations still rely on physical CDs but most are moving in the digital direction - so you should too.

Get Your Songs on the Database
The good peeps at AMRAP are helping us out again with the government-sponsored AirIT service. Community radio programmers apply to get free customized CDs of music from the database, or download songs instantly. AirIT even have their own charts.

If you're independent and have some radio-ready releases, you can be part of this database for free. AirIT will take three of your new tracks but you need to apply well before their release date and prove you have other promo planned ie live performance, distribution and other marketing activites to support your new music. Visit here to register.

There's no doubt digital is important, but we still live in a tactile world so don't ignore the plastic! Get physical copies of your CD to radio broadcasters as well as via AirIT. And follow up the radio folk to see if they are interested in an on-air interview with you. The beauty of community radio is its accessibility - most radio hosts want to talk to you! But go down the digital path too and you'll have all angles covered.

Next week: How to Get on Internet Radio.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

How to Get on the Radio, Part 1

Hi there,
Having worked with 100s of indie artists through PopTarts, and the independent release of three singles and two albums of my own, I often get asked for advice on what to do with an album once it's recorded. This is the first of a series of blogs that will hopefully give you some ideas. And please add any of your own ideas to the comments - it's all about community!

OK, you've poured your sweat, tears and bank balance into the creation of an original recording. You feel drained yet proud. Now the hard work begins - you actually have to sell the thing!

Radio is an important slice of your promotional pie. If you are a self-funded independent artist, there are still plenty of avenues open to you. Commercial radio in Australia (don't pack up and  move, it's even harder in other countries!) is a very hard nut to crack for everyone, particularly indies. Nothing is impossible though and I will cover the options for commercial radio in another blog. But I wanted to start with something a little easier to achieve.

Community Radio Wants You
I've been a community broadcaster myself (2MCR, 2SER and TVS in Sydney) so I'll start there.

Community radio stations are largely run by volunteers, are not-for-profit and encourage community participation. Part of their charter is actually to promote the local arts - that means you! Community radio stations often have solid, dedicated listener bases and with enough of a groundswell, community radio airplay could even help lead to commercial radio play.

One of your best friends should become the CBAA or the Community Broadcasting Association of Australia - the national body looking after 270+ community radio and TV stations throughout the country.
The CBAA have wonderful government-subsidised programs for indie artists. One is called:

'AMRAP' - CD Mailout

Amrap charges a small fee to distribute ‘radio ready’ CDs by Australian artists to community radio stations around the country. The good folk at Amrap actually listen to your CD and work out which stations are likely to play your style and distribute it accordingly. If you have a hip-hop record you want to promote with a tour through the East Coast, they will send out your CD to only those radio stations in the Eastern states who play hip-hop. Even though you pay a certain amount for this service, it is still cheaper and hugely more efficient than buying the padded bags and sending out CDs yourself. And their contact databases are comprehensive and up-to-date.

I've used this service quite a few times and managed to cultivate some fabulous community radio airplay and contacts as a result. Like anything in this indie game, the more work and time you are willing to put in, the more benefit you get. Amrap give you an invaluable report which includes contact info of all the radio stations to which they've distributed your CD. Use this to follow up!

When hosting and producing my own radio and TV shows I always appreciated artists getting in touch with me personally, keeping me in the loop with their upcoming gigs and releases, being available for phoner or in-person interviews and generally helping me provide interesting content for my shows. Never pester, but definitely get in touch. Community broadcasters are waaaay more accessible than their commercial counterparts. They will probably love hearing from you.

Amrap do mailouts every month but they are no longer a well-kept secret, so get in touch with them in plenty of time before you are ready to promote - they are popular! Their website is here.

Next week: How to get your music on the Digital Catalogue used by Community Radio.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Songwriting - Therapeutic or Tedious?

Hi there,

I've decided this is the year I finish the first draft of my novel. As a result, I've been reading a lot of how-to books on the subject to help nudge me along. Every single one so far has said that most writers don't actually enjoy writing. They enjoy having written, the satisfaction of finishing a piece of creative work. But the laborious process of getting the words in the right order is often plain frustrating.

I am hoping that learning more about writing fiction will also help me improve my songwriting. I've got to admit, those days when I'm wrangling rhymes and slaving over syllables can be more about exasperation than inspiration...but oh how I love having written!  So can you compare lyric writing and writing a book? Let's see, I'm going for 85,000 words for my novel - a song for me will be more like 150. But of course you have to consider rhyme and singability for song words too. And then there's that pesky music to go with the words.

A piece of advice that seems to be consistent in these 'Dummies Guide to Writing your Novel' type tomes is to allow yourself to write freely. It really helps to silence your internal judge at least for the first draft. So this week one of my goals will be to write a quick pop song. Get it out in one go without agonising over adjectives and getting vexed over verses. No editing. No refining. No censoring. Muzzle that inner critic and let the fun begin!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Singer Tribes of Sydney

Hello there,

I'm writing a novel. There, I've said it so now I really have to do it! It's 'chick lit' - a year in the rollercoaster life of 4 best friends who are all singers living in Sydney. Hmm, sound at all familiar?

Anyway, here is a small excerpt from the current draft where the protagonist Clare is describing the different types of singers she's discovered since leaving the corporate world and becoming a professional performer. I'd love to get comments on this from Sydney singers - or people familiar with Sydney singers! Obviously I am trying to poke fun here. I think I'm allowed to, since I have had at least one foot on each of these tribal grounds at some time and you always have permission to tease your own family.

Skinny Indie singers are cool in a geeky way. But don't call them 'indie' because they don't like labels. The female members of this tribe often scorn make-up and wear masculine jeans with t-shirts that belong to their boyfriends. Or they go to the other extreme and wear really girly 'Op Shop' which of course has now been rebranded 'vintage'. They wear obnoxiously loud lipstick against pale skin. It is hip to wear glasses in this tribe, the thicker the rims the better. Long hair and facial hair, along with ironic cowboy shirts and skinny jeans are pretty much mandatory for the male scenesters. A lot of time and effort goes into looking ungroomed. Skinny Indies disdain anything played on commercial radio and only like bands that you haven't heard of, until you start hearing of them, at which point they are dropped by the Indie kids for selling out. Even if they aren't students, they live like them to satisfy their artistic integrity. They don't earn much money as singers because they refuse to sing covers of other people's songs - except for covers of songs from very obscure Indie bands. Playing their own 'original' songs only earns them a small percentage of the 'door' - the fee paid by the similarly cash-strapped hipsters who come to see these bands play at indie hangouts. But they are happy to suffer for their art, indeed, that's where the songs come from man. It is more about 'vibe' than the accuracy of the notes and sounding lo-fi is a good thing. They joke about blowing up Talent Schools but may well have been kicked out of one as a kid. On stage they'd rather gaze at their Converse Chucks than make eye contact with the audience. The Cabaret Crew think they're wankers. The Pop Tarts say they can't sing to save themselves.

The CABARET CREW.  This tribe inhabits the RSL, Bowling and Leagues Clubs that most suburbs of Sydney boast. Their audience remembers the Second World War and so the tribe members feel obliged to rely heavily on slapstick, wigs and mother-in-law jokes to entertain them. Some of the members have absconded from other tribes and there's no upper age limit for membership of this clan. This is where Pop Tarts go after they die. The Crew think of themselves as real singers and can usually dance in any style, as long as it was a style developed before 1983. They probably went to Talent School. They have stage names and carry around promotional photos that have been highly airbrushed. There are strict rules surrounding stagecraft and it is obligatory to own a wardrobe full of sequinned costumes and theatrical make-up. When they aren't singing, they are calling the Bingo or Meat Raffle within their local habitat. The Cabaret Crowd pride themselves on being true entertainers. The Pop Tarts think they are naff. The Indies think the Cabaret Crew are even more naff than the Pop Tarts.

The POP TARTS. Pride comes from being able to make enough money for rent from singing, if you're a Pop Tart. Whether it be at a funeral or bah mitsvah, doing the chicken dance or belting out the latest top 10 international chart hit, you can always count on a Pop Tart to perform in exchange for cash. They are the tribe most likely to change their names, get plastic surgery and fake tans or straighten their teeth but also consider themselves 'spiritual'. They have probably been on a diet since Talent School. Everything a Pop Tart does, at work or play, is simply a step along the path to pop stardom. Collecting famous names you have worked with for your resume is vital if you're a Pop Tart. Until of course you become a famous name yourself. Sometimes Pop Tarts write their own songs, but they are just as happy to pair up with a producer and songwriter as long as they get to show off how high they can sing and how long they can hold a perfectly pitched note.
A sub genus of Pop Tarts, who fraternise readily with the 'Tarts themselves, is the Weekend Warrior. The Weekenders are accountants and public servants during the week and rock gods in party bands after hours. They take their weekend rocking very seriously but are not willing to give up their middle class income to do it full time. They are less talented but more organised than the Pop Tarts. Skinny Indies sneer at the Pop Tarts. The Cabaret Crew don't think they are true professionals but secretly aspire to be a Pop Tart themselves."

Phew, glad I got that off my chest. See you next time,

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Size isn't Everything!

Christmas tree has come down, time to make plans! I've been talking a bit about making Album No 3 up until now, but I've changed my mind.

Remember, back in the day, when you used to buy singles? As in the plastic variety, not the downloadable doodads. For an artist, it was a big deal to release a single and get the physical product manufactured, distributed etc. You'd usually have at least two singles from the album and then release the album (LP) itself.

Some people opted to release EPs instead but I always found them annoyingly short. As a listener it meant I had to get off my bottom after only 15 or 25 minutes to press the repeat button or change the disk, compared to the at least 40 minutes playing time you'd get out of an album.

Well a lot of this is irrelevant now isn't it? I know one of my greatest enjoyments is making playlists for my plethora of music-playing gadgets, from a selection of my favourite digitised songs. I can make that playlist as long as I like. And so you could say that whether the artist chooses to release a single, an album or EP is really irrelevant - as a fan I can choose to cherry pick my favourite tracks from my nearest download etailer anyway.

I got to thinking, I don't HAVE to release an album. In fact, if I opt to go for something closer to an EP, I can actually do releases more often. So... from now on I'm going to be talking about my upcoming EP 1 in a series of 3, although let's hope I can come up with a more interesting title than that. And I will probably make the plastic version as well as the digital doodad.

I know there are the purists out there who still like to hold those shiny disks in their hands...but just think of all that exercise, getting off your bottoms and (hopefully) pressing the repeat button on my new EP!