Sunday, August 28, 2011

Mentoring and the Music Industry

In any industry, positive and responsibly-undertaken mentoring is definitely a common thread between all of the success stories. The shelves of the bookstores are lined with autobiographies full of sage reflections upon the days when the author was a young rookie in dire need of guidance. Sometimes, the mentor finds their own insights in the mentoring they provide for others.


And year after year, music autobiographies prove to be bestsellers.


Of course the trash vultures in us want to read about the backstage antics, the sex, drugs, rock & roll, the hotel rooms, the failed relationships and all of that lowest-common-denominator faff. But any musician worth their salt would have bought the book with a compulsion to read the wisdom that we hope our revered author has been gracious enough to share. What is it that we’re searching for when we so hungrily read the advice of our treasured music industry veterans?


In what at first glance appears to be the chaotic organism of the Australian contemporary music industry, there has, in several short decades, emerged a sense of tradition and family amongst the elite. A psychological infrastructure which was originally built out of necessity, when there was little or no real regulation in place to sort the sheep from the goats; no safety net or precedence to safeguard the vulnerable from the predators. And there are still predators. Where there are beautiful, young, talented and na├»ve artists, there will always be predators. The green musicians need the seasoned ones to stand at their back and warn them of who not to deal with…. or at least who to deal with very cautiously. Among the diamantes and downloads, the riders and the write-ups, this is the reality. And it certainly shouldn’t be restricted to the elite. Perhaps this sense of mentoring and pseudo-family is even the secret to their longevity.


When a support network has been forged out of such necessity and mutually-beneficial backscratching, it forms the basis for a network of quite solid relationships that literally last for generations, and are based on little more than pure trust and a handshake. Quite remarkably, there are dynasties of Australian showbiz families who have literally raised their children together on tour. It was, in fact, a Jesus Christ Superstar “baby” who taught me to sing. It continues to flow downwards.


These were performing and recording careers proudly carved out of seemingly impossible circumstances, and collective mental survival hinged upon one thing: community.





Rarely do musicians actually draw up formal contracts. We just learn who to trust and who not to trust; who respects his fellow man and who doesn’t. That is your contract, and will also be your legacy. Nobody in Sydney who exploits or mistreats anyone gets away with it. The grapevine is like firewire, and a musician’s best asset (or downfall) is their reputation. Nobody cares that you’re a shit-hot guitarist if you’re a dickhead. Similarly, all efforts that you invest in being a true professional and a pleasure to work will return to you tenfold. The most thrilling thing about the music industry is that it is absolutely what you make of it. Far from being chaotic, there is order and there is goodwill. As tempting as it is to think of us as a manic, unruly circus, I’m afraid to say that we’re all really quite boring between Monday and Thursday. We have families, phone bills, tracky-dacks, and we have to carry our own gear most of the time. Like everyone else, we all need reassurance, and we need advice from someone more experienced than ourselves, and this openness to advice should last until we retire.


In return for the pleasures that a comfortable - or least functional - position in the music industry brings, there is a widespread understanding of the unspoken obligation to pass on the lessons. Because of this passionate stance that most seasoned musicians are happy to take, many of them teach passionately in the nation’s music schools, private colleges, universities and TAFEs. If only the Young Ones were as eager to listen as the Ancient Ones are to teach.


How valuable is mentorship in an industry where everyone is remarkably unique, needs to be encouraged to remain unique, and where there is no sure-fire formula, and no mafia to call when someone owes you three thousand dollars dating back to last November? When you do your first 50 gigs, there is no fanfare. You’re on your own. Just you and your guitar. Or perhaps you and your band of comrades, who are just as terrified, irreverent and ignorant as each other. This is of course a great adrenaline rush at first, but can also lead to things like unclear boundaries on the common goals and varying commitment levels of band members. What if you’re actually a great band with a huge future and can’t see that yet? What will you make of that, and who can you trust to advise you and motivate you when there’s daunting work to be done or a group decision to be made?


When you have a good night, nobody gets a medal. Not really. There are a few frothing punters, some media buzz, and then you just get another gig. And then another, and another. And you have to be better. Always better. You want to tour some festivals in summer 2013. You’d also like to be touring some festivals in the summer of 2020. Your songwriting needs to continually evolve and your publicity material needs to be cohesive with your music.

Everyone defines “success” differently. Some people have the courage to define “success” at the start of their career. Some let their disappointments lower their expectations, and pessimistically define “success” after 20 years’ damage has been done.


Where will you find your motivation on an ongoing basis? Having long-term and sustainable motivation ideally comes primarily from within; having defined your goals properly and pragmatically, backed by real intent, smart strategy, and above all, a willingness to work hard.


However, to even reach this point, you still need experienced and responsible counsel. Balance between independent goal-setting, and openness to advice. Some will insist that they’re perfectly content to meander from project to project without an overall masterplan. But time and time again, you will see these very same musicians leaving behind them a trail of unfinished or ambiguous projects that have either failed to thrive, or compromised on integrity, because they’re too proud to take advice or don’t have the courage to confidently name their goals from the outset. Motivation and direction within the independent musician requires plenty of nurturing and perspective in order to maximise and monetise their efforts and opportunities. Nobody can generate amazing inspiration all by themselves all of the time. That would actually be superhuman, and nobody expects that of you.


Besides…. why knock back the great creative community that surrounds you in Sydney? Why be a lone ranger, when there are so many friends to be made, and mutual benefits to be exchanged? Whatever you’re planning to do, a thousand others have already done it, and have advice that will save you time, effort and money. Any experienced musician with a heart to encourage the younger generation will be only too happy to show you the easier route if they see that you’re struggling.


Let’s take a look at some successful musicians of all different kinds, and witness their takes on both their own mentors of the past, and gradually becoming mentors themselves.



Julia Day

 Session Drummer

“It was really difficult in the 80's finding a drum teacher to take me seriously,
but I found one!”

Julia Day is regarded as one of Sydney’s busiest live session drummers, and has worked hard to establish a solid reputation throughout her career, working with the likes of Geoff Achison, Butterfly 9, Tania Bowra, Bluehouse, the Jeff Duff Orchestra and SisterMadly. She has forged a career as a leading female instrumentalist in an industry which has not always been an equal playing field.

RC: What did you learn from your drum teacher that saved you a lot of headache?
JD: “Without a doubt, correct technique. It was hard to find someone that honed in on the detail. He was so hard on me! If I didn't work hard enough, he would tell me to 'lift my game' or find someone else....a life lesson in itself. I learned about the art of 'listening'. Priceless.”

RC: How do you feel about being viewed as Sydney’s leading “chick drummer”?

JD: “Well, that’s a wonderful thing to hear, and deeply humbling as well. I am a woman who happens to play an instrument traditionally considered a 'male' instrument, and many people still view it that way, only because they don't see many - or any - females playing the drums at an elite level... or even just very well!”

RC: Do you still prefer to be referred to as “a drummer”, the same as anyone else?

JD: “Yes, I do like to be regarded as a 'drummer', the same as anyone else, in the sense that I like to be hired for the gig based on my merits, rather than an image that a group want to portray. Having said that, I am also a 'hired gun', so it's not for me to judge why someone wants me there. I'd like to think it's because I am an accomplished musician, but sometimes it's because I'm a woman AND an accomplished musician...which is totally cool too! Reverse sexism! Woohoo!”
(laughs)
“It's very interesting and amusing to me that after 30 years of playing the drums, I am still regarded as somewhat of a rarity, and dare I say... a 'novelty'. But I accept that and embrace it, because I know the reasons for it. To be a drummer as a female, you need a VERY thick skin. I could tell you stories that would shock you, of notable sydney jazz musicians who 20 years ago would mock me and put me down to my face. At least I wasn't hearing it second-hand, I guess.”

RC: Tell me stories!

JD: “Okay. Here are the two I’ve never forgotten: ‘Do you actually listen to music? Because if you do, I can't hear it in your playing.’ “

RC: No way.

JD: “That was at a jazz gig. Or this: ‘I only teach people who are serious...sorry.’ I was inquiring about an ad that a top drummer put out when he was accepting students. He taught at the Sydney Conservatorium! Some of those same musicians now have respect for me and have probably forgotten the cruel, damaging and harsh words spoken to a young, enthusiastic open hearted girl. I can only try to imagine the other girls that copped the same flack that gave up based on similar harsh comments,
not to mention rejection as a musician based on (the potential employer’s) unwanted sexual advances.
“I was just about to give up, based on the negative responses given to my genuine love of the instrument in 1987....and then I met Gerry Sayer, my mentor, and in the end, one of my closest friends. He was 50 years my senior. He passed away in 2000, and I miss him terribly. I was like a daughter to him. For the first time in my drumming life, someone cared enough to stick it out with me and teach me. He took me seriously.”

RC: What was the basis of this strong bond that you had with Gerry?

JD: “Every Thursday afternoon, I would take 2 buses and a train to get to his flat in the rocks on Lower Fort Street in Millers Point. We would have the lesson, which incidentally went for as long as it took for me to grasp what he was trying to teach me. Sometimes one hour, sometimes three. That's how much he loved me! Then we'd sit on his couch and listen to Roy Haynes on cassette tapes and watch Miles Davis videos together. It was the highlight of my week!”

RC: Do you like the thought of being framed as someone that young female players can look up to?

JD: “Are you kidding, Rozzie? I would consider that an incredible honour! The only reason that boys and men are good at what they do as musicians is because they constantly see other males doing it. I want as many girls to see me play as possible, I want to tell them through my playing and in spoken words, that they CAN do this. It's fun, it's rewarding and it's character-building. And most importantly, if you are good, there is ALWAYS room for you in the industry.
“The sign of the times is the young boys and the men who love what I do based on my skill and talent, not my gender. Young boys that think it is completely normal for a woman to be in the 'engine room'. That is what I experienced in The USA recently.

RC: How is it different in the U.S.A.?

JD: “Australia is way behind, and still suffers from the 'tall poppy’ syndrome. I was overwhelmed at the response I got in the U.S.A. I had more compliments and positive feedback about my playing in 10 days in California than my whole career in Australia, which at one point brought me to tears. It was completely overwhelming and humbling. Something I will never forget, and it was the moment I realised that my life's work was indeed worth the effort!”

Floyd Vincent





Sometimes it only takes a phrase from the right person at the right time to help push you along your path.”


RC: What's your job? How long have you been at it?
FV: “Singer/songwriter, guitar player and composer. 36 years so far.”


RC: Who were/are your mentors?

FV: “Warren "Pig" Morgan and John Paul Young. They were my mentors from 1983 to 1988.”

RC: Was it a conscious decision to latch onto these guys, or did it just kinda happen?
FV: “They employed me to play guitar in JPY's Allstar band across those years. So it was a long-term gig offer.”


RC: What do you think motivated them to take you under their wing?

FV: “I played guitar well, and was devilishly handsome to boot.”


RC: In a nutshell, what did they teach you?
FV: “They taught me how to tour. We played 3 to 4 nights a week on average all that time, to very big crowds. Often around a thousand punters a night. It was the 80's, and the live scene was booming here. In their band, I was able to observe the machinations of a successful band with a pro manager, booking agents , record company, publisher, lots of hit records and an international career, while having none of the pressure of making the decisions. They were 10 years (and in Pigs case, 20 years) older than me, and were very successful rock and pop stars. They were a great touring machine, but didn't write much themselves. They didn't teach me in a nutshell, though. If we were in a nutshell, all three of us would have suffocated. I think if they tried to teach me in a nutshell, I would have quit the band."

RC: How may they have they saved you years of unnecessary frustration?

FV: “I think they gave me the confidence to push ahead on my own later, once I started writing good songs. They validated my talent at an age when I was unsure about it myself. I was early twenties at the time, and just out of uni. They saved me from regular employment and showed me - and the people around me - that music could be a real job. Without that self-confidence, you can spin your wheels for a long time.”


RC: Were you always open to listening to advice?

FV: “Yes… always.”

RC: You never went through a phase of being stubborn and not taking advice?

FV: “I didn't ever go through a stage like that. I wasn't stubborn. I was working for them, so they were calling the shots. I accepted that, and just concentrated on guitar playing and partying. By my later twenties when I left the band, I figured a had learned enough and it was time to go out and play my own music. I had started to write some good songs that had no place in their market or with their audience. I wanted to sing myself, so it was time to go.”


RC: Were there any amazing teachers (at tertiary level or otherwise) who lit the way for you?
FV: “No, not really, unfortunately. Oh, maybe in high school . We had a music teacher who got us to start a school rock band, and allowed us to hang out in the music rooms at lunch and listen to Pink Floyd's ‘Dark Side Of the Moon’. That was nice. She provided us with performance opportunities as well.”


RC: Who taught you how to run your music career as a business?

FV: “Well… JPY and Pig. Those 2 guys, and their manager at the time, Franz Krijnen. In 1988 I also met Frank Zappa, and was very inspired by his DIY philosophy. One of my co-managers was a good friend of his. His wife was his manager at the time, and he was running a cottage industry operation. I saw that as both appealing and liberating. I have always managed or co-managed myself and been in control of my musical life. I haven't been particularly commercially successful, but I have played the music I wanted to play all over Australia and Europe for many years. That’s fine for me. I still have connections over in Europe and may go back in the next few years. “


RC: Why do you think mentoring is important in our industry?

FV: “A great mentor can be a valuable asset. I really wish I had a mentor at the stage when I was touring Europe each year. I was sometimes stumped about the way forward, and it was all up to me. There was often a lot of my own money on the line and the pressure was enormous.  I also remember many times feeling that some advice from someone who had recently done what I was doing at the time would have helped. Also a writing mentor - which I've never really had- would have been great. I really got bogged down there at times, and it slowed my momentum. Sometimes it only takes a phrase from the right person at the right time to help push you along your path.”

Louise Perryman
is a well-respected singer and songwriter. She now spends much of her time producing the music element of live television shows, as well as executive-producing touring concerts in major theatre venues within Australia. She officially started her career in her early 30's, after a beginning in advertising. She has funded and recorded 5 albums which have been successful overseas. She has written for other artists, and also for children's tv programmes. She is a consultant for the Talent Development Project and is also involved in mentoring at the Australian Institute of Music. Louise has been singing and writing songs for 15 years and worked in television for 7 years.


RC: Did you have any mentors in the first few years of your music career?

LP: “I didn't have any singing mentors…. though I did work for Cellarmasters* before I started singing professionally full time. Chatting with the actors and singers there I learned how to put a band together, how to go out and get gigs and how not to freak out waiting for the next job.
I have met most of the singers I looked up to growing up, and have worked with most of them now in either a singing or producing capacity. I have had varying experiences with them, I’m sad to say. My biggest idol actually turned out to be a huge disappointment.  However, I have a great mentor in the tv side of things, and she has been great.”

RC: What has been your business approach?
LP: “I actively targeted great musicians from the start, and paid them immediately, getting me a great reputation from the start with the guys. I was told very early on from the first great musos I worked with that everyone needs work, so just ask! Don't presume that the best people are always working. It's one of the most important things I stress in my seminars/chats with young musos. Get the best, and pay them immediately.”



Andy Bull

Singer-Songwriter



“I don’t have a ‘mentor’ as such, but I do have ‘creative peers’; that is, my band. The value for me lies in the collaboration and trusted counsel.”


RC: Who are the people that you surround yourself with for advice and support?

AB: “I have my band, manager, producer, girlfriend, siblings, musical friends, housemates, etc…. and all with a grain of salt.”

RC: I know when I get a new opportunity and feel a little nervous, my first call is my drummer. What’s your way of mentally dealing with big opportunities when they come up?
AB: “In my opinion, big opportunities aren't where it's at. Consistent work and patience are better. Big things are just lots of little things. Therefore there’s no need to be too nervous, or have ‘that feeling’. Everything is small!”


Adrian Keating


Principal Violinist



Opera Australia / The Sydney Lyric Orchestra



RC: Who were your mentors?
AK: “Mostly the people and skills I understood 'after' I had finished my training. Aside from the Con schooling system and teachers, probably Richard Gill. Some years of Aural & Rhythm classes. He used to let me just show up at his after-school classes.
Dennis de'Coteau (San Fran Ballet) who believed in me as a conducting student. The National Music Camp system, Sydney Youth Orchestra.
“The first contemporary musos I ever heard live when I was 21, for getting me up to play with them, trying to emulate the phrasing and accomp style with everyone I played with, and how to fit in with the context of singers vs instrumental style. It just so happened they were among the best players in the land.”

Dave Anderson


Singer-Songwriter




RC: Do you have a mentor?
DA: “Yes and no. I got some good advice from Juan Alban (lead singer of Epicure), but most of my stuff is really self taught and self criticized. The piece of advice I didn't take was, ‘Stop writing about lost love.’ Tried not to. Didn't work.
We chatted about changing things up; being less obvious. Some of my new stuff has improved based on this advice.”


RC: What else has Juan Alban taught you?

DA: “Be an awesome entertainer, market hard, don't believe in rock star fairytales and enjoy it. Network lots. Keep the day job.”



~ Chia





SOURCES/LINKS/THANKS:



Floyd Vincent




Julia Day




Louise Perryman




Dave Anderson




Adrian Keating




Andy Bull




Talent Development Project


*Cellarmasters is a wine sales company which has gathered many performers among its employees, and has become an unofficial networking hub for actors and singers.

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