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Lessons Learned from BIGSOUND

24 Sep

Some perspectives on how to make the most of BIGSOUND (or the WAM Festival, or international showcases, or even the music industry in general!), by Aarom Wilson.


Experiencing BIGSOUND in 2013 as a wildly enthused observer definitely helped prepare me for the craziness that Australia’s largest musical showcasing opportunity can throw at you. 2014 only grew upon these amazing foundations though, so even for the somewhat experienced, it could be an overwhelming experience at times. But overwhelmingly AWESOME, if approached well… As such, please find below a number of tips for those thinking of making an impression at 2015’s festival. Because, really, any upcoming band should have their sights set on making their mark next year at this monolith of potential music industry advancement, run by WAM relatives – and general legends – Q-Music.


This year there was a record number of WA acts, so respect to Festival Programmer Nick O’Bryne for having faith in so many sandgropers! In the hope that this trend will only continue, it’s time to start planning. Around March applications will open for BIGSOUND 2015, so it’s best advised to have a single ready to be launched around then, or at least in the coming month or so. Of course you’ll need a proven track record, but well-timed momentum is really important. And you should also have a solid plan of releases, tours, festivals or other events that will help keep that momentum in the lead up to BIGSOUND so that they feel you’re only going to grow post-application, and thus a more promising prospect to showcase by the time September rolls around.


It’s easy to get lost in the constant swirl of incredible energy and events that BIGSOUND has become. There were more unofficial BIGSOUND parties than you could possibly remember this year; there were too many inspiring conference sessions to go to at the same time; 140 or so showcasing artists meant that paths between venues had to be planned; and there are generally just a zillion rad things to do at BIGSOUND. So if you’re an act going with a manager, be sure to separate if there are two conference sessions that could help advance your career. Know the days that you can afford to stay out late, and those that you need to get an early night’s kip for so as not to ruin your meetings or sessions the next day. Basically, get organized well in advance of BIGSOUND, because there’s so much to distract you there that if you don’t then you’ll have a heap of fun but likely miss out on half the opportunities. And sure you will get distracted regardless, but at least you’ll know when you can afford to follow the giant ball and when to keep your eyes on the prize. Oh, and if you missed some conferences, or didn’t go to BIGSOUND, then do a search on as there are a heap of videos of  sessions there to access for nicks!

Despite most of the industry on the 20 Questions Panel being epically hungover, there were some excellent points raised that formed a pretty solid mantra for getting ahead in the industry:

  • Be a good listener  –  listen don’t always talk
  • It all comes down to good A&R
  • Make a mistake a day to learn and grow
  • It’s all about “songs and characters,” so be sure to manage acts that have at least excel in one of these areas, preferably both
  • Work with unique acts that aren’t like any in world
  • Work with acts that are eager to learn grow and have vision – pure artists, but ones that are easy to work with


Too many acts seemed to go over to BIGSOUND generally just happy that they’d been selected and expecting that their shows would be filled with industry. But with up to 14 acts playing at any one time, there are a LOT of options for the industry, and many of them just gravitate to the most hyped acts. This means if you’re a smaller act that doesn’t make any effort to be recognized then you’re likely going to struggle to pull a good crowd. Sure you might get lucky, but it’s much better to create your own enhanced odds. This can include emailing conference speakers from the address book BIGSOUND provide; engaging a good PR service to make sure your latest single hits the right media and industry so you’re on their minds close to BIGSOUND; geo-coded Facebook advertising; poster campaigns in Fortitude Valley; getting business cards or flyers made up with interesting artwork promoting your show details; bringing your latest EP to give out with a bio; memorizing the faces and names of label reps, media individuals etc that you want to meet; and any multitude of more creative ways of grabbing the industry’s interest – essential when you’re competing against so many acts.


BIGSOUND/Q-Music organize these for interested parties, and you’d have to be either pretty silly or pretty big time not to bother with these, as they provide invaluable opportunities to get your questions in front of some of the world’s leading music industry figures. Even when they weren’t dispensing advice directly related to their role, these sessions can be gold. Please note though, you won’t dig up much treasure if you don’t do your research and go into the meetings with a bit of a map of who they are and where you’d like the chat to go.


There’s no doubt about it, WA acts are disadvantaged when it comes to being added or getting good radio airplay on the east coast. For one, the more exposure to your product the better, but constant touring can be an economically perilous way of being recognized. And there’s something to be said for face-to-face meetings with Music Directors where they have to listen to your tune/s, and BIGSOUND offers fantastic opportunities for this. For one, they organize these meetings for those acts that apply, and these can prove invaluable. Plus you can contact radio presenters and Music Directors who are attending or speaking at the Festival beforehand to try and woo them to your showcase – a much easier prospect than doing off the back of a tour, where they might not want to commit a whole night to seeing one band they don’t know too much about, as opposed to 15 or so minutes that they can decide to stay or jump to another showcase.


And don’t just think that it’s all about triple j – there’s also FBi, RRR, 4ZZZ, 2SER and many more community radio stations on the east coast that can be absolutely vital launchpads for many an Australian band. And don’t be afraid of them either. If you have great music, surprise, surprise, turns out they’re working as Music Directors largely because they want to discover great music, so approach them in the right way and they could be as excited as you are to get your music on their airwaves.


Not saying that the music industry aren’t nice people normally, but in any industry the big cheeses at the top of the food chain are more than likely going to be less accessible and forthcoming with information than those starting out – which are thus often the ones that the head honchos try to avoid. Yet there’s something about a festival celebrating like-minded individual’s dreams and ambitions within a single industry that seems to shrug some of these normal conventions. Seeing Australia’s biggest industry figures sharing advice at 2am with a young whipper snapper is a more than common site at BIGSOUND, and there’s a general camaraderie between all success levels that permeates through the festival’s fabric.


The beer probably helps too, particularly if you’re buying it for someone you’re trying to woo, make a good impression on or gain same knowledge off. And with all the free drinks flowing at BIGSOUND’s sponsored parties, a running bar tab directed at key industry figures is likely not just equalized economically by the freebies, but is a most worthy investment in your/your act’s future. Not that we encourage over-indulgence or bribery around here…


So there they are, a few pointers on how to make the most of BIGSOUND. And with the WAM Festival coming up, these tips are all the more relevant to making an impression on the booking agents and other vital industry figures that will be coming to check out WA’s talent during WAM Festival time, so take note and go in with the plan of making the strongest impression possible. Whether playing or just attending any of the shows or the Music Conference, there are a smorgasbord of opportunities worth maximizing your chances of success at in November!

By Aarom Wilson

Government of Western Australia Department of Culture and The Arts Australian Government

WAM is supported by the State Government through the Department of Culture and the Arts, and is assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body.