Even Bigger Sound

12 September 2012 | 5:30 am | Steve Bell

QMusic Executive Officer Denise Foley is responsible for overseeing the growth of the annual BIGSOUND conference – and making sure that it runs smoothly – but as she tells Steve Bell she mainly enjoys seeing other people have fun while making useful connections.

You would have imagined 12 months ago at the conclusion of BIGSOUND 2011 that it was going to be tough to top that year's instalment of the annual industry showcase: UK loudmouth Alan McGee had brought bulk global attention to the gathering via his outlandish claims about the Sony warehouse fires in London being “funny”, while the 80-band strong musical contingent provided myriad musical highlights in the showcase component of the event.

Well, all credit to the BIGSOUND team, who've managed to outdo last year's event with minimum fuss or fanfare. The conference side of the event has grown its capacity significantly yet still managed to sell out even quicker than ever, while the showcase aspect has increased from eight stages to 12, meaning that 120 bands rather than 80 this year have the opportunity to shine.

This growth has been planned and overseen by QMusic Executive Officer Denise Foley who, in partnership with BIGSOUND Executive Programmer Graham Ashton, was named at #17 in the AMID Power 50 list of influential Australian music figures, and she reckons that there's no shortage of ideas for BIGSOUND; it's just about providing logistics for it to keep growing organically.

“Every year we have ideas for the next year – maybe we haven't been able to do them already because of budgetary constraints – so we have a plethora of ideas, and each year it's about which ones we can actually implement,” she explains. “So in terms of growing the showcase program we've been very focused on that for a number of years, and this year the bands that applied meant that we had plenty to choose from – and plenty of great ones at that. In terms of the conference program, it's really the momentum of the event that allows you to get people that maybe you've wanted to get for a few years, but haven't been able to. So there's no shortage of ideas on how to grow it and make it better; it's just whether you actually do it.”

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BIGSOUND is now in its 11th year and has grown exponentially since the early fledgling versions of the conference, but Foley believes that the event's focus hasn't changed significantly over that time.

“The numbers have changed, but not the focus. About five years ago we came up with a very specific plan on how we wanted to grow the event, and one of the things was that we wanted to 'retain our Brisbane-ness' and I think we've been able to achieve that, and that this year we will again even with increased numbers. For us it's still about having a great vibe and an accessible pool of speakers, and everybody joining in with everything. It's always been about growing it, but in the process maintaining the feel and the fun of it. So far we've managed to achieve that and not have it too 'stiff'.”

As with every punter or delegate attending BIGSOUND there are aspects about this year's event that particularly excite Foley, but mainly for her it's about making sure that everyone has a great time and the conference retains the features that make it such a special part of the annual industry calendar.

“Of course there's people I'm dying to see speak like Steve Earle and Ben Lee, but mainly I'm looking forward to seeing everybody having fun – for me that's the best thing about BIGSOUND, seeing everybody else enjoy it,” she admits. “I'm really excited that we've got a second outdoor stage again this year, and for me in terms of the growth of the event that's where we'd like to grow it – we see the combination of indoor and outdoor events as being a big part of what makes it fun. What we realised very early on in the piece is that the Valley provides a geographic cluster of venues and spaces that is perfect for this kind of event. We've had to be very careful about what spaces we select because we don't want to impact negatively on residents, but we also want to grow it.

“So for us it's about continuing to grow but growing well, and not losing any of the things that make BIGSOUND what it is. We've certainly got a lot of plans for the future, and I guess for us it's about starting to look at other areas that music intersects with. Because really what we're trying to do is provide opportunities for people, so by coming to BIGSOUND you're going to be able to advance yourself as a band, as a business, as a company or whatever, because you can talk to everyone you need to here in Brisbane over a beer. There's opportunities for artists, and there's opportunities for businesses, and for us it's about looking beyond the traditional pure music focus – whether that's music in film or music and design or music and fashion – just wherever there's opportunities for artists and businesses to grow and flourish in other areas.”