Profile: Feedback: A Music Conference For Young People

27 May 2015 | 4:55 pm | Staff Writer

More Isabella Manfredi (The Preatures) More Isabella Manfredi (The Preatures)

FEEDBACK is back for its third year, for another chockers day full of music industry guest speakers, interactive sessions, resources and networking opps. Ahead of the event, we chat to Isabella Manfredi (The Preatures), Andy Bull, Julian Hamilton (The Presets). 

What led to your decision to pursue a career in music? 

Isabella Manfredi: I was 20 and studying at AIM. I’d never thought about it as a career at all, I just liked playing and was taking a break from my English degree at Sydney Uni. But then I met Jack and Tom and we became so tight the three of us, we decided to drop out of the college and play gigs. At the same time I was going out and seeing bands down at Club 77 on William Street, like Warhorse and Mercy Arms, and The Nevada Strange and The Scare at OAF; I watched those bands so intensely as a fan, and I remember the secret language that seemed to pass between them all onstage. I wanted in on whatever that was.

Andy Bull: Well, actually that’s a decision that I feel like I’m constantly making. I find music very moving, very exciting, very fun. Making it and listening to it gives me the kind of depth of feelings and experience that I guess we’re all chasing in one way or another. Pursuing it as a career? Well that’s a slightly different thing. The short answer is this: I pursue music as a career only because I want to be in the position were I am able to be involved in the fun of experiencing music as much as possible. After that it gets more complicated.

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Julian Hamilton: At school I never had ideas that I would ever have a career in music. I was not even thinking career back then. I went to university and studied music, not as a career choice, but more just to learn more about something I loved. Perhaps as a start on a path to become a better, smarter, more well rounded and interesting human! Kids today might find it hard to believe, but once upon a time you could go to uni to chase that ideal. Then when I was there I immersed myself deep into a whole world of music I previously knew nothing about, I got to make cool friends like Kim, I played in bands and I began to write seriously. Music was still a love that I occasionally got paid for. Then after a few years it slowly became the area where I got paid more, and then eventually became my career. 

If you could go back in time and give your younger self a piece of advice about the music industry, what would it be?

IM: Focus on the songs and don’t sell yourself. It’s uncool.

AB: Oh boy… I’d say “hey, you fool, take your time”. Be confident and go slowly. Be honest with yourself about what you see around you, be engaged, but also, avoid taking things too seriously. Crucially, trust your own preferences, musically, personally, professionally, regardless of what you see people around you thinking and doing. Be careful with your money, it might seem like a drag, but if you don’t pay attention to money, you lose! Somebody is paying for all of this, and it’s always you! Don’t be afraid of saying “no” to people – have some self respect, you moron! Also, all the things you think are rubbish – patience, consistency, slowness, ‘failure’, humility, administration – will actually turn out to be the best things going. But the biggest thing is to remember that, regardless of anything, it’s meant to be fun and feel good.

JH: Embrace collaboration and stop being such a hard arse. Yes, you can make stuff on your own, but you will create things you never imagined if you open yourself up to other people’s ideas.

What's something you have learnt as a musician that no one can prepare you for?

IM: That being a musician and a traveller are one in the same. Like Kim Gordon said: a band lives and dies by the road. There are a lot of things about it that are unglamorous, displacing and all out destructive to the natural rhythm of creativity. You have to make space for yourself. 

AB: I guess if you’re open, you can learn about yourself. Maybe by extension you can learn about others. With anything you really put yourself into, the thing becomes a mirror. All your good bits and bad bits slap you right back in the face. I guess, the feeling that you should be moving away from ambition and towards meaning; you don’t see that coming.

JH: I have learnt a heap from many different people in the business over the years – musician friends, managers, staff at record companies, engineers in studios – but the one thing I had to work out all by myself was how to keep my own head right. The music business is at times immensely rewarding, but at other times extremely tough. Touring, partying, late nights, crashing on friends’ floors,  free beer, groupies, making records, interviews, working to deadlines, suddenly being surrounded by beautiful people, getting awards, being patted on the back by people you don't know, hearing ‘yes’ from people a whole lot more often than you used to, getting scammed, ripped off and stolen from. This world is crazy fun and crazy wild, and I have seen a lot of musicians crash and burn. It is really important to be able to step back, take a deep breath, and see people and things for what they really are. Get your head right, and it will be a whole lot easier to negotiate. That is something no one could prepare me for.

Did you go to any conferences like Feedback when you were younger?

IM: In 2012 Jack and I went to Song Summit, a convention for songwriters and musicians in Sydney. They have panels about the industry and workshops and one-on-one conversations with artists. It was the first time I got a sense of being part of something bigger, a community of songwriters, and an industry. It's a weird word to use in regard to music, but when you look at songwriting historically, the pop songwriters have always had the mark of industry and fabrication – Tin Pan Alley, the Brill Building, Motown — they were all hit factories. I think at their core though, any type of convention or conference is a great way of getting people together. Music is about community, where you come from, the scene, and how you express yourself as a part or outside of it. 

AB: You know, I didn’t, but I think I would have really enjoyed it. I mean, I really enjoy this sort of thing now. I think it’s really neat when somebody is not only really experienced in their field, but is also really good at communicating those experiences.

JH: I played in a band called Prop many years ago. We performed at This Is Not Art Festival in Newcastle in 2001 or 2002. I can't really remember the year, but I remember going to a bunch of seminars and shows. Watching Mad Professor do a seminar on dub music was particularly cool.

Did you have a mentor or someone giving you advice when you were younger?

IM: My dad always told me to focus on the work because that’s what will last. 

AB: Maybe, in a sense, but actually, my music and my career really started to pick up after I started listening a little less to others and a lot more to my own gut. Advice from other people is ok, but only so long as you know you are free to ignore it if it doesn’t feel right. You never know where that advice is coming from, do you? What motivations, what experiences, what prejudices are informing the advice of others; it’s a mystery. I mean that in regards to your ‘art’ and your business. Unfortunately, nobody else can do the work in getting you to your truth about who you are or what you should be doing. It might sound dramatic, but I think you arrive at the truth alone, both in business and art. That should be a confidence boost for people though, particularly if they’re having a bit of a rough trot getting their own stuff off the ground, so to speak.

JH: Yeah, plenty. Obviously lecturers and teachers at school and university; the choir master at school was one. Also my piano teacher at the Conservatorium, Stephanie McCallum, was greatly inspiring. When I started to get more into pop and dance music I worked with a lot of studio engineers who always had a heaps of great advice – both technical advice and `how to survive in the industry’ stories. It’s funny, I also learnt a great deal from people I didn’t like. I’d see musicians or managers acting shady and think, `Now I know what I don't want to be’. Often those revelations are more valuable than the positive ones.

In today's landscape, what are the most valuable/beneficial things you can do if you want a career in the music industry? 

IM: It’s hard for me to answer that. Everyone has to make the music they want to make. One thing I will say is that you have to be prepared to fight for your ideas and follow your impulses. And don’t expect it to be fun. It’s not fun. It’s not about having fun. 

AB: I couldn’t say for everybody, but in my own case, the most valuable thing is to have autonomy, creatively and professionally. So I guess, teach yourself to do as much as you can on your own, and again, learn to cultivate your own standards of behaviour.

JH: I honestly have no idea. Sometimes I feel like I fell into this career by accident. My advice would be to do what you love, and make what you love. When I was young I worked nights in a shitty pizza joint so I could spend my days doing what I really loved – making tunes, playing the piano, programming beats. If you are compelled to write music, because you have it inside you and you need to get it out, then do that, and enjoy music for the pure intrinsic pleasure of creating and performing it. If you are really lucky then a career might eventually come from it.