Third Time’s A Charm

16 May 2012 | 3:05 pm | Liz Giuffre

The biannual APRA|AMCOS Song Summit has become an essential industry event for local professional and aspiring songwriters. The event provides a place to network, gain invaluable industry advice, guidance and, perhaps most importantly, share and strengthen a sense of community for an otherwise very dispersed and varied industry. However Sound Summit as it currently stands is only being supported under its current financial model for this third and final 2012 incarnation, with organisers left to their own devices after the upcoming event that runs from Saturday 26 to Monday 28 May at the Sydney Convention Centre.

“Because this is the last year of funding, we will have to do to a bit of navel gazing [when it's completed] and we'll have to assess the success of the event and how much we invest in it. And ultimately that will be a board discussion,” explains Sally Howland, APRA's Director of Member Services and Executive Producer of Song Summit. “But I think it would be fair to say that ultimately in terms of APRA's investment in the event they have to – and it's their responsibility – to decide if they want to continue to do it.” Howland adds, however, that a review process has been typical over the life of the previous Summits too. “After each event we've always assessed in terms of how successful it was and whether it needs fine tuning. Look, I think it's got a long life, but we will definitely need a partner.”

While the event has been funded at a State Government level to date, questions of who – and where – such support should be provided are now being raised. Howland is clear that, in the first instance, she would like to see continued support from the NSW public purse; they currently have a three-event deal with Destination NSW, which has allowed Song Summit 2008, 2010 and now 2012 to be presented “under the 'Vivid' banner”. However, given the potential cultural and financial rewards for Australians beyond this state, perhaps responsibility should fall to Prime Minister Julia Gillard and her mob. “Can we ask Julia for money? Well it's timely in the context of Mr [Simon] Crean [Minister For The Arts] working up the National Cultural Policy. At APRA we've got one of our key issues up at the moment, the Australian content issue and I see that the Convergence Review came out recently and they're retaining content quotas… so pretty good results. But also in other areas we don't think sufficient attention is paid to creating new Australian repertoire and so that should definitely be a plank in the National Cultural Policy. And an obvious investment for the government would be in Song Summit.”

Song Summit as it stands offers three days of services and opportunities including mentoring, workshopping, networking, industrial advice and general community engagement. “One of the really nice things is that [sharing] happens organically. If you stick a bunch of like-minded people in the same space for a few days, there's a wonderful sense of community and generosity that occurs. And that was really obvious to us in 2010; you can't really design a program to make that happen. But one of the key elements is the generosity of our speakers. They give up their time and they're in it for the right reasons, because they want to contribute. And a lot of our speakers have said, 'If there was an event like this when I was starting out it would have been fantastic,' so they can see it from their own career path if you like. Because everyone just muddles through, if you like, so we're trying to provide a bit of context and give people access to all those elements that contribute to making a career in music. And we want to build something that provides access to our members to help them.”

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This year's event includes a songwriting workshop by international darling Gotye, fresh from his US #1 Billboard spot with Somebody That I Used To Know, as well as keynote speeches from Neil Finn, Missy Higgins, Imogen Heap and Steve Cropper, plus panels including local broadcasters, commentators and other industry big wigs. It's also split into sections to target industry branches like “screen summit”, “publisher summit” and “song summit live”, aiming to provide as much guidance as possible. “The question we always ask ourselves when we get approached by marketers or spruikers or other people involved in the music business is, 'Is it in the best interest of our members?'” says Howland. “We're very much standalone [from other music education resources like private and uni courses] and we're very much conscious of our pricing and we didn't put it up from 2008 to 2010, but we have put the tickets up $10 or $20 this time around, but we think it's still accessible and it has to be, otherwise what's the point of doing it? But the thing we can offer our members is a buy now, pay later scheme, so if you're a member but you don't want to pay up front, you can still get a ticket but we'll take the cost out of your royalty returns and that's a pretty popular means of payment for our members. And we're in a pretty unique position to be able to do that, because we manage the royalty stream for them.”

While the event is no doubt useful for the local market, if only in terms of creating community and a good opportunity to share notes, contacts and ideas, measuring the success and sustainability of such an event is something Howland and her team are also keen to keep on top of leading up to it. Like the creatives in the industry, the organisations that support them also need to be able to make and maintain enough money to keep them in beer and skittles. “One is financial measurement, so how much are we prepared to invest? And that's really a comfort factor. But probably the most telling thing is really what sort of reach we're having with our members. So if we did this event and had 100 members buy tickets, then you'd go, 'Are we really meeting the market? Why would you do it?' But when you get 1200 people come along, well, we're obviously doing something right and we've got some traction in the business and with the membership. But at the end of the day we've got to make sure that we manage it financially in a responsible way.”