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WAM Festival Focus: Mike Harris (WAM CEO)

28 October 2015 | 8:21 pm | Staff Writer

From The Desk Of WAM CEO, Mike Harris…

I’ve been sitting in the WAM CEO’s seat for 20 months now and my second WAM Festival, Conference and, of course, Music Awards are approaching fast.

I think both the organisation and myself are in a different place now to where we were 12 months ago. Like most arts organisations we are a little unsure of our funding for the next three or so years, but we are setting a clear agenda for WAM that will not only provide direct opportunities for Western Australian musicians to create and perform their music; but also ensure the environment exists for future generations to do the same.

Delivering events such as the WAM Festival, WA Music Conference and WA Music Awards is important as it provides a platform for WA acts and ensures national exposure and recognition. Whilst the world has moved on from a band needing to load themselves into a Kombi, drive across the Nullabor and relocate in Sydney or Melbourne (and subsequently London) in order to break into the national market; it remains important to have a national presence and the WAM Festival and WA Music Awards provide those opportunities.

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It remains equally important that those involved in running the local music industry are skilled up, knowledgeable of global trends and practices, and, have an opportunity to be part of a dialogue about the direction of their industry. The WA Music Conference provides two days of keynote talks, panel discussions and one-on-one sessions with industry tastemakers and influencers. It is important for the WA music sector to have a global perspective. and then it is up to those individuals whether they apply that locally or globally.

At a higher level, WAM is about to undertake significant research measuring the social and economic impact of the local music sector. We know through national reporting that contemporary music is by far and away the greatest economic contributor to Australia’s live performance economy, but this alone is not a complete snapshot as national surveys tend not to include WA or do not look beyond major stadium performances.

With gains being made at a regulatory reform level already, WAM is contributing to and facilitating changes that will benefit the live music scene. There is no doubt that urban infill and changes to land-use and population densities represent a major threat to, and current problem for, live music venues. Great work is being done across the sector and beyond to ensure the future viability and sustainability of live music in WA.

As I alluded to before, one of the big challenges is funding; in an ever-challenging environment. As ever we have to make a compelling argument for funds and that is fine: when you receive public funds you must be transparent and deserving of those funds. Organisations that do not treat public funds with respect open the door to the simplistic argument that those funds would be better spent on hospital beds. We know that our programs and the contemporary music sector more broadly contributes significantly to WA’s economic and social well-being and to that thing I call Brand WA.

Investment in WAM is a sensible investment that returns significant benefits. This applies to government investment as well as corporate and institutional sponsorship, as well as the commitment of WAM’s membership.

It is great that WAM has recently received Deductible Gift Recipient status from the ATO, which means donations to WAM are tax-deductible, and we hope to make good use of that status soon.

The WA music scene is not only a leader nationally, it is renowned internationally: maybe it is in the water, maybe we do punch above our weight, possibly it is the isolation. Whatever it is we must ensure that the WA music industry continues to be a strong contributor to all our lives; provide opportunities for local artists to create music; and, whether that music is listened to by five people in a garage, 500,000 at Glastonbury or five million through Spotify, it is crucial to our lives.

Originally published in X-Press Magazine