When I left high school I aspired to be a visual artist. My art teacher had failed me on a few pieces and I wanted to prove her wrong. Turns out, she was right I had no real talent for paint. I still wanted to prove her wrong, I needed a way to prove my abilities as an artist. I could play a few chords on guitar, and while in the final semester of my undergraduate degree, I started ‘playing gigs’ and charging for them. I was atrocious, but because I was an Australian living in New York the novelty of the act (pre-high-speed internet) was enough to attract a small audience. From there things progressed and within two years I was a full-time touring musician.
After my second release ‘Late at Night’ I started coming into serious money for a young man. Like most 25 year olds, I didn’t know how to manage my finances and spent all that I made. Insiders will know that music businesses have their boom years (after the release of a new record usually called ‘on cycle’) and slow years. I’d not studied the industry (back then in Brisbane there were few opportunities to study music business formally), so it came as a shock as my income dwindled and eventually I was on welfare. As I am sure many parents of creative kids can relate to, I hated work, so I opted into a business course with a mentor to avoid looking for work. My mentor showed me how to put away money for rainy days.
This time armed with a VET qualification in business my music career flourished again. I had an income, but I had resolved to work at local venue to make a second income. I still hated work, but I’d work at the venue until midnight or 3am. Then I’d get up around 9am and compose music. The venue owners appreciated my music so they gave me unpaid leave whenever I went on tour, which was up to a third of the year. I was doing 40-50 hour weeks 50 weeks a year, but anything to avoid working…
Fast forward a few more years when streaming became the main way young people accessed music. Compared to the $10-$15 a sale I was now making 0.0000003 per stream. It wasn’t cutting it. I had cash in the bank and in a shoebox but this time it only lasted a year. This was serious, I had bank loans, credit card debts, employees and a de-facto partner. I fought for years to try and find a new business model, I wrote and researched about it extensively. This eventually lead to my invitation to enrol in a Masters of Research (I make note of this not just to boast, bare with me, there is a point). Despite my best efforts, with the notable exception of writing music for a mass audience, nothing would save my business and as the business and my life were woven together, I had to rebuild the business from scratch.
Through my research and work as a junior academic I started to get work lecturing and tutoring in music business. I was bitter so I’d tell my students to enrol in medicine or law, “do something that makes money”. I’d go home and argue with my partner over the bills I couldn’t pay. Around the time we split and I sold half my furniture (but none of my vinyl or music gear). I was thrown yet another lifeline; Brett Wood contacted me asking whether I would teach the business program at MIC. I had always found traditional education models degrading, but Brett assured me that MIC was different!
It was different, but probably due to the fact that my cat and I were sleeping on the floor of a warehouse it took a while for the culture of MIC to infect me. Something I regret is telling my Year 12s last year was to pursue a serious career to support their music.
Midway through last year I graduated my Masters of Research, the thesis was well received and more and more offers came in for academic work and lecturing. The head of QUT music rang me and asked me if I’d be a PhD student of his. While teaching at MIC I was also studying a Graduate Diploma in Education, I considered myself such a failure, my music career was in the pits. My manager would book me gigs, which most musicians would see as a dream come true and I’d complain that our fee had gone down.
Where is this little narcissistic monologue going?
The point I’m trying to make is that despite my best efforts by the time I turned 32 I had four qualifications, a salary and casual lecturing appointment; all achieved in the pursuit of music. Once this idea settled, I realised that everything I have in my life is thanks to my passion for music. How does one get into a Masters program on a C average? How does a dishevelled bachelor living in a warehouse get a job at the best school in Australia?
I don’t tell my students to pursue other careers now. If I had I wouldn’t be here. I hated work, but because of my passion for music I always worked harder than the people around me. Our passions are what drive us. In the end if you pursue your passion, relentlessly, without second thoughts, one-way-or-another things will come together. This is my point to my students and their sometimes anxious parents, even when they move home for the third time, don’t worry, let them dream big and see what happens.
Music Industry College