Vivid Music: Song Summit - Sydney Convention Centre (19 - 21.06.10)


The second Sydney Song Summit has come to an end, leaving many to ask – so what was it all about? From my own viewpoint, I hadn’t even heard of the conference in its first appearance, back in 2008, and I could imagine many of you are in the same boat in 2010. So please, allow me put you out of any confusion! Here’s what went down...

Firstly, let's introduce the event: Song Summit is a three day music conference which takes over Darling Harbour in Sydney once every two years – and this year it’s been branded under the “VIVID Festival” umbrella for the first time. It is comprised of panels, Q&As, discussion groups, a “music market”, acoustic sessions, a lot of networking and a two night extravaganza: Song Summit Live, which takes over Home Nightclub on the Saturday and Sunday evenings. You’ll be able to read about this event in separate articles and photo galleries. 

Day One - Saturday, June 19th

On Saturday afternoon, it all kicked off with a welcome by Brett Cottle, the CEO of APRA|AMCOS. Peter Garrett followed with the keynote speech, in which he highlighted the importance of the music industry as part of the larger Australian creative landscape. He spoke in particular about local copyright, and how we’re leading the world in some respects. For instance, had you heard about the royalty scheme, where the original artist of a piece is to receive a cut of whatever profits are made from future sales of their works? I sure hadn’t, but it’s a fantastic step forward in that department, and possibly a world first. This was a chance for Mr. Garrett to show off his political gravitas in a way that is usually silenced by members of his own party, let alone the liberals. Maybe he should just stick to the arts?


Next, Rockwiz’s Julia Zermiro provided delegates with a supremely entertaining interview with Robert Forster (The Go-Betweens, above). During the interview, we were treated to, acoustically, “Born to a Family” and “Darlinghurst Nights” – the latter written about the times he’d spend in hotels in Darlinghurst / Kings Cross when The Go-Betweens were touring around Australia.

He spent time reflecting on Grant McLennanand provided insight into his long career. For one, he empathises with all songwriters, admitting he feels he’s had a good year if he pulls out two decent tracks. His only advice: to keep on writing. He also said something which I found to be rather surprising: “I’m not instinctively musical”. For a man who has written so many amazing songs over the years, it’s not something you’d expect to hear. It left me wondering: how many other iconic songwriters would say the same? I imagine the answer may prove just as surprising.


Before we headed over to the first night of Song Summit LIVE, convention delegates were next treated to an opening night celebration – complete with the live stylings of Sydney's Gypsy/Klezmer group Monsieur Camembert (pictured below), bucket loads of delicious finger foods (inc. freshly cut sashimi!! pictured above...) and complementary drinks. This was worth the price of admission alone! There was a couple dancing along to Monsieur Camembert who were supremely entertaining as well. And as for the band, Monsieur Camembert are a staple of the Sydney live scene. You'll consistently see the ensemble playing the Vanguard, for one. And it's no surprise why - this is a troupe of talented musicians who deliver consistently entertaining shows, comprised of both original music and covers, tonight proving no exception.


Day Two - Sunday, June 20th

Having enjoyed a few drinks and Australia's World Cup performance the night before, it shouldn't come as a surprise that I arrived at the Convention Centre after lunch, unfortunately missing an intimate performance by a selection of local female artists, including Lisa Mitchell. But I did make it in time for the panel discussion "Management: The New Label". Moderated by Sally Howland, it featuring the following  panel: Catherine Hardy, John O' Donnell, Mark Richardson, Lorette Munoz and Will Larnach-Jones. This was a discussion aimed at highlighting how management is more important than ever in the current music climate.

Indeed, the theme that ran through all panels and interviews this weekend was that of change. How artists need to evolve, and how the industry is adapting to the digital era. This panel was particularity interesting as it showcased how much more work management takes on these days, playing many more vital roles than they used to - while maintaining the same mantra: "good management is hard to find". Quite the conundrum, no? But the advice is this: find someone who believes in you, and will do anything to break you, and you've got yourself good management. That's certainly something that's never changed.

This panel was followed by another, "Listen to the Music", in which several songs were analysed by a songwriter (Ralph Murphy) and an executive (Peter Karpin), with moderator Dom Alessio (Triple J) and the artists themselves present. It was quite brave of the artists to put themselves up to that scrutiny, and it proved an interesting exercise in the way the music industry analyses a song. The problem is, everyone has their own process of analysis, so there's no real way to approach your music anymore. The idea of what makes a successful song can come across as slightly jaded when you listen to what is successful these days - either financially or critically. But in these sorts of chats, all they really worry about is the former. What makes it marketable. Not what makes it an interesting piece of art.


Next up, Fenella Kernebone was in conversation with Sacha Skarbek (pictured above). He's a name you probably won't recognise, but you definitely will know his music. He's a Grammy nominated and two time Ivor Novello winning songwriter, who's worked with mountains of successful artists: Adele, Jason Mraz, Sir Paul McCartney, Beverley Knight, Duffy, Jon Bon Jovi, Cherie... just to name a few. But it's his work with James Blunt, in particular, that you'll best know him for, as he co-wrote 6 of the songs off of Back to Bedlam, including the international chart sensation "You're Beautiful". 

As a man lucky enough to have a few hits up his sleeve, it was fascinating to hear about the process. How he and an artist find each other, how the pieces are created - and he was even kind enough to play us a few songs on the piano - including tracks he'd written for Jason Mraz and James Blunt. I have no doubt this would have been a highlight of the weekend for many of the songwriters in the room - as well as singers  looking for inspiration.

Bringing an end to the business side of the day, it was now time to enjoy some live music. While the Song Summit "Backstage Pass Concert" took place at the FIFA Fan Fest, the majority of delegates celebrated the end of day two with some acoustic performances at the APRA lounge, and networking drinks – however it was out of our own pockets this time! Tom Kline was the man providing the performance, one which rounded out the day perfectly... but the big night of music was only just beginning... for we were next to return to Home Nightclub for the final night of live performances.

Day Three - Monday, June 21st

With other work commitments getting in the way, I unfortunately couldn't stick around for too long on the final day of Song Summit festivities, but drew the event to a close with a few interesting panels.

It all began with "Hypothetical Publishing: The Art of the Deal" (pictured below). The panel was moderated by Brett Cottle and featured Andrew Jenkins, Ian James, John Watson, Brett Oaten and Clare Bowditch. This was a varied group of professionals from within the music industry (indie publisher, major publisher, entertainment lawyer, manager and artist), and it proved to be one of the most interesting panels of the event. They discussed the negotiations, factors, and reasoning that make up the dynamics of entering into a publishing deal. And, letting us know exactly what a publishing deal WAS. It helped highlight, too, just how much the industry has changed in recent years. It sometimes makes me wonder why anyone bothers in the business anymore - myself included! I can be a bit doom and gloom at times...


Next was "Rise Above The Clutter", moderated by Richard Mallett and a panel comprised of Jo Thornely, Ariel Hyatt, Catherine Haridy and Urthboy (Tim Levinson). Here, social media advertising was discussed in detail, giving delegates ideas on how to best utilise Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, YouTube and all similar company, to help promote your band or brand. If you weren't familiar with the best strategies to employ in these mediums, then it would have provided a wealth of knowledge! But considering I run a website, if I didn't already know all that was discussed, I probably shouldn't bother running a website, eh? ;)

Finally, I sat through part of "Radio: What Makes a Hit?" before having to call it a day. The talk examined the role the various layers of the broadcast sector play in supporting music, and the role marketing plays over artistic quality. Julia Kosky was the moderator, and the panel featured Alex Abela (Music Director of 2Day FM), Russell Thomas (Kaos Management - who sell songs to radio stations), Chris Johnson (The manager of Amrap - The Australian Music Radio Airplay Project), Dan Buhagiar (National Youth Broadcaster, Triple J).

I learnt the following: 1. Apparently the target market for 2Day FM is women in their 30s? and 2. While there are some people trying to keep the music industry an interesting place (Dan and Cris two such examples), 2Day FM are the pinnacle of what's wrong with the Australian music scene. And the international music scene for that matter. But that's a conversation for another day...

So will we see you there in 2012? Well, as you can gather, it's certainly the sort of event programmed exclusively for the interests of the music industry – but if you’re involved in it in any way shape or form, it’s a fantastic opportunity to meet your peers (locally), give people copies of your demos, and learn a bit along the way – while you get a few free drinks, some amazing sashimi and hear some great music. Sounds like a good weekend to me! And it was - and very well run, I might add.

And for everyone else, there’s the Song Summit LIVE showcase, which is not to be missed, and shared alongside of the delegates. We'll have the coverage of this event up tomorrow!