The Rocky, Rocking Road
Sydney Morning Herald
Friday August 6, 1993
WHEN Zillian and the Zig Zag Men entered the charts, albeit briefly, in March with their debut single Stay with Me Tonight, they validated an unusual collaboration between the NSW Government and the music industry.
The Zig Zags owe some of their success to the Ministry of the Arts, which in May 1991 unveiled the rock initiatives program.
At the behest of the Arts Minister, Mr Collins, the ministry allocated$50,000 for support of projects and programs which would "enhance the development of professional expertise within the rock music industry".
The first grant was $30,000 for two seminars, and a manual, aimed at 16- to 18-year-olds, entitled the Rock Music Self-Management Program, devised by former Mondo Rock bass player and Party Boys founder, Paul Christie.
The weekend seminars were held at Chatswood and Casula. Zillian and the Zig Zag Men - then students at Davidson High - participated in the latter.
"It was an eye-opener," guitarist Nick Philpott recalled. "We were given insights into every aspect of the industry."
Putting into practice what they were taught, the Zig Zags found first a manager (Christie himself), then a recording contract (with the Westside label), a publishing deal (Sony) and finally, a booking agency (Harbour).
They released Stay with Me Tonight, which reached No 38 on the Top 50 and will launch a follow-up EP, Shade of Green, at Dee Why's Jet Club on Friday night.
It's copybook stuff, the only hiccup being the recent demise of Westside.
Another band which absorbed the lessons of the rock music self-management program, Bermuda Rose, has found representation with Mighty Management (star client Ian Moss).
The 1993 seminars, entitled How to Survive and Succeed in the Music Business, will be held this month at the Powerhouse Museum (August 14-15) and the Parramatta RSL (August 21-22). Enrolments to date have come from as far afield as Queensland, Victoria and the North Coast.
The next generation of rock stars will need all the help they can get.
"All speakers have been briefed to address what is the biggest downturn in the industry's history," Christie said.
"We not only have to contend with the recession, the RBT (random breath testing), overcrowded venues and a rash of bad bands, but also increasing competition for the recreational dollar from video-game systems, such as Sega and Nintendo, and declining support from the electronic media."
The demise of MTV means that TV exposure is restricted to three hours of a Saturday morning on Channels Seven and Ten (Video Smash Hits and Video Hits)and the ABC's early Saturday morning and Sunday morning Rage.
Christie likened these programs to "visual muzak". "It's just clip after clip. What's missing is the personal touch. Bring back Molly Meldrum, I say, or someone who has the enthusiasm, contacts and knowledge of Molly."
A meeting last week with Tanya Bond, the manager of the Blackmarket nightclub, caused him further concern.
"She told me that on Sundays, when Blackmarket opens from 6 am to 6 pm, the place is packed with 18- to mid-20-year-olds who are largely indifferent to the Australian rock scene. I fear a whole generation is growing up without being exposed to the joys of live performance."
Ms Bond confirms this: "Blackmarket attracts about 400 day-clubbers each Sunday, most of whom have never seen a live act. They dance all day to imported music - DJ Bobo, Sub Sub, UMM, Abagail , Mukkaa, Datura, Princess, Club House, Twin Head, Jinny ..."
Conversely, she believes that the music industry is just as ignorant of the booming club scene.
"My club, which is one of the most successful in Sydney, has been booked twice recently by the industry - once for the making of a video clip, once for a record launch. In both cases, those making the bookings had never heard of Blackmarket, only its (more notorious) Thursday manifestation as the Hellfire Club."
Traditional rock venue closures are not helping either. "Some venues, which provide entertainment for up to 1,000 people a night, have been shut down after complaints by a handful of neighbours," Christie laments.
He cites the Palm Beach RSL and Moby Dick's as examples.
"The only venue left on the northern beaches is a sporadic one, Avalon RSL. It's a similar story in other areas of Sydney."
Harry Della of Rock Circuit Promotions, who will speak at the seminars, believes that the live scene has shrunk about 40 per cent in 10 years. But it's not lack of venues that is the worry, nor the meagre airplay, he argues. Rather it's a dearth of crowd-pulling acts.
"I can't find enough bands capable of pulling 400 to 500 people a night."
Surprisingly, he blames the video clip, which in the last decade has become the major marketing tool. It's something of a double-edged sword, Della claims.
"Small, independent labels, which were once the nursery of the recording industry, are being killed off by the high costs of video production," he says.
"When I entered the industry 14 years ago, one of the many indie labels then in existence might spend $2,000 on recording a new act, then $3,000 on marketing. Nowadays a video clip costs a minimum of $40,000 to make, total launch costs might hit $80,000. (A major label might spend $100,000.) If an act doesn't hit pay dirt at its first attempt, it could bankrupt a small label."
Even the majors think twice about taking a punt on a new act. "So far this year we've had just three acts break: Things of Stone and Wood, The Cruel Sea and Tumbleweed."
Della also lays some of the blame at the feet of the musicians themselves.
"Not only are records overproduced these days, but so are many live shows. Touring costs could, and should, be reduced by about 30 per cent.
"I saw a band at the Paddo RSL one night which boasted enough PA to blast the Hordern Pavilion. You would think that with the advances in sound technology, gear would become smaller, lighter and more efficient. Certainly, the rooms have become smaller.
"In fact, nine out of 10 bands are carting too much equipment - and an inflated road crew - around."
However, for all his criticisms of the industry, Della can see better days ahead. "I feel a positive vibe for the first time in four years - against the odds, there are 10 bands - six of them in Melbourne where the punters are becoming bored with the established acts - about to break."
A who's who of the industry will speak their minds at both Ultimo and Parramatta. Each seminar will begin with a motivational address by a true believer, Glenn A. Baker (Reason to Believe). The former Go-Betweens drummer, Lindy Morrison, now a member of Cleopatra Wong, is then scheduled to talk about songwriting, followed by representatives of the recording and publishing industries, and top managers, bookers and promoters, including Michael Browning (manager of Jon Stevens, Rose Tattoo, Scary Mother and Horsehead), Rod Willis (Icehouse, Catfish, Judge Mercy) and the Frontier Touring Company's Michael Chugg (the Guns 'n' Roses tour). The second day will end with a solo performance-cum-discussion by Ian Moss.
Participants can be looking for part- or full-time work in the industry, and not necessarily as musicians, Christie explained. "They may see their future in a promoter's office, or a booking agency or a record company."Further inquiries: (02) 979 5949.
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