Keep it simple, silly

Tuesday, February 18, 2003

Hi there,

I note with interest your ad for contributors. I've already had a few discussions with your magazine (and the other two) in relation to this, but after 20 months in Brisbane, I'm still not writing for any of the three street papers. For the record, I used to write for Inpress in Melbourne and Sweat in WA. I also write for Broadcast, and do a bunch of other freelance work.

I've attached samples of my work, including my most recent piece for Broadcast, my most recent column for, a review of I Spit on your Gravy for Inpress and a piece I did on Superheist for Inpress. I appreciate that these are a bit longer than what you've requested, but I'm stuffed if I'm going to grovel and write a piece especially for this.

I look forward to hearing from you. My number is xxxx xxx xxx.


Fred E. Gostein

Needless to say, I didn't get a response.

I moved up to Brisbane two years ago from Melbourne, where I had been writing a weekly column, Indie News, and doing regular interviews for Inpress. Before coming up here I contacted Time Off, who sounded very keen about the possibility of me joining their list of writers. That never happened, and nothing ever eventuated from my talks with Scene and Rave either. The monthly Sunshine Coast rag, Tsunami, were good enough to publish a few segments out of Indie News when they remembered, but they couldn't pay me. I offered to read excerpts from Indie News on the Demo Show on 4ZZZ, but that turned out to be too difficult for some reason or another. Surprisingly, the most support I got for Indie News and any of my writing here in Brisbane came from Q Music, who have regularly included me in their Broadcast publication. Hey, they've even paid me for my contributions!

It's a funny thing being good enough to write for a Melbourne street paper, but not being able to get a word in edgeways in their poor cousins up here in Brissie. But it's the sort of paradox one becomes used to in the music biz: an industry where the dumbest, least creative people make the most money; where vision is regarded as an obstacle, not an asset; and where bands who sound just like a bunch of other bands are given all the opportunities, while the original, innovative and truly entertaining wait desperately, vainly, in the wings.

I'll give you some recent examples that should help illustrate my point:

Recently, the Brisbane City Council up here advised the music industry they were willing to throw money at a 'cluster' if they could come up with innovative ways to increase the profile and income of Brisbane music outside of the state. What did the group of music 'business' people decide to do with their money? They spent $15,000 putting on a Brisbane band stage at the Gold Coast Big Day Out. Now, that'd normally be quite a noble gesture, but this wasn't about noble gestures. Let me reiterate: the idea was to increase the profile and income of Brisbane music outside of the state. There were plenty of things they could've done with the money: they could have set up a marketing program to promote Queensland labels interstate and overseas; they could have set up a trade fair here in Queensland; they could have sent Queensland acts and labels to trade fairs overseas. But no, they added another (decidedly inferior) stage to the Big Day Out in Queensland only. That's not so much a lack of vision as it is chronic blindness. Thankfully, despite this ‘initiative’, the Brisbane City Council has been good enough to maintain faith and continue with their efforts to raise the profile of their music industry. I wish them well.

Then there was the recent media launch for amazing jazz duo Stringmansassy. This is an act that's already creating a following overseas, that wowed the crowds at Woodford, and that is virtually a guaranteed Australian success story now they've got Leanne de Souza behind them. How many people turned up at the media launch, with free grog and food abundant, and an intimate evening with Stringmansassy assured? 50? 35? Try 15! And most of them were hangers-on or people with as little, or even less, influence as me in the media. The following week the act did their album launch, which attracted hundreds of genuine fans who evidently didn't rely on the media for their taste. At least that's promising.

Or how about the mob (and I use that term intentionally) who purport to be supporting Australian record labels, ARIA? While many Australian labels feature in their membership, their board is primarily made up of representatives from major overseas labels. Currently, Australian music is under imminent threat from US cultural imperialism with the potential opening of the free trade doors that will decimate whatever is left of the local music industry. It will make a mockery of the already laughable Australian content restrictions on Australian commercial radio (notably also set by ARIA and their other self-serving mates at FARB (now known as Commercial Radio Australia)) and fill the airwaves with the banal crap the US mainstream has been subjected to for far too long. Do you think ‘our’ recording industry association is going to stick up for Australian labels on this one? Judging by their complete disregard for the issue to date, my guess is that it’s extremely unlikely.

And who could forget the A&R guy at the major label who kept getting promoted until someone realised he'd never signed an act. At least he'd never signed a dud, I guess. What's that about being promoted to your highest level of incompetence? It's endemic in the music industry.

Do I sound bitter? I was, but I'm not really any more. Over it, yes. Bitter, no. You can have your fetid 'industry'. Good luck to you. I've got better things to do with my life. Constructive things.

I've struggled for a dozen or so years in the biz. I've done just about everything: management, promotion, booking, sales, radio announcing, and of course, music journalism, and the most I've ever earned directly from the industry was when I worked in a suburban record store when I was 18 - that's 15 years ago! Nowadays I'm lucky to earn $10,000 from my efforts, which has ensured that my average annual income for my adult life would be less than $20K. If I'm going to earn such a measly wage, I'm going to enjoy doing it from now on. There's simply no point in giving as much as I have any more. I don't have the energy and, at 33, I don't have the time. I've got a life to live, sorry to say.

Don't get me wrong, I've had a lot of great moments and I love nothing more than seeing creative people be rewarded for their efforts. But while I've been doing my best to assist others I've been neglecting myself. My priorities had to change sooner or later, and they’re changing now: it's time to look after number one.

And who is number one? I gave a bit of a hint in the first lines of my last column that maybe things aren't all as they seemed. The opening lines of Book of Funk's Ego Blues go, "I've got ego stained sheets, And blistered hands, From delivering bulk meat, I've got the Ego Blues." Ego stained sheets. Fred E. Gostein. Get it? I've been taking the piss for years. It's the only thing that's been keeping me sane. My name is J. J R. Remember it, you may hear from me again one day.

But until then…Fred's dead, baby. Fred's dead.


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