Indie-Con Australia 2017: A quick-fire Q&A with Stu Watters
It’s all about the indies this week in Adelaide. The independent music community is gathering this week in the South Australian capital for the 11th national AIR Awards and the inaugural Indie-Con Australia, which will be held July 27 and 28 at Tandanya.
An initiative of Australia’s independent music companies’ trade association AIR with support from the SA government, the new indie conference was shaped with a special focus on meeting the business needs of independent labels and self-releasing artists.
The lineup of local and international guest speakers includes Portia Sabin (Kill Rock Stars/Future of What), George Howard (Berklee/Forbes), Jen Cloher (Milk Records), Ben Godding (AWAL/Kobalt), Briggs (Bad Apples/A.B.Original), Chris Maund (Liberation), Richard James Burgess (A2IM) and Paul Pacifico (AIM), while Sebastian Chase, the MGM founder and 2016 ARIA Industry Icon Award winner, will kick things off with a keynote address in conversation with conference programmer Stuart Watters.
TIO caught up with Watters, the former CEO of AIR who spearheaded the trade body’s relocation from Brisbane to Melbourne, just before things got busy.
You’re kicking off Indie-Con this week to coincide with the AIR Awards. What’s the short-term vision for this new event?
There’s a three-year commitment from Arts SA to deliver both the Awards and Indie-Con in Adelaide. We have had a good run with the Awards in Melbourne before initially starting them in Sydney but as a national organisation, we are exceedingly happy with the opportunity to deliver not one but two nationally significant events on the music industry calendar in Adelaide. The SA government have a very inclusive and integrated approach to industry development and AIR is the beneficiary of strong forward thinking policy.
Do we need another convention?
Certainly there seems to be a real dearth of multi-day industry powwows outside of Bigsound, Face the Music and the Contemporary Music Roundtable. And with Fuse disappearing off the calendar a few years back, there may be a real opportunity to educate the next generation in South Australia. Are the existing conferences not doing enough or is it simply that there’s an opportunity to do more?
It’s a good question – the very quick answer is that there isn’t actually a conference that is dealing exclusively with matters that are unique to the indie sector. We have taken a leaf out of AIM’s book in the U.K. to borrow the idea from them to develop the Indie-Con Australia brand. Every conference in Australia has a thread of indie focussed content and arguably many of the content pieces are relevant to the indie sector but none are exclusively tailoring a conference with the Indie sector in mind. To that end, we have not only approached it from that angle but have also shied away from conference topics that we think would be better covered by the likes of Bigsound and Face the Music as they are friends of our sector and we are keen to remain very close with them. In terms of providing something in Adelaide after the vacuum created by the demise of FUSE, anyone from the local industry who attended FUSE or its predecessor Music Business Adelaide, would argue that we have, as a local industry, missed the opportunity to congregate in Adelaide, network, share ideas and learn from one another in one of Australia’s awesome music cities. There is a bucket of talent there and a solid industry that is as ready to share stories with us about their experiences as we are to check what’s happening in their city. Also, we’re very hyper-focused on issues that specifically relate to the indie sector as a point of difference from the larger multi pronged events.
There’s only six-odd weeks separating this event from Bigsound. Could this create some cannibalisation?
Not at all – in fact I think we are complementing each other very well and clearly I am not trying to operate in isolation with any of the events. Primarily, I am sharing stories and ideas with the guys at Bigsound but also with Music Australia for their Contemporary Music Roundtable which is happening the following week and further down the line with Australian Music Week and Face The Music as I’d prefer to see the conference as part of a continuum of ideas rather than a standalone event. We are actively involved with all of these events and intend to etch out a space within each of them to ensure the ideas formulated at one are built on in with the indie community at the next outing where our thought leaders can congregate. If there is any mention of cannibalisation of Bigsound then it should be quickly dispelled by the fact that we are bringing out Alison Wenham as a key note for the event with the support of Merlin. That’s the idea of being able to string ideas together at more than one annual point in our calendar.
What outcomes do you hope to see from this new event?
That every participant in the conference, regardless of whether they are a speaker or a delegate, feels as though they are sharing inspiring stories and tools of the trade that help them to navigate an ever evolving business. We are traversing a very interesting time that provides a number of challenges and opportunities but to do it in silos will make it significantly harder. To do it together will mean we can collectively achieve greater results.
For more information visit www.air.org.au.
This article originally appeared on The Industry Observer, which is now part of The Music Network.