INTERVIEW: BIGSOUND 2018 Might Make You Question Your Place In The Music Industry

Published in The Music (NSW & VIC) on, Aug 2018

Attending BIGSOUND 2018 might change the way you not only view the music industry but your place within it, as QMusic CEO Joel Edmondson and Executive Programmer Maggie Collins tell Daniel Cribb.

It’s not a stretch to call Brisbane-based music conference BIGSOUND more of a community than an event. Now in its 17th year, it’s become the go-to on Australia’s music calendar, largely due to the fact that organisers are on point with both the conference and live music programming.

In 2018, the conference welcomes more changes that will see it push the boundaries and stay ahead of the game.

Instead of analysing the symptoms of certain issues within the industry, BIGSOUND will increasingly address the causes, with a focus placed on cultural issues, gender diversity, mental health discussions and more.

“Philosophical-based discussions is something that I’m more personally interested in,” Executive Programmer Maggie Collins tells. “That and professional development workshops and ways of working smarter and increasing the personal and work health of everyone in our industry. That’s the kind of stuff I think that separates BIGSOUND apart from other discussion events.”

As QMusic CEO Joel Edmondson says, there are sometimes people in the audience with more expertise than those on the stage, which is why they feel it’s important to open up the discussion more. “We’re trying to evolve the conference into something that’s much more about the sharing of skills and reminding everyone that the expertise is within the group,” he tells.

“If people buy a pass to [BIGSOUND], we want them to leave feeling like their skills and mindset have been enhanced in some way by coming to the event.”

To help facilitate that, BIGSOUND have four different forums as the “centrepiece” of this year’s program that they’ve labelled “must-attend” events. One of the forums will blow apart the myths and rules of the industry and look at new and innovative ways certain individuals are working, while others focus on Indigenous cultural terms of reference, the psychology of change and trying to get people to look outwards.

In looking at the big picture, BIGSOUND is focusing on longterm goals for a vibrant industry, moving further away from the basics of how to get a label or agent – although that information will still be on offer via workshops. “It’s almost like internal reflection; a lot of those questions in the past have been about ‘how’, and now we’re moving more towards ‘why’,” Collins explains. “‘Why do you want to be in the industry?’ ‘Why do you want to be doing what you’re doing?’

“Because once you get a really confident idea of who you are, what you do [in the] industry and what your identity is, then it doesn’t really matter how things happen for you, because you’re going to find a way.”

The questions posed by BIGSOUND continue to change as the industry rapidly evolves, and the scene is almost unrecognisable from the one the conference was first established in. “I first started going to BIGSOUND because there wasn’t much information readily available online to teach myself, so it was really imperative,” Collins explains.

“Now its role within our industry – considering there’s so much out there to consume anyway – is really to be a place where we share ideas and make connections with each other and try and inspire each other to do better.”

One of the aforementioned forums will touch on how many within the industry use the internet to try and initiate change, sometimes in an unproductive way. “It concerns me at the moment that a lot of that change plays out in a fairly combative way on social media,” Edmondson says. “I think we’re all often inclined to just become outraged about things and think that’s actually going to change something but it’s a lot more complicated than that.”

With so much noise on the internet, it’s refreshing to have one time of year when the industry comes together and interacts face to face. It’s also surprising how much of an impact word of mouth has on the ground, with certain bands developing a cult-like industry following if one of their first showcases goes well.

Every year, without fail, BIGSOUND produces a music line-up with a handful of buzz bands on the cusp of great things, and a lot of them end up signing deals, travelling the world and more from their showcases. In recent years, Stella Donnelly, Middle Kids, Flume and more all left lasting impressions and went on to epic things.

“Sometimes there’s just magic that happens,” Collins laughs. “It sounds kind of corny but you can’t really describe it any other way.

“Perhaps there’s no other platform other than BIGSOUND for word of mouth to spread so quickly.

“It’s Fortitude Valley, it’s a physical place and maybe it’s the last remnants of an old time that can still exist, whereby people are physically seeing each other, talking to each other in person and talking about what acts they love, rather than everything being online. BIGSOUND is that physical space where the old school word of mouth can still get around.”

Those types of interactions are how BIGSOUND plans on separating itself from others. “With the saturation of music industry conferences in Australia now, we’re wanting to position this opportunity for people as an experience they can share with others,” Edmondson explains.

“It’s really about trying to find the things we all need to learn about together, rather than breaking us up into groups. That’s important in the culture that we’re in, because we’re kind of in a climate where everyone is increasingly breaking themselves into tribes and BIGSOUND is about bringing people together.”