Claire Hodgson // WAM // Industry Development Officer

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What is your current role or roles within the music industry?

My current role is Industry Development Officer at Western Australian Music (WAM). This quite mysterious title basically means I produce many of WAM’s metro-based projects, such as WAM’s annual music conference, WAMCon; the WAM Workshop Series, including two-day intensive songwriters and management workshop series, Higher Note; the WAM Song of the Year Competition and Awards; as well as helping to co-direct WAM’s gender equity activities with the other wonderful members of the WAM team.

In my spare time I’m also a presenter and collective coordinator for RTRFM’s Burn The Airwaves radio show; a vocalist in Perth band, The Shakeys; plus, I DJ a couple of times a month at various venues around town (playing anything from metal to rockabilly!).

Describe a normal day in the life of Claire Hodgson.

I’ll usually begin the day by walking to the office, grabbing a coffee on the way and as I do, scanning through any emails that have come in overnight on my phone looking for anything I need to hit the ground running with as soon as I get to the office. When I get to work if there’s nothing needing immediate attention, I’ll try to complete one small task (that isn’t answering emails) to start the day off on a productive note. Then it’s chipping away at the ol’ email pile and trying to get to the main tasks of the day. I generally come up for air for a late lunch, then try to leave the office before the sun goes down. Though it’s not always possible haha! Then I head home to cook dinner, or out to a gig, band rehearsal or to do my radio show.

RYAN_AMMON- WAMCon 2017
WAMCon 2017 (photo cred. Ryan Ammon)

How did you get your start in the music industry – what is your story of how you got to where you are today?

One of my closest friends and I have this running joke about how we’d go to the opening of an envelope. It’s actually true! Especially when I was starting out. Turbo music fandom, combined with the ample enthusiasm and all the spare time that I had in my early 20s meant I was perfectly positioned to start helping friends in bands in the local scene, which I did.

I was a manager and booker for a few Perth punk and rock’n’roll bands at the time, I got them grants and took them on tours across the country. I happened to be studying visual arts back then and following this I did an Arts Administration Certificate at TAFE to bridge my study to “real life” work opportunities.

Before I knew it, I had landed a job working for Perth music/arts organisation ARTRAGE which combined my music and visual arts interests, from there I realised my main passion was music and so I moved on to working for music-only orgs like APRA AMCOS, then WAM. Along the way I also started making music, as well as becoming a radio broadcaster and DJ. It’s taken a long time but it’s been a fun ride!

“A few years into my current role at WAM, I began to notice this familiar feeling of foreboding that would always appear just before a major event I was producing. I realised that I felt fearful because I was about to do something very public and if things went badly I would personally be open to criticism…”

Have you got any advice for people wanting to start a career in the music industry?

Yesss – there’s no rewards without risk! You’ve got to take them if you want to work in music.

A few years into my current role at WAM, I began to notice this familiar feeling of foreboding that would always appear just before a major event I was producing. I realised that I felt fearful because I was about to do something very public and if things went badly I would personally be open to criticism, however on the flipside, the thing I was about to do was also going to have a very public (and hopefully) positive impact for many people. I realised that this fear was actually a sign that something great was about to happen and it made me embrace fear and risk in my practice.

If you’re starting out in the music industry “risks” like putting yourself out there and networking at shows; giving playing in a band a shot; learning an instrument; doing an internship or arts management course; being a manager for a friend’s band; taking photos at shows; and/or starting a music business; are all chances that you need to be willing to take to get ahead. The more you exercise your ability to manage and take risks, the more you will get better at it too. Though it’s important to always be respectful to others and also considered about the risks you’re taking, balancing this like anything takes practice but is a key component to factor into your mindset which will help get a foothold early on.

Additionally, supporting the work of others that you genuinely care about is a great way to establish yourself. For example, going to local shows of artists you love is a real win-win, in that it helps the acts (they will adore you for it!) and is a great way to meet people in music who may give you down the track that most difficult thing to secure early on, your first paid music job.

Higher Note 2017
Higher Note 2017 (photo cred. Rachael Barrett)

Do you feel that higher education is necessary to establish a career within the music industry?

Not necessarily, because everyone’s path is different. I didn’t study music management because I was already heavily involved in the local music scene and so I didn’t need higher education to connect me to opportunities there.

However, studying can be an excellent way to develop strong admin skills which are vital for building a good rep early on and also networks which can be invaluable, so you can hit the ground running once you graduate. Studying can also give some people the opportunity to gain a greater understanding of the lay of the land in their local music scene if they’re not across this already and get their businesses off the ground, as is the case at TAFE here in WA (and I’m sure around the rest of the country) where the Advanced Diploma Music Business students run a business out of TAFE for their final year with support from the staff who are all music industry practitioners in their own rights.

What is the best life advice you’ve ever received?

“Go towards whatever makes your heart beat faster” as once said by Perth-based musician, mother, teacher, West Australian of the Year recipient, and WAM award-winning singer songwriter, Gina Williams.

Gina Williams is one of the wisest people I’ve ever had the good fortunate of meeting. Coming to music later in life and going on to travel the world with it, and teach the Noongar language to thousands of people. Gina uses the metaphor of the bindi bindi (Noongar word for butterfly) to explain her journey and our paths as musicians. She says beginning life as a little grub in a cocoon, the bindi bindi has to find its own way to grow and break out to become a beautiful butterfly.

The message is about being authentic and forging your own path, and by chasing what makes your heart beat faster we as artists make better decisions because our passion is what drives us forward. This advice is life changing when you think about it, because making the ‘right’ decision is an ongoing challenge when you’re an artist or industry practitioner (or just even in life really!).

What issues do you feel the Australian music industry is currently facing and how do you think these could be changed and improved? Specifically in WA?

Australia has always suffered from geographic isolation and even with the web connecting us more than ever before it’s still a massive barrier for artists especially in WA, where the distances and expense of touring is huge compared with other parts of the country and the globe.

Honing the live show via touring is vital for any artists who are serious about their music, so finding ways to facilitate more touring opportunities especially now that touring is one of the main sources of income for artists without negatively affecting artists’ mental health I think is an ongoing challenge.

Luckily there are some amazing advocates and orgs out there like APRA AMCOS, AMIN, Support Act just to name a few, which are not only raising awareness but also providing avenues for artists to access to mental health support when they need it and also avenues to secure funding for touring activities. In a music export sense, Australia can also thank its lucky stars for SOUNDS AUSTRALIA who have a highly informed perspective on what’s happening in the music industry globally, know the opportunities and do an incredible job of connecting Australian artists with them.

Also, I think the lack of diverse gender, cultural, age, and differently abled perspectives in Australian music is a massive problem that thankfully is started to be talked about and incorporated more rigorously in the mindsets of promoters and music organisations across the country. The impact of which probably won’t be entirely known until we look back on this time, however here’s hoping the effect is strong and far reaching – leading to a more inclusive and let’s face it, interesting music landscape in Australia.

SOTY winners
SOTY Winners 2018 (photo cred. Cam Campbell)

Have you had to overcome any challenges or adversity in your career, and if so how did you approach them?

Badly mostly, especially in those early days! I was so terrified of getting anything wrong and unable to see mistakes as valuable lessons. I cared so much about what other people thought which took away being receptive to constructive criticism which I realise now is actually invaluable to career growth. I’ve come to this conclusion from trial and error and reading business books like Chip and Dan Heath’s “Made To Stick” and “Decisive”, and Mark Mason’s “Subtle Art of Not Giving a F***” also because I’m a raging nerd, who is endlessly fascinated by the psychology behind all things business…

Another ongoing challenge is dealing with stress because in music there’s just about always going to be time and budget pressure due to resources being spread thin. I use a range of strategies to manage this, such as being more open about where I’m at with others; asking for help and advice to help shoulder the weight and find solutions for complex problems; paying better attention to my health (making sure I eat healthy, exercise and get good sleep – basically all the things mum told you ring true!); using the power of saying “no” to social engagements or new personal projects when I’m feeling burnt out (this took me a long time to learn, but putting it into practice has literally changed my life). You’ve got to find what works for you really!

“I cared so much about what other people thought which took away being receptive to constructive criticism which I realise now is actually invaluable to career growth.”

What is the local Perth and wider WA scene like at the moment?

Things are ticking along nicely over this way! There’s lots of great original music venues and micro scenes happening across the spectrum of genres and age groups… Some clever folk and blues roots songwriter types are developing and treading touring circuits traversing this mighty large state of ours. And some of the more established regional festivals like Nannup, Fairbridge and Blues at Bridgetown are continuing to be as popular as ever.

We’re quite lucky in The West in that we don’t have pokies in pubs which means there’s just that little bit more space and disposable income to support original music. Perth has always been a pretty small but supportive music community, which I think is also one of the reasons why a remarkable amount of great music comes from here!

How do you unwind from all of your responsibilities?

I unwind by making time to catch up with the people I care about most; also going to see local shows of bands I love; having quality me time where I do things like playing music until late in my lounge room at home, or investing in some serious couch time usually watching the latest sarcie comedy series in my pjs.

I also have mini yoga sessions in the mornings at home before work, practice meditation in the evenings (using the Headspace app, which I highly recommend!), and when I get a chance, communing with nature and hitting the gym are wonderful ways to reset after a tough week in the trenches!

“I’ve always loved helping people, and especially now having over 15+ years in music under my belt I feel compelled more than ever be supporting others on their journeys with this knowledge.”

What is the most rewarding experience that you’ve been a part of during your career?

Overall, I’d probably say hanging around long enough to become (much to my surprise) a role model for younger people starting out and in particular for young women. I’ve always loved helping people, and especially now having over 15+ years in music under my belt I feel compelled more than ever be supporting others on their journeys with this knowledge.

On a solely personal level, I’d say working through the obstacles I face when developing my projects by taking a creative approach to problem solving is always rewarding. The barriers are huge at times (more on that in the next question!) but the process of overcoming them is immensely satisfying.

WAM Higher Note Class photo
Higher Note Class 2018 (photo cred. Cam Campbell)

What has been your proudest achievement so far?

My proudest achievement has been overseeing the growth of WAM’s music conference WAMCon, to an event that’s been rebranded; now held in the beautiful State Theatre Centre of WA; involves a greater number of international and national guests than ever before, which every year yields great outcomes for WA artists including booking agency and publishing etc signings; and in recent years building on all of this to include a big-name keynote speakers for the first time, like Keith Harris (Stevie Wonder’s manager) in 2017 and this year UK music icon, Don Letts.

We’re pretty far away from everywhere here in Perth and being a not-for-profit our budgets are generally pretty small and don’t go far with the expensive travel costs involved, so enticing international speakers (especially those based in Europe and the US) to travel all the way to ptown is a massive challenge that needs to be overcome every year and takes a lot of time developing the relationships to get speakers onboard to make the trip. For me these barriers lend a bit of an underdog status to the work we do, and this keeps me eternally fired up to overcome them year-on-year!

Who are your role models in the industry whether they be international/Australia

Mostly I tend to go look up to female rule-breaker types, outspoken women who have single-mindedly gone against the grain to chase what they want in life with tons of good wit, generosity and intelligence thrown in! Some examples that spring to mind are;

Patti Smith, Aretha Franklin, Wendy O Williams, Joan Jett, Suzi Quatro, Siouxsie Sioux, Poly Styrene (Xray Spex), Divine, Anita Pallenberg, Chrissy Amphlett, Katrina Utomo (High Tension), Mojo Juju and so many more!

I must also add here my beautiful, inspiring friends in the Perth music scene (and beyond!). They carry me on their shoulders and I hope they feel that I carry them too. Too many amazing people to name here, it would look like movie credits!

Feels @ Song of the Year Awards 2017-18
Feels @ Song of the Year Awards 17/18 (photo cred. Cam Campbell)

What does the rest of 2018 hold for you? Any exciting things that you can tell us about?

I’m really excited to be presenting the 2018 instalment of WAMCon (2-3 Nov) as part of WAMFest which is happening on Nov 1 – 3. As I mentioned earlier, music icon Don Letts will be this year’s keynote and we also have an academic slant to this year’s program which will be offering up some exciting and highly relevant new music findings for attendees. It’s the busiest time of year for us, but also lots of fun!

After a brief reprieve following the festival I’ll be launching into WAM Song of the Year 2018-19 planning and outside of the office, will be continuing to present on radio; playing shows with the band and working out our next album’s release plan; and DJing around town – no rest for the wicked!

Top 3 artist you’re currently listening to?

Windhand (US)

Duplessy & The Violins of the World (FR)/Brownley Family (WA)- Ma Goola

Nerve Quakes (WA)

What’s your go-to karaoke song?

Definitely The Wild One by Suzi Quatro – try and hold me back people haha!