Early this morning, I drove up to Careel Bay and found myself once again on the Woronora (not the river, the Dutch Schooner that I sail on from time to time). We went for a sail up the bay and out into the ocean for a while. The highlight, apart from the whole damn time, was when a pod of about a dozen dolphins swam across the bow of the ship! They came within a metre of us, and looked like they were pretty amused.



I spent the past weekend in sunny downtown Mildura, in north-western Victoria. I was there playing a couple of gigs with the covers band The Bucket Band, with some good friends from uni. It was a pretty eventful time – one of Mildura’s prized 1800s paddle-steamers sank, with much controversy, and we got to see how our Victorian neighbours commemorate ANZAC Day (hint: it’s much the same as it is in NSW – lots of beer, and lots of coin-toss gambling).

The Good Ship Woronora, and Moving to Sydney, Part 2

Woronora Journey - Feb 2014Last weekend, The Button Collective had the extreme pleasure to be welcomed aboard a Dutch-style Grand Banks Schooner for an overnight sailing voyage along the Hawkesbury River. This came about through a random
connection that was made at Falls Festival – one of those once-in-a-lifetime coincidences that result in an unbelievable situation. The unbelievable situation, for me, was sleeping – rugged up in my sleeping bag – on the netting which hung below the bowsprit at the front of the ship, as it was anchored overnight in America Bay, half way down the hawkesbury river. With the stars above, the sea below, and the strong winds blowing past me, I have never been so comfortable and so exposed to the elements at the same time in all my life.


The story of the ship’s construction is one of the most amazing ones I’ve ever heard. Pieter Heemstra, the captain of the ship, spent almost four decades slowly building it in his backyard. It was a bit of a “spare time” job by the sounds of it, and perhaps even more so an excuse for Pieter to spend a lot of time with his son. The ship was constructed from recycled materials, and, when completed, required an absolutely enormous crane to hoist it into the water. After some more wrangling (removing the masts and lowering the ship with weights to fit the thing under a bridge), the Woronora is now moored in Palm Beach Marina.

Apart from going on an amazing sailing adventure, The Button Collective have had other successes in Sydney – We played a very well-received show at The Angry Pirate – a themed bar in Redfern – as well as finding a house! Our new home – for the next three months, as least – is above a shop in Belmore, about 12km from the Sydney CBD.


Moving to Sydney, Part 1

I am currently on a bit of a scouting voyage with a few members of The Button Collective, camping in a friend’s backyard in the serene, relaxing suburb of Sydenham, where the incredibly loud 747 passenger jets only take off overhead once every ten minutes.

We’re down here to look at some houses and get our feet in the doors of a few venues, pubs, and bars. So far we’ve heard from just about everyone that the renting market in Sydney – at least in the trendier areas of the Inner West – is ferocious, with so much competition that even excellent applicants have a hard time locking down a place to live. The Button Collective are a few rungs down the ladder from “excellent applicants,” at least on paper. As four self-employed musicians we don’t really seem like the most reliable of candidates, though we are certainly more dedicated to making our music careers work than many other musicians I’ve come across.

It will likely be a tough, hard going, and lengthy process. But what worthwhile thing isn’t?

Connect Culmination

I’ve spent the last two weeks or so working on a short film. Not only scoring it, but editing hours of public domain footage into a cohesive sci-fi/noir short film.

When I applied for the Arts Northern Rivers Connect mentorship at the start of the year, it was a “might as well” application. I’d been told about the program by a few musical friends, and I thought I would apply as a beginning film composer. I submitted a few of my compositions (none of which had been written to films or picture at all), thinking that nothing would come of it, but I might as well put my name in the hat. I was completely surprised when I discovered that I had been shortlisted as a finalist, and had to put together a live performance audition with a few friends in just a couple of days.  I was just as surprised again to find out that I had been chosen to be one of seven mentees in the program.

For the audition, we played two pieces that I had written inspired by ‘Red Mars’, a science fiction novel by Kim Stanley Robinson. That audition was the first time that any of my composed film-esque music had ever been performed live.

I had known since the start of the program that I would be performing at a showcase night at the end of everything, with each of the other mentees (some solo performers, some bands), and it was a daunting task for me to come up with something that I could perform that would be at a similar standard to the others who perform live on a regular basis, with some having live performance as their main source of income.

After some soul-searching and brainstorming, I decided that I would undertake something I’d been wanting to do for quite a while – to construct a short film using only footage available through Creative Commons licensing or from works that are in the public domain.

So here it is. It took me a week to find footage, come up with a bit of a story, and edit together, and another 5 days to write an original score. I’ll be exploring the sci-fi/noir crossroad further in the future, as I find it such an interesting and provoking aesthetic, and while this is my first foray into short filmmaking, it most definitely won’t be the last.

The Many Hats of a Contemporary Musician

In the beginning, I wanted to be a songwriter. Well, I say “the beginning”, but really this was after I’d gone through a few musical phases and had spent a little time studying music at TAFE. But being a songwriter was my first real idea of what I wanted to do with music. So, for a few months, I spent hours and hours every day studying and analysing what I considered to be “great” songs – Motown classics, tin pan alley, Duke Ellington, Nat King Cole, The Beatles, and Van Morrison. I wrote as much as I could, but I found that my own limitations as a player were holding me back. So I kicked my practice regime up a few notches and learned how to play all the scales, chords and rhythms that I felt like I needed to better my own writing. But by that point, I had become so focussed on becoming a great player of songs that I had lost some of the spark of interest that I had when it came to writing songs. I had moved on. I passed through several phases or focuses over the next year or so in a similar fashion until I realised that there was no point in limiting myself to just one aspect of being a musician. I needed to do it all, and more.

I am a full-time musician. I don’t make nearly enough money to support myself through music, but being a musician takes up my entire working week, often up to 80 hours in a “good” week. Some of the stuff I do is paid, but a lot of it isn’t – or in lieu of payment there appears a six-pack of beer or an IOU for a favour down the line. While sometimes frustrating, this is totally fine – most of the people I work with or for are also musicians, trying to make the most of the same struggling industry as I am. We spend years working for free and rationalising it to ourselves by saying that it’s all worth it – everything I do now is helping to create a better, more sustainable career for myself in the future. The truth of this statement remains to be seen, but it’s certainly true that friends and contacts made now and into the future are one of the key aspects to developing and maintaining a musical career.

I learned pretty early on that I was going to have to develop a wide range of skills in order to support myself in the music industry. Over the past six-or-so years I’ve taken every opportunity I can to acquire new skills and experience, broadening my palette of possible income streams. At various times in the past, I’ve been a sound designer, live sound engineer, performer, photographer, composer, arranger, musical director, writer, theorist, teacher, tutor, proof-reader, music copyist, web designer, recording engineer, booking agent, graphic designer, brand manager, session musician, and producer. I don’t claim to be an expert and all or any of these things, but I’ve always been willing to put in the effort and get things done to the absolute best of my abilities.

I’ve met plenty of musicians that do things differently, focussing on just one aspect of their musical life over any other – becoming a virtuoso player, a great songwriter, or an expert recording engineer. For me, I love being able to do as much as I can. So many of the facets overlap and enhance each other, and as a composer I feel that I can incorporate much of what I’ve learned in other roles into my composition work, and I find the knowledge gained from every area really invaluable and personal to me.

If you’re a musician, you might find yourself thinking in a similar way. The “jack-of-all-trades” thing doesn’t suit everybody, and I’m not suggesting that this is the only way to make a solid living out of music, but it’s just my story so far, and I’m enjoying every minute of it.