The music toolkit
Saying ‘yes’, collaborating with others, creating without overthinking and educating yourself in business are just some of the tips shared with SAE students at a recent Sydney event to kickstart the 2024 academic year.
The Music Toolkit was an exclusive one-hour music industry panel discussion at the iconic Lansdowne Hotel on January 23, hosted by SAE’s Course Director for Music and Audio Dr Sean Foran, and featuring successful industry professionals Anna Lunoe and Jess Keeley.
Anna is a DJ, radio host, vocalist and producer; and Jess is a music artist manager. The pair, who have “known each other a long time and dance in and out of each other’s careers”, held an honest and inspiring discussion that covered a range of relevant topics for new SAE students and emerging creatives in an intimate setting.
FLEXING THE ‘YES’ MUSCLE
Anna’s dynamic career – which includes performing at the world’s most prominent international music festivals, such as Coachella, Outside Lands and KX5 at the Coliseum; hosting a music show on Apple Music 1; and her own Create/Destroy podcast – has been no accident. She said looking for, and creating, opportunities, and just turning up and giving it a go, had helped pave the way.
“Saying ‘yes’, even when your hands are shaking, and you’re petrified: I think that’s probably the biggest tip of the music industry,” Anna told the SAE audience. “With most of the things that I’ve done that I look back on, or I’m most proud of, there was no evidence that suggested I would actually be able to do that until I tried it. It’s like [flexing] a ‘yes’ muscle. Every ‘yes’ leads to more ‘yes’.”
Jess is a former radio and television presenter who transitioned to music management more than 20 years ago. She’s worked with iconic artists such as Shania Twain, MARINA and Arcade Fire. She believes saying ‘yes’ is not even discretionary in the music industry. “I don’t even need to say ‘yes’ anymore because I’m already doing it!” she laughed.
“The ‘yes’ gives you confidence; that’s a huge component to it because … if you don’t put yourself in that situation, where you’re testing the bounds of both your knowledge and skillset, and you maintain your bubble, you aren’t necessarily going to grow, and this industry is all about growth. You have to consistently adapt and evolve.”
STOP THINKING, START CREATING
In her Create/Destroy podcast, Anna interviews other artists and often asks them about their creative “toolkit”, so Sean asked Anna to share some of the things in her own toolkit.
“My tools are generally something that’s going to get me out of my head, and creating, to stop thinking about everything,” she said.
Things that helped her the most were limitations on how much she’d let herself have access to when writing, working really quickly, having a low expectation – “quantity over quality” – and creating templates for her work.
“If I’m in a stage of writing where I just want to write club songs, I’ll make a club song template before I even get started,” she explained. “And I’ll put in [for example] one synth, one drum machine that I can play with, a couple of weird little effects that I’m really into at the time and a vocal chain. And I’ll write five songs a day for a week. And that just breaks me open straightaway without trying to really marinate or hone in on anything. It’s just a way of getting out of your way and putting something down.”
Anna explained she would later go back to what she had created to see if there was any “magic” worth labouring over. “You can surprise yourself if you just get out of your own way,” she said. “That’s one of my main creative tools.”
SHARING YOUR VISION
Both Anna and Jess agreed that collaboration was an essential part of success in the music industry, whether that’s sharing your music with others to get their opinion on your work, or getting them to contribute to a part of your work where you don’t have a certain skillset.
“I can’t encourage everyone enough to be open to collaboration,” Jess said. “There’s a huge moment, I think, when you realise that you don’t have to have everything, as a writer and as an artist, and often that the best music, the best releases, are actually very rarely done by a single person. Not that they can’t be, and there are geniuses among us who’ve done it. But also, I think that’s limiting in a lot of ways.”
Anna said there’s something “really magical” about finding a group of people who somehow complete or play a part in your vision.
“You see it happening in cities all over the world, where a couple of people get together, they decide to throw a party, one makes a little white label record, the other one writes the press release and puts it out. And together, they basically create the opportunities that they’ve always wanted,” she said. “And creating your own opportunities in this business always goes a very long way. If you wait for people to tap you on the shoulder and give you an opportunity that may or may not happen, but you do have the power to create what it is that you want to be a part of, even on a very small scale.”
Jess said maintaining a music career involves constant education, being observant and curious and digesting as much business media as you can, “alongside all your creative stuff”.
Diversifying into other creative areas, or even having a completely different second job that still gives you time for your craft, is something to consider, not just when starting out, but throughout your career.
“To have a sustainable career as an artist you have to have two parts to your brain (creative and business). And it isn’t just like, ‘I know how to do TikTok’,” she explained. “The minute you start to release music you’re the CEO of your business essentially, so how well are you working with the team members that you’ve brought in? Are you engaging your partners? Are you making sure that everyone is motivated to work for you?”
Jess said to be able to make a career from music the people on your team cannot want it more than you: “You have to be the person that wants it the most.”
“You need to be able to take advantage of the energy while you have it and make sure that everyone around you has all that information as well,” she said. “You have to educate yourself. You can’t sort of sit there and just be immune to what it means to monetise music.”
Jess also emphasised the importance of moving with technology in the constantly evolving music industry.
“Music is intrinsically linked to technology, so you have to constantly upskill alongside technology, and this is very much connected to the releasing of music,” she said.
WHO ARE YOU?
Anna said she was inspired by producer Nick Sylvester, who she recently interviewed on her podcast, and who emphasised the need to create “feeling” in songs to tell the story.
“[Something] he says, which I really like, with song writing, is instead of thinking about what you want to say, think really specifically about what you want the listener to feel,” she said. “What is the feeling that you want them to have? And focus in on that and point all parts towards that feeling, instead of getting caught up trying to rhyme the words. It’s like seeing the forest through the trees and zooming back and seeing the full picture of the song.”
Anna said people have their own reasons for pressing play on particular artists, often because they want to feel something. She said artists needed to work out the reason people pressed play on their work.
“What is it that you give them? What is the energy that you give them?” she asked. “There’s so many parts to what you do and there’s so many options on what you can create and so many options on the medium which you can use. But who are you? And what is the message you want to put out into the world? And what is it that you care about to say? That is what anchors you through all of those choices.”