Artists not Products: Moving Past the Shallow Talent Shows
Wednesday, July 25 2012
If you’re a budding singer or songwriter, it’s time to ignore the shallow and overly dramatic TV talent shows and put your effort into a program that will actually help you get better. Kate Crowhurst talks to Ella Hooper, a local singer-songwriter.
In the wake of X-Factor and Australia’s Got Talent being hawked on Australian TV you’d be forgiven for thinking that the talent show format is the arch rival of independent musicians. Indeed the traditional format of these Simon Cowell pre-packaged shows seems to rip the soul out of music, reducing musicians to wailing out cover versions as they are paraded with glossy hair and whitened teeth in front of a studio audience until they desist dripping dollar dosh into Cowell’s wallet. What sets the Telstra Road to Discovery talent program apart is its focus on talent development rather than image packaging. After ten years of supporting emerging artists to launch their careers in the music industry it is launching the 2012 competition stronger than ever.
Melbournians will have the chance to take part in the Melbourne heats on Thursday 16 August which will be hosted by special guest, local singer-songwriter Ella Hooper. “I became aware of the program when they asked me to perform with Luke Webb (2009, Telstra Road to Tamworth Songwriter Winner) and I liked how this particular talent development program provided them with mentorship”. On comparisons to other more image-conscious and internationally owned talent programs Hooper acknowledges that this talent competition is “different in its essence. It’s talent development, not thrusting them into the spotlight. It is a tailor-made package, tailored to the needs of the artist by music industry insiders”. The top prize on offer to the winners of the competition certainly has more substance than an “X million dollar recording contract”, comprising of a 12 month music mentorship which consists of a return trip to Nashville USA including a showcase gig at the world-renowned Americana Festival, local gigs in Australia, face time with some of the biggest names in Australian music plus a tailored music development fund.
Another badge of credibility for the competition is its two categories for winners: Songwriters and performers. Hooper says “the two streams are represented so you can be a great performer or write killer songs”. The competition also acknowledges talent from all around Australia with digital entry forms available through the website in addition to the physical heats in Melbourne; “you can find great musicians everywhere and the digital entry makes it easier for country artists to participate”. This shift in the music industry towards embracing online access to artists is shown in Hooper’s own recent launch of her own solo material through the website Mess+Noise rather than the traditional controlled music label releases.
Local musicians entering the competition will gain from experience from having their material heard by the panel of experts, while the winner of the Melbourne heat will enter Boot Camp. While this phrase normally conjures up the image of Cowell’s Celine Dion/Josh Groban soundtrack to tears, “I got through Boot Camp” staged triumphs and tantrums, the Telstra Road to Discovery Boot Camp consists of a three day music mentoring workshop in Melbourne in November where heat winners will gain an insight into the music business, from publishing and touring, through to song construction, performance and publicity. The Melbournians who get this far will also benefit from the socialisation with other independent musicians. From Hooper’s experience, “artists build great communities with each other in the development program. A lot of artists end up working with each other and there is an instant couch-surfing network of support. It’s also an opportunity to meet the biggest names in the music industry”.
Melbourne has a strong record of competing in the contest with the 2011 performance category winner, Harry Hookey, being a Melbourne muso and recent Melbourne Uni graduate. Says Hooper, “Melbourne always has to do a little bit more and we expect great things from Melbourne artists who live amongst such as strong music culture”. For those entering Hooper advises that unlike X-Factor, “you don’t have to cry. We’re looking for someone who wants the long-haul of being an artist and we’re seeking out raw talent, a potential for longevity and actual commitment. It’s not for the artist who ‘wants’ it but deserves it because of honing their craft and the talent factor”. It is this talent search for substance over the illusive image-sellable X Factor that musicians and music fans alike have really been asking for.
How to Get Involved
For Independent Musicians:
- Performers: Entry deadline: Thursday 26 July (midnight deadline), enter via telstra.com/trtd
- Songwriters: Entry deadline: 14 October
For Music Fans:
- The Melbourne heat of the Telstra Road to Discovery
- Where: The University of Melbourne, corner of Elgin and Swanston St, Parkville (via Gate 1, North Court off Tin Alley, next to Union House)
- When: 12.30pm on Thursday 16 August
- What: Six local musicians compete, featuring a performance by local Melbourne musician Harry Hookey (2011 performer category winner and recent Melbourne Uni Graduate) and is hosted by Melbourne singer-songwriter Ella Hooper