The Artist Development Program Empowering Outsider Musicians

Growing up around the Mornington-Peninsula between Casey and Frankston City, right near the ocean and not much else, the idea of working in the music industry felt distant. It wasn’t just the hours of traveling to get to a gig that was hard, it was the time, the effort and the difficulties in holding down connections that felt alienating. And I’m not alone—for GRID Series, curating an artist development program that provides emerging musicians with the groundwork to build themselves up was at the heart of their dedication.

Known also as the Grass Roots Indie Development, GRID Series’ work focuses on teaching essential skills to emerging artists about recording materials, writing songs, performing live and building rapport for respective careers. The kicker lies in their position and gravitation towards artists on the outskirts, inviting musicians from the Outer South Eastern suburbs and elsewhere to come together and collaborate. Speaking to Ariel Blum, the founder of GRID Series who has cut his teeth in the Melbourne music industry for almost a decade, GRID Series reflects his own story as artist-to-producer and the overwhelming need to support those marginalised by distance, opportunity and lack of visibility.

How did the GRID series begin?
Back in 2013, working as a music producer, I noticed that the emerging artists I was working with felt quite disconnected in regards to promoting and releasing their work upon finishing up their recordings. Whilst there was this great energy and creativity in the studio, once the sessions wrapped, there was this great big question of what do I do now? GRID Series began as a very small and intimate project that gave emerging musicians a chance to perform in front of music industry professionals and then have one-on-one consultations with these mentors to formulate a plan for the release of their work. Fast forward to 2017 and we’re now into our fourth year, having put together a pretty comprehensive program that includes a weekend-long mentoring seminar, song development sessions, studio recording, video sessions and live performance. We’ve also given the artists a chance to collaborate with emerging music business practitioners and audio engineers from Collarts, in the hope to foster long-term relationships that can grow and develop with their respective career.

“A key approach all the mentors have taken is to encourage the artists not to rush; to work on their craft and to surround themselves with a community of people that not only support them but, who are also prepared to provide constructive feedback to them as they develop their sound and identity.”

What does GRID aim to achieve?
GRID aims to give artists a super-charged jump start to their careers by providing a space for the artists to develop release-ready content, build an audience, link-up and build relationships with fellow artists, meet and network with managers and publicists and cultivate relationships with the next crop of decision makers in the industry. By building a strong community early on, this serves to empower the artist and make them feel as though they are not alone as they traverse the often complex landscape of the music industry. GRID aims to also present a diverse palette of sounds and styles that may sometimes go unnoticed in the absence of the spotlight we provide to the artists involved. Over the last two years, we’ve focused on developing acts in the Outer South East of Melbourne, home to many musicians from all over the world including Australia, South Sudan, China, Afghanistan, and India.

We also rolled out our call-out for artists to apply in multiple languages including English, Arabic, Chinese and Hindi as a means of communicating to these communities that they too can participate in the indie music scene. Through the support of Creative Victoria, APRA/AMCOS, ALH Group and Music Victoria, we’ve been able to offer opportunities to musicians who may otherwise not have had the opportunity to participate and explore their music due to various factors. By curating the program to represent the diversity of sound in the Outer South East, we’ve been able to put on gigs that sit cruisy acoustic music folk music next to traditional African music next to Grindcore metal. Our audiences have been taken on quite a journey!

What do you teach emerging artists and producers?
We teach emerging artists the fundamentals of how to plan and manage their careers and maintain a sense of personal sustainability. With mentors including Tash Sultana’s manager, David Morgan, The Smith Street Band’s manager Danae Effern and Shihad drummer and mental health advocate Tom Larkin, we’ve been able to give artists a number of different approaches to how to get moving with their careers as well as to look after themselves. A key approach all the mentors have taken is to encourage the artists not to rush; to work on their craft and to surround themselves with a community of people that not only support them, but who are also prepared to provide constructive feedback to them as they develop their sound and identity.

For the past two years, we’ve had Entertainment Management students from Collarts sit in on the mentoring sessions to learn some of the techniques that these more established managers use in launching their acts. For the audio students involved in the program, we’ve given them the opportunity to work as assistants in during the recording sessions. This has been a really great opportunity for them to pick up new recording techniques and also gain experience in conducting themselves in a professional environment as well as to begin building relationships with emerging artists that they may be able to continue working within the future, either in a studio or FOH capacity.

GRID Series Indusrty Meet and Greet, held at Music Victoria HQ.

 

“For GRID, a sustainable music career means having the ability to create, release and perform music as a long-term thing. As an artist starting out in their early 20s, we believe that if you are still doing those three elements 10 years later, then that certainly is a successful musical career.”

How does GRID work towards creating sustainable music careers, and what does a sustainable music career mean to GRID?
GRID works toward creating sustainable music careers by framing what it means to be ‘sustainable’ in a realistic and personalised manner. Some artists coming through will have different expectations and goals for their music. GRID aims to tailor how we approach each artist to suit them and support them with the direction they are headed in. Sustainable for one artist may mean to make a full time living off their music—sustainable for another artist may mean that they have the resources, both socially and financially, to pursue music long term as a part of their broader life and work. We realise that for some, taking the plunge to being a fulltime musician is not possible at this stage of their career. We work towards supporting them however we can to ensure that music and creativity remains a mainstay in their worlds. For GRID, a sustainable music career means having the ability to create, release and perform music as a long-term thing. As an artist starting out in their early 20s, we believe that if you are still doing those three elements 10 years later, then that certainly is a successful musical career.

With many experienced industry leaders working for GRID, what do you teach and what real industry experience do you provide?
We teach that each artist will have a different journey. There is no ‘play-book’ for musical notoriety, however, there are certain things that one can do to ensure that they remain present and visible in their community. By providing all 8 artists in the program with recorded material, video content and live performance opportunities, we are able to give them the tools to activate what they learnt from the mentors, which bring a degree of ‘real life’ experience to the things that we teach and encourage.

There are many different spaces in the music industry. What is GRID most passionate about changing in the industry?
GRID is most passionate about encouraging originality and diversity within local music culture. A common theme we have found coming up for the artists we work with is a feeling of homogeny that exists in the scene, in terms what gets noticed versus what doesn’t. GRID aims to present an alternative model both to our artists as well as to the wider music community as to what can work for an emerging artist. There are equal weight and value in becoming a commercial ‘breakthrough’ act as there is in cultivating a loyal fanbase and community that supports you long-term. However, one system may encourage the artist to change or alter what they do, with the other allowing a greater degree of independence. Working in the emerging artist space, we feel lucky to be free of some of the pressures that come with the more commercial aspects of the industry, and as a result we’ve been able to cultivate and present sounds and styles that remain true and connected to the artist while also hopefully bringing something new to the table.

What advice do you have for those wanting to be involved in GRID?
Get in touch! We’d love to hear from you. You can email us a hello@gridseries.com.au or connect with us on social media.

GRID Series is taking on a handful of Audio Production students, with internships finalised for November. If you’re passionate about getting hands-on experience in your studies, check our courses—applications for 2018 are happening now! Please support the incredible people behind GRID Series on their Facebook or Instagram. Words by Monique Myintoo