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11 things we learned at The Regional Sessions WA

Tip Published Thursday 13 April 2023
Regional Sessions Keynote Speakers (l-r): Darren Hanlon (Busselton), Petris Torres (Broome), Katy Steele (Karratha), Kevin Mitchell (Albany) and Anna Laverty (Kalgoorlie-Boulder)

The Regional Sessions Western Australia headed to Albany, Busselton, Kalgoorlie-Boulder, Karratha and Broome last month.

Songwriters and musos of all levels came along to learn from top Australian talent including Katy Steele, Kevin Mitchell, Anna Laverty and more.

So many topics were covered: collaboration, longevity, staying positive and communication

What a time we had presenting The Regional Sessions at five stellar Western Australia locations: Albany, Busselton, Kalgoorlie-Boulder, Karratha and Broome last month.

The past few years have been a wild ride for music creators, and our keynotes shared their thoughts on a range of topics – the power of clear communication, longevity in the industry, the post-covid challenges, the role of technology and mixing up your songwriting approaches.
We learned about a range of key takeaways – here are our top 11:

1. “It’s communication, the whole way along.”

Whether you’re heading to a studio, collaborating or touring, pro-active, clear communication goes a long way.

To get the most out of a recording session, Anna Laverty recommends you do your research: “before you go anywhere near a studio, talk with the producer about what you want. Give them references to songs you like that sound like what you want, and get on the same page about what you’re aiming for. It’s communication, the whole way along. Trust is important.

Petris Torres in Broome also spoke of the producers’ role in encouraging trust with artists: “Sometimes production is not about the musical side, or the technical, sound engineering side, it’s just trying to make them comfortable and let the art come out of the artist.

2. Have the challenging convos up front: “Talk about it beforehand”

Speaking of communication, participants were encouraged to sort out the administrative, business side of a project early on.

This is an important part of professionalising your practice, and could relate to splits, contracts, production credits, or setting clear expectations on your project.

With regards to songwriting splits, Anna Laverty notes: There’s no set way of doing it… 50 % lyrics, 50% music is one way of doing it. But then equal splits across a band is another way of doing it, for longevity. So 20 years later the band still exists because one guy isn’t driving a Ferrari and the other guy is driving a Datsun. Cause that will cause friction within the dynamic. Nothing wrong with Datsuns by the way" [laughs].

If you’re curious, check out our guide for songwriting splits

Katy Steele (Little Birdy) recommended getting legal assistance if you’re writing contracts: “You’ve always got to have a lawyer, and read everything properly. And make sure you’ve got a good manager, somebody you trust.”

Our friends at Arts Law are here to help, if you need.

Kalgoorlie. Photo Melissa Drummond

Broom Regional Sessions. Photo Robak Photography

3. “Choose to invite people into your world"

On the theme of trust, Kevin Mitchell (Bob Evans, Jebediah) in Albany spoke about the benefits of collaborating with people you gel with: “You can choose to invite people into your world. If you’re making music with people you really enjoy spending time with, it might make [the project] more unique or special because of the chemistry of the people involved.

4. The power of production

Some keynotes encouraged participants to learn the basics of music production, to further hone their songwriting.

Katy Steele reckons – “Get into production, learn how drums and synths work, see how sonics work. It’s really cool, learning about what you like and don’t like. The inspiration is endless!”

Petris Torres agreed, saying “get across the keyboard! If you know the keyboard, then you have access to a lot of stuff. You might not need the greatest music theory anymore, but I do encourage everyone to get the fundamentals at least.”

5. Mix up your writing environment

If you’re having troubles penning your next hit, our speakers suggested mixing it up. Darren Hanlon in Busselton reckons taking a writing retreat does wonders:

"Get on a train or a bus, and leave the city. There’s something to be said about movement... It does something to your mind. Try and choose towns without mobile reception. I love no phone reception, so no one can bug you. Or turn your phone off, leave it somewhere else. It’s like a zen experience too. You’ll come back feeling so filled up. Make your own little commitments, go do it. Go on a sabbatical.”

Photo Robak Photography

Busselton. Photo Abby Murray

6. Life gets busy, and writing takes practical discipline

In a perfect world we could work on songwriting all the time. But alas, most of us are juggling many commitments in life. Our keynotes said that time management and discipline was the best way to keep progressing with songwriting when life gets busy:

Kevin Mitchell in Albany said “As I’ve gotten older and I’ve got a family now, it just requires discipline…I’ve come to realise that you can be creative by just showing up, doing the work. That means I have very specific times when I can work. Times when my kids are at school.”

Anna Laverty said that discipline and time management affected her schedule in a similar way: “I have kids now…so I have to leave [the studio] at a certain time. I have a plan in my head about how long we can spend on each thing, and we never really go over it. It’s part of the job, being on time. And using your people skills to get people into the right frame of mind and prepared for their part is really important to keep things going, keep things on time.”

7. The internet and social media: “Use it as your tool, don’t become a slave to it"

Speakers also reflected on the role of technology in changing the music industry – both positives and negatives.
Darren Hanlon says “Technology has definitely changed the way I’ve promoted and structured the business side of things. It’s definitely detracted in [my] productivity. You’ve got to use it as your tool, and not become a slave to it.”

Katy Steele in Karratha noted the volume of new music available: “it’s obviously a lot more crowded now. 100,000 songs get uploaded to Spotify [and other DSPs] each day. That’s a lot of songs. How do you stand out from that? But it’s also a good thing. You can go home and write a song right now. Everything is available on a laptop.”

Petris Torres in Broome encouraged participants to use the internet as a learning resource: “YouTube is amazing. You can literally do an equivalent to a uni degree on YouTube these days. I just study all the time.”

Back to school, folks!

8. Go easy on yourself - it's tough out there

Finding the industry tough at the moment? You’re not alone. Our keynotes shared the belief that it’s difficult to make a living in music at the moment.
When asked if the industry had recovered since Covid, Katy Steele in Karratha answered, "I don’t think so. The problem is that because we’ve had two years off, everyone’s releasing, everyone’s doing shows, everyone’s trying to catch up, the whole market is so flooded. I’m doing a big tour in July and August and I’m really nervous about it, because it's just so crowded. It’s harder for us to stand out and be relevant…Things are just not moving the way they used to"

Katy went on to speak about the additional workload for artists nowadays: “There’s so much more work involved in being a musician. You’re not just a musician now, you’ve got to do your social media, admin, run your website, there’s about a million jobs."

Darren Hanlon in Busselton agreed: "It’s hard for musicians. It’s so hard. It’s getting worse. Prices go up, rents go up. Cities are insane... it’s not like our wages ever go up. If anything, they go down. So, you need to find life hacks. And they’re out there.”

Amongst Darren’s hacks are living in a church, a bookshop and a bread truck!


Karratha. Photo Fuzz Digital.

9. Turning lemons into lemonade

Difficult experiences can also be fodder for songwriting. When Covid struck, Kevin Mitchell found a whole new approach to his craft.

“I re-discovered writing for the sake of writing. I wrote a bunch of stuff that was really different from anything I’ve written before. It made me re-approach my process. It made me embrace for the pleasure of writing."

10. Stick with it

Another pro tip from our keynotes was: don’t give up!

“People often ask me ‘what’s the secret to longevity?”, said Kevin Mitchell. “And the simple answer is, don’t break up, don’t stop. If you just don’t stop, you’re going to stick around longer and you’re going to have more opportunities.”

Darren Hanlon in Busselton agreed: “I think it’s great growing older, because you have so much more experience. And you’re calmer. You realise that all those things you were worried about in your 20s don’t matter. There’s room for everyone. Don’t be competitive. I know musicians who are very competitive and it makes them miserable. You’ve got to be happy with your lot.”

11. Trust your gut

Finally, if you’re unsure which direction you want to take your music, the speakers agreed that you can trust your gut.
“Be true to yourself, and work hard and be honest”, said Katy Steele. “Trust your gut, that’s super important. Trust your gut to find the right people to work with you. Try and find a good team, once you get to that level. Just be you.”

Petris Torres shared similar thoughts: “Follow your ears, and follow all your other instincts."

Kevin Mitchell has come to realise that “If a song excited me, turns out it was going to excite at least a few other people as well.”