Nicola Pitt studied a Communications degree at Newcastle University, then worked for 6 years in Sydney in the book publishing industry as a publicist. She then went travelling, lived in Mexico, learned Spanish, returned to Australia and before the dust had really settled on that adjustment found herself living in the red dust of the Central Australian desert, working at CAAMA Music, Australia’s oldest Aboriginal record label.
In the three years I’ve been living in Alice Springs I’ve jumped head first into the music industry, while at the same time being in the unique position of working alongside the oldest living culture in the world. Between learning the ropes of the music industry and learning the customs of a different culture, I’m always on my toes and expecting the unexpected.
My business cards have said many different things in the three years I’ve been working here at the CAAMA Music record label in Alice Springs. Initially my cards read ‘Marketing & Promotions’, but as it was the beginning of a relatively new phase for the record label, there still wasn’t much music to promote at this point, let alone a budget with which to market. It became clear pretty quickly that a more accurate job description was ‘Communications & Artist Management’, because a fair degree of both was required in order to raise the profile of the record label, at the same time as fostering promising musicians and attracting other talent to record at the studios. The business cards now say ‘Artist Manager’, although since the beginning of the year my email signature has said ‘Sales & Artist Management’. In the ever-changing financial landscape of the arts world, it helps to remain flexible! So in the absence of a definitive job title or description, hopefully this summary of my week below will serve to give a better overview of my role (at the moment). You’ll notice that booking agent should probably be added to that business card…
First thing in the morning I sent an application for Lajamanu Teenage Band to be considered for the Sand Tracks tour of remote Western Australia, which is organised each year by Country Arts WA. Lajamanu Teenage Band are one of the most popular and enduring desert reggae acts, who’ve released around five albums over a period of 20 years. After all that time the band are definitely past their teenage years, but they still draw large and devoted crowds who sing along to the Warlpiri lyrics .The Sand Tracks headliner is decided by the votes of Central Australian Aboriginal communities, and I think LTB have a pretty good shot at getting the vote.
Finalised the booking agreement for Gawurra to perform at an upcoming festival, and sent along the technical specifications. Sent a quote for his performance fee to another festival enquiring about a possible performance. Gawurra is an artist from Milingimbi Island who’s just released his debut album to growing acclaim, including a recent review in Rolling Stone magazine giving him 4.5 stars! Exciting times here at CAAMA Music.
The day also involved:
- A long meeting with the studio manager and label manager to formalise the processes and procedures of the entire recording process from artist signing to music release
- Sourced more info on possible arrangement with a booking agent and Kristal West
- Sourced the Yolngu lyrics to Gawurra’s songs, for possible inclusion in the music video
- Sent album translations to Gawurra’s publicist
- Sent quote to Pine Creek Gold Rush Festival (near Katherine)for 2 remote bands to perform at their event in June
- Spoke to coordinator of MusicNT Alice Springs office, about the potential changes to this year’s Bush Bands Bash mentoring program and annual concert
Last year a popular venue in town approached CAAMA Music to program their live entertainment, and these free gigs have now become the most well-attended regular music events in Alice Springs, not to mention the only regular entertainment in town for Aboriginal audiences. This month I’ve programmed Eastern Reggae, a band from the remote community of Santa Teresa who sing in the Eastern Arrernte language. Because the lead singer (and my main contact) is out bush for ‘Sorry Business’ (cultural funeral obligations). I can’t get in touch to confirm this gig and so invite another band called Desert Mulga (from the small Warlpiri community of Nyrripi) to also perform, hoping that between the two invitations I’ll get at least one band on the day. This plan works out perfectly, only it’s Desert Mulga who unexpectedly pull out and Eastern Reggae show up. They draw a modest crowd of 400 people. One of the more established bands like Lajamanu Teenage Band would full the place to capacity at 1,200 people.
On these performance days I don’t usually get much else done but you get a sense of the day here:
- Went to bank to organise band payment in cash
- Wrote social media posts promoting the gig
- Oversaw the event from 3-5pm
- Liaised with website developer on an SEO plan to implement tweaks to the functionality of the CAAMA Music online store
Today I spent most of the day with my booking agent hat on. CAAMA Music is increasingly becoming known as the central point to make contact with remotely located Aboriginal bands. Over the past three years I’ve collected a contact list of public phones, shire offices, and general stores across the desert, allowing me to get in touch with bands despite the vast distances, lack of internet and minimal mobile phone reception.
Gigs booked today:
- Booked 3 local acts to perform at the Alice Springs NAIDOC celebration in July
- Locked in NAIDOC performance for Gawurra in Melbourne
- Contacted 3 local acts to perform at a corporate cocktail event in Alice Springs. No luck yet.
In the evening I attended an event organised by Tourism Central Australia event, and found it a good opportunity to let the tourism sector know about our new indigenous music releases coming up, hopefully to increase the potential for their music to be included in tourism events or campaigns.
Since taking on the sales management of CAAMA Music’s distribution arm at the beginning of the year, I’ve been establishing contact with our customer base and have begun collecting orders for our new releases such as Gawurra, as well as topping up their back-list of CAAMA’s bestsellers such as Tjintu Desert Band, Coloured Stone, Blekbala Mujik and Frank Yamma. Spent most of the afternoon researching our best customers. Many of them are still in the game, some are not stocking CDs anymore, and other music shops have closed completely. This mirrors what the entire music industry has been suffering from for the past few years.
With my artist management hat on again I also wrote an application for Melbourne-based artist Alice Skye to perform at the St Kilda Festival and booked Gawurra’s flights to Alice Springs, where he will soon be rehearsing in preparation for his upcoming festival performances.
UNBELIEVABLY GOOD NEWS DAY! Today we found out that CAAMA Music has been awarded 4-year funding from the Australia Council for the Arts, for the very first time! As well as being a huge relief it’s also an incredibly good feeling to be recognised for the work we’ve done over the past few years, which has seen Tjintu Desert Band collect rave reviews, perform at WOMAD and be invited to perform in Canada, while Jacinta Price was this year declared the pick of Woodford Folk festival by Scenestr. Last year we recorded so many amazing new artists and this funding means we now have the scope to promote these upcoming releases and unearth and record many more unique Aboriginal voices.
Alice Springs is a pretty popular travel destination, which is lucky because it means that although we live 1,500 kms from family and friends, we’ve had plenty of visitors over the past three years. This last month has been unusually busy, with 4 family members and 2 friends visiting over the space of 3 weeks! During that time my weekends were filled with camping trips to Palm Valley, Kings Canyon and the West MacDonnell Ranges. This was my first weekend with no visitors so was able to tend to the house and do all those types of chores that tend to pile up.
Alice Springs is also a very community-driven place, with many people volunteering their time to organise quirky events. I enjoy giving back to that community where I can so on Saturday night I volunteered as an usher at the quaint Totem Theatre, which was putting on a locally-produced musical.
Finding out about the Australia Council funding was not only the highlight of this week, but no doubt the highlight of the month and will probably be one of the top highlights this year I imagine!
Learning that Desert Mulga weren’t going to per form this week could have easily been a low point, but after so three years working here I’ve developed a pretty good sixth sense and have learned to make contingency plans. Which brings me to the next point…
Words of Wisdom
There are many things I’ve learned in this job, and I continue to learn more every day. Anyone who moves to the Northern Territory will very soon realise that things work to a different rhythm out here. You can make plans, but shouldn’t be too attached to those plans. Governments wax while policies wane, funding can be as dry as the Todd River and then suddenly overflow the banks. Cultural commitments might clash with musical ones. An open mind and flexible attitude to change is a necessity – and not only in this job. We all like to think that with carefully planning everything will work out exactly as we calculate. But life is full of variables and examples abound in Alice Springs. Here you must learn an important philosophical lesson – all is change. It’s how you deal with it that counts.