Ben Salter is one of Australia’s most highly regarded performers and songwriters. Aside from his solo endeavours, he’s a founding member of Giants of Science, The Gin Club and the three-time ARIA-nominated Wilson Pickers. His debut solo album, The Cat, was released in 2011 and followed up by the critically acclaimed The Stars My Destination in 2015. With his third album Back Yourself, released just last month, Ben is currently out on a National Tour spanning across October and November.
Ben sits on an impressive and extremely diverse resume of collaborations with artists including Mick Thomas (Weddings, Parties, Anything), Tim Rogers (You Am I, The Temperance Union), Bernard Fanning (Powderfinger), Gareth Liddiard (The Drones) and Marlon Williams, to name a few. He also has a tour list featuring big names such as Cat Power, J Mascis, Gareth Liddiard, Counting Crows, Marlon Williams and most recently, Built To Spill.
Salter has established himself as an Australian performance legend who continues to relentlessly put up captivating shows of the highest calibre across Australia and the world. We’re proud to present to you with Ben Salter’s Savvy Seven tips for emerging artists!
Stream BACK YOURSELF HERE
Tour Tickets: bensalter.com.au
1) Who was your first musical inspiration? Why?
Tim Rogers. I grew up in Townsville and as a kid, I wrote him a letter which he was kind enough to answer. He encouraged me to play music and said he’d try to get Townsville as a stop on his next tour, which was huge to me. To think that 20 years later, while touring with The Gin Club, I would get to share a stage with him is just unbelievable. Tim has devoted his life to music and what I love about him is that he’s so genuine. You know he’s just…Tim, he’s got good days and bad days and he doesn’t hide it – such a big inspiration.
2) What advice do you have for someone who is about to set off on their first tour?
Be prepared and always play your best, it doesn’t matter if there are 2 or 2000 people in the audience, you can’t let yourself have a bad gig. Words travel fast and you never know who could be around to see it! Taking care of yourself is also very important, try to stay away from too much alcohol, eat well and get proper sleep so you’re ready to get up there the next day and deliver a good show. Also, don’t forget to actually enjoy yourself. You’re doing something you love and even though it’s hard work, you get to see some amazing places and people on tour.
3) What has been one of the most defining moments in your career?
When I was around 30 I had been playing in bands for 10 years already, but when people would ask me “what do you do?”, I’d say “well at the moment I’m playing in bands but I’ve also got this Arts degree and this other thing going, etc”. Then I hit 30 and I just went “hang on a minute, this is what I do now”. I think a lot of people get to 30 and want a job with a bit more security. Being a musician comes with a special kind of lifestyle and I can totally understand that it’s not sustainable for everyone. But I thought “no, this is truly what I want to do”.
I’d been putting off making a solo album for ages and I was a big fan of The Drones and got to play with them a few times. Then, I became pretty good mates with Gareth and Fiona from the band. I mentioned to Gareth that I wanted to make a solo album and asked if he’d be interested in producing it, and he said he’d love to. That was just the bit of incentive I needed to get started. Finishing that album was a defining thing for me because I was finally performing under my own name. Gareth also inspired me to just go for it and forget about safety nets, I just went fully for music. With that, I started taking everything a bit more seriously, including taking better care of economy bits (probably should’ve done that earlier…).
4) How has your music practising changed over time?
Over time I’ve definitely started taking things more seriously. Little things like having equipment that works all the time and putting on a consistent show no matter what the audience or PA-system is like -in general being more professional no matter the circumstances. Songwriting I’ve tried not to mess with, my creative process is quite spontaneous and I try to write songs whenever I have time in between shows.
My approach to the music industry has probably worsened, I’m just not willing to do some things that the industry might ask of you at times.
5) My top business tip for new artists is…
Make a budget for everything – and try to stick to it. Put money aside from everything you’ve done to support the next thing coming up. Also, get a good accountant! If you’re not good with money and keeping books, get someone to do it for you, it’ll save you a lot of grief.
6) My biggest career mistake has been…
Not having my shit together enough at an early age. I don’t think I necessarily didn’t take it seriously, but I didn’t trust myself and my gut instinct. You’ll have people around you saying you should be doing this or that because it’ll look good for you, or you shouldn’t be playing with this person because it won’t look good. So you end up in the middle of all of these opinions when really, you should just be looking into your own heart and finding the answer through trusting yourself. It is a bit of a catch 22 because it takes a while to get to that position, so it might be more of a regret than a mistake. Often you know what’s best for you, but it’s a tough industry to stand tall in and not get carried away by others’ opinion of who you are or should be.
7) In my opinion, the most important issue facing the music industry is…what do you think can change that?
People’s attitude to the worth of music is a big issue. The current generation kind of sees music as worthless in the aspect that they expect to get it for free or for next to nothing. When you look at how much it takes to make, market, tour, release and print, all that sort of stuff, it costs a lot of money and that money is not coming in from musical sales anymore. It’s a direct result of streaming services, as they’re paying a very low royalty rate. For me, there’s no way I can rely on streaming to replace the income from CDs. I don’t really see how that’s going to change and I can complain about it as much as I’d like, but the reality is that to make up for it I have to go tour all the time – play live shows and hopefully sell tickets and get money that way.
I’m not sure of what the solution is, and it probably won’t be sorted anytime soon. But seeing a bit more returns would help a lot of artists out there. I do think the streaming services are absolutely fantastic from a consumer point of view, but smaller artists are getting ripped off.
Watch the video to Ben’s single Isolationism below:
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