Wow, what doesn’t she do? This week, Music Industry Inside Out got a chance to catch up with Emily Ulman, legendary festival director, music and festival programmer, teacher, radio presenter, songwriter and musician!
Following her studies at the University of Melbourne, LaTrobe, and RMIT, Emily kickstarted her career in the music and entertainment industry as an entertainment programmer, producer and publicist. She also has experience in stage management, tour management and teaching, and now has just under an admirable 20 years of experience. Nowadays, you’ll find Emily as the director of programming for Brunswick Music Festival and managing director of her own festival, Isol-Aid, which has honestly been a knight in shining armour through the whole drama and distress that COVID-19 brought to the music industry.
Now to pass it over to none other than Emily Ulman herself for your next dose of Week in the Life Of.
A job description in your own words:
A music programmer lovingly curates the performers for a particular event. It’s a lot like guest programming Rage, but with more emails. I run and program Isol-Aid, an award-winning online music festival and gathering space, where every weekend artists play 20-minute sets streamed live via their Instagram accounts. At the end of their set, each musician tag-teams the next artist to play, sending fans down a rabbit hole of new music discovery, community, and good feels.
I am also the programmer for Brunswick Music Festival, Melbourne’s longest running inner city festival. Next year, in 2021, BMF will celebrate 33 years. Over the decades, the festival has reflected the changing face of Brunswick, continually showcasing the best local talent, presenting high calibre international artists and embracing a movable feast of musical genres and events.
I also have a monthly ABC radio segment. I mentor, I consult, and I write and play music.
Everyday starts with…
7am alarm and shower. Pre-pandemic I was a nighttime shower person but these days I like to shower first thing. Interesting? Likely not. 8.30am tarot-a-day with my dear friend Lorrae. 11am phone call with my parents. End of the day reflections in my ‘Jar of Good’. These things are non-negotiable.
There are some things that happen on certain days but generally the weeks are a blur of meetings, bookings, prepping, planning, scheming, grant writing, applying for funding, doing interviews, writing letters of support, artwork, merch, accounts, copy, press releases, socials, fielding enquiries. It takes 12-15 hour days to bring an online festival to life.
On Mondays I have a WIP (Works in Progress) with the angels at Made in the Pile digital agency. They create the festival assets and look after socials, and in this weekly meeting we look back at the previous week and make a plan for the coming one. It’s really lovely to have an early week check-in, as it sets the tone for the week and is a great motivator.
I generally try to set aside Tuesdays for meetings, planning and accounting. I try to make sense of my inbox and approach all the things I have less time for in my schedule on other days. For this reason, Tuesday is usually frantic, as I jam my “to do list” into one day – like trying to zip up an overflowing suitcase (those were the days).
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Wednesdays are artwork day. The ever impressive Sebi White creates unique and original weekly festival designs. They’re witty, satirical, beautiful and thoughtful. Flurries of ideas fly back and forth between us like in a ballet. Generally, I suggest ideas and Sebi rejects them, it’s quite beautiful. There’s proofing and templates and updates and curator assets and time zones and dates and we all get a good workout.
Thursdays are the busiest day of the week at Isol-Aid HQ. Readying assets, scheduling copy and the subscriber newsletter, writing the press release, making sure artists have artwork and assets and everything they need for Friday’s announce schedule. On Thursdays there is a back and forth and back again between everyone involved and it’s like a shaken snow dome that finally settles its magic into place.
On Fridays at 11.30am Our Golden Friend (management, record label and publicity company) sends out the press release and we email the online Isol-Aid subscribers with the weekly artwork and lineup. At midday the general public announcement goes out. This is my favourite moment of the week because there is an audible sigh from somewhere within (I think it’s my heart) and despite the frenetic energy of excitement and artist and curator posts and shares and tags and buzz, for me there is pause.
Wanna be on a festival line-up? Our gig booking checklist is here to help.
The weekend brings with it the festival and I wake up with birthday butterflies in my chest. I wash my hair, put on some clean merch, wear jewellery and even dab on perfume! During the festival I am logged into the Isol-Aid Instagram account; starting the festival with an Acknowledgement of Country and commenting as Isol-Aid throughout. I haven’t yet been able to articulate the feeling the festival brings with it but if the smell of fresh rain on hot tar, kittens, a Western Bulldogs win, a text message from your favourite person and if a hug had a word, (probably in German) this feeling would be that.
Sunday is my fun day. But here’s the kicker, my job is fun, so I keep working today.
Challenges and accomplishments in your week:
A lot of pieces have to fall into place, and the challenge is guiding them down like a Tetris master. Sometimes the accomplishment isn’t slotting a long piece in neatly to clear four lines, but in creating something else entirely beautiful. Now I have the Tetris theme song in my head.
Highlights of the job:
There are so many. To be part of a community and collaboration is something so incredibly special. Putting in the work feels worth it when you see the festival come together; performers playing and punters commenting and donating.
Lowlights of the job:
The anticipation can be a burden. The grind is always worth it, but you find yourself wishing you could simply fast forward to the event itself. But I’ve watched too many documentaries on time travel (there’s a good one where Ashton Kutcher punk’d his past self) to entertain the thought of messing with the space-time continuum, as tempting as it is.
Words of wisdom for people considering a job in your field:
Have fun and be kind.
On that note, reach out if covid’s got you down. Our support and resources page is here to help.