Write a song from scratch in a day – or more accurately, in the space of seven hours– with two other artists who you may revere, or just merely know of by reputation and rumour. Now do it for four days straight producing work in genres that are as incongruous to your own style as eating a mixed bowl of Cheezels and grapes. Now, at the end of the exercise, spin around while over 20 of your peers crowd into a room to listen closely to what you came up with.
Okay, so the Cheezels and grapes and spinning around aren't involved, but it still sounds nerve-wracking, right? Intimidating? Shame? Just insert that anxious emoji here right now.
Earlier this month, a number of Indigenous musicians, singers, songwriters, composers and producers did precisely that, participating in the inaugural First Nations SongHubs camp in Melbourne’s Southbank alongside international artists from Turtle Island, Aotearoa and the Pasifika islands.
Co-funded by Creative Victoria, the 61st SongHubs camp was curated by none other than proud Yorta Yorta man Briggs – fresh off the release of his latest single, Life Is Incredible. It also featured special international guests Tufawon, 10A and multi-platinum producer Savage. They joined the likes of local artists Alice Skye, Birdz, Naomi Wentiong, Nooky and many more at the prestigious Abbey Road Institute studios to collaborate on producing original fresh work from off the back fence, or to put it like Briggs: to “create bangers”.
The SongHubs concept has been around for six years now and has earned in excess of $1.8 million in royalties for the commercial releases that have emerged from the camps. The idea is an initiative of the Australian Performing Rights Association (APRA) and the Australasian Mechanical Copyright Owners Society (AMCOS), and more specifically, the brainchild of Milly Petriella, director of APRA AMCOS member relations.
When Ms Petriella got the very first SongHub up and running back in August 2013, the idea was to facilitate working partnerships between recognised Australian talent and international ‘top-liners’ to both increase Australian artists’ ownership in international hit songs and to foster “collaborative opportunities that go beyond the studio walls”.
After the success of the very first SongHubs, naturally the concept kicked on and it is now roundly hailed as a game-changer by artists and industry-folk alike, with each camp attracting hundreds and hundreds of applications from APRA AMCOS members seeking to attend.
After participating in last year’s first ever SongHubs to be held in South America, proud Butchella man and Hip Hop artist Birdz said while the camp in Brazil’s Sao Paulo was an eye-opener for him, the first First Nations SongHubs was “extra special”.
“Sao Paulo was dope. It was my first SongHubs experience too,” he told The Point. “But being back here doing it at home and with mob, working together: it’s a beautiful thing.”
Danielle Tuwai, APRA AMCOS member relations liaison for the Melbourne First Nations SongHubs, described the collaborative working environment as the “strongest, most important part” of the four day camp. “If we get a commercial hit that comes out of this camp that’s awesome, but the most valuable part is the relationship building,” she said.
“Those relationships will go on to last many years.”
Among the emerging local artists who participated in the camp included Rebecca Hatch, who won triple j unearthed Indigenous High; Rachael Lia, an emerging artist currently studying at The Australian College of The Arts; Crystal Clyne who performs as Lady Lash/Crystal Mercy; Hip Hop artist Ziggy Ramos; two Country/Blues and Roots artists in Benny Walker and Robert Champion; Kristal Kickett and Candice Lloyd of The Merindas; and up-and-comer rapper Ridzyray.
Although the line-up may have already had closer ties before the camp kicked-off than participants at the start of other SongHubs, Naomi Wenitong said oftentimes the First Nations artists were just passing each other at gigs.
“We don’t get time to sit down, or make time to really sit [together] in the studio,” she said.
That kind of opportunity to network “over something real” rather than just for the sake of it was the camp’s strongest sell-point said Ziggy Ramos. “You’re meeting each other in common territory and by creating,” he said. “You get to sit down and show what you can do and connect through that.”
The rub - for some artists at least - may come with the culmination of the camp: a listening party where all participants and organisers listen to the output produced over the course of the four or five days.
While much of the camp is about networking and up-skilling in the studio through collaboration, it’s also about building confidence, said Birdz, even if it comes as a trial by fire.
There’s no time to fine tune or tweak these songs, he said: “It can be intimidating, standing in a room full of your peers, showing them something that might not be all the way finished, or is just a raw idea. But there’s also a lot of positive learning experiences that come from it.”
Decked out correct in black jeans, polo and bomber jacket, replete with Raiders black cap and two slender gold neck chains, Briggs chuckled when asked about the pressure when it came to the camp's big reveal.
“Some people are shame because they’re half-finished songs. They’re not really done yet. But that’s not really what it’s all about,” he said.
Briggs, who himself participated in SongHubs #54 in Los Angeles alongside Wigmore and top-liner songwriter Livvi Franc (Brittany Spears, Rhianna) describes the whole SongHubs concept as “speed-dating for songwriting”. His recent release, Life is Incredible is the product of his State-side SongHubs experience in October last year.
Sipping a take-away coffee, he reflected on that experience in relation to the First Nations SongHubs camp.
“It’s just a good opportunity for young artists like Rebecca Hatch or Ridzyray to work with artists like Nay Wenitong and Savage,” he said. “There’s a good opportunity there for a lot of guidance, a lot of mentorship.
“Out of these four days they might have one or two songs, or some ideas for songs, that they didn’t have before the camp. It can help propel you into the next stage of your career.”
Gathered together in the foyer before Briggs’ arrival on Day Two, the artists had chatted casually on leather couches and around a breakfast spread of fruit, pastries, tea and coffee. But as Briggs mustered them together to assign the day’s working teams (involving just a touch of ribbing between curator and artists), the volume of their banter spiked. Suddenly the laughter was nervy. Then, just as quickly, the morning conference was over and dissolving as each new team headed for their designated studio to get down to the business of bangers.
“Cultivating meaningful outcomes for community is part of the vision of Bad Apples Music,” Briggs explained over a coffee with The Point afterwards. “We recognise opportunities within the industry and bring them to Indigenous and First Nations artists, producers and song writers so that they can utilise the space and further their careers.
“It’s the first, and it won't be the last.”
- For more in music and mob, watch tonight's episode of The Point at 8.30pm on NITV Ch34 featuring special guests Alice Skye and Dallas Woods.