Griffith delivers blow to Gold Coast music scene

Band at festival

aGriffith University’s new Centre for Creative Industries was opened late last year, with a cross-section of the city’s creative organisations and workers in attendance to mark the occasion. But the impact the Centre will have on the city’s emerging music scene is yet to be seen. The Centre for Creative Industries comes at a great cost – the cessation of the University’s ridiculously popular and prolific Bachelor of Popular Music program.

At the Centre’s opening, University Vice Chancellor and President Ian Connor said the significance of the Centre’s programs is that they cut across a whole range of disciplines: science, health, creative and others.

“I think it’s going to make a great contribution to the arts and creative industries on the Gold Coast,” he said.

Ian said the Centre was a response to “what we’ve seen happening in the community, and a response to internal demand from our staff.”

“It’s a major vehicle for us to deepen our engagement with the Gold Coast community,” he said.

Louise Bezzina, who formally opened the Centre said she believed the Centre was a gamechanger for the city.

“I think this program demonstrates that the Gold Coast is serious about arts and culture,” she said, before unveiling a commemorative plaque. “We are the sixth biggest city in the country and now we have our own dedicated creative industries program.”

Given the program the Centre replaces, its opening and its first intake of students this month comes with its share of controversy.

The new Bachelor of Creative Industries focuses on entrepreneurship in creativity. It does not focus on performance. The majors of sound design, commercial music, digital arts, photo media, drama, screen development and curation and interactive storytelling will be popular for many young people seeking careers in the arts, but not artists.

And many people in the local music industry believe the withdrawal of the music program leaves a gaping hole for the city at a crucial time for its fledgling music scene. This is driven home dramatically when you consider some of the key people in the local music scene who are Bachelor of Popular Music Graduates.

Mark Duckworth who programs the city’s biggest music events – Blues on Broadbeach and Groundwater Country Music Festival is a BPM graduate. He’s a musician in his own right and mentors, writes for and produces a bunch of well known and under-the-radar Gold Coast acts as well.

Guy Cooper, producer, sculptor, musician, manager and publicist for Gold Coast Music Awards winners Lane Harry x Ike Campbell and Being Jane Lane as well as a tranche of other emerging acts is also a BPM graduate. And as regular readers would know, Guy went on to be heavily involved in creating the Popular Music program’s new studios and delivering music courses to hundreds of undergrads.

Jared Adlam was a BPM Honours graduate (and now sessional lecturer). He’s an award-winning local producer booked pretty much all year round. Brad Hosking is a graduate too. Brad now lectures at TAFE Gold Coast and runs local studio Blind Boy Studios, he tours the world with Amy Shark as well as performing in a bunch of other projects including Electrik Lemonade and City Over Sand.

Ruwan Sena runs Luna Audio, producing live sound for local and national events. Ian Peres tours internationally with Xavier Rudd, amongst other projects. Ella Fence, Elska, Benny D Williams, Bobby Alu, Julz Parker (Hussy Hicks). They’re all BPM graduates. IVEY, Eliza and the Delusionals and Tesla Coils all have band members who’ve come through Griffith’s Bachelor of Popular Music.

And there’s more. Drummer Reece Baines who’s a session musician touring nationally is a BPM gratduate. As is Troy Wright, another successful session player and an educator. Cadence is a duo of two graduates who are prolific local performers. Brodie Graham (Band of Frequencies), Georgia Potter (AKA Moreton) – who was the first ever Carol Lloyd winner – yep, also BPM graduates. And while not living on the Gold Coast, Michaela Cole – a successful guitarist based in Tamworth, Miranda Ward (Austen), Danny Harley, Elliot Hammond (Delta Riggs), also lay claim to degrees through the program.

What about the songs that ABC Gold Coast have picked up in the past 18 months? Cold Ghost, Haxzel Mei, Emily Jane, Nightwoods. They’re all a product of that same program.

To think that the cessation of this degree program won’t have an impact on our rather delicate music scene is delusional. Academics from across Queensland Conservatorium’s programs talk about the music industry as an ecosystem, and as any budding biologist will tell you, you can’t remove something from the ecosystem without it affecting the other parts.

These young emerging musicians, full of promise and energy are the very artists who fill venues like Currumbin Pub, Vinnies and community events up and down the Coast. Major festivals were using the program to scope new talent. These artists were buying musical instruments, attending open mic nights, paying money to see their friends and mentors perform and basically helping the music industry stay afloat with their prolific gig-playing, gig-going and music-loving ways. They were attending Council artist development sessions, applying for grants, paying each other as session musicians and producers, using local studios, engaging photographers and filmmakers and generally creating a demand for music-related services.

As the Program was notified of its end, it had formed strategic partnerships with major venues and festivals such as Nightquarter, Bleach and Miami Marketta. BPM artists regularly graced the cover of Blank GC and opened the Gold Coast Music Awards event with live performances. Lecturers were in the process of negotiating a permanent presence at HOTA, Home of the Arts.

The 2017 SEED album, which featured BPM under graduates was streamed 2400 times and there were nearly 100 paid gigs for SEED artists – SEED being a program within the degree offering. Artists featured multiple times across the Bleach program and in 2017 BPM students and graduates featured in every single category of that year’s Gold Coast Music Awards.

In 2018, more than 40 current and past Bachelor of Popular Music students performed as part of the music festivals supporting the Commonwealth Games.  At the 2018 Gold Coast Music Awards, BPM students and graduates featured as finalists in six of the eight categories, with one graduate taking out Album of the Year.  One third of the artists for the Song of the Year entries were BPM current or graduates (either as lead or band player) and even more if you count the songs produced by graduates.

Make no mistake, the loss of this program from the Gold Coast will have a dramatic and far-reaching impact on the local scene – some of which we’ll be feeling for many years to come. We all lament the loss of a music venue, but what happens when you lose an entire generation of musicians from a city?

When asked about why the program had been discontinued, Professor Scott Harrison, Director Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University issued the following statement:

“Changes in the Conservatorium’s program offering have been made based on recommendations by an international panel of experts as part of the Conservatorium’s regular review.”

Benny D Williams graduated with a Bachelor Popular Music in 2017. He says when he heard the news the program was ending he was completely shocked.

“The institution seemed so solid and forever, that I never imagined it not being there in the future to provide the skills it has for the past however many years to creative such as myself.”

“Not only did it provide real world music industry skills and facilities but was also a great networking situation,” Benny said.

And he’s no spring chicken. Benny has been a stalwart on the local music scene for decades.

“The impact of the closure of the BPM could potentially lower the quality and amount of music coming out of the Gold Coast,” he said. “People will, of course, still make music but they won’t necessarily have access to or the knowledge to produce, release, promote their jamz.”

“People will find a way but damn, that was a really valuable experience for me. I feel honoured to have been a part of it.”

Like many in the grassroots scene, Benny says the new course sounds too ‘businessy’.

“The thing I’ve noticed about the ‘music business’ lately is that the actual art of making music has very little to do with it. It’s almost ridiculous that’s a thing. Artists sometimes need to be artists if they want to create something great. A little guidance from industry professionals like the bpm offered really helps nurture creative greatness.”

While according to speakers at its launch, the new Creative Industries program engaged local cultural workers in its design, we haven’t been able to find any local music representatives who were consulted through the process.

TAFE Queensland does offer a range of music programs – from Certificate through to Degree offerings, in partnership with universities and with some of the courses delivered by Bachelor of Popular Music graduates. And many of those courses are delivered here on the Gold Coast.

Despite a reduced focus on popular music, Griffith University’s Queensland Conservatorium continues to sponsor the Gold Coast Music Awards until at least 2021 and we’re extremely thankful for that support.

Do you have memories from your time doing a BPM, or stories to share related to this story? Tell us in the comments.

1 Comment

  • Reply February 22, 2019

    Julie Dignan

    Yes my daughter Amy Elise is an emerging musician and at 14 yo and ready to release her first single had already set her sights on Griffith Gold Coast BPM as her pathway to follow in the footsteps of role models like Benny D Williams. Now that option is no longer available to her.

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