Career

Digital Strategy Innovation Summit

September 20, 2018

If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll know that I’ve spent the past couple of days in Sydney:

  1. Sleeping in a capsule hotel,
  2. And doing nerdy things at the Digital Strategy Innovation Summit.

Capsule hotels, it turns out, are just glorified, high-tech hostels. Felt like I was in Aliens or The Fifth Element… Not sure if Mila or Sigourney ever wore thongs to the bathroom to avoid getting athlete’s foot though.

On the other hand, the Digital Strategy Innovation Summit definitely covered innovation, digital and strategy. Most of my digital and strategy skills are self-taught (peppered with a few great short courses here and there) so it was eye-opening, reinvigorating and inspiring to hear experienced strategists and innovators talk about things in my wheelhouse. And also comforting when it turns out that vague concepts in my heads are actually frameworks with fancy names.

Here are some quotes because everyone loves a quote:

  • “Digital is not a threat. It can be your answer. If you get Facebook really right, you have 500K marketing managers for your radio station.” – Linda Bracken, Former Head of Audience Strategy & Digital Design, ABC.
  • “Transformation is a subset of innovation. New technology is a symptom of human curiosity.” – Scott Ward, Founder, Digital Infusions.
  • “Machine learning is the high interest credit card of technical debt.” – Paul Tune, Machine Learning Engineer, Canva.
  • “Data only takes us so far. It shows us what’s happened in the past. Design thinking helps us figure out why things are happening.” – Scott Ward.
  • “Creating a product is easy. Selling a product is hard. You have to create something that people need rather than selling something you have.” >> Sadly did not catch this person’s name! Believe she was in marketing/comms strategy, and replaced someone who was ill so isn’t listed on the program.
  • “Don’t capture people’s data for no reason. Solve a problem, solve a beautiful problem.” – Jennifer Scott, GM Digital Transformation, ANZ.
  • The customer is in the centre.” – Rob Hango-Zada, Co-founder, Shippit.
  • “Creative disruption is the new business as usual.” – Scott Ward.
  • “Whenever you see customer friction, this is where change is going to happen.” – Jennifer Scott talking about waiting in line for a supermarket checkout, and then seeing what Amazon Go is doing in the US.
  • Not a direct quote, but Ali Adey (Head of Digital, Simon De Winter) and Kim Peirce (Founder, Babe Australia) talked about how they find micro-influencers to be more valuable than influencers for brands. While they have less followers, their audiences tend to be more niche and engaged. They’re also seen to be more authentic when endorsing brands because they aren’t already up to their eyeballs with brand deals.
  • “Get comfortable with being uncomfortable with uncertainty. We need to get excited about being uncomfortable with uncertainty.” Harmandeep Singh, former VP of Strategy and Innovation at Brady.
  • “Engagement is captivating interest for long enough that they give a shit.” – Rob Hango-Zada.

The recurring theme here was HUMANS.

Whether it’s customers for consumer-facing activity like marketing, sales, customer service and product innovation, or staff if we’re talking about processes, product development and digital transformations. A common sentiment across the board was that the best technology, processes, apps and ideas mean shit if they don’t fit the people. If you haven’t thought about how your team feel about something or how they are going to implement it, or you’re assuming blindly that people want your product, then you’re in trouble. (Side note – I have many, many thoughts about how this definitely still applies to creative industries like music. There’s much debate about writing music for yourself vs. writing music for the market, but that’s a giant blog post for another day.)

Story time. Back in my early twenties I worked in the diamond industry for a couple of years doing quality control and logistics. (Before you stalk me on LinkedIn, this job ain’t listed on my profile.)

My office was a very secure diamond vault, and I needed to get through five floor-to-ceiling fridge doors to get to it. Imagine the Get Smart credits – that was my morning walk into my office. It was also super cramped and so dark in the vault that I could barely read the tiny barcodes on my diamond bags.

The company paid a consultancy firm some hefty cash to help us improve productivity and therefore make more money. Some creepy dudes in suits came in for a few months, but not once did they actually talk to any lower level team members. Instead they went to lunch with upper management a few times, and then back with ‘business solutions’.

Their improvement for my role was to swap out my normal product trolley with a giant ‘high productivity’ trolley that did not fit into my bloody vault. I pointed this out to them, and they said they were 100% sure it fit because they checked the building’s blueprint. Turns out they didn’t think about the fact that a human needs to be able to fit WITH the trolley in the vault to put things on it, so I had to instead have my trolley outside the vault to do my work and walk double the distance every single time I retrieved a product. And also – no new lights.

People are important apparently. Talk to your humans. 😂

BIGSOUND: Edition Seven

September 12, 2018

Wot wot

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This year marked my seventh time up in Queensland for BIGSOUND. Here are some things that happened:
  • Ran a workshop with Bolster‘s Director Anthony Zaccaria on understanding data and being able to pull out actionable insights from a bunch of numbers.
  • Got attacked by a BIGSOUND monster. See above.
  • Finally watched No Mono live after months of hearing my friends gush about them. They were GREAT.
  • Went to watch No Mono’s second showcase, but accidentally walked through a Bin Juice set on the way and was blown away. Absolute music highlight of the whole conference. I didn’t end up catching No Mono again.
  • Asked a question at Darren Levin’s content panel, and then had a complete stranger in the loo afterwards tell me I had a lovely voice. (Not sure if she liked my question.)
  • This gem from Alex’s data panel, from the moderator Chris Carey: “Data only has an answer if you have a question to ask.” So figure out why you are looking at the data (what’s your artist’s top city, or the best retailer for record sales, or the top track this year, or good targeting ideas?) and then look at the data. Was fitting with the panel focusing on how there is so much bloody data available to us now, but people aren’t necessarily getting any extra value here. 
  • Got my own hotel room in a twist of fate because my roomie ended up breaking her ankle before flying up to Brisbane. Broken bones suck but privacy is pretty great.
  • The most incredible views from the Bolster boys’ hotel room.
  • Drunk conversations at the Eventbrite party comparing investing to advertising optimisation. (Give me a whisky and ask me about this.)
  • Heard a certain media person on a panel claim to simply take brands’ money and then bury their paid editorial with other content as their ‘native content strategy’… NB: person in question is not a Bolster employee, client or partner.
  • Pretty sure the Bolster espresso martinis were pure rocket fuel. See below.
  • Not getting completely sick! This is a BIGSOUND first for me. (I do feel not 100% and have been avoiding humans this week, but hey, this is still a big win.)

Bolster x BIGSOUND x Brisbane x…. Beverages 😏 #bigsound

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The Smith Street Band!

April 16, 2017


Congrats x a million to The Smith Street Band for scoring a top 3 ARIA chart debut with their new album! Such an incredible feat, and wonderful to know that indie music fans in Australia really still do buy music and support local talent.

I was so lucky to work on the album at Bolster via Remote Control and their management agency Little Giant (who, coincidentally, are “desk neighbours” in our office building). I’ll leave you with the following little video because CONFETTI CANNON:

Awkward, You Didn’t Check The Date

April 2, 2017

Happy April Fool’s Day!

Yesterday the Bolster crew pulled an April Fool’s PR prank that, um, didn’t work. We put up social media posts and a blog post about starting a new arm of the business… specifically a doggo club in Collingwood, by the name of WALKIES.

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I thought our pun-filled blog post made it pretty clear that this was a pisstake. Come on, ‘Courtney Barknett’? Apparently not.

A whole bunch of mates and clients messaged us to tell us how utterly excited they were. Sorry guys. It’s not real.

But not all of the blog post is wrong. We are moving office very soon, and the Collingwood converted warehouse in that pic is where we’ll be setting up shop very soon (albeit minus the Photoshopped WALKIES branding). Update on new office digs shortly!

The Austin Buzz

March 10, 2017

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SXSW is almost upon us! While I’m not headed over to the States for the music/tech/film conference, Bolster is still in on the action with another ‘buzz’ site.

This time round, the Bolster Creative team have created The Austin Buzz, an unofficial social media hype site. If it looks familiar, it’s because it’s the same technology we used for last year’s BIGSOUND Buzz app.

The Austin Buzz pulls together social media data around all the music acts trying their hand at South By this year, with info being drawn from public Facebook, Instagram and Twitter posts. User mentions/tags are also weighted according to the authority of the social media post’s author. In other words, a Pitchfork mention has more gravity than your mum on Twitter, sorry… There’s a nice little write up on The Music Network if you want to read what Alex Zacca had to say about it.

Kudos to the design team for their top notch graphic design work, which you can check out on this very monochromatic Instagram channel.

Side note – very pleased to see some amazing Aussies musos representing our fine country in Texas this week, including the likes of Kučka, C.W. Stoneking and Alex Lahey.

2016 Year In Review

December 27, 2016

2016 was a very weird year for everyone involved. Hey there, Brexit/Trump/Bowie/Snape/Malcolm Turnbull! On a more personal level, I had some shit things happen to me too (i.e. having my flu misdiagnosed as meningococcal and getting sent to the ER) but otherwise, some pretty sweet things happened to, including:

  • Celebrating an entire decade of calling the world’s most liveable city home.
  • Running a BIGSOUND Conference workshop with Alex for Bolster that ended up being the most popular workshop at the whole conference by far.
  • Getting to play five shows at Canadian Music Week with Darts, and successfully navigating LAX with 22kg of music gear.
  • Back on home soil, getting the chance to play some amazing Darts gigs this year, including opening for Tiny Little Houses, Bully, Bleached and Polish Club, plus playing Volumes Fests in Syd.
  • Finding a FREE HAT.
  • Figuring out what I sound awful why I try to sing. (It’s to do with my breathing, apparently.)
  • Heading over to Singapore in November and eating all the foods.
  • Successfully doing a webinar on digital advertising.
  • Speaking at the 8 Percent conference panel around the place of record labels in the current music climate.
  • Watching The Cure play Splendour In The Grass.
  • Completing a 100-day healthy challenge where I had to eat cleanly for 100 days. I accidentally found out that not eating processed food for over 3 months cures adult acne. The more you know.
  • Learning to knit!
  • Getting the chance to work with some absolutely phenomenal clients at Bolster, including Iggy Pop, Adele, Flume and more.
  • Finishing an online course in best practices for copywriting for web and learning some new things too.
  • Travelling more than I ever have in my entire life, with a record of 22 flights over 12 months. No flights booked for 2017 though and that makes me so happy.
  • Learning that I will never be satisfied with whatever headphones I own. (Currently on the Aiaiai TMA-2 Studio Presets which are okay, but HMU if you know something better.)

Happy New Year, guys!

Year In Music

December 20, 2016

Is it a bit weird that I work in the music industry and am constantly listening to new music, yet my most played songs of 2016 are largely songs from previous years?

According to Spotify, the tunes I spun the most this year were:

  1. ‘When I’m Small’ by Phantogram (new album was good, but this song just takes the cake)
  2. ‘Take a Dip’ by Weaves
  3. ‘Digital Witness’ by St. Vincent

Apart from these top three, I ended up listening to 3,273 unique songs by 1,266 total artists for over 35,262 minutes… Full playlist below. Largely chicks with guitars singing loudly… Typical.

In terms of new albums I really dug, I thought the new Glass Animals album was ace and had GA’s signature style but was a real progression from their first album. September Girls’ new LP ‘Age of Indignation’ also got a real thrashing this year, but I still love their older ‘Veneer’ EP so much.

The 8 Percent Festival, and The Role of Record Labels

November 12, 2016

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Thanks to The 8 Percent Festival for having me at their music panel! Yes, that’s me wearing a headset. I promise there were no cone bras on that stage. The sound guys just ran out of less-mental lapel mics. Also on the panel was Art Alexakis (Everclear), Joel De Ross (FMIN), and Luca Lucchesi (The Vaudeville Smash).

The panel was on the topic of music and the future of the industry, from the perspective of bands and record labels. The question that was put forward to me before the conference to think about was:

In your view, what are the main benefits an artist receives from signing to a label, whether they be big or small?

…this is something I can talk about for days. I know it’s really easy to shit on labels because there’s a weird consensus with some that: a) major labels fuck over artists and take all their royalties, and b) indie labels don’t know what the fuck they’re doing, and still take a lot of the royalties.

Maybe accurate for some artists/label relationships, which is unfortunate, but definitely not true for all. Here’s how I view labels:

  • The record label as an investor. I think some bands forget that the reason why they might not see royalties for a while is because their sales are covering marketing/manufacturing/PR costs around the album release, which the label covers initially and (sometimes depending on the deal) recoups off royalties. The labels have to make calculated guesses at the best initial spend on these activities for the best outcome (sell a shit load of records, make a band famous, etc.) without overspending. There’s a point where more advertising costs do not equal sales in a proportionate amount… Also, you have no idea how hard it is to figure out how many physical copies of an album to make for a band with no sales history. Too little = you miss out on sales and it’s harder for retailers to have a healthy amount of stock across all stores on release day. Too many and you’ve wasted money on manufacturing and are overstocked. (Also royalties take time to actually be processed by iTunes, Spotify and physical retailers. That delay isn’t all from the label side of things.)
  • The record label as a curator. This applies a lot more to indie labels than majors that sign anything from a largely commercial/sales point of view (although maybe rings true for imprint labels), but there are a few record labels that I love, and will give anything signed to their label a chance because I trust their A&R skills.
  • The record label as the expert. Artists signed to a label get a whole team behind them who look after distribution, manufacturing, royalties, marketing/advertising, retail/trade pitching and the like as a full time job. They’re been doing it for a while and they know what works and doesn’t work, and can often borrow ideas from other successful release campaigns.
  • The record label as the connection. Working with a record label also means that you get to be aligned with all their previous good working relationships with manufacturing plants (read: bulk  discounts), radio (easier radio adds), DSPs (think iTunes features and Spotify playlisting), retail (trade marketing and distribution) and media (more coverage). Label backing also helps tremendously when artists try to break other countries.

Not that a label deal is the only way to release music – it definitely depends on the artist and the label (and even further, the actual release). I just think labels do a hell of lot that people don’t realise. There. I’ve said it. ^_^

Not sure if the panel was filmed, but if it was I’ll link it up here soon so you can laugh at my headset action.

Talking To Ourselves

October 9, 2016

As I mentioned the other day, Alex and I did a webinar on digital advertising last week! Here’s a link to the Crowdcast – I know you can definitely watch the replay if you RSVPed… Not sure if you didn’t RSVP ahead of time but try and see what happens ^__^

It was the first time I’ve ever done a webinar or talked to a web cam without someone talking back a la Google Hangouts or Skype. A bit weird at first but after Alex and I finished and turned to each other and said, “Well, that was actually fun.” Definitely helped having someone else there to chat through our curriculum – it would have been harder to be peppy and engaging solo. Also awesome to have people live streaming us from around Australia and asking us great questions.

P.S. While we’re on the topic of talking to large groups of people about what I do for work, I’m speaking on a panel at The 8 Percent in Melbourne on Monday. Updates on that next week!

@azac89 and I did an internet thing tonight 🤗 mid-@blstr.co-webinar selfie.

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Masterclass, Round 2!

October 1, 2016

Alex Zaccaria and I are running a free webinar on digital advertising for music (specifically for music releases, tours, festivals and venues) next Wednesday evening. RSVP here! If you can’t make it, definitely RSVP anyway so you can be emailed the learning materials plus watch it post-event.

Alex and I actually hosted a Bolster masterclass at BIGSOUND last month (read more about that here) but it ended up being the first workshop at the conference to be fully booked out (talk about pressure). We had so many emails asking for a second workshop that we’ve decided to do it again!

BRB going to find some Madonna-style headset for this biz. P.S. Here’s me probably talking about Google Display Network banners (based on how bored Nicky & Alex look haha) at BIGSOUND.

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