A lot of people are happy to sit at home and whine about the state of modern music. As the CEO of the AIR Awards, Stu Watters is one person who has decided to do something for Australia’s truly independent artists.
He was kind enough to answer these questions for us…
Interview w/ Stu Watters (CEO
of the AIR AWARDS)
By Cameron Chambers
Cam, this is Stu.
Hey man, we really appreciate
your time today Stu.
Oh yeah, that’s part of what
it’s all about. You’ve got to make time for these things and ensure
that we’re doing the job we’re supposed to be doing.
First up, for those who
don’t know what the AIR Awards are, can you please give us a brief
history of what they are all about?
The AIR awards are in their
second year. The awards are aimed at celebrating the excellence and
diversity of our content… which is music that’s Australian made and
owned and independently released.
We use this as an opportunity
to celebrate amongst ourselves but at the same time we are creating
a platform that will hopefully push independent music back to the music.
I guess we are trying to create something of a spotlight or profile
What’s your involvement
with the Awards?
Well, I’m the CEO of the organization
and to a certain extent I’m the producer of the event. I get involved
in all facets, ranging from nominations right through to making sure
that the spelling is right on the awards, ha ha.
I’m not alone though… there’s
a whole team of us involved in the process! At the moment there’s a
cast of around 20 people who are all running around to make this happen.
What inspired you to get
involved with the awards?
To give you some background,
AIR is the Australian Independent Recording Association. It’s been operating
since 1997 but it’s been pretty solid since 2000. We kicked off a new
version of the charts in 2000 and we are the only independent charts
in the country.
The awards have always been
the long term goal though. A couple of years ago we thought that the
charts had earnt a permanent place in the recording industry and we
felt that they were becoming integral to the environment. On the back
of that we felt it was time to develop the awards.
Last year was the first where
we had four awards… it was a small step.
We wanted to encapsulate some
of the great artists out there and this year we’ve increased the pool
of awards from four to eight to ensure that we take in and represent
the genres that our charts cater for.
We have the dedicated genre
charts and we’ve now added another four awards for country, jazz, blues
& roots and dance & electronic. There’ll also be announcement
at the awards which will be letting everyone know that there will be
another two charts next year which will result in another two awards.
What have you got in store
for this years event?
There will be four performances
taking place. We plan on keeping it short and sharp so we’ll start at
6:30pm and hopefully be done by around 8:45pm… just knock out some
good awards and then have four performances.
Who’ll be performing?
Blue King Brown, Earth Boy,
Ben Winkleman Trio and British India.
It’s obvious that everyone
involved in the AIR Awards is very passionate about the Australian music
scene. Is keeping it local, so to speak, something you guys pride yourselves
It’s our business really. Parochial
is a word that’s thrown around negatively, but we are parochial and
happy to be that because it ensures that we are representing the interests
of the Australian owned recording artists. Time is a motivating driver…
that’s why we’re in the business.
We make sure we provide a space
and an opportunity for artists that make the choice, or in some cases
they don’t make the choice, but either way they don’t go down the major
Majors are very adept at securing
the attention of the public through their access to media. They have
more resources which are more often than not out of reach to the independent
sector, so it’s important to hold hands with other brands and companies
as they provide us with the resources that enable us to reach more people.
Our involvement by virtue with
companies like Jagermeister has enabled these things to happen.
How important do you think
being an Independent artist in Australia is these days, taking into
the account the rise of the internet and decrease in CD sales?
There’s always a place for
us to be. It’s not so much about how important it is to be an independent
artists but it’s more integral for Australia to have a thriving independent
community. It gives Australians a choice of listening to a whole range
of quality artists who are developed here locally and they represent
our own voice.
That’s the stuff that makes
it important! In regards to being an independent artist… it’s up to
the artists to make those choices. It’s certainly a hard slog in the
independent scene but the rewards can be phenomenal and the sales achievements
have both financial and performance successes which are much
less strenuous than a major.
It’s certainly a good space
to be in.
Do you think more artists
should look to sign with Independent labels in their own country rather
than trying to get on the biggest major label possible?
I think it’s really up to the
individual. The point is that there is a choice… a really viable choice
for the independent artists. Say ten years ago, most artists were thinking
along the lines of “we need a major label to help us make it”.
Australia has had a very long
history of supporting it’s own talent and their companies and lots of
companies are all for supporting Australian talent. That’s always been
the case but there’s more of a focus now… well, more in the mainstream
as a concept.
People didn’t really understand
it and they’d say “oh, I’m going to buy an indie record”. But now
they have a more intuitive understanding of that as a brand.
I don’t want to overstate it
but with the success of artists like Jon Butler it’s made it more understood
that artists can do it on their own. Jon Butler is a flagship artists
and people who are fans of music in Australia have a good understanding
of what it actually means to be independent.
I guess it’s safe to say
that most artists want to have their music heard by the biggest possible
audience. What advice would you give to a band that would maybe swing
them from deciding to sign with a Major as opposed to an Indie Australian
The terms, ha ha. It really
depends. It’s a horses for courses process. The kinds of things that
I would point out to an artist that may have those options of front
of them is that “is there a long term solution for your career with
one of these companies”?
One thing that an independent
label does well is develop and maintain the interest of the artists
in the long term. Now, that can happen with majors… there’s been many
examples, but in the independent sector we have a long track record
of having long term relationships with our artists.
How do you think Australian
music stands up to the rest of the world?
It’s fantastic! The only difference
is that the rest of the world hasn’t cottoned on yet. There’s a growth
of understanding that there’s some great music coming out of Australia
but at the end of the day we’re at the arse end of the world so we have
a long development period before our artists are exposed to a large
By the time our acts hit the
world stage they’re match fit. Look at the Hilltop Hoods. They’ve been
doing it for ten years and it’s only in the last few years that the
rest of the world has taken notice.
I also think that the exposure
that an artists like Wolfmother gets is beneficial for everyone, because
that level of exposure has a flow on effect and then people see that
there’s a whole bunch of artists lurking in the soft light of the shadows.
Who votes for the nominees
and how do they win?
The nomination process is in
essence voted for by the people but we do make a selection of the artists
at the top.
We get through three stages
before the final nominations. The top pool of people are numerically
listed artists from our charts, so they are drawn from retails from
punters handing over their hard earned for independent music. So you’ve
got to perform well at retail level to show that there’s a demand for
We try to keep it to four or
five but sometimes we end up with six nominees. It gets distilled down
to the top order based on who’s performed well and the process is bashed
around at board level. This is the process we elected to do for the
first two years of the awards while we establish and grow them.
Next year there’ll be a transformation
which will involve a number of peer assessed processes. It will be the
industry, the media and the artists making those judgment calls.
Some awards will always be
determined by how well an album sells… like best album and best single
will be determined by who has had the good sales track record.
In your opinion, who are
some of the best acts, signed to an Independent label, in the country
All the ones who are the nominees!
My opinion doesn’t matter on
that. I listen to a lot of music and I um… I like it all. That’s actually
a lie, I don’t like it all! There’s too much music out there! Ha ha
It comes with the territory.
There’s shit and sugar and you’ve got to sift through it. I’ve got broad
tastes and I really do like a lot of our members music and I am very
impressed with all the artists that are nominees in all the categories
this year. They are all class acts and they’re all having domestic success
and a good majority of them are having extensive international success
Ash Grunwald, Macromantics,
Midnight Juggernauts and even Blue King Brown are all having huge success
overseas in terms of tours with Spearhead.
Now, if we could only nail
Jon Butler down in the country for long enough… ha ha.
What can we expect from
the AIR Awards in the future?
We’ll see a roll out of new
awards! We don’t want it to be too over the top though you know? We
don’t want people saying “how many awards are there”?
We want to keep it lean and
clean and mean and we want to cover all areas. We want to stay in Melbourne
but we want to make it a bigger event. We’re looking at making it open
to the general public on the back of the amount of phone calls we’re
getting this year from people wanting to buy tickets.
We need a play button to say
“sorry, it’s a closed event this year”. On the back of that we’ll
go to a general administration process next year and engage with the
media to make it more of a long term affair.
That pretty much wraps it
up Stu, any final words?
Nah, that’s pretty good. I
think we’ve covered a fair bit of territory!
It’s great from our perspective
to be able to grow the awards in the way that we have but it’s all dependent
on finding the right commercial partners to be involved.
Partners like Jagermeister
and V are critical. Most of those guys make it possible to do it all
but like I said, I think we’ve covered a lot of territory though.
I think we’ve covered a lot
of territory though.
Awesome man. Well, every
bit of press helps so hopefully this interview does good things for
Definitely mate. Thanks a lot!
For more information on the
AIR Awards head to: http://www.air.org.au