In late 1994 I was approached by Rob Walker and Alex Bolt of the Australian Music Association, who had asked if I could create a music magazine for them. The magazine was to be based on New Zealand’s musician magazine at the time and would be a vehicle to both promote AMA member products and encourage music making in general.
I had dealt with Rob quite a bit previously while I working at Juke magazine, creating programmes for the local music shows he presented for the Victorian Rock Foundation and then later for the AMA, these events were the predecessors to today’s Melbourne Guitar Show.
In March 1995, we published the first issue of our quarterly, glossy, full-colour magazine, Australian Musician featuring a young Diesel on the front cover. Rob Walker was the Managing Editor, I was assistant editor, designer, production and advertising guy, and production assistant was Martyn Sullivan. We printed 25,000 copies which Rob and I physically unpacked off a truck, packaged them up and posted them off to Australian Music Association member instrument stores Australia wide.
We called on our musician friends to assist with contributions, which for the first issue came from Allan Zavod, Hartley Peavey, John Courtney, James Manson, Cletis Carr, Nicky Bomba, Greg Johns, Simon Kershaw, Guy Palmer, Steve Lincoln-Smith, Rick Gell, Michael Allen, and former Juke editor Christie Eliezer. Photos came from Marty Williams and Hali McGrath. The first issue made a profit, giving us the green light go forward and keep producing the magazine.
Over the next 17 years we delivered bundles of the magazine every quarter into retail stores nationally, where they were available free to customers. Year by year the magazine’s stature grew and before long we were mixing it with the biggest music publications in Australia.
Some of Australia’s biggest artists were soon contributing to the magazine, either by reviewing gear, writing tour diaries or interviewing other artists. On a few occasions we handed over the magazine completely to artists to guest edit. The Drones invited their indie music friends to contribute to a fascinating issue which they guest edited. The Drones’ frontman Gareth Liddiard seemed to enjoy the experience, however was disappointed that his request for a nude centrefold never got off the ground. The late, great Chris Wilson told me the issue was one of his favourite reads. Powderfinger too took hold of the reins of Australian Musician for an issue, unbeknown to us all that they were on the verge of breaking up. I knew publishing was a tough business but band-breaking? All members of the band took the task seriously, some taking the opportunity to interview their music heroes, Bernard Fanning turned the tables on several of our most respected music journalists and interviewed them. It was also a chance to review some of the latest guitars, amps and pedals at the time, which they loved so much that they ended up buying all of the gear that they’d reviewed.
For our 50th issue, we got together a group of respected music journalists and came up with a list of the 50 most significant moments in Australian pop/rock. It was one of our most successful issues ever with the results landing on the front pages of The Age, Herald Sun and Sydney Morning Herald. Another issue featuring the results of one of our popular readers’ polls even made it to the front page of the Times Of India.
The 50th issue attracted a lot of attention indeed, however the 52nd issue garnered even more. Sydney music journalist Kathy McCabe was quick to point out that only a handful of female artists made it to our list of 50 most significant moments and suggested that this may have been because those on the voting panel were all males. Why weren’t there any females on the voting panel she asked and how could we address this in the future? What would a music magazine look like if it was produced entirely by female musicians? Consequently we called the much-admired singer, songwriter Clare Bowditch and asked he if she’d like to guest edit an all-female issue with all of the stories focussing on female musicians, written by female musicians. In December 2007, we presented the Ms. Musician edition, edited by Clare with fabulous contributions from Adalita, Holly Throsby, Art of Fighting’s Peggy Frew, Sally Seltmann, Stephanie Ashworth, Lindy Morrison, Anne McCue and many others.
While many legendary Australian artists have been closely involved with Australian Musician, we’ve also been fortunate enough to have been invited into the inner sanctum of many of the world’s biggest acts too. For me personally, there have been so many moments I’ll never forget, from Brian Wilson asking me several times if I knew where his salmon was, to Whitney Houston yelling angrily down from her room to her keyboard player and myself after she’d been informed by her brother that we were doing an interview, to meeting Stevie Wonder, and spending the day backstage watching the preparation of shows by Beyonce, Neil Young, Roger Waters, Steely Dan and The Rolling Stones, and being responsible for changing the opening song of The Rolling Stones set list, to standing on P!nk’s stage mark while her band soundchecked around me … being editor of Australian Musician has truly been and continues to be a dream job.
In June 2012, the last printed version of Australian Musician was published featuring Missy Higgins and Lanie Lane on the front cover. The digital age was well and truly upon us and it was now time to publish as an online magazine. This gave us the opportunity to broaden our horizons and utilising our online presence via the website and social media platforms, we began to present wonderful events such as the Melbourne Guitar Show, The Sydney Drum and Percussion Show, and the Melbourne Synth Festival. The 6th annual Melbourne Guitar Show will take place yet again at Caulfield Racecourse on August 1 & 2, 2020. Our social media platforms have grown considerably with well over 7 thousand followers on Facebook and our YouTube channel has a similar subscriber base, with almost 2 million views of our videos.
The year 2020 celebrates 25 years since we began. In that period we have seen incredible change in the music products industry, especially in the music technology field but throughout that period the passion and love for music by musicians has remained as strong as ever. Going forward we will continue to promote Australian Music Association member products and the musicians who use member brand gear to create their music. Next week we’ll be back at Winter NAMM in California bringing you all the news on the gear you’ll be expecting to see in stores around Australia during the year. We also hope to revisit some of the musicians who have been an integral part of Australian Musician over the years as well as introducing you to many new and exciting artists. Thanks for being part of the Australian Musician community over the last 25 years and here’s hoping there’s at least another 25 even better years to come!