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Interview, Music, Preview

INTERVIEW: Deb Suckling

On the eve of the annual whirlwind of Brisbane music industry activity otherwise knows as BigSound, DENIS SEMCHENKO chats to QMusic’s DEB SUCKLING about her role in sister event LITTLE BIGSOUND.

First of all, do you mind telling us a little about your role at QMusic, Deb?

I’ve been at QMusic for seven years now and my role is Program Manager. I deal with stakeholders within the organisation — the regional partners and state government. I also write and do the program in terms of workshops around the state and a large amount of the QMA (Queensland Music Awards). Little BigSound is one of the events I’m heavily involved in as well, but my job is mostly liaising with councils regarding programs around that state that develop young artists.

I was a volunteer at QMusic before I got a job here and I have been at every BigSound for the last 12 years. In the early days, when it only had a couple hundred people and was all over the place, we used to have the conference at different venues — not just at the Judith Wright Centre. I’ve seen BigSound evolve over those 12 years into the behemoth it has become now [laughs].

Is it true that BigSound takes a whole year to organise?

We’re really lucky now that we have an event manager — Georgia [Smith]. She was contracted last year because the event has such small staff — after last year’s event, we managed to secure a position for Georgia. She now looks after event organisation for QMA and BigSound.

Do you have any favourite BigSound-related stories?

I do, actually — although don’t quote me on the years [laughs]. Van Dyke Parks is one of my favourite people to have come out for BigSound. He was gracious, he was kind — a really beautiful man. He talked to everybody and it didn’t matter who they were; he also autographed a copy of his children’s book for my son.

What a gentleman.

[laughs] That was one of the most fantastic BigSound moments for me. After BigSound started to hit that explosion in 2008 – when it took off and started attracting a lot of international interest — it has grown enormously in those four years. I guess, having big nights out with international guests and have them raving about Brisbane is a source of pride for all of us: watching them really love our city and realise this event could take off even more.

Can you tell us more about your involvement in Little BigSound?

We always wanted to have a day where we could involve high school students within BigSound, but it did prove difficult with the content, as the level of content for the conference is really high.

Last year, we had a partnership with the Queensland Academy of Creative Industries. Within that organisation, they had Youth Music Industries, who have been putting on their own events and festivals like the Four Walls and Emerge nights, which were all-ages gigs. They’ve approached us in a mentorship role — so we could mentor their organisation — and we managed to secure some funding through the NAB Schools First program. We decided putting on Little BigSound the day after BigSound was the way to go; it really is a mentoring project — we work with the students and they manage the event. Their project manager works with myself and Martine [Cotton], who deals with the speakers. We basically try to do the whole event and stand beside them and mentor them in the process – which works fantastically. Last year was really successful: we had over 120 school students attend and three showcases. This year, it looks like we’re going to have a fantastic crowd again — we’ve got a whole lot of school groups coming and the BigSound speakers who are staying after the event: Rene [Chambers] from Spotify, Tom Larkin from Shihad and Homesurgery. The content was written for the age group who are just starting out in the industry — it’s aimed at 15 to 20 year-olds.

Which speakers are you most excited to see at this year’s BigSound?

I always go into the conference with a really open mind — I have the luxury of sitting on tons of panels, and it’s sometimes the less well-known speakers that turn out to be real surprises and give the best advice.

I try to get along to as many panels as I can — not just the keynotes. I’m obviously excited about listening to Steve Earle: securing an international speaker of that calibre is really huge for us and it’s certainly taking the event to another level, so I’ll definitely be listening to him. Also, I find looking at the topics instead of the speakers is a good way to navigate around BigSound, because that’s how you get the information that’s pivotal to you.

Thanks, Deb!

BIGSOUND 2012 takes place at The Judith Wright Centre from Sep 12–14 (sold out), while LITTLE BIGSOUND runs at the same venue from 9.30am-6.30pm on Sat Sep 15. Ticketing info can be found on bigsound.org.au.

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About DENIS SEMCHENKO

Media & comms pro who works in mysterious ways. Writer, vinyl enthusiast, sort-of cineaste, history and geopolitics nerd and (nearly) reformed muso. Has a soft spot for hyphens and slashes. Will chew off your ear about obscure music, random facts and world football.

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