Musicians making it in Adelaide, a UNESCO City of Music


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By Melissa Keogh

From the trademark growls of Cold Chisel to catchy tracks from Hilltop Hoods, Adelaide has birthed a collection of musicians who have gone on to satisfy the eardrums of millions worldwide.

From world-class festivals like WOMADelaide, to the largest cabaret festival, most significant guitar festival and oldest tertiary music school, Adelaide holds a number of biggest and firsts when it comes to music.

Our reputation is also built on being the festival state of Australia, with Adelaide being the country’s first and only UNESCO City of Music, in recognition of its vibrant music culture and rich and diverse musical heritage.

There are now 31 other music cities internationally as part of the UNESCO Creative City network, all which are connected to Adelaide, and are aware of our music prominence,” says Rebecca Pearce, Adelaide UNESCO City of Music office director.

Rock music legend and former Cold Chisel frontman Jimmy Barnes performs at A Day on the Green.

“As such there is an ever growing appreciation and recognition of Adelaide as a music making city, both within Australia, and certainly internationally.”

But when the festivals wind down and wrap up, is it possible to stay in SA and pursue a career in music?

According to local musician and industry professional Dan Crannitch, the belief that musicians must move to the eastern states to experience serious success is fading.

“Once upon a time if an artist was going to sign with you, they’d want to you be based in Sydney or Melbourne, but I think that’s changing,” says Dan, an A & R executive for Wonderlick Entertainment, and one half of Adelaide band The San Sebastian.

“Because of the internet we’re so interconnected now, most stuff can be done in Adelaide.”

Growing up in the Adelaide Hills with brother Joel – the other half of The San Sebastian – Dan first led band Leader Cheetah while pulling beers at renowned live music pub The Exeter.

Leader Cheetah struck the right chord, signing with a Sydney-based record label and enjoying the heights of success until 2016 when the group disbanded.

But at the height of their hype around 2009, there was a problem when returning home, says Dan.

“We did notice that when we came back here we lost momentum,” he says.

“When you were based in Sydney or Melbourne you’d have industry people at shows and you were a bit more a part of the national music scene.”

Brothers Joel, left, and Dan Crannitch form The San Sebastian. Photo: Facebook.

In a bid to strengthen SA’s music industry and create real, long-lasting opportunities, Dan collaborated with Martin Elbourne, a booker for the Glastonbury Festival in the UK and WOMADelaide here in SA.

Martin was undertaking a residency at the SA-based Don Dunstan Foundation and was tasked with exploring how to build upon Adelaide’s brand as a vibrant music capital.

“It was a pretty epic task, how do we make the SA music industry better? Instead of having a scattergun approach to grants and funding, how can we be more strategic and tailored, and help people have a crack at pretty much the hardest industry in the world?” Dan says.

Then came the Robert Stigwood Fellowship, run through the state’s Music Development Office and giving local musicians and industry entrepreneurs a chance to develop their ideas and make global connections from SA.

Successful SA musicians Tkay Maidza, Bad Dreems, West Thebarton and Timberwolf are just a few of the program’s successes.

The fellowship was named after Port Pirie-born Robert Stigwood, one of the most influential figures in the music scene in the ’60s and ’70s, managing big names like Cream and The Bee Gees.

Adelaide rap queen Tkay Maidza was a 2014 Stigwood Artist Fellow and went on to achieve massive success.

Stigwood fellows are mentored annually by both Dan Crannitch and Stuart MacQueen, who owns Australian music company Wonderlick Entertainment.

As an A & R executive for Wonderlick, it’s Dan’s job to find and develop artists and help hone their work.

Wonderlick’s offices are in Sydney and New York, as the company is a joint venture with Sony Music, but both Stuart and Dan work from Adelaide.

“I think Adelaide is a great home base, it’s a good place to work, and lots of A & R involves listening to music and making notes and looking for new music … it helps to be by yourself because you have to get quite deep into it,” Dan says.

Many of Adelaide’s music successes have shared their first tracks on the stages of the city’s live music venues such as The Exeter and The Gov.

The Grace Emily Hotel is one of Adelaide’s popular live music venues, showing gigs most nights of the week.

Dan, who co-owns the booking agency side of Adelaide company 5/4 Entertainment, says Adelaide’s live music scene “punches above its weight”.

The owner of the Grace Emily Hotel, George Swallow, agrees. He’s been showing live music at the CBD live music hotspot for 20 years.

“Our main focus is on SA live and original music, and the people who are just getting out of the garage and want to perform on stage for the first time,” George says.

“Here in Adelaide we support and help each other out, that’s what sets us apart. And we’re so diverse in music culture from jazz to the ASO (Adelaide Symphony Orchestra) to garage rock.

“I’m so proud to be working in this industry and community for so long and seeing it grow and grow.”

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