Some things I've learnt about money, work and happiness
This article first appeared May 7th, 2012.
I moved to Australia from New Zealand during 2000 in my early twenties.
Until then, I'd never had a job that paid a wage. I had met Grant Thomas, manager of Neil Finn and some big Australian bands, when I organised a Youth Suicide Awareness festival in Wellington a couple of years earlier.
I'd never considered working in the music business until after the show. Grant said he'd love me to come and work with his company if I wanted to move to Sydney. I'd be his assistant and would find and manage my own artists too.
Grant offered me a basic wage of $25,000 per year and said I'd earn a share of any bands that I brought into the company.
It sounded like a fun business and I would forge my own path from within an established brand and organisation.
Within three months I discovered and signed an unknown band from Brisbane called George – and fell in love with the chaotic, exhilarating music business.
The industry was full of delightful characters: gig promoters, record company executives, venue owners, merchandise makers, radio programmers, producers and musicians. There were no rules, anyone could make it and everyone was so passionate about their projects.
I managed George for two years; there were tough lows and soaring highs. But every day I came into the office with a spring in my step, ready to take on the next challenge.
In March 2002, George's début album hit number one on the ARIA chart. I was still only earning $25,000 because we hadn't ever worked out what my cut would be.
Although I didn't care much about money at that time, I was now 24 and my friends all earned much more than I did.
They dined at pricey restaurants and travelled on holidays I couldn't afford. For the first time I started to think about getting a “real” job.
Sony Music had advertised for an A&R Manager, so I applied. My interview went well and HR gave me a form to fill in.
One of the questions was “what is your expected salary?”
This stumped me. At the time, I earned $25,000 and was pretty sure this job paid at least three times that. $75,000 would represent a massive lifestyle upgrade.
It occurred to me that since I wasn't passionate about Sony Music, whatever number I wrote down would be the price for which I'd sell one year of my time.
The year was 2002-03, my 24th year on the planet. What was a year worth? Surely, more than $75,000.
Was it $100,000? How about $200,000? The truth is I couldn't come up with a number so I never finished the form!
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Two weeks later, I met music industry legend John Woodruff who offered me a $10,000 loan plus a free office to start my own management company.
I bought a second hand laptop and set up a desk at the back of his Music Network Magazine in Woolloomooloo. I had no clients, no income and nothing to do, so I went home to New Zealand for a holiday.
While there, I heard about three young brothers who'd just won a high school rockquest. I met the band Evermore at their house in Feilding and fell in love with the whole family.
I decided that Evermore would be my first client before they even played me any music! They were special, we had a connection. It felt like the stars had aligned.
Above: Me with Evermore in 2003.
The next three years were incredibly hard. As their manager I earned 20% of whatever they made, which for the first year was 20% of $0.
So I lived off the $10,000 John Woodruff had lent me. Now I really couldn't afford to go to fancy restaurants or on holidays!
I couldn't even afford to take a permanent spot in a share-house!
I put all my things into storage, lived on the road when the band toured, and stayed with friends or went back to NZ in between.
The band had no money either – we had a beat up old Ford Falcon that we'd bought for $3,000 and often drove overnight between gigs to save on accommodation.
We adopted a scrappy “whatever it takes” attitude – we were a team and we were going to make it no matter what.
I negotiated a deal with Warner Music, but by the time the band’s debut album Dreams was ready to release in 2004 the label had little faith that we'd succeed.
At a marketing meeting before the release, I saw Warner's sales projections for Dreams: 5,000 copies.
They weren't prepared to spend much to reach that target. These meetings were so frustrating they ripped me to pieces.
On hearing about our non-existent marketing budget, I announced to Warner Sales Director John O'Neil that this album would go platinum even if the band and I had to drive around the country selling it door to door.
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So, I sat in my free office in Woolloomooloo, phoning high schools from the yellow pages. I organised for the band to play during lunchtimes and kids would pay a gold coin entrance.
The band heaved their own PA system around, and the money they made just covered the cost of driving there and a backpacker hostel (all paid in gold coins!).
Over two years we hit hundreds of schools and built a groundswell of young fans. They called up their local radio stations and requested the songs, so we soon had mainstream airplay.
Within 13 months, Dreams reached platinum sales. The band continues to have great success, selling more than half a million albums in Australia.
And three years after moving into my free office at the Music Network, I could afford to rent my own office space. I signed more artists – notably Lisa Mitchell, Van She, Operator Please, Matt Corby and Amy Meredith.
I spent 10 years in the music business, managing bands. Some years I lived on $10,000 and some years I made over $500,000.
When I think about each year individually and rate how happy I was, the interesting thing is that the amount of money I made has absolutely no correlation to how much fun I had or how satisfied I was with what I was doing. I was equally happy all the time.
Some moments still make me smile. Like the time I climbed up on the sound desk at the Melbourne Big Day Out to see Evermore play to a tent that was so packed, people hanging off the poles to see them.
Or playing driving games with the band in the van on tour, or having a meeting over dinner at their farm in Feilding. For me, happiness and work satisfaction come from creating, learning and achieving as part of a team of people who you respect and love. Nothing else matters.
Two years ago, I decided to take a gamble and start a tech company. It was lonely to start with, but I've built an awesome team of people who are both smart and wonderful.
They are people I enjoy spending time with. As I've mentioned in past blogs, what we're doing is really hard but we're learning so much every day and now we're starting to make significant achievements as well.
It's so exciting to feel a part of something where we're all out of our depth but we're just all so passionate about what we're creating that we know we're going to make it – even if we have to sign up users door to door!
A few weeks ago, my former assistant Shawn sent me an email asking for advice.
He's 22 years old and just about to finish his degree in Brisbane.
He said he'd always wanted to be a band manager, but had worked out that band managers made on average $40,000 per year.
He wanted to earn more than that, and so was thinking about following another career path.
I have some years behind me now, and it frustrates me that money is such a consideration for people deciding what to do with their lives.
It explains why I meet so many guys in suits in their 30s or 40s with heaps of cash yet who are miserable.
They can't figure out what to do now they have a mortgage and family to support. By then it's much harder to make a change.
My advice is: do what you're passionate about, challenge yourself every day, and make sure you're surrounded with a team of people you respect and love. Money is incidental to happiness.