Five Things I Know: Milly Petriella, SongHubs & APRA AMCOS

Next week, Parramatta welcomes the first edition of music and tech festival-conference Sound West. Part of the programming is APRA AMCOS’ first-ever SongHubs writing camp in Western Sydney with 12 budding songwriters, curator L-FRESH The LION and collaborators who are both prominent figures in Western Sydney’s hip-hop and R&B community and respected artists from around Australia and New Zealand. NME catches up with Milly Petriella, Director Member Relations & Partnerships at APRA AMCOS and the manager of SongHubs, to talk about how Aussie songwriters are expanding their global presence, how to set the stage for a good studio session, and the creative force that is Western Sydney

Songwriters heading abroad remain connected to home

I think the perception that Australia was permanently losing music talent to other countries was applicable 15 years ago. But it’s completely changed now. We’re seeing APRA AMCOS members move overseas, but very much retaining their connection with Australia and New Zealand. They’re travelling, collaborating and expanding their global networks, but they consider home a very important market as well.

One of the things that I noticed among our songwriter members was their love of their own country during the pandemic, coming home and having to think outside the box: how do I continue what I’m doing? And as bad as the pandemic has been for the music industry, it also gave everybody insight into how to do things differently. Lifestyle and the comfort and safety of home became very apparent and important. It became about adapting to that while keeping their careers moving. I have heard from a number of APRA AMCOS members who are no longer basing themselves permanently overseas – they’re now going to travel back and forth.

An important point to note is that now Australia is a destination to come and work for international songwriters and producers, and I truly believe that SongHubs has been instrumental in that. We launched the SongHubs songwriting camp program in 2013 and have delivered 80 of these events. We have introduced Australian musicians, songwriters and producers, to international counterparts, as well as artists, managers, publishers and record labels. We couldn’t get anyone to agree to come to Australia 10 years ago. It was a real struggle. And now they’re putting their hands up to get here. It’s not all down to SongHubs, but I do think it has played a part in the changing attitude.

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Milly Petriella
Milly Petriella, APRA AMCOS Director of Member Relations & Partnerships. Credit: Press

Optimise the environment and keep an element of surprise

SongHubs wouldn’t work without the role of a curator, who establishes the genre focus of the session, because they bring their network of high calibre songwriters and producers on board as guests. They also review every application of the hundreds we receive from APRA AMCOS songwriter members.

Key to the songwriting sessions is to not to go in with any preconceived ideas. The curator selects which songwriters and producers will work together in groups of three on the first day, watches what’s unfolding, and curates the next day based on what they’ve seen: who’s working together and what’s coming out of it. The participants find out each morning who they’ll work with that day. This gives the curator flexibility to put those magic rooms together. And the magic has been created many times. More than 1,000 songs have been written at SongHubs sessions, and a little over 200 have been released, so far. That’s a high percentage when you consider these are music creators that haven’t collaborated together before.

“The talent in Western Sydney cannot be ignored anymore”

Inside each SongHubs studio space, it’s a safe, creative space for them to be in. The only thing we do that annoys them is put a camera in front of their face every day to capture that collaboration moment!

I’m so excited for Sound West SongHubs to finally happen. Sound West is a first for Western Sydney, bringing together artists, creators and innovators for a conference and live events; and this will be our first SongHubs in Western Sydney. We’re transforming the VIP boxes in CommBank Stadium into studios. There’s something so grand about being in a room overlooking a stadium. I’m imagining all sorts of shows down there, live music, marching bands, everything – my imagination went nuts.

Western Sydney has made itself unignorable

There’s a writer-producer by the name of Khaled Rohaim, who is based in Western Sydney. He was behind The Kid LAROI’s first recordings coming out of Australia and he’s been working with LAROI since he was discovered. When I first met Khaled, he said to me, “Nobody knows I exist. And nobody knows the talent that is in Western Sydney. We do, because we’re all supporting one another. We’re working together and we’re providing each other those opportunities that the music industry doesn’t.”

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My appreciation for the Western Sydney music scene began 20 years ago, when I was managing and married to a soul/R&B artist. His fanbase was in Western Sydney and his most successful gigs were in local venues. I was blown away with the talent that was getting up on those stages when the Australian music industry was importing nearly all of its music from America and overseas – there was a ton of talent right there.

What makes Western Sydney special? For me, Western Sydney is about community banding together and supporting one another and making sure that the world knows about the successes – having the pioneering breakout artists and producers pave the way for more to come through. The talent in Western Sydney cannot be ignored anymore.

TikTok is a tool, not a goal

In the age of TikTok, I have seen a change in the way the music industry sees the songs and the platforms. But I feel there’s a bit of pushback from artists that want to keep creating based on writing great music, and not be dependent on TikTok success.

Is it strategic? Is it clever? Is it luck? TikTok is certainly a key tool to market an artist. But I’m sensing from many of our songwriter and producer members that they’re not seeing it as the main goal. It’s an add-on. If it works, that’s great. But I don’t think they want the pressure to write for TikTok. Obviously there are plenty having great success on TikTok and finding the fame and profile that they were looking for. TikTok has changed some creators’ career trajectories, there’s no doubt about it, but I really don’t think that songwriters think about that as their first intention.

Vivid Sydney SongHubs in May 2022
Vivid Sydney SongHubs in May 2022. Credit: Jess Gleeson

A good mentor is hard to find

I think mentoring programs are highly underrated. Mentors are so important. Songwriters come to us asking, “Can you introduce me to a manager? To publishers? To this record label?” But unless they know how to approach those people at the right time – they could blow it. A mentor in the music business, or in the creative space, is so important, because they can guide you and give you advice on when and what you need to do to progress your career.

Finding the right mentor isn’t easy. They have to be your champion. You can’t just plug into somebody because you want to use them. It’s a very important partnership that could last a lifetime – and one where you’re not making money off each other. That’s not what it’s about.

Sound West runs from August 20 to 28 in Parramatta, while SongHubs The Tower @ Sound West takes place August 23 to 26 with curator L-FRESH The LION and collaborators A.GIRL, Dallas Woods, Nardean, Vayne, SickDrumz and Charlotte Adelle. Find out more about SongHubs here and Sound West here

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