ARIA fame strikes right note for fledgling agency

When the name of Sydney band sleepmakeswaves is read out at the ARIAs tonight, Holroyd resident Mike Solo will be just as excited as any of the four musicians.

Should the band win the Best Hard Rock or Heavy Metal Album category that it’s nominated for, they can thank Solo for his help along the way.

After struggling to find gigs in Sydney for their niche style of rock music, Solo and some like-minded friends set up a booking agency in 2008 to promote their own shows. 

That company, The Bird’s Robe Collective, soon morphed into a record label and now includes artist management.

The band has been with Bird’s Robe since their beginnings and last year the label published their ARIA-nominated album . . . and so we destroyed everything.

Solo said the Australian Recording Industry Association Music Awards were a long way from anyone’s thoughts when the label was born four years ago.

‘‘Basically I was playing in a band when we were just out of high school, playing experimental sort of stuff,’’ the 26-year-old said.

‘‘But we found it really hard to find shows or venues that would book the sort of stuff we were playing.

‘‘We found a couple of other bands who were playing psychedelic and progressive rock around Sydney and started playing our own shows together.

‘‘We just started organising shows with all these weird bands in them.

‘‘We thought, The Mars Volta are playing big shows and people are into them so if we can promote ourselves as prog-experimental (music) maybe those fans would gravitate towards our shows.’’

From that idea, Solo — who is also a drummer in the band super FLORENCE jam — and some like-minded artists grew the label and booking agency The Birds Robe Collective.

Although technically a collective, Solo took a lead role and has thus experienced the sugar and salt of the industry.

All his work for the label is done outside of his day job as an economist for the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal.

‘‘I basically work two full-time jobs,’’ Solo said.

‘‘Anything like this, in the music industry, you’re not going to be making huge revenue straight away.

‘‘For most people in the industry, it takes a very long time and significant investment to get to a point where you start earning money.’’

Whether sleepmakeswaves win at tonight’s awards, or not, Solo hopes other artists on the label will be inspired by the exposure the niche band receives.

‘‘When we started out we thought if we get one band to a point of reasonable success, they could pull everyone up with them,’’ he said.

‘‘sleepmakeswaves have achieved many of the goals we originally set already but they still have to pay off debts from touring.

‘‘Other local bands might look to these guys for inspiration but even these guys have to work part time.

‘‘But we’re setting things up. If a band can reach the point where they sell 500 tickets in every city, they can save a bit more and start to devote more time to music.’’

Within the group of about 25 bands and artists under the Bird’s Robe banner are genuine standouts and some exciting underground groups, such as Dumbsaint, that have built a growing fan base.

But it isn’t the prospect of success that drives Solo.

‘‘The kind of music these bands play is more of a niche,’’ he said.

‘‘I do this because I love it and at the end of the day, if they didn’t have that support then people might never hear the amazing music these bands are making.’’   

Note: sleepmakeswaves didn't win their category at the ARIAs last night. That honour went to Brisbane band DZ DEATHRAYS for their album  'Bloodstreams'.  But on their Facebook page this morning the band said they still had a great night: ''We didn't win the ARIA but still had the best darn night of our post-rock lives. Thanks so much to all of you for the support and love. owg''

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