Today, we thought we’d take things a little closer to home and explore some of the best books that delve into the Australian music industry. From the saucy secrets of what it was like to be AC/DC’s roadie through to a historic account of Melbourne’s ’90s rave scene and even a comprehensive guide to music media for self-managed bands and wannabe managers, here’s six of our favourite books about the Australian music industry.
Roadies: The Secret History of Australian Rock ’n’ Roll – Stuart Coupe
Stuart Coupe has written a few killer reads about the Australian music industry – we’ll get into a few more shortly – but this one might be his best yet. Roadies offers an unparalleled insight into the Australian music industry through the eyes of those who know it best: the road crew. Comprised of anecdotes, profiles and jaw-dropping revelations from stage techs, road crew and other behind-the-scenes professionals, Coupe paints a vivid portrait of Australia’s live sector and how it’s evolved from the late ‘60s until today.
Of course, all the juicy tid-bits about Aussie music industry beef and the odd habits of all your favourite touring artists are here in all their glory – there’s more than a few cooked tales that’ll make your eyes pop out of your head – but what makes Roadies truly special is the way Coupe delivers such a glaring, unfiltered perspective of just how tough it is working behind the scenes in the music industry.
Roots: How Melbourne became the live music capital of the world – Craig Horne
It’s well known that Melbourne is the live music capital of the world: a report from 2018 found that the Victorian capital city boasted one music venue per 9,503 residents, and while it might be easy to forget so in the midst of a global health crisis, we’ve got a pretty hot reputation for quality bands too. In Roots, Craig Horne investigates just how the city evolved to become such an international cultural powerhouse, exploring the scenes, venues, stores and socio-political events that helped shape Melbourne’s music scene as we know it today.
Horne, a local musician in his own right with at least five decades of gigging experience under his belt, delves deep into the crevices of just about every scene and subculture you could ever think of, making mention of all the unsung session players and background personalities who made it all happen. Also, the man’s got a hilarious perspective on things, and it’s Horne’s subtle humour that makes reading Roots all the more enjoyable
Techno Shuffle: Rave Culture & The Melbourne Underground – Paul Fleckney
This one’s a pretty niche read, but it’s easily one of my favourite Australian music books of all time, and it definitely didn’t get the praise it did upon release in 2018. Techno Shuffle sees Fleckney, an urban planning academic from the University of Melbourne, profiles many of the scene’s key producers, DJs, promoters and punters to deliver an impeccable all-encompassing account of Melbourne rave culture from the early 1980s until today. Throughout Techno Shuffle, one can re-live the wildest raves, the heaviest tunes and the most colourful kick-ons through the eyes of those who lived through them, with Fleckney also diving into LGBQTI rights, Melbourne’s gangland killings, Australia’s drinking culture and the AIDS crisis that terrified those living in the ’80s along the way.
Given his background in urban planning, Fleckney also places a strong emphasis on the spatial significance of the various underground clubs and dilapidated warehouses that hosted some of the biggest raves of the ‘90s, as well as exposing the corporate interests, promoter rivalries and legislation changes that would later render the rave as it was once known to be a lost art-form.
Stranded: The Secret History of Australian Independent Music 1977–1991 – Clinton Walker
With decades of experience as a music writer to his name, Clinton Walker’s contributions to documenting Australia’s musical lineage cannot be overlooked. While his last book, Black Woman Blues, was mired in controversy and ultimately pulped due to a number of factual inaccuracies, many of Walker’s earlier works have proven themselves to be essential additions to Australia’s musical literary canon, and this one is no different.
Taking its name from The Saints’ track of the same name, Stranded: The Secret History of Australian Independent Music 1977–1991 sees Walker navigate one of the most important eras of Australia’s burgeoning musical identity as it began to take its place on the world stage, charting the influence of groups such as The Go-Betweens, The Birthday Party, Radio Birdman, The Saints and more. As you’ll come to find out over the course of the book, Walker’s quite a colourful character himself, and the way he goes about discussing the key bands, events, venues and albums of this era makes for a fully engaging and endlessly intriguing reading experience.
Gudinski: The Godfather of Australian Rock’n’Roll – Stuart Coupe
Another inclusion from the legendary Stuart Coupe (side note – he’s also written a wonderful book about the big dog promoters of Aussie rock that makes for a killer read), Gudinski dives head-on into the story of Michael Gudinski and how he went about making his millions. As we all know, Gudinksi is the head honcho of Mushroom and Frontier Touring, and as such, has undeniably shaped the state of Australian music into what we know it to be today – be it from championing contemporary icons like Kylie Minogue and Jimmy Barnes, through to touring The Rolling Stones and Bruce Springsteen and beyond.
Rather than giving away Gudinski’s get-rich-quick scheme to the masses, Coupe takes a different path that sees him investigate just how Michael has managed to maintain his position at the helm of Australian music for as long as he has in an industry renowned for revolution. The end result? A compelling read that will make you never look at the Mushroom logo in the same light ever again. Should be a mandatory read for any wannabe Aussie music professional.
Blow Your Own Trumpet – A Musician’s Guide to Publicity & Airplay – Stacey Piggott
From her early days working PR for The Waifs and The Drones through to minting revered firms like Two Fish Out Of Water, Secret Service and Daydream Nation, Stacey Piggott is one of the most respected behind-the-scenes personalities in the country, and has worked with just about every big festival or band that’s ever rocked Australia. Blow Your Own Trumpet, which hit shelves back in 2012, sees her collate a quintessential guide to navigating the Australian music industry as a self-managed band or up-and-coming PR, busting all the myths that are often purported by the industry and shelling out more than a few nuggets of wisdom along the way.
Beefed up with anecdotes from the likes of Gareth Liddiard, Dom Alessio, Mia Dyson and Henry Rollins, Blow Your Own Trumpet extols the virtues of working hard and making the most out of what you’ve got to make a splash in the industry without compromising your financial or artistic integrity. If you really want to break big as an indie band, consider this book as your scripture – read it from front to back, then fake it ‘till you make it.
Check out our picks for the nine grittiest music memoirs of all time.