Kane Harrison on what it means to be a working musician in Nashville: Exclusive

Kane Harrison

Often referred to as an "entreprenartist," Australian-born singer-songwriter Kane Harrison is a jack-of-all-trades. He's a singer-songwriter who charted his debut single "The Moments" on Australia's CMC charts in 2008 and has a distinctive voice that cuts through the noise. A few years later, he relocated to Music City to follow his dreams of bright-lights and platinum records. Since his bold decision, he's enjoyed plenty ofcareer milestones, including placing high in the Music City Songwriting Competition (in the “Country Unsigned” category—becoming a finalist out of 9,000+ entries from 100 countries) and composing the score/soundtrack for Daniel Baldwin's Sundance film entry Wisdom.

He also happens to have a businessman's spirit. He's the founding partner and executive producer of sound and vision design firm called The Nashville Imprint, as well as the head of the growing social media and TV network, Talkapolis.com. As a working musician, singer-songwriter and professional living the dream in the heart of country music, he gives NashvilleGab an in-depth look into what it means to struggle to be heard. In this exclusive Q&A, he also offers insight into his social media initiatives, how artists can best use those tools and what aspiring musicians can expect upon moving to Nashville.

The Nashville Imprint

Do you recall the specific moment when you realized music is what you needed to do?

This is a really interesting question and I loved the way you asked it “what you needed to do”.  I’ve always said ‘there are two kinds of people, those that play an instrument and those that want to’. I truly never had a choice because I can’t ever remember not playing something, but it wasn’t until I got older and truly understood what that meant and experienced the industry and had all the ups and downs. It’s the darkest days when you find out if music is something you need or something you want. This is one of the hardest industries in the world and even though it has slammed its doors in my face time and time again I still cant walk passed my guitar without picking it up and strumming a little and maybe even scrap out a few lyrics, I miss it when I don’t have time and I love it when I do. That’s how you know. 

What was your first instrument? Was that at the urging of your parents to learn music or completely your decision?

My first instrument was a pot and a pan accompanied by a wooden spoon – —that was before I could walk or talk. That quickly grew thin around the house and was replaced with a drum kit at age three. I started drum lessons when I started school and that quickly followed with guitar and singing. I truly believe my dad could have been a great country artist; he has a great voice and is twice as cheeky as I am. He would never admit it as he struggles with nerves. I always have to and it wasn’t till later in life a realized where I got it from, most people wouldn’t know that. I have always been very thankful for my hardworking parents and their relentless tenacity to give their children a better life than they had. Even though we grew up very modestly in a rural city in  Australia, I can never remember wanting for anything. My parents taught me to dream, recognized when I was and lit a fire under every one of them, the rest was up to me, still is, and I don’t think you could ask for anything more as a child.

Growing up, were you in a band? In what ways did you explore music?

Growing up, I was in bands all the time. It was music, dirt bikes and girls and usually in that order. I think the first one was called ‘Disinfectant.’ I was about 10, and it was a play on words from our favorite band at the time ‘Poison.' ‘Open Up and Say Ahh’ was a killer album and still is. I was always the drummer never the singer, not even back up. I never really saw myself as a front man and that’s something that I struggle with to this day. When the Seattle sound hit in the 90’s I was in high school, and like so many, we just gravitated to it. We played loud, wore flannel, smoked cigarettes, drank bourbon and really didn’t give a shit about anything but music and trying to maintain a C average so we didn’t get in to much trouble. The polar opposite to all of that was that I grew up on country music, old spoken word country  music and singer songwriters like Kristofferson. So, every time I pick up a guitar to write a song it was lyric driven and always about something that was real. I could never get away with the cryptic Kurt Cobain lyrics that everyone else was trying to write even if I tried. But I love songwriting; I could write in my sleep.

Bands like Tool and Soundgarden introduced us to 5/4 timing and drop D tuning and once we began to work in that world there was no stopping us but I always landed back at the old ‘three cords and the truth.’ I feel like that’s what’s in me and constantly waiting to find its way out, and I feel completely comfortable in that pocket.

How important has Australian Idol been to you and your career?

'Australian Idol' is a business card, an introduction, an elevator pitch. It gives you public awareness and something to talk about, and it’s something for people to talk about. All of that is the key to the entertainment industry, stay current, stay on people minds and lips, and if it's for the right reasons, even better. Following 'Idol' I did really well in Australia’s version of 'Nashville Star' and that was the catalyst for my move to America. Rob Potts an Australian promoter was instrumental in the decision. That’s when I invested in what I call my second business card, my first single and video clip. All of it cost about $20,000 for that particular business card but it worked.

I had 'Idol awareness and ‘The Moments’ went number 6 in the Australia County Music Channel charts and charted in the top 40 for 17 weeks and was played across the world. I still get messages today saying how that song helped someone through tough times. I have always said that if I was a lawyer and there was one job left and I wanted it as much as I wanted that 'Idol' spot I would have waited in line and gone through the same process for that job to. No matter what your career is you need to be prepared to take every opportunity that is presented to get you to where you want to be. People will always be critical of talent competitions but they are usually people whose greatest talent is being critical of others.

What were the toughest challenges?

The single biggest challenge has nothing to do with music and everything to do with the ‘entertainment machine’. Lets get one thing completely straight: 'Idol'is a television show right? 'of course,' I hear you say. Well to the contestants, it doesn’t start that way. We all have stars in our eyes and genuinely believe that we all have a shot. If we get out there and our destiny is in our hands, the spoils go to the best singer and performer, right? This is a singing competition right? Wrong. It’s a television show and you learn this quickly. You need a story…and a good one!  After all, boring does not get ratings and boring doesn’t start viewer-worthy drama. Great singers and performers left the show well before I did and that added to the uncertainty.

What is something you wished you would have learned about the music business before entering into it?

The single greatest thing that has affected my career is my move from Australia to Nashville. This town has been great to me, and I would not have done half the things I’ve done if I hadn’t. But there are a few things I wish I knew about this town before entering it. I hate to speak out a little here but a truth about this town is that by and large singer-songwriters in the commercial country world don’t do well. All the sirens should go off when you land in town, and everyone is quick to ask ‘so, are you an artist or a songwriter?' The wrong answer – ‘I’m both.' Nashville was built on songs (and health insurance but that’s another story) so my advice to anyone coming to this town is clearly define yourself as one or the other—if you want to play in that world (say so), even if its just at the start and even if its not truth. What ever you choose let them find out your good at the other in their own time. Play the game. I’ve always said, 'If you want to get into politics, learn an instrument and move to Nashville' Nashville is a town of collaboration, songwriters, producers, session players, studio owners, record labels, and publishing houses, administration services, A&R, song pluggers, booking agents, managers…the list goes on. Some artists live in Nashville but most of the artists tend to come and go as they need something, as it’s their job to be on the road. The musical lifeblood to this town since it’s beginning has been the collaborative formula that has been utilized since the beginning.  Having said all that, the landscape has begun to change, and some songwriters now have deals or some publishing houses have released songs almost acting as an indie label. I love that the Chris Stapletons, Lori McKennas, Will Hoges and Jason Isbells of the world find there way through or around the system with talent and perseverance but they will never fit into that top 5% with out the big machine. I don’t think we will ever see Jason doing a duet with Pit Bull—bless
his heart.

What has been the hardest aspect of your career (so far)?

The single hardest thing I will ever do is to move to this country. The mental and financial burden the move took on my well-being. I have traveled that leg from Nashville to LA to Sydney more times than I would like to count. The most interesting thing people say to me when I tell my story is ‘ but you look the same as us and our countries like each other.' It always makes me chuckle. It’s hard for a reason and I completely understand why: it has also fueled a fire in me that will never go out. To have fought to live in the USA and now to get up every single day and make that fight worthwhile is something many of my counterparts can never experience. Its not like I was fleeing a war torn country. Australia is gorgeous but I made a very deliberate choice to embrace the culture that embraces success. I didn’t come to the USA to live an average life; so it’s my job to make it extraordinary using the tools this country has on offer.

You are also an accomplished composer, among many other trades. You created the musical score and soundtrack for the Sundance-submitted Daniel Baldwin's 'Wisdom.' Did you ever think film would become such a hit?

When I first sat down on a quiet Sunday morning and read the script, I knew it would do well.  It has a very relatable story, and the audience is invited to take a journey with the characters. There is a whole lot that can go wrong between script and finished product, and I’m thankful that the team could find a creative and commercial ‘happy medium’ to make this as successful as it has been.

We have been all over the country with this film, won awards for the music, the acting, the editing, and the story has touched many and it hasn’t even been commercially released, yet. So we are excited to see where it ends up.

Can you describe the workload for that project? How did you set about creating the musical score, and how many drafts did you go through?

This was a massive undertaking. How this film got off the ground and how the music was created would be a 4-page interview in itself. We were lucky enough to have a great relationship with Daniel Baldwin and the editor, Marc Cerutti. They would give us creative direction but not a definitive structure. I liked that, as it showed trust in our ability as musicians, songwriters and musical supervision. I remember the opening scene being a bit of a fight back and forth. Daniel had a clear picture of what he wanted to portray in the opening scene—we wanted to do something different—and he ultimately won. The greatest part about this project was being able to give local artist and songwriters a musical platform to showcase their talents. Jenn Bostic has a killer track we put in because her piano runs and voice were undeniable. REDD, a rapper out of Detroit, fit the mold perfectly in a break and enter scene and Siobhan Magnus ('American Idol' Season 9) sings the title track, which she also co-wrote.

What film/musical scores have inspired you through your career?

One of my favorite things to do in Nashville is head to the Schermerhorn and listen to the Nashville Symphony play the score to some of the classics while you watch the film. Films like Casablanca, The Wizard of Oz they are all unbelievable. The musical journey that the score takes the viewer on has always intrigued me, but I’m the guy that watches TV so I can deconstruct the commercials. Disney has always done an incredible job taking the viewer on a journey.  It seems to have been lost in the last 20 years and that is largely in part to costs and changes in technology. It’s simply the case that there is rarely much of a budget for music—an average music budget might be 3 – 5% of the total.

Quentin Tarantino has always used music to increase the consumers experience, and T Bone Burnett always knocks in out of the park. Great musical supervisors, directors and composers will set you up to feel what you haven’t even seen yet, or in Quentin’s case will often conflict what you are seeing with what you are hearing. People try to use this technique all the time and get it so wrong, like having a graphic war scene or a serial killer doing what he does best while operatic music is playing…you have to be smarter than that because the consumers will always expect more and when they pay $20 for a ticket and $15 for popcorn, they deserve it.

Who are your idols (in film, musicals, etc)?

I’m always inspired by people who work incredibly hard to get where they want to be and then continue to be a beacon for those that aspire to do the same. People like me are not supposed to win; the world simple doesn’t work that way, so to be able to see that like-minded folks have scrapped and clawed their way forward and retained a level of dignity and humility will always be inspiring. It’s incredibly hard to beat someone that will never give up and must remember, most people do.

You are also a founding partner and excutive producer for Talkapolis. How do you see it changing the media  landscape? How did that venture come about?

We founded Talkapolis Inc. in 2012. We create geographically focused video networks, delivered via social media. Its product has proven to be exponentially more effective at generating awareness and specific consumer behaviors than local TV, print, radio and display advertising. We recognized consumer focus shift away from traditional media and acted swiftly. We first looked at aggregating largely followed musicians on social media but that took us away from the being able to geographically target consumers. Because of the ‘world wide web,’ most people focus internationally; but 70% of a 180 billion industry is spent locally. So, we refocused our model to specifically target local ad dollars. We now have very highly followed and engaged social media pages in many states across the USA, and we are able to deliver a message directive, product or service to a geographically targeted market—and yes, this includes music!

We have created an extensive proprietary backend technology that allows single click video uploading, embedding, photo and link posting to Facebook and Twitter pages.  In effect, the company is broadcasting its content over social media and collects detailed stats on its content posts across all Facebook and Twitter pages—something we believe is unique in the industry. We plan to achieve exponential growth over the next 3 years through the sale of licenses and SAAS to stamp out its offering in other cities throughout North America and Europe, not unlike the TV affiliate roll out of the 50’s.

What is the importance for artists to utilize social media?

Social media is the new platform for discovery. The radio used to be, right? You would listen to your favorite station because they played the artist you liked. They would then introduce you to new artists. That's changed. Youtube has been great for musicians, but it still isn’t really a discovery platform. We usually go to Youtube because we have been directed from another source, and 9 times out of 10 that source is social media. Sure it might still be from a friend, but it’s your friend telling you through social media. It gets even more complicated than that and the average musician generally doesn’t have the knowledge or time to utilize these platforms to their full potential. Social media is far more than simply posting a new show, a new song or an update. The musicians that are able to master this platform can make seriously good money from it and gain a truly engaged following.

What advice would you have for artists who struggle to use social media in a positive way?

First artists need to take off the creative cap and put a marketing and advertising cap on and ask what they are wanting from the potential consumer? ‘I want them to buy my album or come to my show’ I hear you say, but why should they? They have the choice of 1,000,000 albums out there, and they have most likely ‘liked’ the same amount of pages. So, what makes you so special? What makes people want to take ownership of your brand and then endorse it by telling everyone they can about it? That should be the outcome. Artist are generally asking the consumer to spend their hard earned money and more often than not the message can come across as arrogant or desperate. It's hard to find that middle ground of difference. With all the crowd founding and artists trying to sell on social media, most people have a tendency to do what I do: put my head down and focus on something else.

Find out what makes your brand unique. Find your market within the market. Then, work out how to market your brand to that segment so well that it gets to the point that they start marketing it for you.

What's next for you? New music any time soon?

I have an album sitting, ready for release but I’m looking for the right people to do that with. I’m hosting a new show ‘Serious Startups’ that focuses on the world of entrepreneurship, which I have found myself submerged in. We are launching an event in Nashville in 2015 through Talkapolis that will be around the same concept but live. I’m always looking for something else to sink my teeth into as this kind of stuff feeds my soul: hosting, writing, performing, musical supervision. I love to collaborate with like-minded people and do something great. TalkApolis is booming and it’s a very exciting time. The growth has been measured and consistent with our projections, and it always keeps us busy.

We were nominated for a few awards this year and recognized by Forbes in conjunction with Dr. Jeff Cornwall’s Entrepreneur program – the Entrepreneurial Mind. It’s a great program we produce in house. Personally, 2014 was incredible. I recently married the girl of my dreams and had all my family come from Australia and enjoy the USA for a while. We love our life in Nashville but you never know were the road will take you and I can certainly attest to that.

Photos courtesy of Kane Harrison

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