Continuing our Hidden Currents series that examines the people behind the scenes, we talk to Mitch Booth who runs website Metal Obsession, promotes gigs and somehow finds time for a radio slot while holding down a day job.
(((0))) Thanks for taking thetime to talk to us at ech(((o)))es&dust. We love the bands but we also love that they actually have somewhere to perform and someone who looks after some aspects of their life, so they can spend more time making music. We love that people keep us informed and play us new stuff. We want to talk to you about what it’s like to be one of those someones and what makes you tick.
Can you start off by telling us a bit about the various ways you are involved in the music scene, and how you came to be involved?
Back in early 2008, a mate of mine got in contact and asked whether I’d be interested in helping out on a new Australian-focused metal website he was starting called MetalObsession.net. It was more or less just a blog back then, where we posted news about bands that we liked. But, over time, it seemed to evolve on its own. Labels like Riot! Entertainment started sending us promos, more and more bands started sending us content, and we just had to keep expanding to keep up with the content. I guess we found something that was missing from the Australian “scene”, and people jumped at the opportunity. It’s great to see that a few other sites have sprung up in recent times as well.
Outside of that site, I have also began hosting a fortnightly radio show late last year on PBS 106.7fm in Melbourne, playing all sorts of extreme metal. There is a lot of local material and gig plugging on there, of course, but it’s nice to have an outlet where I can promote some of the music from other countries that I enjoy as well. I’ve recently spread further into organising gigs, metal and not, through Untitled Touring (I honestly just couldn’t think of a name…), and have become a part of The Push, which is a not-for-profit organisation promoting youth music in Victoria, who are behind events like Push Over festival and Freeza. Oh, and I write a few articles for Heavy Magazine too, and design the flyers for a few local promoters.
I also have a proper, paying not-music-related job as well. I don’t have much spare time…
(((o))) The metal and heavy rock scene south of Adelaide was underground but very strong when I grew up there. Apart from the obvious musical differences, how do you think the metal scene in Australia today differs from others like indie/alternative and pub rock?
To be honest I’ve never had a whole lot of experience outside of the metal/heavy music scene, yet. I guess the main difference is that there isn’t as much support for the style in the broader music scene. We don’t get the coverage in larger scale media, and venues are generally more hesitant to book heavy shows. I guess those kind of factors have led to the whole “support the scene” mentality. But really, in the end, I don’t think there is a whole of difference between the scenes. We might have a few extra hurdles, but it’s not like every indie rock band that starts up is guaranteed instant fame. I’m sure there are just as many bands (or solo musicians, or DJ’s) performing in front of three people at a filthy venue in every other music scene there is. We just don’t see it.
(((o))) How would you describe its health?
I can’t really compare it to how it was, seeing as I was only 18 or so years old when starting Metal Obsession, but I think the Australian metal scene is extremely strong. Anybody who says it isn’t just has their eyes and ears shut. The amount of astonishingly talented bands I have discovered, particularly in the last twelve months or so, is bewildering. I don’t have time to listen to them all. With bands like A Million Dead Birds Laughing, Adrift For Days, Encircling Sea, The Schoenberg Automaton and Okera around, you can hardly say the country is lacking talent.
I think the media and promotion side of things has really gone from strength to strength as well. If you look hard enough, there are plenty of heavy radio shows around (on PBS fm, Triple R, etc), websites like Chucking A Mosh, Loud Online and Ausgrind, labels like Art As Catharsis and Monolith, and the recent explosion that is Heavy Magazine.
I’m constantly seeing and hearing people whinging about how rejected metal is, and how we don’t get enough radio play and such. But we do, there is heaps going around, everybody just needs to open their eyes a bit more. Why do we so desperately need metal shows on the more popular, commercial radio stations, when there are a ton of independent stations doing it already? Just go and listen to those, that’s where you’ll hear good music. Who cares what number is on the dial?
I think the hardest part is the live arena, and the amount of metal-friendly venues that have closed down around the country recently, but there are always other options. I personally won’t complain if it means the rise of more DIY performance spaces, and house gigs. I wish I had something along the lines of Sydney’s Black Wire Records, with their in-store, all ages performances, closer to where I live.
(((o))) What part do you want your site Metal Obsession play? How well do you think it plays that part?
The goal of Metal Obsession is really just to be a central hub, where if people are looking for a gig to attend on a Friday night or want to hear some new music, they can just jump on the site rather than search the dark corners of Facebook or wherever. We try to make things easier, and give bands that aren’t quite sure how to go about promoting themselves a bit of assistance. I spend a large portion of my time simply emailing musicians and promoters who need some hints and tips, or contacts in other states, etc.
Our part is to do whatever we can to help out whoever needs it. There literally aren’t enough hours in the day to keep up with the amount of things asked of us, but we try our hardest, and I like to think we’re making a difference.
(((o))) You’ve been running it for over four years now – well over what you would term a passing interest. What aspects of running the site do you enjoy the most?
The thing that I absolutely love, and that really keeps me going, is seeing or hearing about people discovering a fantastic band through the site. It’s a simple thing, but it makes me want to do it again.
As far as actual tasks, I do enjoy writing reviews. I’ve always enjoyed writing, regardless of the final goal. And it’s a great way to force myself to pay more attention to an album, and discover little nuances I otherwise might miss. Unfortunately, with the amount of emailing and site maintenance and such that I have to keep up with, I don’t have anywhere near the amount of time to sit down and write reviews as I’d like.
(((o))) Which aspects give you the shits?
The technical side of things. Obviously, seeing it’s not a very financially strong venture, we don’t have a web designer or anything. I do all of the coding myself, and I never really know what I’m doing. It’s a case of searching for things in Google, and seeing if that piece of code happens to do what I want to do. It’s painful.
Also the fact that I can’t live off the site. I never expected to, but the fact that I actually have to work another job to pay my rent and bills means I don’t have the time to keep up with the site. My “to review” pile will be taller than I am soon. I actually almost shut the site down around twelve months ago. It was getting out of control, and I was losing a bit of motivation because I was feeling so overwhelmed. I posted a somewhat unsure Facebook status about my thoughts on the future (or lack thereof) of the site, and the amount of supportive emails and comments that I received was, thankfully, enough to get me back on my feet and working harder than ever.
It’s a very, very, very time intensive “hobby”.
I hate writing interview questions too. I just suck at thinking of anything interesting to ask.
(((o))) It’s every music lover’s dream, or at least for most of us I’m sure, to have a radio show. What are some of the things you do in your show?
I was certainly quite excited when I read that I had actually been given a regular slot! It’s a bit of a tough job. I do the show from 2am-6am on Friday mornings, and then head straight to work for a nine hour shift, but it’s worth it. I have a bit of a weird love of putting together playlists; making sure they flow well and such. I’ve also never been a strong public speaker or anything like that, so I thought it would be a nice challenge to force myself out from behind the shield that is my laptop.
The show is more or less just me playing tracks I love, often focusing on touring artists and new albums, and rambling in a somewhat sleep deprived state in between. Once (or if…) I eventually make it to an earlier timeslot, I’m hoping to feature a lot of guest programmers and interviews and things like that. But for now, it’s just focused on the music. It’s good fun.
(((o))) What sort of work goes into preparing and presenting a radio show like yours?
Not a whole lot really. Like I said, my timeslot makes interviews and whatnot somewhat impossible, and it’s those things that take planning and presenting. I just fiddle around with a playlist on iTunes until I’m happy with the balance and flow. Then I scribble a few rough notes on specific gigs to plug after certain songs, and that’s it. None of my on-air comments are actually planned, which probably explains the amount of times I say “ummm”…
(((o))) It’s no surprise that despite being busy with these ventures, you have also started organising/promoting gigs. Tell us about the first you organised – what went to plan and what didn’t?
The first gig I ever organised was actually a fundraiser for the website. We needed a web hosting upgrade to keep up with demand, but didn’t really want to pay it out of our own pockets. I brought Lord down from Sydney, with Frankenbok, Dreadnaught, Toehider and Septerrus supporting. It was a big lineup, at the Corner Hotel in Melbourne. I dove into the deep end there, and it was absolute hell.
On the day of the show, massive storms hit Melbourne. I’m talking destructive hail and intense winds. Public transport was pretty much shut down and people were warned not to travel outside. The venue was leaking, there were problems with electrics, it was almost the only place on the entire street that was actually still open, and Lord had their flights cancelled several times, thankfully managing to arrive in Melbourne an hour or two before their performance. I’m surprised I didn’t have a heart attack. But, despite all of that, there was still a pretty good crowd, the bands all put on great performances, and from all reports everyone had a good night.
I remember a lot of people, including a security guard, being blown away by Toehider. They were sort’ve the curve ball on the lineup, and not even really metal at all, but they surprised everyone. They’re one of my favourite bands, and severely underappreciated, so I interpret the night as a success even just for that.
(((o))) You clearly don’t do all this for a six figure sum. I’d guess clearing a two figure sum would be a cause for celebration. Why do you do it?
I don’t really know why I do it. I never aimed for all of this when the site began back in 2008, I’ve just sort’ve fallen into it all, and music slowly took over my life. There are very few things in life I love more than discovering an album that really moves me, but if I can help somebody else discover that same thing, that’s even better. There is a lot of brilliant music in the world. I want everyone to hear it.
I also just like having things to keep me occupied. I always feel a bit guilty if I spend a few days just watching TV or playing video games. There are always more productive and fulfilling things to do.
(((o))) What five tips would you give others who want to get into promotions, running a site or getting on the radio?
- Don’t expect things to come easily. It’s a tough slog, with a lot of competition. You have to bide your time, and be smart about things. Start slow and build. Be patient.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Most of the people in the music industry, myself included, are simply fans. If you’re unsure of something, email or call somebody that you think might know. Chances are that they’ll be happy to help. If they aren’t, well they’re a dick.
- Build relationships, don’t make enemies. Don’t make your goal to try and be better or more popular than somebody or something else. In the end, that will just backfire on you.
- Be a bit professional. If you want other people to take you seriously, write in proper English. Format your emails, don’t use “2” or “ur” in sentences, and finish them with full stops. That might seem like an obvious point to make, but you would be surprised how many people type like twelve year old girls on Facebook chat. It’s not the type of impression to make if you want people to be confident in your skills.
- Do what you love. Write about the bands that inspire you. Organise gigs in the styles you enjoy. It’ll keep you more motivated and, without even knowing it, you’ll put a lot more effort in.
(((o))) Is there anything else we should know about Mitch Booth?
I think I have written enough here! Cheers for the opportunity to answer a few questions, it was nice being on the other side of things for a change. To anybody who actually read all 2000+ words of this, you deserve a beer.
Interview by Gilbert Potts