Comedian and writer Lewis Hobba is one half of Australian radio’s favourite on-air team – triple j’s drive-time duo Veronica & Lewis, and a panelist for the upcoming music business seminar ‘New Directions @ The Con – Building A Team’ on October 27th.
Lewis made the transition from sketch comedy to alternative radio over the last four years, demonstrating his commitment by getting a belly button piercing during a call-back segment only a couple of weeks ago. Gross.
Other than the physical pressures of the job, triple j is also one of the smallest and most intense popular music workplaces in the country. Every week hundreds and hundreds of bands submit new tracks to the station, while as few as eight tracks make the cut each month.
Given the air of mystery surrounding the station and the music they choose to playlist, we asked Lewis if he could demystify the process for us.
Lewis, you’re a radio host whose Drive show plays some of the most popular music on triple j, our national broadcaster, but you came to the radio from a background of comedy and writing for TV.
How much of a role did music play before getting the job at triple j, and how large a part of your life is it now?
I grew up in country Victoria and was obsessed with triple j from the age of 12. The only reason working at Triple J wasn’t my dream job at that age was because it seemed too unrealistic to even bother making it a dream.
Music was a huge part of my life, in the way it still is for a lot of intense triple j fans. It stayed that way until my mid 20s when I started doing shifts at triple j, and now I listen to more music than ever. Still less than the music team by a long way, but plenty.
I wish I had more time in the day to listen to everything, but that’s where my job differs from others – the Breakfast and Drive teams spend most of their day focusing on making great content and other areas of what makes up radio.
And what kind of pressures are unique to working in radio presenting job, and the kind of fast-paced, youth-oriented environment that is triple j.
It always feels silly to talk about pressures of working at triple j, because it’s a very fortunate place and we work with committed, fun people every day.
We have loyal listeners who actively involve themselves with the station, which is rare and amazing. The pressures do exist, but mostly because we take the job seriously, occasionally too seriously.
Plus we have much smaller teams than comparatively sized radio stations, so we have to do more with less, which can be frustrating, but you know what you’re in for before you sign up.
How does an aspiring band or artist service their new single to triple j?
The triple j music programmers are available every Monday and Tuesday morning to meet with labels, publicists, managers and artists themselves, and hear their new music. These days servicing music digitally, direct to triple j’s music programmers inbox, is best.
Also, if your music falls into a genre that is catered to a specific show (hip hop, blues and roots, punk, metal, dance, experimental), then get in touch with the hosts of that show directly.
For example, if you’re an Australian artist you might get one of your first spins on Home & Hosed, the Australian music show, so Dom Alessio is a good contact. The Unearthed team listen to everything that gets uploaded to www.triplejunearthed.com. It’s a really great platform to get heard if you’re an unsigned Aussie artist.
The best of those songs end up on triple j Unearthed digital radio station, which can often lead to winning competitions, playing at festivals, and reaching a wider audience.
What kinds of selection pressures influence the playlist there at triple j? Are there prevailing trends in terms of style?
Within our two and half hours on air, we play a diverse range of styles. I don’t think it helps artists to think about trends, because people get bored of trends fast. We’ll try not to play too much of the same genre in an hour, and we play a lot of Australian music and diverse mix of gender, genre and cultural backgrounds.
What are the kinds of additional extras that make a young, up-and-coming band or artist stick out to the management and the hosts at triple j?
It sounds like I’m dodging, but the answer changes each time a new artist sticks out.
Sometimes it’s because they sound completely new, or come from a new perspective, are inspired by a style that hasn’t been heard in awhile, or their live show is incredible. It’s never the same thing. I would say if you’re an act that can play live often, do it. If you have a good live show people will hear about you.
If you’re a producer who doesn’t have much of a live show yet, get your songs on triple j Unearthed – if it’s good, the Unearthed team will hear it.
If an artist is unsuccessful servicing their music to triple j, how should they proceed? Are there channels to the station open to them? Is persistence a virtue?
Yes; triple j is a wonderful place to get played but it’s far from the only option. Get your songs on one of the many music platforms like Unearthed and Soundcloud and you can build a fan base from there. And work on your live show.
What do you personally like listening to?
I spend my work day listening to new music and music that gets played on triple j, which I love. When I get away from work I like to try to find to stuff that I wouldn’t listen to there. I listen to community radio when I can, and hanging out with people who play or listen to music for a living means you’re never short of recommendations.
Also, I listen to a lot of hip hop. There’s too much good music and not enough time. It’s stressful!
Lewis Hobba and triple j’s Assistant Music Director, Gemma Pike, appear as part of ’New Directions – Building A Team’ at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music on Oct 27th, 6pm – a free music seminar featuring some of Australia’s most influential industry figures.
For more information check out http://music.sydney.edu.au/new-directions-con-seminars/ or email firstname.lastname@example.org.