Talented young songstress Ella Belfanti has recently been featured on the pages of Blank Street Press showcasing her impressive solo release, ‘Hold You In’, as well as the burgeoning development of her dynamic band, TYDE. And in addition to her bountiful musical talents, Ella has now also stepped up as a spokesperson of integrity within the Australian music scene, which has been decimated to the point of catastrophe as a result of the impacts of COVID-19.
Like a number of opportunity starved artists during the current pandemic, Ella was gutted at the recent cancellation of the iconic Byron Bay Bluesfest 2021 on the eve of its opening night, an event that TYDE were slated to perform at.
Using this disappointment as a catalyst for change, she has chosen to shine the spotlight on raising awareness of the inequitable challenges faced by the music industry in surviving the pandemic, recently co-ordinating the release of a momentous compilation album entitled ‘Get This Double Standard Disbanded’ – a fundraiser for Support Act (a charity delivering crisis relief services to artists, crew and music workers.)
The album features contributions from a host of both established and rising artists slated to play this year’s Bluesfest, including John Butler Trio, The Waifs, Emily Wurramara, The Melbourne Ska Orchestra, Hussy Hicks and Electrik Lemonade.
We recently had a chat with Ella to discover her thoughts on the plight of the arts in this current COVID climate, the logistical challenges of co-ordinating a fundraising release and where she wants to take things with her music for the rest of 2021.
Congratulations on taking a stand to help the music industry with your latest fundraising project, ‘Get This Double Standard Disbanded’. It must have been incredibly heartbreaking and frustrating for all of those involved with Bluesfest 2021 after it was cancelled at the last moment – how did it impact you on a personal level?
On a personal level, it was hugely disappointing for a number of reasons. We’d gotten our spot on the line-up through the Bluesfest Busking Competition, and all of us had taken time off work/study to participate in the competition and driven for hours to be there on multiple days. Being a relatively new band, it’s a huge investment as well as a huge opportunity. Like all musicians, we invest so much time, hard work and money into our craft. Each band member brings multiple thousands of dollars’ worth of gear to every show. Having worked hard so hard over many years to have an opportunity like this, getting a spot in the line-up, then having the festival cancelled within 24 hours, is so heartbreaking.
But it wasn’t as bad for us as it was for most of the parties involved. We’re lucky that we were within driving distance of the festival site – many artists had travelled from all over Australia with families and gear. There were also stage crew, sound and lighting engineers, volunteer festival workers, and all the stall holders put up huge capitol on produce and products too. So many people’s livelihoods revolve around events like this, and I get so frustrated when that isn’t recognised or considered by those making executive decisions.
Why do you think it is that the music industry is having such a hard time getting the same sort of recognition and support afforded to other sectors struggling as a result of COVID, such as sport and tourism?
There are many contributing factors, but I think at its core, it’s down to a pervasive belief in our society that the arts aren’t a truly valuable profession. There are so many damaging falsehoods and stereotypes that arts workers hear every day. For example, the myth that musicians are inherently talented trivialises the hard work that goes into becoming proficient, and the work that goes into making your art successful on a business level. That’s as hard as getting any kind of business venture off the ground! People assume that doing music without having a ‘real job’ means you must be really lucky and privileged – that it gets handed to you. In reality it takes years of practice, years of unpaid work, huge financial investment, and in the case of independent artists, skills in multiple industries are also needed (graphic design, marketing, management, bookings, performance, sound engineering).
Then there’s the idea that it would be okay if all the artists did another job for a while – work in a different industry until COVID is over – then you can pursue your ‘passion’. That’s particularly common in older generations, who tend to hold positions of power. Imagine saying that to a politician? I know it’s a bit of a cliche to say this now, but imagine going about your day with no music in cafes, no Spotify, no radio, no CDs or records to put on at home, no music in the clubs, no sound tracks in movies, music in ads, silent restaurants – I don’t think people realise how much music they consume every day. Let alone other art forms.
In summary, there’s a huge lack of awareness of the pervasive role that arts play in our society, what it takes to create this art, distribute it, and make it viable for the creator.
The artists featured on the fundraising album were all slated to play at the recently cancelled Bluesfest 2021. How did you go about organising the involvement of so many of those artists – was it difficult logistically to pull it all together?
It was a huge effort to pull this together! I did the first day of work myself, and I think I sat at the computer for 13 hours. I was researching the best platform to put together such an album, writing a pitch to get the artists involved, finding their contacts and managers contacts, talking with Support Act about working with them, sending out emails and messaging people, designing the album art etc.! TYDE’s drummer Josh joined in the next day, and we both spent the following week working similar hours to get this organised. It’s pretty complicated when record labels are involved as well – they technically own the song recordings so we had to get permission from multiple parties! Everyone’s been so generous though, it’s been really rewarding, and I’m passionate about the cause. Totally worth it.
Do you have hope that the music industry might actually get a fair hearing and gain some meaningful support as a result of initiatives such as yours and the Play Fair campaign?
I have so much hope! There’s great work being done by so many people and organisations. As long as we keep talking about how the arts contribute to our lives, and as long as those in positions of power are willing to come to the table and work with the recommendations of arts professionals, we’re going to see some positive changes in our communities and in legislation. The government has made some amazing contributions to Support Act recently as well, which is so encouraging.
For yourself and your band, TYDE, where are you looking to take things for the rest of 2021, musically speaking?
For this year, we’re working really hard on some new singles to release! We’ve got demos that we’re super excited about, and are hoping to get into the studio in the next couple of months. We launched the TYDE project last year with a tour down the East Coast, and half of it was cancelled by the beginnings of lockdown. In this snap-lockdown climate, playing lots of local Gold Coast/Brisbane gigs is going to be our focus. We’ve also had a few festivals cancelled, which is so sad because I think most of the music we’ve been writing is really suited to the festival circuit! We’re hoping for more of them to go ahead.
You can get your hands on the fabulous fundraising compilation ‘Get This Double Standard Disbanded’ via the Bandcamp site. Ella also wanted to point out that on 7 May, Bandcamp are waiving all of their revenue for the day, so by buying the album on that date more money will flow directly to Support Act.
IMAGE (C) Samantha Kiley