Sounds of regional Western Australia

 Polly Medlen, Wagin, was among the artists who recorded a song in West Australian Music's regional recording program and said it help reinspire her creative spark and passion for recording music.

Polly Medlen, Wagin, was among the artists who recorded a song in West Australian Music's regional recording program and said it help reinspire her creative spark and passion for recording music.

POLLY Medlen is still feeling the creative buzz of her recording experience in the historic Cummins Theatre, Merredin, in March.

There, she worked with top Perth-based producers Matt Gio and Dan Carroll in a temporary studio to record her original song - and while the Merredin-born and bred songwriter had recorded before, this experience was special.

"It is really unique and it is a great experience, even if I had never done any recording at all, I would love it just as much,'' said Ms Medlen, who now lives with her young family in Wagin.

"You go in and you play them your song,'' she said.

"You spend the first half an hour basically chatting about how you want it to sound and what are you influences.

"Then the producers just start trialling things - they will run a base line and layer the song.

"You work with them - they bounce things off you, you bounce things of them - and you spend the whole day just putting the song together like building blocks, until at 5pm everybody says "are we there? is everybody happy?"

"To hire these people, most people couldn't afford it.

Georgia McAlpine, Buntine, performed at the launch of Demos from the Wheatbelt' at the Cummins Theatre in Merredin in August.

Georgia McAlpine, Buntine, performed at the launch of Demos from the Wheatbelt' at the Cummins Theatre in Merredin in August.

"They are really highly regarded in the industry and they have come to you.

"They are in your home town and they are asking you how you want this to sound."

Ms Medlen credits the work with triggering a renewed creative buzz which has seen her write a handful of new songs and contemplate recording her second EP with the Polly Medlen Band.

"It's good to have that experience and to reignite my passion for the industry,'' she said.

Ms Medlen is one of 166 regionally-based songwriters and musicians so far chosen to record their original songs as part of a regional recording project run by West Australian Music (WAM), which has led to the release of 10 albums since 2006.

It is a huge body of work, which includes old and young musicians and songwriters, some who have written their first song and others who, like Ms Medlen, are more seasoned campaigners.

They cover a range of music styles and some performed in their indigenous languages.

WAM regional and project officer Nigel Bird said the idea for the regional recording project stretched back to 2003, when he was part of a group touring with a couple of bands through WA's North West.

"We did some stuff in some TAFEs and schools and we came across all this recording gear that was shoved in sheds and filling cupboards and nobody knew it was there or what to do with it,'' Mr Bird said.

"Remember recording - going back to 2003 - was a lot more difficult to do than it is now.

Pete Byfield, Grass Valley, recorded his first original song Wialki for the 'Songs of the Wheatbelt' album which opened up a host of performance options and led him to record his first album working with ARIA award winning musician and producer Joel Quartermain, from Eskimo Joe.

Pete Byfield, Grass Valley, recorded his first original song Wialki for the 'Songs of the Wheatbelt' album which opened up a host of performance options and led him to record his first album working with ARIA award winning musician and producer Joel Quartermain, from Eskimo Joe.

"It was a different world.

"We thought we would design a program where we would teach people about using whatever recording gear that was close to them, or how to use a basic kind of set-up and while we were doing that we would record artists from the region - or sometimes the town - we were in.''

The plan kicked off with a first recording sessions in the Pilbara in 2006 - the team visited Shark Bay, Tom Price and Wiluna.

In 2014, they went on to the Wheatbelt to record 'Songs of the Wheatbelt' in a farmhouse between Dowerin and Wongan Hills.

'Sounds of the Goldfields' was recorded 2016, 'Sounds of the Great Southern' in 2017 and 'Demos from the Northern Goldfield' in 2018 - the latter recording showcased songs by nine predominantly indigenous songwriters and musicians, including from Laverton, Leonora and the communities of Mulga Queen, Cosmo Newberry and Mount Margaret.

A special 2015 recording, Sounds of the Pilbara II - Songs in Language, featured a range of original songs and sung stories performed by indigenous people from the region, to help preserve and promote Aboriginal languages, culture and history.

On August 30 this year, WAM launched the latest compilation, 'Demos from the Wheatbelt', in the heritage-listed Cummins Theatre.

Along with Ms Medlen, it featured tracks from Georgia McAlpine (Buntine), Gracie B (Gwambygine), Hayden McGlinn (Lake Grace), Kelea (Gingin), Refractory Road (Northam), Sue Munns (Beacon), Tim Beckingham (Wialki), Tom Caughey (Nukarni) and Primary Collective (Merredin).

The project moved to Broome this month, with the recording team travelling from Perth and 10 artists from across the Kimberley to work in a make-shift studio, set up in an historical pearling warehouse overlooking Roebuck Bay on a new compilation, 'Sounds of the Kimberley'.\

West Australian Music regional and project officer Nigel Bird said the regional recording program has helped regional musicians develop confidence and connections within the industry opening the door to other performing opportunities and providing them with a high quality recording of their original song to be broadcast on radio, entered in competitions and use as a demo as their pursue their careers. Photo: Creative Self.

West Australian Music regional and project officer Nigel Bird said the regional recording program has helped regional musicians develop confidence and connections within the industry opening the door to other performing opportunities and providing them with a high quality recording of their original song to be broadcast on radio, entered in competitions and use as a demo as their pursue their careers. Photo: Creative Self.

The latest album is co-funded by $215,000 allocated by the State government in August from its Contemporary Music Fund towards five new regionally recorded albums - in the Wheatbelt, the Kimberley and Peel this year and likely the Mid West and South West in 2020.

Mr Bird said to ensure as broad a reach as possible the albums were released as CDs, promoted via regional, State and national radio and were available online and on music streaming platforms, such as Spotify.

More than 25,000 physical CDs have been distributed in regional WA and the songs have had 85,000 plays across digital streaming platforms in more than 20 countries.

In 2015-17, the regional recording program also ran in conjunction with the Wheatbelt Touring Circuit and the Goldfields-Esperance Touring Circuit, which took a group of artists on the road for free concerts in community venues - as a way of providing opportunities for regional musos to hone their stagecraft and build connections and to show the communities the talent often hidden in their own backyards.

WAM also appointed WAMbassadors to champion the artists and to support and promote a country road safety message through the #ElephantinTheWheatbelt road safety campaign.

These parts of the project were discontinued - due to a lack of sponsorship - but Bird hopes they may be revived in the future.

And WAM has continued its association with the Dowerin GWN7 Machinery Field Days - where artists are allocated 20 minute pop-up performance spots in the Wheatbelt Songwriter's Showcase.

Mr Bird said all the 'Songs from..' and 'Demos from..' compilations presented a similar end-product to the consumer - but the recording process for each was different.

"For each 'Demos from..' project we record 10 artists over 10 days, there's limited engineering mentoring because the engineers are working so quickly,'' Mr Bird said, whereas the 'Sounds of..' series usually took about a month to complete, including 20 days' recording plus travel time.

"Our 'Sounds of..' projects offer two days' recording - on the second day we offer for people in the region to sit with the sound engineers and ask questions, look and listen.

"We also offer specific workshops on some of the second days, as part of the program and if people have a little home studio they can sit with the professional producers and ask questions.

"It takes us back to the start of the project and that seed of where we want to improve the skills of people in regional WA who have, or could have, access to recording equipment.''

Mr Bird said participating artists were selected using a range of criteria, including age demographic, music genre, to represent gender equity and first nation people and they spanned the range of song writing experience.

There are six age categories - with the youngest contributor so far aged 11 years and the oldest 82.

The number of applicants can also vary depending on the region's population and other factors.

"In the Great Southern in 2017, we had 115 acts - that included stacks of bands and more than 300 individuals,'' Mr Bird said.

"For this Kimberley album we had 95 applications and immediately prior, the Wheatbelt produced 47 applicants.''

On the latest Kimberley project, the first artist Elly Ottenhoff, Kununurra, had never performed or recorded before - but was offered her first gig as a result of being announced as a participant in the project and has since conducted her first radio interview.

"So there are those sorts of outcomes for people, right at the start,'' Mr Bird said.

At the other end of the process is, Grass Valley songwriter Pete Byfield who said he cynically thought he might tick the 'older songwriter' criteria when he applied for the 2014 'Songs of the Wheatbelt' album at the suggestion of a friend, neighbour and fellow band member.

He was excited to be selected on the basis of a few lyrics he had submitted and quickly went about writing his first song Wialki - which ultimately became the first track on 'Songs of the Wheatbelt'.

Mr Byfield was a 59 at the time and had spent many years playing in covers bands around regional WA but had never written his own songs.

He has since recorded an album of his original music with his WAM project mentor and ARIA award winner Joel Quartermain, from Eskimo Joe, which won Best Independent Album of the Year at the 2016 WA Country Music Awards and earned him nominations for male artist of the year, delivered a TEDxPerth talk to 1800 people and has just completed a six-month national playing tour.

"None of this would have happened without WAM and my chance encounter with Sounds of the Wheatbelt,'' he said.

Mr Bird said the project used a core group of leading, professional sound engineers and producers - including Mr Quatermain and Matt Gio and Dan Carroll, from Rada Studios, Debaser Studio's Andy Lawson, Real2Reel Studio's James Newshouse and Sean Lillico, Fur Real Studio.

But interest from other sound engineers and producers was growing as the momentum of the project increased and Mr Bird now fields enquiries from many who are keen to get involved.

"They generally really enjoy the experience, both being away in a different place but also it's a different clientele base,'' he said.

While it's easier than ever to record music, via apps such Garageband, the engineers can introduce a range of insights into how to improve the quality of the music recorded.

"It's things like the selection of different microphones - they all sound completely different,'' Mr Bird said.

"Then where do you put the microphone?

"There are quite inventive ways to do that.

"We look at the acoustics of the space that we are recording in.

"Creating the space where you can capture a really good sound means that you don't have to play with effects so much afterwards.

"That is a really important thing that we like to try to show people and these are the skills the producers and sound engineers, that we bring out, have.''