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An interview with Kim Tan - Booker / Manager / Community Organiser

February 11, 2019


Tell us about yourself in your own words.

I’m Kim Tan. I’m originally from Melbourne via Darwin and now live in Sydney. I grew up in Sydney in the Sutherland Shire. Right now, I’m a band manager for an up and coming band called Jackie Brown Jr. We finally came up with a genre to best describe their sound which is “indie rock n’ soul”. They are kind of like a baby version of Melbourne band Sasquatch – who are a funk and soul band – now more so going in a bit of indie rock and roll direction. Also, I’ve been a band booker. I used to manage a place called The Square which was under Capitol Square pub called The Palace. It was an underground alternative music venue that had a lot of punk and metal, DIY and electronic acts come through. Then after that, I booked a Monday night gig series called Swerve Society at Newtown Social Club. That was kind of open to many genres as well.


Did you study journalism?

I did. I studied journalism for my masters degree after I finished an undergrad at Sydney Uni. During my undergrad, I majored in art history and theory, government and international relations and Chinese studies and didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I worked at a cinema advertiser for a while -  just in an admin job and then realised what I really wanted to do was tell stories and listen to stories. So I studied journalism and completed my masters but don’t really work as a journalist at all. I work in comms. I’ve freelanced as a journalist - although work is often synonymous with pay and I’ve rarely been paid for my journalism work. I’ve done a lot of free or volunteer work at radio 2SER. A lot of talks content. I used to be a journalist on The Wire which is their national news and current affairs show, two nights a week. It’s broadcast out of their Broadway studios. I worked on a range of other shows - anything from film to the feminist show to book shows I have filled in on. I also used to be a breakfast newsreader as well.


Tell us about how you got into booking for The Square and Newtown Social.

Like a lot of people I guess I fell into booking - I didn’t go to music college or anything like that. I started booking shows when I was at Sydney Uni because I was part of the Sydney Uni Radio Group which is like the radio club there and the main stage manager said we could have a slot to promote the radio society. The first spot I booked was actually two of my friends Aubrey Belford - who is now a foreign correspondent in Thailand - and Tim Andrews- who runs his own tax payers rights think tank. They came from two opposite sides of politics. One was Labor and the other Liberal. It was quite funny, because they just argued on many issues and also, because they knew each other quite well they knew how to goad at each other. So, that was one part. The music part was more difficult because the person who could have helped us out at the time was Craig Kamber formerly A & R manager of Polydor Records (he signed Tumbleweed back in the day). At the time, was the booker for Manning Bar so he would book all music acts for Sydney Uni. He was very busy and maybe not so bothered with one afternoon spot. I was told to go see him and I had a quick meeting with him and he said there are a couple of people I could ask but he was sure I could work it out (on my own). So I just did basically afternoons of calling around and I didn’t know many bands at the time. Then I got put onto Dan Williams who was in a band called Roger Explosion at the time. He’s now in Philadelphia Grand Jury and Art vs Science. I also spoke to my friend Chris Southwood’s then, Johnson (their uni days funk band) band mate Simon Berckelman aka “Berkfinger” from Philadelphia Grand Jury and Feelings (who runs Golden Retriever Studio – which is next door to The Red Rattler now). Either Dan or Simon recommended I talk to this guy Renny Field who was a singer songwriter who has  been around for ages. And so he performed for us during O Week at Sydney Uni, and then through that I just started to get to know bands and people and that’s how it all started.


Tell us about Represent Rotation?

That’s just new! I had to come up with a moniker, I didn’t want to be known as just Kim Tan – the booker anymore because that’s not really what I do these days – I wish I did but the opportunity just isn’t there anymore.  I find when you’re starting out with management it’s difficult unless you already have a name for yourself, like if you’re a publicist for example, to go and represent bands -  so I just started that moniker up to be able to represent Jackie Brown Jr in a way and it’s just easier to have another email address that’s not your own - I feel. It’s just for practical reasons to keep it separate from my own personal stuff  - to deal with that side of things. I guess the name came up because we really just need to get more air play for them and it’s as simple as that.


How long have you been managing them?

Not long, we’ve been in meetings since the end of last year. But they’re all quite young and they are all very busy people - all have more than one band and many commitments and because they were so busy they needed help. They travel a lot being young and wanting to see the world. So that’s part of the reason why I was brought on but it’s also been a long process because people have been away or trying to get a timeline down is tricky and also to organise work in line with booking shows and promoting things as well.


What are some of the challenges that you have faced with booking shows and managing talent?

People promising things that they don’t deliver on. That is quite interesting. You know when you’re trying to promote a show and people are like well it’s Monday night;  Who is going to come to this show? Hospitality people? Backpackers? It’s a very basic way of thinking because you’re like - What if the (band members’) friends don’t turn up? It’s always a scary thing I guess, especially with a free night, you need those numbers to prove (it’s something worth putting on) - especially if your hospitality management is in Melbourne and all they see is numbers and they don’t really ever come to the nights. It’s hard to justify sometimes to people why Sydney needs certain nights for musicians or spaces for musicians. It’s difficult when numbers are involved and you don’t have pokies to back you up or you don’t have grants. Then, we’d have the odd occasion where backpackers would turn up and decide they were groupies and try and get into the green room or hit on our sound guy. That was the issue at the Newtown Social. It was not often but it happened. At The Square, we used to have lonely divorced guys turn up and sometimes they would not leave. Nothing major, but I found that interesting. Those were the two groups that we had minor issues with.


Did you book The Square for any night of the week?

Any night of the week that would come up.


Was that a permanent position you had there?

It was just on casual basis so whenever there was a show, I would turn up. I ran the square with my friend Kate (Taylor – spokesperson and co-founding organiser for Sydney Women’s March). Kate and I would take turns on the door. Often a band from interstate or an international would want to play (in the occasional mid-weeknight) and we opened the venue up whenever (we had a booking) and that would be how it ran. 


What else do you do for work at the moment? 

I work for a government agency which is the statutory body for child care and early learning. I am a comms officer so I guess that’s where my journalism skill set comes in handy because there is a lot of copy writing also with media enquiries assessing those and just general communications output and social media as well.


Do you find all of that experience is very helpful with booking and managing bands?

Absolutely. I mean these days I guess I’m really lucky because I don’t have to worry about social media. The band is better at that because they know their fans better than anyone. I don’t want to step in and be lame. That’s the ultimate thing on social media the worst crime you can commit is being lame! 


What makes you want to book shows?

I’m an idiot and I want to annoy my parents with my life choices – I’m joking... But also, my parents do get frustrated with this choice of mine – to use my time and money in this way. I think it’s the social aspect more than anything. You know you can make a difference, you’re part of a community – and that’s the main thing. It’s not about money. I think even people who are in the industry for money will often say themselves that the most satisfying thing is seeing a band start out and following their career trajectory or seeing people make gains or their song being listened to or music making a difference to people’s lives is incredibly rewarding. Also I think it’s important to encourage everyone to be able to have a creative outlet in general. It’s a very stressful world and I think just being able to communicate with people, to have safe spaces, to have something to do and people to connect with is super important.


What sort of bands would you look for when booking a show?

It depends on the show. Often you are asked by one particular band or one particular person to book a show and so you’ll build a show around that band. Obviously scheduling is important but you definitely think who they would get along with for starters, you don’t want to book bands that hate each other. That’s horrid, even if you think they would get along or musically you think it would be great. I’m a fan of mixed bills and people have made fun of me for that… I’ve just gone a bit too far with the mixed bill situation because you’ve got to think about numbers I guess - you don’t want everyone’s friends to be the same and also it gets a bit boring if you just see everyone the same at the show. It’s good to get a diversity of people, get a diversity of bands not just band members, you know, a whole mix of a crowd. Obviously you’ve got to think about safety as well - so think about who is potentially being invited to these shows. Has there been controversy, or anything that can be mitigated? Try and keep your ear to the ground. I think a lot of the problem is sometimes research isn’t done and that can be a problem or some issue comes up and you kind of have to move quickly on that and trouble shoot that and deal with it because there is nothing worse than getting to the day of the show or the day before and not having time to be able to mitigate problems if there are any. That’s like a worst case scenario too - 90% (maybe even more like 95%?!) of shows I would say wouldn’t have any issues. 


What’s been the most rewarding event you’ve booked?

My gut instinct is to say being able to see Phantastic Ferniture play one of their first shows and to be able to watch Julia Jacklin sing in that band before her career really took off. I would like to also say maybe the time that Low Life and Orion played The Square and (the incredibly multitalented) Jack Mannix (from Circle Pit and Kiosk) (was running around in a g-banger and all these normie people Shogun (from Royal Headache and The Hearse Chasers) and I use to work with at a call centre were there and they remember that show because of the guy in a leather g-string! I wish they’d remembered the music because that was what was awesome.


What is the best piece of advice you could give to young women and queer folk who want to make art or music or just be seen and heard?

Probably to get as much advice as you can. Don’t make it so that you would stress yourself out and not do what you want to do. You know sometimes, you research a project for so long and then you just don’t do it? Just try and get as much helpful advice as possible in a short period of time. Set yourself a deadline, and then just go ahead and try it - because if you don’t try it, you never learn or know what it’s like. It might not be the thing for you, but, at the same time you could be great at it and you never know. 


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