Interview with Helen Perris (2016)

Helen Perris
It has been three years since we last spoke to Helen Perris and as expected she has kept very busy. While she has been making new music, releasing singles and music videos, being a finalist in the Australian Independent Music Awards, running her music studio – Helen still made time to have a chat with us. We discuss her new subscription community, what’s been keeping her busy these past three years, as well as giving some very important advice to all musicians – both new comers and veterans.

In the three years since we last had a chat – a lot has happened. Let’s start with talking about your subscription based community The Perrennials. In a nutshell it’s a community of fans who subscribe to early releases, exclusive content, etc. via a pay-what-you-can service. And that money allows and helps you to continue to make music. How did you come up with the idea? How has it been working out so far?

Has it really been three years? I guess it has. Oneiro came out in late 2013!
Well the idea for a subscription community isn’t new. I was part of an online dance community for about a decade and had a premium paid membership, which gave me particular perks and helped paid for the running of the site. When Kim Boekbinder set up Mission Control, her subscription community, that was the first time I’d thought about how it could apply to musicians. Then, of course, Patreon became a thing and quite a few musicians (such as Sam Buckingham) jumped onboard. I was looking for an alternative to the usual way I’d crowdfunded, as it appeared that it had become too crowded a platform (pardon the pun) to be feasible for an artist like myself, and decided that a subscription platform was the way to go. However, since I already had so many third parties taking slices of my pie with all my online distribution, I decided that the discoverability factor of an existing service wasn’t going to make up for the percentage they’d take, especially considering how quickly platforms take off and get filled with more mainstream artists. So my husband and I built Perrennials from scratch and haven’t looked back! I don’t have a lot of subscribers, but I have enough to have a steady stream of money coming in which goes directly to recording and music video costs. My music video for Be There was entirely funded by Perrennials, so it’s working out really well! Though of course, if more people were to subscribe, I’d be able to get into the recording studio more often and finish my project more quickly. Hint hint. 😉

You recently released the single “Be There” and the music video which was helped financed by The Perrennials. How does it feel knowing there are a group of people out there believing in you, helping you to create art like this?

The Perrennials are my personal cheer squad so knowing they are there definitely helps to quiet the fraud police. I also feel a lot less stressed about how I’m going to find the funds to do what I want to do with my art. I’m still on a shoestring budget, but at least for the most part, I no longer need to choose between creating art and paying bills or buying shoes for my children when times are lean.

The video looks great – and the song is brilliant. How did it feel when you saw the final cut? Your previous single “Mirrors & Windows” received some great feedback – what has the response been like so far for “Be There”?

Watching the final cut was amazing. I’d been closely involved with the editing process but there’s nothing like seeing something you’ve lived and breathed for months finally complete. The music video and the song have both got really positive feedback, which is still coming in as people discover it. I’m so touched that a lot of people really connect with the song. One person said that it was like seeing their life played out in the film clip. This is why I create art. Oh and of course, Be There was in the Top 20 songs in the Listen Up Australia competition, so that was incredibly exciting and a real acknowledgement of its quality.

I read the story behind “Be There” that you wrote for Music Talks. You explain that the song was born out of dealing with personal depression as well as you trying to help a friend. How important was it for you to write “Be There”? How important is the song to you as a reminder of what you overcame?

In retrospect, I think writing the song was a big part of my healing process. Every time I sing it, I find it applies to me in a new way. At first it was a song for my friend, but now it is also about me looking after myself and my own needs, with the strength I hold within me, even though sometimes it might be hard to find.

When we last spoke there was talk of a full length album and you realistically told us that while it is definitely what you want to do – it will take “a shed-load more money” and time. You have released two singles in the past year – is this a kind of slow-release album?

Pretty much! The two singles are definitely on the album and I’ve recorded another three songs which are being kept under wraps for the time being. I had actually finished writing the album a year ago, but it has continued to evolve as I’ve been writing more songs, some of which are better quality and fit better sonically and thematically than some of the planned tracks. The result, hopefully, will be a much more cohesive work. I’m ready to finish recording these songs, but I have to wait for the funds to come through to enable me to get back in the studio.

You recently had a rather large accomplishment being a finalist in the Australian Independent Music Awards. That must have been exciting! What was the whole experience like? Feel free to discuss your exploding shoe.

Oh my god, the exploding shoe!!! That was hilarious and stressful. I’d planned my outfit so carefully with these amazing strappy boots and had just finished getting my makeup and hair done and getting frocked up. I walked out of the studio and the platform on my shoe came apart and all the straps came out, leaving the shoe flailing around my ankle as I headed towards the car to drive to the red carpet. I didn’t know what I was going to do as it was a 90 minute drive back home to get another pair of shoes and all the shops were shut. Luckily my friend and fellow artist Alison Avron came to the rescue and organised a friend of hers to lend me some ankle boots, which fortunately looked smoking hot.
It was such an honour to be a finalist. I had the pleasure of meeting a lot of other artists and industry folk I’d not met before and I felt so proud to be part of this amazing, talented and creative community of independent musicians. It was such a great night as well: so well organised and so much fun! I highly recommend getting involved next time.

While there has certainly been a lot of good happening in your world in the last three years – you also faced some adversity with Myer asking you to perform for “exposure”. I have actually seen some more stories about similar situations recently where it is expected that musicians play for free. I personally don’t understand the belief that it is ok to not pay artists – and I think it is sad because a lot of new musicians think this is just part and parcel of being a musician. What advice would you give to musicians about how to deal with being asked to play for free? And when is it ok to accept such jobs?

I’d say that you really need to search yourself for your own reasons to play for free. For me, I’m sometimes happy to play for free for a project I believe in, where nobody is making any money and it’s going to be a hell of a load of fun, as long as it isn’t going to cost me money to participate. I never got paid to appear in Slapdash Song Night! any of the times I played, but I was happy to do it because it was outrageous amounts of fun, run on the smell of an oily rag, and there was such a sense of camaraderie, plus Keira Daley (Slapdash creator) is a mate and she has reciprocated by being a guest artist at one of my gigs. Would I play for a for-profit company for free? No. Would I play open mic nights? Maybe, if I needed to test new material and it wasn’t going to get in the way of a paid gig, and I didn’t need to port my piano. If Slapdash was resurrected, would I play there again? Absolutely. I weigh up the benefits of each instance but don’t ever consider exposure to be a benefit because the amount of sales I’ve ever gotten from “exposure” is negligible.

Making music is difficult – trying to find the time to create while dealing with the everyday, learning to deal with setbacks, trying to get your stuff out there without being taken advantage of. What advice would you give to all the musicians and artists out there who are struggling to keep it altogether?

Don’t be afraid to take your time, to figure out your own way of doing things, and to ignore what milestones you “should” be hitting. The industry is so fickle and it’s easy to get discouraged if you compare yourself and your career trajectory to someone else’s. But what you are doing is unique, so you can’t expect to be on the same path as anyone else. Make music that makes you happy. Try to find a way of making it that doesn’t send you broke. Anything more than that is a bonus.

 

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