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STAIRWAY TO STARDOM
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Stairway to Stardom
Australian country music is fortunate in that it has evolved a unique "Stairway to Stardom" during the 70 odd years it has existed. This is totally different from any other national musical genre in Australia.
Working as it does, from the grass roots up, it demonstrates once more, just how widely engaged country music is with the general community in Australia.
While in the 40s and 50s events such as the National Amateur Hour and Tim McNamara's talent quest offered unknowns a stab at fame, this activity had faded by the end of the '50s.
The development of country music talent began again in the late 60s and over the next couple of decades, expanded for a number of reasons. Over the years these included the swelling popularity of the music, the growth of country music clubs and increasing opportunities for performances at festivals, clubs and else where.
Most important however, was the part played by the development of the Tamworth Golden Guitar Awards. For the first time from 1973 the Golden Guitars provided a nationally publicised, attainable and worthwhile goal or aspiration for "Stairway" participants, offering them a chance of national recognition and possible commercial success.
Over time initiatives like the Star Maker Quest, the College of Country Music, Champion of Champions and Camerata have further extended and refined the pathway adding education and guidance to competitive assessment and experience.
These days unlike their predecessors in the 40s, there is a well sign posted track from for young, aspiring artists, taking them from their earliest beginnings through to a professional career. It's a pathway, which has already taken many of the contemporary big names of today. It's a formal, well recognised route and it's open to all. Of course there are exceptions but for most professionals in the business today, the Stairway has played a significant part to some degree or another.
Here's how it works:
1) The stairway starts with local talent quests. These are staged in their hundreds all over the country by country music clubs. They are often quite small and insignificant but for the very young and inexperienced they provide an essential foundation, establishing musical styles, building confidence for public performances and starting to construct that network of contacts so necessary in the music industry. Obviously many of these young artists are working hard learning the mechanics of music too with private or school tuition
2) These days young artists also have the opportunity of attending workshops and schools such as Tamworth's Camerata, which is designed for the very young who want to build a sound basis for future musical success.
3) Regional talent quests provide the next step up for budding young stars and many travel widely to compete. Over recent years the Champion of Champions competitions (which started in Qld), have played a major role in selecting the most talented youngsters while major quests like the CCMA Talent Quest in Tamworth, the Talent Search at the Gympie National Muster and The Road To Tamworth quest have brought many potential headlines to notice.
4) Since 1997 The CMAA's Australian College of Country Music has played a pivotal role in developing future country music stars. Each year 21 young people are chosen after an exhaustive selection process. Some automatically qualify when they win some of the major events we have already looked at, such as Qld. Champion of Champions or Gympie. The residential College offers students an intensive 14 day course in all aspects of the music industry including song writing and studio recording. It is staffed by successful music industry professionals with the help of some of the biggest stars of the day who drop in to talk and mentor students, passing on their priceless experience and providing invaluable networking opportunities. The formula has worked extremely well and already some of the college graduates like Sarah Storer and Brendon Walmsley have become industry headliners.
5) The Star Maker Quest has provided the gateway to a professional career for many successful artists, like Lee Kernaghan, Keith Urban and Beccy Cole. Star Maker has been running since 1979. Anyone can enter provided they are a solo act and haven't recorded professionally. The hundreds of applicants are winnowed down to a top 20 who are invited to take part in the finals held during the Tamworth Festival every January. From the Finals come the 10 Grand Finalists who perform in front of an industry judging panel for the prize, 12 months of intense promotion, gigs at major events, a professional CD recording session with national release and promotion of the CD and the use of a new Toyota vehicle for 12 months. The Star Maker winner is truly on the road to recognition.
6) The final step on the Stairway to Stardom is the Golden Guitar Awards, in particular the New Talent category. Year after year the finalist list for New Talent is dominated by young artists who have either won Star maker and/or have been graduates of the College. Virtually all have climbed part or all of the Stairway to Stardom. While a Golden Guitar doesn't provide automatic success, it opens doors that would never be accessible otherwise. Both industry and fan attention is focussed on winners and record sales and bookings can escalate dramatically after a Golden Guitar win.
Of course in the end success depends on many factors such as determination, dedication, drive, experience confidence and contacts. Without these even sheer talent is not enough.
Country Music's Stairway to Stardom sorts out youngsters with these qualities over a period of years while at the same time instructing them and making them familiar with how the music business works. Once they reach the pinnacle of a Golden Guitar, industry doors open and with the active participation of established experts, most will have the experience and savvy to translate their win into commercial success.
It's only then that many realise they are at the end of the beginning, not the beginning of the end and the steps before them reach into the heavens!