Sounds big: Brisbane music conference’s Morello masterstroke

Less than two weeks after the announcement next month’s BIGSOUND conference would be shifting its entire 2020 program online, organisers have pulled off a masterstroke, securing musician and activist Tom Morello as one of this year’s keynote speakers.

Sep 15, 2020, updated Sep 15, 2020
Musician Tom Morello will deliver a keynote speech for this year's virtual version of Brisbane music industry conference BIGSOUND.

Musician Tom Morello will deliver a keynote speech for this year's virtual version of Brisbane music industry conference BIGSOUND.

The Rage Against the Machine, Audioslave and Prophets of Rage guitarist leads the first announcement for Australia’s biggest music conference and showcase event, which will take place on October 21 and 22.

This year’s program will also include a keynote address from Victorian busker-turned-global-superstar Tones and I, as well as in-conversation sessions with Cairns-born singer-songwriter Kev Carmody, Gold Coast singer-songwriter Amy Shark, and Rhoda Roberts and Ziggy Ramo, who will discuss the Indigenous future of the music industry.

Gold Coast singer-songwriter Amy Shark.

BIGSOUND was launched by Queensland music industry development association QMusic in 2002 in an effort to further professional development opportunities for the Brisbane music industry, and has since become the largest music conference and showcase event of its kind in the southern hemisphere.

Creative director Janne Scott said securing Morello for this year’s program would further cement BIGSOUND’s reputation as one of the world’s leading music industry events.

“Having Tom Morello involved automatically presents us to a global audience,” Scott told InQueensland.

She said although BIGSOUND had already forged a solid international reputation for the calibre of its speakers, with previous guests including Best Coast’s Beth Cossentino, Paul Kelly, Tina Arena and Archie Roach, Morello “will perhaps give the brand name of BIGSOUND the push into a global audience that we need”.

In addition to his musical pursuits, which have also included a stint as touring guitarist for Bruce Springsteen’s E-Street Band and solo career as The Nighwatchman, Morello also holds a degree in political science from Harvard University, and is a vocal champion of civil and human rights issues.

Like shooting fish in a barrel:

— Tom Morello (@tmorello) June 6, 2020

“Join me at BIGSOUND to talk music, activism, and how the guitar can be a divining rod for truth and justice,” Morello said in a statement to announce his addition to this year’s line-up.

“The world is at a dangerous crossroads and it’s time to feed the poor, fight the power, and rock the f— out.”

Scott said organisers had reluctantly made the decision to shift this year’s program online when it became clear interstate and international artists and guests would be unable to attend due to Queensland’s strict border and quarantine measures.

“We held out for as long as we could and obviously the situation was changing all of the time and when it became evident that really it was only going to be people in Queensland that could have participated, including artists, it became abundantly clear that that’s not what we would go ahead with,” she said. “It’s not in the spirit of taking care of the industry and artists, not just from Queensland.”

In addition to shifting the program online, organisers have also waived participation fees this year, with delegate passes, which enable access to online conferences and networking opportunities, available for free on the BIGSOUND website.

More than 2000 people have already registered for delegate passes this year and Scott said she expected that number to skyrocket following today’s first line-up announcement.

“Music fans search out what the musicians they love are doing, so we’re really interested to see once Tom Morello is announced and the registrations start coming in, we’re really interested to see where they come from around the world.

“Even though Australia has its own set of ongoing issues, what is going on in the world at the moment – as awful as it is – does make us realise that we are all connected.  What he’ll be speaking to is relative to every human, not just Americans, and not just people in the music industry.”

Tones and I will make a triumphant return to BIGSOUND as a keynote speaker this year after performing a showcase at last year’s event.

Fellow keynote speaker Tones and I performed a showcase at last year’s BIGSOUND just as her now-ubiquitous song ‘Dance Monkey’ – which has since broken the record for most weeks at No.1 on the ARIA singles chart and been streamed more than 1.8 billion times on Spotify – was beginning its ascendency.

“It’s incredible when you think that Tones and I is in the process of writing and recording her debut album and she’s already one of the biggest artists in the world,” Scott said.

“That’s crazy and she has such lovely things to say about BIGSOUND and how it’s helped her and I can’t wait to hear her speak, she’s got a whole bunch of cool stuff that she’s working on at the moment.”

Another guest confirmed in the first announcement is live music production veteran and co-founder of not-for-profit group CrewCare Australia Howard Freeman, who has worked as a tour manager and stage technician for acts including INXS, AC/DC, Eminem, Neil Young, Prince and the Rolling Stones.

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Freeman will host a session that explores the realities of life on the road for production staff, the subsequent mental and physical health impacts, and his efforts to create a culture of help-seeking in the industry.

“We were absolutely thrilled when Howard said he would come on board because the mental health aspect of what we’ve programmed at BIGSOUND has been really front and centre in everything that we’re doing, and Howard is an absolute icon within the industry,” Scott said.

“He’s at the forefront of trying to make real change with regards to how crew deal with each other and deal with themselves and their own wellbeing.

“There’s been a very, very masculine, very tough exterior on that side of the business for a long time and it’s only through people like Howard speaking about taking care of each other that things will change.”

It was a sentiment echoed by QMusic chief executive Angela Samut.

“BIGSOUND has been the meeting place of the music community for nearly two decades and the determination for this event to not only go ahead, but to thrive in a virtual environment is essential for our industry.” Samut said.

“BIGSOUND has been a leader for years in looking to future business models, mental health and a place of fairness and justice for First Nations peoples working in the music industry as well as giving tomorrow’s Australian icons a platform to learn and be discovered.

“Never have these things been more important. Never has BIGSOUND been more important.”

BIGSOUND’s creative director Janne Scott.

And although BIGSOUND has shifted into the virtual space this year, Scott stressed the importance of continuing to support the numerous venues in the Fortitude Valley live music precinct that ordinarily play such a vital role in bringing the event to life.

“What makes BIGSOUND unique – and I think is the reason that a lot of people fall in love with Brisbane a little bit when they are here for it – is that we have this incredible entertainment precinct, which is full of all of these great venues.

“We need to support our venues, we need to support our artists and we need to pay for music, because it’s a whole big industry that a lot of people rely on for their livelihood. At times like this, music and art are the things that give people hope and make them happy, even if it’s just for a minute.

“It’s really important not to forget that, yes, they’re these wonderful gifts of art but people still have to make a living from it and the industry needs to survive, or the art won’t.”

For full details of the first line-up for BIGSOUND 2020, or to register for a delegate pass, visit

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