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Music Industry Mums

What does it take to be a mum in the music industry? Jane Gazzo speaks to three women about how they have navigated their successful careers and family life. Featuring band manager Fiona Duncan (Spiderbait), talent booker Heidi Braithwaite and singer Patience Hodgson (The Grates).


FIONA DUNCAN

Band Manager & Arts Events Officer / Mother of 4

 

Fiona Duncan and family

Fiona Duncan grew up in Beaumaris, Victoria. For over 25 years she has managed ARIA winning rock group Spiderbait and more recently has joined the Greater City of Geelong as Arts Events Officer.

Fiona lives in Geelong with her husband, 4 children, 2 dogs, 3 chickens and 1 fish.

What is your earliest musical memory?

ABBA and my love for them was absolute. My friends and I would “play” ABBA at recess, lunchtime, on the school bus, on weekends, any moment we could. I was always Anna. When they played at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl I desperately sat by the phone after school every day trying to win tickets on 3XY. I have never really recovered from the trauma of not going to that concert.

Now, any concert my kids want to see I try my darndest to get tickets to. It helps heal my childhood trauma - even if it means I have had to sit through numerous Taylor Swift and Katy Perry concerts!

What was your childhood like? How were you raised?

It was the 1970s so it was a heady mix of old school strict with a big slug of larrikin booze culture. Roaming free, no blood alcohol testing for drivers, no seatbelts in the back seat, and trampolines without safety nets...I don’t even know how I’m alive!

Dad and his friends would get pissed and jump off the roof of the house or go for nude runs around the streets. Our neighbor was former footballer Tom Hafey – he must have been horrified by the undisciplined larrikins. Mum thankfully was the complete opposite of dad.

How did you see your mother’s values in action when you were growing up?

Mum was a child psychologist and a very smart and academic woman. She was very interested in economics and financially literate. She was always lecturing me on her morals and values until they were drilled into my brain like a mantra. She was strict and high expectations of us.

I remember when I first met my now husband, one of the first things I said to him was “I’m never getting married.” Seven years later he caught me in an oxygen-deprived weak moment and I agreed to marry him. I was actually really scared to tell my mum I was getting married for fear of her reaction!

Fiona Duncan and her mother

Fiona with her mother in the late 1960s. Photo supplied.

When did you know you wanted to work in music industry?

Melbourne radio station 3XY was running a competition for two kids to win a role in the new Mi-Sex film clip for the song ‘Castaway’ (1982). A friend of mine was super keen so I agreed to wag school and go along as her buddy.

The competition involved hundreds of kids hanging around outside the 3XY building whilst Ian ‘Molly’ Meldrum wandered through the crowd to pick two kids. Weirdly he picked me. It was an awkward moment as I was really only there as an onlooker and to score a sticker. My friend wasn’t too impressed.

I then had to make the phone call to my parents to explain why I wasn’t at school and why I was at 3XY. Oh, and could I fly to Sydney to be in a film clip? Being taken inside the radio station with Molly, flown to Sydney, all the behind the scenes action - makeup, costume, catering, being up-close with the band, the film crew, the music pumping – how could I not fall in love with music industry with that experience?

I studied a Bachelor of Business Marketing at university. It was a natural progression to combine that degree with my love of music into a career.

Were there any female mentors you felt you could call upon when you started out in the music industry or did you have to navigate your own path?

I didn’t have any mentors. It was very much stumbling along my own path. I didn’t feel like there were many people I could turn to in the music industry and when Spiderbait exploded in the early ‘90s I felt so overwhelmed and out of my depth.

I wasn’t confident enough to ask for help because as a woman in management, I felt I had to over-deliver to prove myself and that asking for help would see me as a failure. For a while I was so overwhelmed and alone in that space that I became depressed. It’s one of the main lessons I tell anyone who will listen - speak up if you don’t know. It shows strength to acknowledge a gap in knowledge and I’ve since discovered people do love to help. Women nowadays are so well connected and supportive with each other. The industry back when I was starting was such a boys club.

When I had children, I didn’t have anyone else in the industry I felt I could talk to or share with and sadly, I often found other women to be the least supportive. The most unquestioning support came from two men who worked high-up in Australian record companies. They were both heads of the respective companies which Spiderbait were signed to. I am forever grateful to them both.

A couple of years ago I was invited to the One of One women in music industry breakfast in Melbourne and I was so overwhelmed by emotion. All these women in the industry were supporting each other and speaking openly about the challenges, fears, and issues they were dealing with. I am so happy the industry has changed for the better.

Did you worry about how you would make motherhood and the music industry work?

Oh my goodness, yes! Anyone who got pregnant and had a baby seemed to disappear from the industry back then. I didn’t stop to think how it would impact my career but everyone else had already decided I was out of the game. No way was I accepting that. It never crossed my mind.

I had no music industry mother friends. I coped by shutting down into my cave and just got on with it and tried to survive. My partner is incredible and took over when I had to go on tour or interstate for record company meetings or overseas. There’s lots of women who have children now working in the industry its fantastic to see. It makes me sadder in hindsight that I was so alone in that experience. I do have to say though, that juggling motherhood and the music industry made me a better manager. I was always focused and spent my time wisely. I’m also pleased to say Spiderbait had some of their biggest successes in terms of chart results and record and ticket sales in my motherhood years.

Was there a time when it fell apart? Or felt like it was?

There’s moments every day! This has especially happened since starting working full time out of the house with the City of Geelong council. It’s great work but juggling full time work with 4 school age kids is full on! The guilt and sense of failure is real! With my eldest there were a couple of years when I missed every assembly that she was presented with an award due to Spiderbait’s hectic touring schedule. It doesn’t sound like big deal now but at the time it gutted me, but this the experience of many working mother’s in all industries.

Did you ever feel like you needed to be superhuman?

Yes! Being a full-time mum can be exhausting and rewarding. Same thing goes for working in the music industry so combining the two can be a crazy exhilarating ride that takes you to the edge. Being a woman and a mother standing strong in a male dominated industry while holding down a household and raising kids is super challenging.

I remember traveling to the US to negotiate Spiderbait’s record deal with Interscope Records whilst 30 weeks pregnant (having to fudge my dates to be allowed to travel internationally) and leaving behind my 19 month old at home.

Then in 2004, Spiderbait’s single ‘Black Betty’ was the highest selling rock single for Universal Music Australia at that time. I managed the band as a solo manager throughout this time without any assistance, through the death of my father, the birth of my 2nd baby Max and whilst having a 20 month toddler to wrangle all at the same time. I definitely felt like a super-human! The following few years saw the band flying high, touring and releasing and I was hanging on by the skin of teeth. But we all survived and live to tell the tale. And I went on to have more kids! Thank god for my beautiful partner and friends.

How do you balance your time with kids/hubby and family time?

It’s such a juggle and I feel like I fail at everything at different times. In COVID social distancing I am loving being busy but then taking some time out to relax with my family. We try our best and hug a lot and I tell I love them every day so if I’m missing in action at some key moments, they’ll remember the love (fingers crossed). When I fail I just tell them I’m giving them material to discuss with their counsellors when they’re older!




HEIDI BRAITHWAITE

Publicist & Talent Booker / Mother of 3

Heidi Braithwaite

Heidi was born in Sydney, raised in Geelong and currently lives in Melbourne with her husband, three children and their dog. She runs creative agency Riot House.

What is your earliest musical memory?

Music is in my blood. My dad and uncle have always been performing (Heidi is the niece of Daryl Braithwaite), and my mum was very entrenched in the live music scene in Sydney and Melbourne before I was born. My family in some way, shape or form have worked in the business side of things for years. I think it’s fair to say I was attending gigs since conception!

But I do remember vividly attending a Crowded House show at Sydney’s Hordern Pavilion with my dad when I was 6. The ground was shaking when the crowd stomped their feet demanding an encore and I remember thinking that was exhilarating!

How were you raised?

It’s kind of subjective isn’t it? I’d say my parents were pretty balanced, and as kids, my sister and I got a lot of opportunities that some of our friends didn’t get, in terms of going to gigs and meeting some really interesting people. But they understandably pulled the reigns in a bit when we hit our teens.

Heidi Braithwaite and her mother

Heidi with her mother Jill, aged around 18 months. Photo supplied.

What were your mother’s values?

Mum was, and still is, a staunch feminist. She wanted my sister and I to know that gender should never be a barrier. She was raised by a woman who had an extremely hard life and in spite of it, was so resilient and hardworking and surprisingly positive. I think she passed that on to my mum and this in turn was passed on to us.

Mum also experienced the worst of men as she was growing up unfortunately. I think, unintentionally as a result of this, I feared men for a long time too, even in spite of having a great role models in my dad and uncles. Since having children (boys) of my own, both my mum and I have learned that men are just as vulnerable, sensitive and complex as women.

Which of your mother values have you taken and/or implemented into your family?

Honesty is a big one. My parents are honest both with each other and to us, to the point of being blunt but I appreciate that. I don’t believe in sugar coating anything and I’ve passed that on to my kids.

Gender equality is also one of the most important things which I can pass on to my 3 sons. My Mum has always said that I have a big responsibility ahead of me to raise good men. It’s not women that need to change in order for the world to achieve gender equality, it’s men.

When did you know you wanted to work in the music industry?

I wanted to be in a band when I was a kid, so I guess that inclination to be a part of the industry was always there. I drifted away from it in my late teens and dabbled in an acting career (funded by a career in hospitality, of course) and then slowly found my way back to the family business when I was in my late 20s.

Were there any female mentors you felt you could call upon when you started out or did you have to navigate your own path?

My aunt, Linda Carroll, who founded the Victorian youth music organization, The Push, was an early inspiration in music business, and later, I was lucky enough to have some really good female friends in the industry who took me under their wing and reminded me to believe in myself.

Did you always know you wanted children?

No! I always said I’d NEVER have them. Something in me changed though, and while none of my children were planned, they have all been very welcome.

Did you worry about how you would make motherhood and the music industry work?

No, in fact it was having my first child that was the inspiration and impetus for starting my own business. I wanted him to grow up being proud of me, and I had to provide for him. It was very motivating having an extra mouth to feed all of a sudden!

Since having your children, what has been your proudest moment?

Honestly just bringing each one of them into the world was a proud moment.

How would you describe being a working mum in today’s music industry?

The lines between work and play are very blurred in the music industry. We don’t work a set shift and then go home and switch off. There’s a lot of unusual hours and while it can often look like we’re having a great time (and we are), it can be very hard work.

It’s still a very male dominated industry too, and while things are slowly changing, the ‘boys club’ still very much dominates.

How do you balance your time with kids/hubby and family time?

What is this ‘balance’ you speak of? (Laughs)




PATIENCE HODGSON

Singer & Entertainer / Mother of 2

Patience Hodgson

For over 15 years, Patience Hodgson has fronted dynamic indie rock band, The Grates. She was born in the coastal suburb of Wynnum and moved to Macleay Island in Moreton Bay, Queensland as a teenager. She now lives in Brisbane with her two children.

What is your earliest musical memory?

Listening to Lisa Loeb and getting approval from my parents as the ‘good child’ who wasn’t listening to ‘bad kid music’, like my older sister, with her Run DMC and Nirvana.

First record you bought?

Was either the Lion King soundtrack or Alanis Morrisette’s Jagged Little Pill.

How were you raised?

I was raised in a very anxious household. Both of my parents are anxious and I think that was the main driver for their parenting style. It was a general anxiety. They never hovered like a helicopter parent or rang up friends folks to check that I was there sleeping over (I wasn’t!), but they definitely had some quirky traits.

What were your mother’s values?

My mother valued nutritional home cooking and her cooking was something which I felt separated us from the other kids growing up in housing commission flats. She was warm, empathetic, compassionate and above all else, forgiving and tolerant. She cared deeply about environmental matters and I learned to detest plastic shopping bags from a young age.

Mum also cared about other people’s points of view and would always ask my sister and I to consider other’s feelings. I found it frustrating at the time but as an adult I can say my sister and I have the ability to really examine different outlooks and empathise with others.

Patience Hodgson and her mother

Patience with her mother Sylvia, around 2 years of age. Photo supplied.

Was there a time when you and your mother didn’t see eye to eye?

Oh, constantly but nothing more than when I had children of my own!

She was clinging to all these ridiculous old notions that are more based on hearsay than science. Things about wind and teething, or ‘That kid’s not eating enough starch’, and ‘Fruity, foamy smelling poos means she is sick in the belly,’ and ‘Don’t let them fall asleep on the boob’ … just a lot of ideas on raising children which we really didn’t see eye to eye on.

When did you know you wanted to be part of the music industry?

When I was given an opportunity! After I had sung on stage once and I was utterly addicted.

Were there any female mentors you felt you could call upon when you started out or did you have to navigate your own path?

It feels terrible to say, but I actually don’t think I had a female mentor when I was starting out. But I can say that right now I count one of our band managers, Rachel, as a wonderful mentor.

Then quietly in the background for 15 years or so, there has been Lisa Wickbold, our manager’s partner. She’s just the most grounded and fantastic person. She is kind but won’t suffer fools. She has been a bank of strength for me and is also an amazing mother.

Did you always know you wanted children?

Yes. But more that I think I always wanted to birth children. Just seemed like, I have a vagina, so I want to be able to use it to the maximum capacity of all its abilities! (Laughs)

Did you worry about how you would make motherhood and the music industry work?

Yes. It’s really complicated and I have never been able to balance being a mum and my work. Especially in my job which requires me to be completely present.

Was there a time when it fell apart? Or felt like it was?

So many times. I am probably not a good example of someone who has been able to make it work and figure out how to balance everything. By that I mean juggling work and motherhood or even just songwriting and motherhood. Even without work in the mix, I do find the challenges of raising two small kids intense. It was something I was completely unprepared for!

What values of your mother’s have you taken into your family life?

Always putting my children first and loving them. Feeding them healthy food, making art daily, co-sleeping!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Jane Gazzo
Jane Gazzo is a broadcaster, TV presenter, music journalist and published author who began her career in radio, aged 16. Since then, she has presented nationally on Triple M and Triple J as well as BBC Radio 6 in the UK and has hosted television shows such as Recovery on ABC TV. She spent eight years as a presenter on Foxtel's Channel V, where she reported from music festivals, red carpet events and hosted live TV shows, interviewing some of the biggest and best names in the music world.

Jane is chair of the Australian Music Vault Hall of Fame advisory committee and serves on the board for government youth organisation The Push. Her first book, John Farnham - The Untold Story was published in 2015.

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