Big Hearted Clare Bowditch

17 / 04 / 2014

The very talented singer song-writer and actor Clare Bowditch is the founder of Big Hearted Business, which is hosting a conference for creative types in Melbourne on May 3 &4. Sheilas Editor Sarah Capper gets the low-down from Clare about how she was inspired to create Big Hearted Business, what the conference entails, and why the secret to good business is about caring. Many thanks Clare!

SARAH CAPPER [SC]: As well as being a multi-talented singer song-writer and actress, you’re the founder of Big Hearted Business – which you founded in 2013, and which is hosting another (un-) conference in a couple weeks time, this coming May 3 and 4, in Northcote, Melbourne. The (-un)conference is targeted at creative types which you’ve written is an “educational community event” which “we wish someone else had built a long time ago for people like us”. How was the founding of ‘Big Hearted Business’ based on your own experience as an artist?

CLARE BOWDITCH [CB]: I was writing songs at three, playing in bands from 17 and recording albums in my friend’s bedrooms from 21.  It still didn’t occur to me that I could actually make a living out of music, not without destroying all the things about the music that I loved.

I didn’t want it to be about how I looked for money or fitting in or winning.  I was terrified of the idea of fame, and what that would mean.  And I was scared that somehow, by making it my profession, I would lose the thing about it that mattered.

I was also really uninterested in spread-sheets, and terrified of marketing and contracts.  And I wanted to be a mother.  And I didn’t know whether or not it was all going to work out ok.

I now know that all of these things are REALLY, REALLY COMMON – creative people often have these struggles at the beginning of their careers, so much so that many of them stumble before they’ve even given themselves half a chance.

Were it not for my boyfriend Marty, I would have been one of those people whose songs would have remained under my bed gathering dust, and we wouldn’t be having this conversation today.

But at 26 when we were on the cusp of having our first baby, I finally listened to him and agreed to “give it a crack”. The more time on, the more courageous I grew, the more excited I became about the possibilities of this new model of “business with a conscience” that was being offered to people like me via people like Ani DiFranco, and I thought “Oh well, I’m gonna give it a crack”.

I still carry a huge debt of gratitude to all the hundreds of people along the way who gave me support and chances, and Big Hearted Business is about paying that gratitude forward, and helping normalise and add a little strength and legitimacy to the sentence “I’m an artist/musician/writer/actor” for creative Australians. In general, artists and creative people are people who care, so, the more artists are in positions of influence, the better the world is.

[SC]: For participants, the (-un)conference has a focus on “learning how to use marketing, social media, grant-writing and other traditional business tools to make your living without all the bollocks “salesy” stuff”. The BHB website goes to some length to differentiate this event from a typical “conference” (even with references to the “(-un)conference”). What are some of the ways in which it’s different? And, has it been important to market this as being something outside of the ‘mainstream’?

[CB]: Traditional business conferences are usually rather dry, formulaic, not much fun, and the sandwiches, lighting and show-bags are terrible.

They also generally perpetuate the old story that “there can be only one victor” and that the point of having a business is to make money and become a bazillionaire.

That’s all well and good, but they don’t really address why creative people get into business, and how, considering our natures, we can survive it and make a real go of it. OF COURSE we need to learn about the “money/marketing” side of things if we’re going to have half a chance, but only because it allows us to live the kind of lives we want to live. The main reason we choose to be artists is because we want to do something that means something, something that makes us feel alive and contributes something good or interesting or beautiful to the world.

And in my opinion, the key to a good business is, if I may put it plainly, caring. Caring about the people who you work with, caring about what you make, caring about your contribution and the quality of that contribution. Often, we care so much, we burn out, and that’s something we talk really honestly about as well.

[SC]: What was your experience with last year’s event, and are you doing anything that’s different for this year’s event?

[CB]: It was, quite simply, one of the most incredible weekends of my life. There were so many INCREDIBLE PEOPLE there and this year, there will be more focus on giving them the chance to get to know each other and build their communities there in the room. Also, Joost is on food for the whole of the two days and seriously, that’s worth the ticket-price alone! Essentially, just more of the same: good food, building of community, lots of laughs, no doubt a few tears, a sip or two of vino at the end and a whole new set of possibilities on the horizon: that’s what we’ll be giving them.

[SC]: As someone who is probably now considered a bit of veteran of the industry, is there stuff that you will personally learn at this year’s event?

[CB]: I chose every speaker at this conference because they’re people I admire and want to learn from; I can’t wait to hear what they have to say!

[SC]: You’re an exceptionally busy and talented woman – you’ve won an ARIA (2006 Best Female), a Logie (for your work in ‘Offspring’ 2012), been named Rolling Stone Woman of the Year and as well as writing music, you’ve also written for a number of publications, and you’re aiming to release album number 8 next year. How do you fit your work with Big Hearted Business in?!

[CB]: I don’t fit everything in – I just alternate projects. For example, my own actual creative life (making albums) has been on the back-burner for the past 18 months as I launched BHB. Now it’s up and running, I’ll get back to my creative life for a season, and so on and so forth. I plan to live to 100, just like my Grandmother, so there’s lots of time to do everything.

[SC]: Along with the annual conference, what else does Big Hearted Business offer creative types?

[CB]: We have a mailing list and a website, both of which offer what I consider to be rather exceptional (free) resources for creative people who want to learn from other creative people who have negotiated the hoops before them. At the moment, for example, we have around thirty little mini-movies called Inspiration Bombs up there, featuring people like Claudia Karvan, Missy Higgins, Miso, Ghostpatrol, Catherine Deveny, and many, many others. The main thing would be to just get to the website and start learning in ways that make sense to people like us.

[SC]:  Some people (including some women) are of the opinion ‘if I had it tough and managed to succeed well, you can too.’ Clearly, the creation of Big Hearted Business and this idea of information sharing amongst the emerging artistic community indicates you are not one of these types! What’s your greatest pleasure from working on this initiative?

I get it, but it doesn’t work for me. I’m happiest when I’m sharing it around. Keeping everything to yourself is too hard and too boring. I’m in the game of evolution, not survival-of-the-fittest.  And in the end, I have a simple attitude to it all that has served me well – business and creativity (when combined in the right kinda environment) can be really clever and gorgeous little tools for transforming the world for the better, just one little tiny room at a time. I still believe that, and one of my greatest pleasures at the moment is being reminded of that by OTHER people as I see big-hearted businesses popping up all over the place. We’re one tiny part of a really big global revolution and I feel very lucky to be having this conversation with you! Thank you! See you there! xoxo

At the time of publication, some tickets are still available for the Big Hearted Business (-un)conference. Check out the website for details.

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