Ben Lee - MusicNSW

Ben Lee is an Australian singer songwriter who began his career at only 14 when he formed the rock band Noise Addict. Lee has since gone on to release eight solo records, has won multiple ARIA awards and been featured on many prominent movie soundtracks. We managed to grab him for a quick chat and he shared with us some great tips on how to make a successful career out of music.

Your musical career began in the early 90’s when you were part of the alternative rock band Noise Addict. The band were quickly signed to independent label Fellaheen Records. How important has the rise in independent labels been to the Australian music industry?

For me, having never really been part of the major label system (I have been on indies that were subsidiaries of majors a couple of times) I have never been part of pressure that I hear a lot of artists talking about. No one has ever told me to change, or to put certain songs on, or leave certain songs off albums. That would

Be horrific to me! I like it when labels stay out of the creative side and stick to their job – the marketing and promotion of music. I think an indie culture has traditionally supported artists like me, who sit to the left of the mainstream, and allowed us to pursue our vision. This is part of what creates a thriving artist culture.

You were only 13 years old when you recorded your first demo with Noise Addict.  What did you learn from your experience performing and recording at such a young age? What advice do you have for young people who are passionate about a starting a career in music?

I learned that being delusional can be a benefit. I had a Tascam 244 4-track recorder and a crappy mic from radio shack, but in my head, the recordings sounded like Guns n Roses or Pink Floyd. Super hi-fi! I think what people enjoyed about those recordings was that I was totally in my imagination, in my own world. So my advice to young people is get lost in your own world.

How do you feel the all ages music scene has changed in Sydney since the 90s?

It seems like now with the rise of festivals there are many more opportunities to see live music for young people. When I was younger most of the smaller bands would be impossible to see for a kid.

You are originally a Sydney-sider, but now you are based in LA. How have you found the music scene in LA compared to back at home?

Everyone has a home studio in LA, and seems to make their records at home. There is also a very dynamic “professional songwriting” circuit in LA that you can really brush up your songwriting chops by collaborating within. Sydney has such an intimate community though – everyone seems to know everyone. I miss that sometimes.

What tips can you share with musicians planning to tour internationally or move overseas permanently to better their career in music?

Go where the work is. Keep it simple.

Your music has been featured on multiple TV and film soundtracks (There’s Something About Mary, Greys Anatomy, Scrubs). What process did you undergo in order to be selected to for such soundtracks?

People reached out to me – I didnt really seek those opportunities. There have been some very good people at labels I’ve been on who knew the sync world well. I guess the role I played was by being open to those avenues. My attitude has always been to take opportunities if they would help get my music across.

How did this kind of exposure assist you in broadening your market and propelling your career?


How important was the role of community radio in making you a successful musician?

College radio in the US was vitally important. Alot of my older fans now tell me they first heard me on college radio in the 90s. Also alot of people now successful within the industry side got their first break in college radio.

Based on all your experience in the Australian music industry to date, what is the best advice you can give to an aspiring singer songwriter who wants to break the mould?

There is no mould. Try and hold that mind frame.

What’s one of the biggest obstacles you have had to face during your music career, and what did you learn from this experience?

Believing that anyone knew better than I did about the path I should take. It’s easy to be influenced, especially when you’re young. But really, no one has any clue how this whole thing works. Your best bet is to stick to your guns and make something intimate, personal and unique. I have buckled at various points and tried to conform, with pretty weak results. You don’t sleep well at night. It’s not worth it.

Sydney venues are in a sure state of crisis at the moment, with many closing down due to issues with local council, noise complaints and/or unsubstantiated financial overheads. How valuable is live music to Sydney’s arts and culture scene?

Live music is what separates real artists from manufactured pop stars. What actually happens energetically in a room with an artist is where you can truly see what they are about.

What’s on the horizon for you for the rest of 2013?

The shows I have planned for this album (“Ayahausca: Welcome to the Work”) are not really concerts, but more like meditative experiences. I want people to either lie down or at least sit quietly, and turn inward. No need to applaud or behave like an “audience”. It will be a sonic experience we will go on together. A fun experiment!