Cleaning out a store room after three decades could go one of two ways - you could need a lot of bin bags and a skip, or you could discover a treasure trove of historical goodies. Fortunately for youth music organisation The Push, which celebrates its 30-year anniversary this November, clearing out the store room has uncovered a goldmine.
In preparation for a move from their longstanding home at Brunswick Town Hall to the Collingwood Arts Precinct's Music Market next year, The Push team has discovered an incredible archive right under their noses.
“For 30 years it's collected hundreds of VHS tapes and photo albums and reports and letters and participant forms and it's just a goldmine of knowledge,” says the organisation's CEO Kate Duncan.
Documentary makers Kewl Studios (whose debut feature Now Sound: Melbourne’s Listening premiered at this year's Melbourne International Film Festival) were brought in to digitise the archive and produce a short film to mark the anniversary. By coincidence, at the same time the organisation was contacted by Dr Catherine Strong, a lecturer at RMIT, after her research into contemporary music in Victoria led her to The Push.
“She said, ‘I'm doing this research piece and The Push keeps coming up - can I chat with someone?’” says Kate. "So I invited her into the store room and her mind just exploded.” Like a true scholar, Catherine brought in a research team to carefully catalogue the room's contents and produce a timeline of the organisation’s history.
“It's not until you go through a process like this that you can see how many people this organisation has touched in various ways,” says Kate. Hundreds of thousands of young music fans in Victoria over the past decades had their first live music experience at an underage or all-ages event organised by The Push, the biggest of which was the Push Over festival held every year from 1992 to 2013. Push Over will be making a return this year as part of the anniversary celebrations, with performances by emerging artists such as Kian and Allday along with Push Over alumni Jedediah, Spiderbait and Something For Kate.
But while The Push has always championed emerging talent through live gigs, its extensive roster of industry mentoring programs has been key to the organisation's endurance and earned it a solid reputation as a training ground for the next generation of music industry professionals.
The Push’s current flagship program, Music Under Wings, aims to support performers as well as those working behind the scenes to develop their careers under the guidance of established musicians and industry leaders. It’s supported through the Victorian Government’s $22.2 million Music Works package and is considered a vital strand of this multi-layered industry development initiative.
Over the past year alone, 375 young people attended one of The Push’s professional development workshops in regional and metropolitan areas, and nearly all of the Music Under Wings mentees released recordings or performed live. Participants also landed jobs with employers like 3RRR and Sony Music, and more than 3 million people streamed a Push artist on Spotify – including 2 million hits for triple j favourite Angie McMahon.
In 2018 The Push added another string its bow with CHANGES, its inaugural two-day conference on the future of the music industry which covers pressing topics in music with a focus on tech, talks and ideas.
With these achievements, The Push punches far above its weight when it comes to industry training. “More than ever we are seeing an oversaturated market of education providers delivering music industry courses and charging students close to hundreds of thousands of dollars, but not necessarily seeing a direct translation into jobs,” says Kate. “We're really proud to see our participants going into paid employment, and I think that comes back to the trust the organisation has built. A lot of the people who come on as mentors were participants back in the day. It's a really rare and special community that we've fostered.”
The Push will be among the first tenants at the Collingwood Arts Precinct when it opens next year, along with fellow Music Market organisations Music Victoria and the new Victorian Music Development Office. With PBS FM also set to relocate to the site, access to new performance spaces including an outdoor amphitheatre and legendary pub rock venue the Tote just next door, Kate is looking forward to new collaborations and opportunities for The Push.
The move also represents an opportunity to reinvent the organisation's structure, with a new strategic plan that focuses on bringing more young people onto the board and into staff positions.
“I want to find more meaningful ways for young people to be involved in our leadership and decision making processes across the organisation,” says Kate.
This willingness to change adapt has been present at The Push since the very beginning and has helped see it through huge changes within the music industry.
“When the organisation was formed back in the ‘80s it was really forward thinking,” says Kate. “There was no one else across Australia that was using music as a platform to really support young people in being safe and connected to the community. And I think even now there's no one that does what The Push does. We've been inventive in that sense and I think that's what has supported the organisation to engage with over 700,000 people over the years.”