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Wendy Were: WAM CEO

Wendy-Were

Dr Wendy Were has taken WAM into a new era, but will soon depart the organisation in pursuit of new opportunities. BOB GORDON chats with Were in the lead-up to the WAM Festival taking place from Thursday-Saturday, November 7-9. Head to wam.asn.au for full details.

 

So. You’re leaving. What’s up with that, Doc?

I wasn’t looking to leave WAM but a little while ago I was approached by the Australia Council to join their leadership team. It’s a major opportunity, they were very persuasive and so the story goes. And they agreed that I could stay at WAM until January, so I could finish the change process I started almost two years ago, so I can leave feeling like my work here is done.

 

In some ways it seems your time at WAM  was cut short but in another way you’ve evolved WAM significantly and introduced a whole new level to step up upon. How important was that development to you from the outset?

I was attracted to this job in the first place because I saw major unrealised potential. WA music has a formidable reputation and WAM’s brand holds greater currency nationally and internationally than it does here in WA. Our dated identity and failure to clearly communicate the rationale and breadth of our programs was impacting on the local perception of WAM’s relevance and effectiveness. So major foundational work around external communications, membership value, and business development was critical to turn that around.

 

Some of the criticism of WAM over the years has derived from weaknesses in certain areas. That’s natural in any organisation, however a lot of that has come from the perception of weakness. WAM has been criticised for being too niche (too indie!) as well as being too broad (what exactly do they do?) in its outlook.  Has this been hard to tackle?

A lot of people think WAM is only the WAM Festival and don’t realise that we operate a suite of programs year-round, including Song Of The Year, the regional program, the work we do in schools and the industry development work. Most of WAM’s programs and offerings provide value to all contemporary musicians, but the Festival has a strong indie bent and that’s what WAM is known for, hence the perception.

It hasn’t helped that historically we’ve been rubbish at communicating what we do. That’s a trap into which service organisations like WAM often fall – being too focussed on the people we’re working for and forgetting that we need to bang our own drum a bit. But I think now that we are providing greater insight into all the things we do, it’s all starting to change. Inclusivity and diversity are two of our core values and I think there’s a growing recognition that the value WAM offers isn’t just for indie musicians.

 

Is this where the rebranding came in?

Yes – the rebrand is more than just a new logo. WAM has been around for 28 years, and it was time to go back to the very essence of why WAM exists and think about what change was needed to get us to where we want to be. As part of this process WAM’s mission has been revised from developing the industry to championing West Australian music. We’re now know as West Australian Music. This reflects our outward-looking perspective, recognising WAM’s growth from a local industry organisation into a major national player. We also have a new approach to our programs and our activities; new and relevant value for members; and fresh initiatives that engage with the rapidly evolving music landscape.

What were targeted as areas in which WAM needed to improve?

The external communications were a big area for improvement. That started by bringing in fresh blood into the team and establishing a weekly e-news that tells people what WAM is doing while also giving them valuable information about happenings, opportunities and industry news. On the marketing side, the new visual branding much better reflects who we are as organisation. We’re also moments away from launching an awesome new website which provides that important point of digital engagement.

We considered who we wanted as members and what they wanted, and developed a brand new membership offering. We wanted to take people from ‘why would I join?’ to ‘I can’t afford not to be member’. We now have more members than we ever had, so that’s obviously working.

Some of the program and activities had been the same for a long time. WAM was a little like a house that had multiple extensions over the decades and you could get lost in the rabbit warren. So through talking with industry, we identified the key areas on which we need to focus – audience development, industry development, recognition and advocacy – and are in the process of aligning all our programs to achieving those goals.

 

There seems to be a lot of fresh energy in the WAM team. How has this helped with rebranding and the reassessment of goals?

We’ve made some great hires – really good people with exceptional knowledge of the industry. All the WAMsters are so passionate about what they do, and they’re connected and actively participating in the scene and they are respected and genuinely liked. We also have a ridiculously broad knowledge base across genres. We also implemented the Music Council, so we have a direct feed to folks from all aspects of WA music who can help us make sure we’re on the right track.

 

What do you think will be the highlights of the forthcoming WAM Festival?

I’m excited about the new awards format – I think this is a great way of taking this important recognition a little more seriously and inviting the greater community, not just the industry, to celebrate WA music talent. Saturday Spectacular is a monster this year and the addition of the outdoor stages in the cultural centre is going to be tops.

 

How important is the conference element?

That’s my third highlight. The Music Conference is a major event this year – we’re now having high level industry reps asking if they can join the speakers list. It’s so damn affordable that anyone who wants a career in music would be a numpty to miss it. In the big picture vision, industry development is one of the key things WAM does. We know geographical isolation is one of the challenges for the local music industry and the conference plays a vital role in enabling access to the major players to learn from them, network with them and make lasting connections.

 

What advice would you give to the incoming WAM CEO?

I think it’s so important that WAM continues to engage in a meaningful way with our stakeholders. The musicians are at the heart of what we do, and also the industry and the music consumers. If we don’t have those people on board with where WAM is going, then we’ve failed. WAM isn’t a closed shop – it’s a cornerstone.

 

What were your expectations of this role… and what will be your memories?

I knew there was lots to do, but I like being busy. It’s been an enormous privilege to guide WAM through this evolution. I have some wonderful memories – from live moments on stage and the team itself. Professionally, I take deep satisfaction from seeing a big spike in engagement with WAM in the last year or so, and seeing some bands move through WAM programs and start smashing it. That makes me happy. And it’s pretty awesome that my memories have a WA music soundtrack.

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