Today’s guest is Caleb James.
Over the past few weeks on A Voice and Beyond, we have been delving into the world of Popular Music education in academia and this week we will continue on with some of that discussion with our guest, Caleb James who is a Senior Lecturer in the Bachelor of Music Program at Queensland Conservatorium, Griffith University and Course Convenor of the Popular Music Program within that institution. For over 20 years, Caleb has facilitated hundreds of music projects nationally and internationally and has been involved at a high level with Record Labels, Distribution Labels, and Tours performing hundreds of shows in a range of successful bands all around Australia.
Caleb shares with us his career pathway from that highly successful career in the music industry as an award-winning international songwriter and music producer, and how he transitioned into an academic career in a supervisory role. Caleb is the course content creator in the Popular Music Program, and he has developed a program that is meeting the demands of today’s music students, current music markets and music consumers internationally. In this interview, you will be inspired by Caleb’s deep passion for songwriting, and his teaching philosophy which is to unlock that artistic passion within his students.
I might just add here that Caleb is my boss at QCGU and I am really thrilled to speak with him about our very exciting, unique, and innovative popular music program. One that we are all proud to be a part of. This is a not to be missed episode.
In this Episode
3:02 – Introducing Caleb James
5:30 – Caleb’s introduction to the music industry
19:41 – Songwriting and Touring
34:59 – Transitioning into a teaching role
46:07 – Developing a Popular Music Program
NEW CCM BOOK
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith is excited to announce the release of her new book “Singing Contemporary Commercial Music Styles: A Pedagogical Framework” published by Compton Publications UK. Marisa offers this book as a starting point and as CCM markets continue to evolve, she encourages that we, as a voice community, continue to evolve, debate and communally add to this framework.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 00:00
Hi it’s Marissa Lee here, and I’m so excited to be sharing today’s interview round episode with you. In these episodes, our brilliant lineup of guests will include healthcare practitioners, voice educators, and other professionals who will share their stories, knowledge and experiences within their specialised fields to empower you to live your best life. Whether you’re a member of the voice, community, or beyond your voice is your unique gift. It’s time now to share your gift with others develop a positive mindset and become the best and most authentic version of yourself to create greater impact. Ultimately, you can take charge, it’s time for you to live your best life. It’s time now for a voice and beyond. So without further ado, let’s go to today’s episode.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 01:16
Over the past few weeks on a voice and beyond, we have been delving into the world of popular music education in academia. And this week, we will continue on with some of that discussion with our guest, Caleb James, who is a senior lecturer in the Bachelor of Music programme at Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University, and is also the course convener of the popular music programme within that institution. Over the past 20 years, Caleb has facilitated hundreds of music projects nationally and internationally and has been involved at a high level with record labels, distribution labels, and touring, performing hundreds of shows in a range of successful bands all around Australia. Caleb shares with us his career pathway from that highly successful career in the music industry as an award winning international songwriter and music producer and how he transitioned into an academic career in a supervisory role. Caleb is the course content creator in the popular music programme, and he has developed a programme that is meeting the demands of today’s music students, current music markets, and music consumers internationally. In this interview, you will be inspired by Caleb’s deep passion for songwriting and his teaching philosophy, which is to unlock that artistic passion within his students.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 03:02
I might just add here that Caleb is my boss at QC Gu and I’m really thrilled to be speaking with him about our very exciting, unique and innovative popular music programme, one that we’re all proud to be a part of. Remember, this is part one of a two part interview with Caleb James and part two will follow next week. So without further ado, let’s go to today’s episode
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 03:47
Welcome to a voice and beyond. It’s my boss. It’s Caleb James is in the house. How are you?
Caleb James 03:56
I’m excellent. Marissa, how are you?
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 03:58
Yeah, I’m doing good and all the better for seeing you. I always feel happy when I’m around you. Yeah, I love working with you too. Oh, you too kind. So that means I’m not going to lose my job anytime soon.
Caleb James 04:13
Anything I have to do with it? Absolutely not.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 04:17
So, Caleb, we’re gonna talk about you. I’d like to start off with introducing you to our listeners who may not know who you are you lecturer within the Bachelor of Music programme working within the popular music department. But you personally have been involved in the music industry for over 20 years in a professional capacity as an award winning music producer, songwriter, and multi instrumentalist performer. You’ve facilitated hundreds of projects nationally and internationally and have been involved at a high level with recording labels, distribution labels, and and touring, performing hundreds of shows in a range of successful successful bands all around Australia. I’m exhausted reading that out.
Caleb James 05:12
I chat. Yeah, I squeezed a bit in. I was I was a busy, young driven lead for sure.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 05:17
yet. Okay, so give us your backstory. How did you come to be in the music industry?
Caleb James 05:24
I’m not the one I was gonna say it’s not the typical way. But I think, no, that’s actually not true. I think a lot of people kind of stumble into things that they’re passionate about. know some people, you know, some of our students, for example, you know, when they come to auditions, they say, I came, you know, since the age of four, I knew I wanted to be a performer. That wasn’t me at all, I was actually more keen on sports, and really passionate about sports and achieved, got to some pretty high level. Team positions and offers across a whole range of sports. But music didn’t really I started on piano when I was young, my dad’s a great pianist. He started teaching me when I was young, but it was always more of a daily grind, you know, you have to do your scale, you’ve got to do you know, sight reads and some Chopin or Mozart or Beethoven or whatever. And I had to do that before I could go outside and play cricket with the kids in our yard or whatever. The fascinating thing for me though, is when my dad gave me a choice to stop piano, he said, Do your lessons until you get to 12. When you’re 12, you can make your own mind up. And when I got to 12, I thought, yeah, I don’t want to do this piano thing anymore. But I jumped on the guitar. And just you know, spoiler but I still love piano I play piano all the time. Yeah, I thank my father for that every day every time I see him. So I switched to guitar and guitars obviously more portable. And that became a for me The piano was at home down in the rumpus room practising but guitar meant I could start playing with some friends at school and you know, formed a band and it was portable. And you could take it anywhere. And you could start bashing through songs and learning cover songs of other guitars sit in the same room, or then bedrooms, lounge rooms and other places. So that was really cool. And that sort of lit a fire in me that I don’t know, it unlocked something that felt deeply connected to who I was. And I think my dad, you know, that was his wish the whole time, of course. So yeah, the fast forward a few years, I played in some, you know, some very terrible bands with my, some of my best mates were younger, we thought were a great, a terrible. And we eventually got to the point where we wanted to record some of the songs that we’d been doing mostly covers and a couple of originals. And we were all working our part time jobs are doing an audit of sports and saving all their hard earned money. And we put that into a recording. And I remember going to some of the local studios and we’d go in there and record and we’d assume that the person recording us because they’re working in the studio, there must be a genius in the studio must be amazing. And we’re going to sound incredible, and then you get your recording back at the end. You’re like what happened? That’s not at all we thought we’re gonna get it doesn’t sound like us. Yes. So I started after we you know, it took us a long time and save the money to do that. And after those a couple of disappointments, I just started thinking I’ll have a go myself at recording, you know, just learning how to record. So my dad went cars with me and some basic recording equipment is very generous man. And I just started spending hours and hours at home, learning how to record my own stuff and my my high school band, this is towards the senior years and started getting some Okay, results. And then we you know, this is back in the day, we started putting, making cassettes, dubbing hundreds of cassettes, ourselves, from my master cassette tape, which was terrible quality. And we started plugging those in local music stores, because back then you could put in, you know, 20 tapes on consignment. And if they sold, they take a cut, you take a cut, and if they didn’t sell that, just give them back to you, you know. And we would sell out like tapes. And in that time, yeah, it was grieving. And yeah, we’re already talking like, you know, 50 copies or something. But that was exciting for us. You know, we’re like, oh my god. 50 people we don’t know. But our tape. And on the artwork of the tape was my home phone number which you just never do now. I know. Right? Yeah. Cuz you know, what’s the worst that could happen? So we’d get these random people ringing up and talking to my mom, because they’re still living at home, obviously. And my mom would answer and be some random person saying, Oh, hey, we’ve got this tape. We really liked the sound of it. And the person that recorded it, this is the number that’s in there. Can we talk to Caleb so talk to them and say, Hey, can you record my band? And I’d say that’s how I basically started but it was all for free. I didn’t even know you can make money in music. So just spend weekends with my basic recording setup at different bands, houses or make garages or whatever. And then I remember a few of those started doing a well locally and everyone was selling cassette tapes and a local artists who I knew wanted me to produce a CD and back then if you did a CD that was fancy, like now it’s like CDs. Yeah, back then is a CD. Yeah, it’s expensive to write because the cost of making CDs was like, exorbitant. So she wanted me to do the CD and she paid me. She offered to pay me I said no, because that wasn’t why I was doing it back then. And I think she paid me a carton of coke cans of Coke. Because back then. Oh, look, look later on those lots of different things all fit. I’ve never got into that side of the industry. There was plenty to take. So yes, you paid me a carton of cans of Coke. Oh, this was I think I just turned 18. Okay. So by then I’d done maybe, I don’t know. 20 bands, something like that. So I’ve been I’ve been busy just little, you know, EPs and local releases and stuff and then ended up winning for the was called the Queensland Music Awards. There used to be an awards in us in Queensland called the sunny Awards, which was the precursor to all that. And so that one won best, best, best album, or I can’t actually remember there, whatever for that one. Now. Anyway, one a couple of awards. And it was a bit of an upset because I was just this young upstart. I wasn’t one of the industry heavy
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 11:38
hitters, it was working for a carton of
Caleb James 11:42
working for a carton of pecans. And so that one was some awards. And then that got me some attention with some people that actually had some money. And then they started insisting that they pay me because that was just part of how you acted professionally. So I started jumping into that more seriously. I remember I was two weeks off getting my five year badge at the supermarket job was working at and the day my boss told me that she was really excited. She was a lovely lady. She was very kind to me with all the gigs and production stuff I had to get, you know, absences for and she was very excited to come out today and said, Okay, let it’s only two weeks till you get your five year badge and horrified me because I was only going to be there for six months until, you know, our band made it big. And we’re the biggest band in the world of course. And I’ve got that didn’t happen. So you know, five years later, I’m still there. So I went and handed in my notice that afternoon to quit because I was so terrified that five years had gone by. And I decided to go full time into producing and songwriting and I’m in though I handed in my notice and I went out to the car park and I was dry reaching I thought I was going to throw up I was so terrified, you know. And my dad again kindly loan cleared one of his credit cards gave it to me and said Do your research by what you need to get started. And then they’re not wealthy parents just say no, though. A big call for them. And so I did my research. I’m a research nut. I made sure every dollar was maximised, got my setup, started recording at home actually took over the entire downstairs in my parents house and turned that into a con. And started putting bands through and I paid I’d gone from earning from basically charging nothing really, for recordings, and I think I spent might have been 12,000 bucks on my dad’s credit card, I got the limit extended. I’m coming into the supermarket job. Yeah. And I paid him off in under three months, while also earning a profit and paying on my other bills and everything. Because I was so driven to pay him back for his kindness but also to make a go of it and not go back to a supermarket job. And that attitude has stayed with me my entire career. So you know what, what we get to do and what you get to do and what a lot of the people listen to your podcast get to do we we we get to do musical things. We get to work with other creative people, we get to work with students, fellow staff, or the industry people in an area that we’re incredibly passionate about. And we happen to get paid for it. So my attitude has always been if that’s what I want to do, and I want to get paid for it, then I treat it really professional and I work really hard. I’m ethical, and I treat people consistently according to my own moral compass and to but that’ll, that’ll started from those early days of a supermarket job and then being offered this, you know, the chance to record a CD for someone winning some awards, getting some validation from the local industry and then just throwing throwing it all in 100% And you know, all the chips in and seeing what happens and then within a year it was maybe four or five years of really good writing it out and then started to make a name for myself nationally. And then within 10 years, I was doing some international jobs. And the money by them was was good. It was, yeah, it was a solid solid income and hard work and, you know, lots of stress, anyone that’s worked a self employed job running their own business, whatever it is, you know, all the stresses that come with it. But because I was self employed, I had to leverage, you know, payment and income from a bunch of different sources. So that’s why even though it started as Recording and production very quickly, because I had a songwriting, sort of strengthen my songwriting as well. That started to be the thing that clients would come to me for that want me to produce their record and CO ride or refine their songwriting. And then record label started getting me to work with bands that freshly signed to refine their songs and CO write and pre produce the material. So the songs were good for the for the album. And so there was that side of it. And then I also got into commercial work doing jingles and advertising stuff, started working for some pretty high level government. clients as well producing music, doing sound design, and all sorts of stuff like that. I started working on short films, and then a couple of feature films, some TV shows, and it just it all up, because my attitude was, you know, I’m going to make a living from this come hell or high water. What do I need to do, and I had this varied skill set, that didn’t make sense in a lot of other industries, but it made perfect sense in the music industry. So I’ve leveraged all of that my entire career. And I think that’s, you know, without sounding like and like, you know, I’m full of myself, because I’m not, but I think that that rough and ready approach to learning as much as possible, and being addicted to learning has put me in a good place to be able to teach students and deal with a really wide range of, you know, things challenges that they encounter in different areas of the industry that I want to discuss or, you know, so I can cover a really, really wide range of of areas, because I’ve lived it. And also I’ve got a lot of experience across all
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 17:16
Yes. And what I love about what you’ve just said is that in the industry, if you want to make a living, you actually do have to hustle. And you also to have to be versatile. And I know in my own career that I would often say yes. And I think I don’t know how I’m going to do that. But I’m going to figure it out. Because I’ve got to put food on the table at that there was a point where I was a single parent for eight years. So I had to work out how I was going to feed my child and put her through private school education. I remember the first time I got my first gig in a piano bar. Well, I’d never sung in a piano bar before then I got a gig in front of a big band with 15, a 15 piece Big Band doing a half hour cabaret show, as a featured artist and going well, I’ve never done that before. And but I just used to say yes, and then go and figure it all out. Because you have to do that if you want to work and if you want to sustain an income, and people get that coming through the ranks now.
Caleb James 18:28
Well, yeah, there’s a couple of things that contribute to that, I think, because so much of, of, you know, the traditional, more traditional kind of historic pathway for a lot of people in the industry was, it’s hands on, you know, it’s lots of hands on stuff. And a lot of people now, it’s very different. Because, you know, a lot of the stuff they’re learning is at home and isolation on YouTube or watching tutorials and practising in the bedrooms. And then to go from there to saying yes to something that they actually have no experience with at all. And jumping in there is actually really problematic, because it’s not just can you sing this thing? It’s Do you understand how this all works? Whereas, you know, we had to, because we’re grinding and doing all these things, you’re learning incrementally about all these different things year on the year on year on year. So when one of those opportunities comes up, which might seem scary, you actually know more than you realise. Yeah. So you jump in front of that big band, there’s no way you knew nothing. There’s absolutely the fact that you, you’ve probably encountered different elements of what was required for that gig in other things, but you’re brave enough to say yes to it. And then you’re drawing on all this stuff that you already knew and finding the gaps and going, Okay, I need to learn this new thing or, you know, this is a slightly different setup of this scenario. Yes. So that’s, that’s where I think a lot of our students and a lot of other people that I talked to, especially as a mentor, that’s where that struggle is they’ve been really developing an isolation. And not only they’re focusing on the craft, like the actual, you know, singing or the guitar playing or the songwriting, and I spent So much of my time saying, keep working on that. But you also need to go and rub shoulders with people just so you learn how it works, how the thing works. And I help people work networking. That’s,
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 20:12
that’s, that’s where I used to get a lot of my gigs was just being out there. And, as you said, rubbing shoulders with other people, other with with agents, but also other musicians and letting them know that you existed. I used to teach business within a full time programme for dancers, and I used to say, don’t end up being a door knocker. They go what’s a door knockers? I’d say someone that sits at home and waits for someone to knock at the door and go, Oh, is there a dancer that lives in this house? I mean, it doesn’t work that way. door knocking, you’re the one that has to door knock, don’t expect someone to come knocking on your door because it just doesn’t work like that in the industry. Absolutely. Absolutely. But I want to talk about your songwriting for a second here. So as you said, you facilitated hundreds, possibly 1000s of projects all around the world, and here in Australia, and you write across a variety of genres. And you’ve written for all these different bands, TV shows. So when did you actually discover you could write? And how did that love of writing come about?
Caleb James 21:33
Yeah, it’s, I firmly believe in you know, when when you unlock an artistic passion, whether that’s, you know, sculpture, or painting, or music, or songwriting or acting, or dancing or anything like that. The path to get there is different for everyone. Mine was because I was obsessed with guitar, and I took that work ethic that my dad had ingrained in me from learning piano, I was obsessed with guitar. I was learning covers at first, but I really wanted to start imitating what I was hearing, I wanted to imitate some of my guitar heroes. So the first music I started writing was actually really derivative with really derivative lyrics, derivative chords, derivative melodies, and it was you know what, when you’re young, you essentially copy you don’t understand mimic that, yeah, that you can take something and make it your own. Because you don’t know what your own is yet. You don’t know who you are yet. So how I got into songwriting was essentially I want to play some cool guitar solos, like my guitar heroes, I need some music to play guitar solo over. So rather than actually writing a song, as I understand songwriting, now it was more I want to write some music that I can trade over the top. So I can be a guitar God. So that meant the songs I wrote, were really the kind of one dimensional attended just servicing a Guitar Hero approach. But it was enough that it made me realise, hang on different things that I put underneath, make my guitar playing on top sound different. It can make a sound better or worse, but it can also make it sound different. So then I started exploring, what if I put different things underneath this same solo? What does that do for, you know, people’s perception of what I’m playing, just like if you take a you know, which is kind of the number one pop song running trick. Now you take a melody that feels strong, and you can reavoice Different harmony underneath it to get different mood tilts, or different slants to, you know, if something’s not quite feeling sassy enough, you can actually change some of the chord voicings to make the same melody feel sexier, or to make it feel more sombre, or to make it feel more edgy, you know, whatever. And you can actually do that without changing the melody or the phrasing or the lyrics in many cases. So that’s, that’s what got me started, I’m realising Wow, this this kind of puzzle. It’s like a combination of puzzle pieces that I get to put together in whatever way I think is interesting. And that is a song. Yes, so that that’s where it started. And then because I was playing in some local bands, I was generally the, for my Spain’s is generally a primary songwriter, or maybe to progress, I’m lucky. And then the rest are co writers like they absolutely have their input and their opinions, but there’s generally one driving force and that was me my entire life. Mainly in the early days, because I was the only one that actually knew how to put chord progressions together and no one else knew music theory at all. Not that that’s a deal breaker but just meant I could write stuff quickly. And then even as I progressed, my experience and my natural kind of connection with songwriting meant I was the kind of go to person in every band or project that I was, at least the ones that I formed, or the ones that were not for another client, you know, not for someone else. And then I think the way it really took off was vice to my dad had some really great records in his vinyl collection. I’m thinking I was around, maybe 15. I started songwriting when I was 14, so 14. And when I was 15, maybe, you know, halfway through that year, towards the end of that year, I realised I was writing a lot of songs, but they all felt the same. And most of them were really, even at that age, I had enough self awareness to realise I wanted to be a great songwriter. But I was crappy. So because I was young, and I didn’t know what I was doing, and every now and then I’d land on something good, but I couldn’t replicate it, I couldn’t do it again, or it take me three months to write another good song, and the rest would be terrible. So I started, I gave myself a challenge, I thought, I’ll just finish every song I write, and I’ll write a song a day for three months. And just see what that does for my songwriting, which very much suits my personality. I’m a very, I like, having goals. And I like pushing myself. And so I did that. And I wrote lots of average songs, but I started writing better songs more consistently. And I started seeing behind the curtain a bit more like understanding, you know, some of the stuff that I’m doing and exploring here is actually core stuff underneath, like all the stuff on top that I was getting distracted by this core songwriting approaches and techniques underneath, and I started seeing those. And I was so invested in the process actually did that for a while, nearly five years. So I skipped, you know, I take breaks for Christmas. And other times, I might take, you know, maybe 30, maybe 40 days off a year, but I’d still be writing over 300 songs a year I got when I was 15, to when I was 20, basically. Oh, wow. Yeah, so there’s, there’s a lot of a lot of material and a lot of bad material, but I really cut my teeth and I sort of compressed you know, that whole 10th as an hour thing, I compress that well and truly into I probably did, you know, I don’t know what the equivalent to be is way over 10,000 hours over those five years. Absolutely. I’ve never done the maths but so that basically was like a crash course in, in fundamentals of putting songs together melodies and chords and feels. And once you’ve written a couple of 100 songs, you get absolutely bored with the same stuff. So I started going back to piano, oh, I’m going to start running a piano again, and loved piano, and I got bored of that. So I’m going to learn drums, I’m going to define banjo and cello and mandolin, and, you know, bass and anything else I could get my hands on, I just started getting obsessed with this as another expressive tool I can use to generate an idea. So everything became about songwriting. From that point on, I reckon about a year into that. So maybe by the time I was 16, I was just obsessed with writing songs. I didn’t think there was a career in it, I didn’t think that people necessarily needed to hear them. But I was just obsessed with how all of the things that were inside me made sense in that environment. And putting on top of that, but I was at the same time teaching myself how to record a bid. Now once I hit grade, 12 and beyond. That kind of went hand in hand, right? I was writing the songs. And while I’m writing the songs, I’m learning how to record and produce songs myself, and then getting to apply that to other bands. And then so all of those things kind of blossomed around the same time. But songwriting has always been at the centre of my world. I, I can’t imagine not.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 28:25
Why is it so important to you? It sounds it sounds like it’s more than just something that you love to do. It sounds like
Caleb James 28:34
I have to do it.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 28:36
Yeah. But what drives that? Do you think?
Caleb James 28:41
I mean, I’ve thought about that. Lots of times over the years, and people have even asked me, I remember doing interviews for bands that I was touring in back in the day, and they’d asked me about the songwriting and production. And my answer would evolve over time, because because I’m evolving. Yes. Yeah. And so, you know, I think in the early years, songwriting was this form of expression that I couldn’t capture in any other way. I couldn’t, I wasn’t articulate enough to tell someone verbally without singing it, you know. So someone might ask me, how are you going? And I just say, Oh, I’m fine. But if they asked me how I’m going, and I said, get back to me, I’ll give it to me two hours, and I’ll get you a song that song would be filled with all this stuff from inside me in right. That makes sense. So became this Yes.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 29:29
So it was it was a way for you to articulate how you were truly feeling.
Caleb James 29:36
Yeah, and also how I wanted to feel and what I’d learned and what I wanted to learn and what I was and who I who I was, who i Who i at the time, who I wasn’t in the past and who I want it to be in the future. You know, in music, you don’t have to have everything perfect. The song doesn’t have to be perfect. It’s just a moment in time and when you when you get used to writing lots some material, you’re less precious about each particular song, because you realise it’s a moment in time. And that’s, that’s, that’s valuable enough, just just being able to capture that moment in time when most other people have to rely on a memory or a photograph, I can actually write a song about this, and record that. And it’s captured forever. And that’s, it’s incredibly empowering. And it also helps you get to know yourself. I think I learned a lot about who I was through songwriting.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 30:29
Yeah. And I see it in our students, when they write about that moment in time. Some of that music is incredible. And it’s so moving. And it’s so honest, and it’s so raw and vulnerable. You know, there’s a beauty in that, that when people just pick a topic, it’s not the same if they just go, oh, there’s a clock ticking on the wall. I mean, I know, it’s a starting place for many when they don’t know what to write about. But when they get to that place, where they can really express themselves, I know for you and I, we’ve sat on that assessment board, and we’ve been driven to tears listening to some of this stuff.
Caleb James 31:13
Yeah. Well, that’s what I was gonna say the thing, the evolving, you know, connection with your art, I think is just a natural part of extending, like every single person, even the people listening to this when they when they are, you know, I’m assuming there’s a bunch of people who listen to your podcasts that have different careers, and a lot of creative fields. And obviously, a lot of vocal pedagogues and beyond, but a lot of creative people, and anyone that’s done a career for any length of time, your interest and passion for the thing that’s centred around your that your career is centred around changes. So in the early, you know, that’s what I’m saying, in the early years, it was definitely much more about self expression. And that’s still carried through to this day, but then, you know, you write a certain number of songs, that self expression becomes repetitive, because you’re only writing from a limited mindset. So then you get to a stage where you’re like, Well, I actually need to choose like you just said, I need to choose some things that aren’t, that I don’t really know about, like you saying yes, to the big band thing, I need to choose some things I’m going to write for commercials, because that is the furthest thing from emotional depth and connection that you can get for most songwriters. So I got, I was just obsessed with learning as much as I could about all forms of songwriting. So you know, if you’d asked me in my late teens, early 20s, it would have absolutely been self expression. If you asked me in my mid to late 20s, it would have been about exploring what else is out there and my songwriting and then you get into the 30s, it’s more about I want to try and discover any holes in my knowledge and technique. And even if it’s really weird, I don’t care, I’m just gonna write weird stuff for three months. Because I’m, it gets harder and harder to find the discrepancies in the things that you don’t know, you know, the more of an expert, you know, I’m using those that were in quotations. But the moment expert you become, the harder it is to find the chinks in your armour. So I’m obsessed with those checks not to be down on myself, but because that’s where the hunger is, that’s where the, the passion and the energy is, is anything new, I can learn is intoxicating. And so I’m always hunting. So where my songwriting takes me is always to do with, where’s the next area I’ve got to grow and learn and learn about and where’s the next chink in my armour that I need to repair or, you know, patch over with some new knowledge or some new technique. So, you know, to be honest, at the moment, I’m nearly 50. And the last year or two has been about trying to get back to self expression and my songwriting because I have to be across so many things for so many different people these days, when I get to sit down for my own music, and because I’ve done so many different things with my songwriting, I’m trying to get back to the basics to a foundation of okay, I’m just gonna write for myself. And I’m actually trying to think about well, what is that now? Like, it’s different than when I was 2015 is very different. I’m very content. I love my wife, I love my family. I’ve got a you know, it’s a stressful job, but it’s a great job. And it’s pretty stable ish. You know, so back then I had lots of things that were like, Oh, my, I’ve got to write about this because a lot of drama and things going wrong and things unknown and, and now I’m because I’m content, I’m like, Well, what do I write about? So that’s my, the last couple of years has been that. That’s my new challenge is how do I how do I find inspiration in me every day, in in the fact that I’m actually content in many ways in my life. Does that mean I’m gonna I have to just write Happy content songs. No. So it doesn’t mean that I might have to look at Stanley to some impetus to inspire me to write something that’s a bit more tragic or sad, probably. But that’s okay. And then the trick is still media. Oh my gosh. Oh, The training? Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. Well, yeah, I think, you know, it’s an evolving thing. And just like teaching is it’s it’s an evolving, I think it should be evolving. Actually, let me rephrase that. I don’t think if you’re not evolving, if your practice is an evolving, at least, you know, it’s okay to sit still and refresh and recover when you need to. But if you’re not at least semi regularly, properly reflecting and evolving your practice, I think it’s just a lost opportunity to keep that fire alive inside you, because that’s where it leaves salutely
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 35:35
Absolutely. And I mean, as teachers, I always say, we need to be lifelong learners. And a lot of the skills that you’re talking about that are necessary to be a good songwriter are also skills that are necessary to be a good teacher, always reflecting, looking for those chinks to see how we can do better to properly serve our students. Whereas you’re talking about properly release a better song or become a better songwriter. And with your teaching. I know you have a deep passion for teaching, and you inspire all those students that you work with. They all love you. How did you end up in academia? University your first teaching job?
Caleb James 36:22
Yeah, yeah. But the so bye bye. Well, okay, hang on, go back up a bit. So I did my I did a Bachelor of Music Technology through Griffith through the Queensland Conservatorium, which obviously we work at now. And one of my lectures back then was a guy called Donald Adler, who ended up actually acting, Semi long term acting and the director role for Conservatorium. And even as a student, I went as a mature age, again, because of my learning my addiction to learning, I wanted to go and find any gaps in my knowledge and fill those in. And I thought, well, University is a great opportunity to do that. I was already working full time by then producing you know, something. So while I’m doing classes at uni, a lot of the songs I was producing are over radio. So it’s kind of weird. Being a student, but also being full time and already kind of successful. To a
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 37:14
degree. Yes, yes.
Caleb James 37:15
But because I don’t have pride attached to that, I went back because I’m, I’m obsessed with learning. I was like, Well, I’m just another student here with, you know, somebody’s green as grass. 17 year olds, and I’m in my 20s. But one of the lectures was done there. And we got along like a house on fire just. And we’d catch up semi regularly, even after I graduated, and he got me. He’d been hassling me for a little while to come and do a master class for the whole popular music cohort at the Gold Coast. And I eventually caved, I think there’s a gap between tours. And I went down and ran us to our Master Class forum. And it was packed tonnes of students, it was really good. The students loved it. The feedback was amazing. And as I remember, as we were walking out, he said to me, you know, you’re a teacher, right? And I said, No, I’m not done. I’m a songwriter, a producer, I can, you know, I can talk a bit about this stuff. Because no, no, no, you’re a teacher. You’re absolutely a teacher. Have you thought about teaching? And I said, No, you know, even I think I even quoted that terrible, ignorant thing of, you know, teachers of people that couldn’t make it in the industry, you know, something, some terrible thing like that. Right?
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 38:26
I used to think that because I said no to my first teaching offer. Yep. I said, No, no, no, no, this is not me. I don’t want to teach. Yep. So
Caleb James 38:39
I think part of that, for me was based on and this isn’t a slight against. Because now I understand how it works, obviously, because I’m part of the education system, Mr. System. Yeah. But you know, like music teachers, I didn’t do music at high school, because the music programme was terrible. It was really narrow. Now that I know how the curriculum is designed. That’s not the teachers fault. Like they, they literally have to do this really narrow, unhelpful curriculum. So I’m getting off on a tangent and having a rant. But I find that, you know, that was based on the secondary school experience that I had, not University. Because University. Mike, when I think about my teachers were mostly real world experts that had come in and, you know, taught these particular classes, they knew their stuff, they were fantastic. So it’s a really ignorant thing to say, and I regret ever saying it and it’s not true. So he he gently hassled me lovingly hassle me for probably, honestly, three to five years, somewhere in that timeframe just kept doing and then reaching out saying, hey, you know, I think it’d be great for this. I think you’d really enjoy it should come and teach a class for us. And I’m like, no, no, no. And then I was over in America producing a band over there and I was on Skype, you know, back in pre FaceTime days, I was on Skype with my wife, and my daughter was in the background. She was Trying to pull yourself up to take your first steps. And yeah, as I was saying, I got off that Skype call. And I felt, I actually felt devastated that I wasn’t there to at a really crucial moment for my kids. And I was at a weird transition point of my career, if I wanted to at that stage, I had some offers on the table where I could have really expanded my international workload and the money would have been substantial. Some of the opportunities would have been substantial, I could have probably built a really strong international reputation for myself. But my whole life has always been a family. And people are the priority for me and I do nothing but take my hat off to people that can sacrifice some of that and build amazing careers, I absolutely respect that. It’s great. For me, I just didn’t feel like the right fit for me personally. So I remember I came back from that. And I said to Melissa, my Wi Fi, I don’t think I can be away from you. I hate being away. I just don’t want to be away anymore. So what can I do that keeps me in town, you know, I can still work and stuff. It just keeps me in town. So I’m just a drive away. And I’m not to two plane rides, and you know, a whole day away, you know, 1415 hours away on a plane or more. And so I rang up, Don, and I said, Okay, let’s let’s do this thing. Let’s give it a go. And he because he’s a genius, he the first class he gave me was a post grad class, which was all about how you use technology, in a creative way to capture ideas is really open. It was really, you know, broad brushstrokes and stuff. But it was mostly me in a room with, I think there was 14, postgrads, or mature age, all who are super hungry to learn, because, you know, they’re really passionate. That’s why they’re there. And I got to do all this really fun stuff with them, and inspire them and mentor them and show them cool things that they’re really into. And they’d go away and do it. They’d come back. I’m like, this is teaching. This is amazing. This is great. Yeah, at the end of that trimester, I started on you guys. So what do you think I said, Okay, humble pie, you will write, I loved it. I really enjoyed it. Instead, now it’s a bit of work, but it was really great. And he said, Do you want to take on more, and I said, Well, I can’t do these international jobs, like these production jobs anymore. I just want to be away from the family. So I need something to, you know, replace some of that it didn’t come close to replacing it financially. But it was enough that, you know, we can survive no problem. And then I’d still be in Brisbane and not have to travel so much. So the next one he gave me was a first year course. So, you know, he again, because he’s a genius. He got me in through the postgrad and gave me this first year course, where they needed a lot more support way more, as you know, way more way more hand holding, they’ve come out of high school, they’re expecting you need to be like high school, and it’s not. So they’re shell shocked. Yes, all that stuff. So that was a brutal introduction to, you know, what’s required at the foundation levels of teaching. But I have to say, by the end of that trimester, I think the impact that you can see with first years is exponential compared to you know, like, you might get an occasional postgrad that transforms, but generally by then people have done a lot of their really chunky transformation, and they really just want to move forward and progress. And it’s more calculated. And you know, that’s revelations, but a first year student, you get to work with them, where the entire world in front of them. And that’s terrifying for them, but exciting, and you get to be one of the people in their lives that helped to shape how they navigate all that. And that is, I think that was the bit that at the end of that trimester, I said to dawn, that’s the bit that’s that’s the drug for me and teaching. It’s not, it’s not really to do with anything else is just to deal with impact or positive impact on people. Which when I thought about it was exactly how I approached all my production and songwriting gigs was always about the client was about the other people, well, I know what can I add? What can I value add to this thing to make their job better, to make their voice better, to make their song better, to make their recording better, to make their career better, you know? And essentially, I was taking all of that and putting it into teaching, what can I bring and value add to these students to make sure that their journey as they move forward is more enriched and stronger than it would have been, you know? And so by the time I got into that, I was I was pretty much knee deep. I was not fully committed to teaching are still producing full time outside of that. And it was really Donna Weston, who was the head of puppet the Gold Coast. Still house down there. She’d got me down to do some Fill in Teaching isn’t guest teaching for one of the kind of general purpose pop courses. And Gavin Carr Ford, who was the convener of those courses ended up leaving. And so Donna reached out on Christmas holidays up at the coast and I got a phone call from Donna saying, We need someone to step into this role. And the feedback from students is they want way more songwriting stuff. And I didn’t realise them. But I realised now that it’s actually very hard to find someone who can cover songwriting in a pedagogical sense. It’s a bit of a blackout to a lot of people, but I was absolutely my world, I can do it comfortably. And I’ve been doing that for a long time anyway, in different ways. So I committed to I think it was like a 50% contract down there. And but I’d never convened a course before. So
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 45:57
welcome to academia, programme writing.
Caleb James 46:01
Oh, it’s crazy. So I was, you know, like you said before, like you’re jumping in front of the Big Bend. It’s not that I didn’t know anything, but I just didn’t know the Griffith systems or you know how to structure of course, on paper, I knew stuff that would be real world applicable and how to navigate that in a scaffolded way for students or for people, I kind of had a sense of that. So I just jumped in, I jumped jumped in the deep end, and I did the best I could. And the cool thing with teaching is you get to tweak your lesson plans and your course designs over time. So, you know, Don was very patient with me and gave me freedom to pretty much explore whatever I wanted to as long as it met the learning outcomes. And the response to those courses was awesome. For a lot of students, it was one of their favourite kind of part of being a uni was a songwriting and are still doing 50% session all at Southbank and are still producing and mixing outside, that’s I was pretty much working seven days a week, you know, 1415 hour days. And eventually, it got to the point where I’m thinking, you know, I was just saying, with the kids and everything I can’t, I’m gonna burn out, basically. So yes, the opportunity came up to go for basically to go full time at Griffith for the role that I’d created. So, you know, I had a very strong chance of getting it wasn’t a given, but, you know, I’m not, I made a decision to go for it, and got the job, it actually meant I was worse off again, worse off financially. But the stability was excellent for the for the family. And it just meant, because even with the production stuff are still going into stay quite a lot there wasn’t overseas, and I could get back quickly if I needed to. But there’s still a lot of interstate travel. And I’d be away for you know, three to six weeks at a time. Which is you know, that’s the chunk and I might might swing back on every two weeks or on a weekend. But it’s not the same. So I decided to do it. And obviously once you become full time you’re well and truly behind the curtain. So well the Bureau of bureaucracy and administration, everything’s like oh my gosh. You know, it’s overwhelming at first. But I think like you know, like anyone that does those jobs, just learn the systems and learn how to navigate it in a way that makes sense for you. That doesn’t do your head in. And for me, like I’ve always done my career or throughout my entire career, whether it’s production or songwriting or with my family. I prioritise finding ways to deal with all the admin and stuff so I can practice I can focus on the teaching, focus on my students. So anything I do, it’s about trying to still value add for my students and still trying to learn what can I improve? How can I be better? How can my courses be better? Again, not to beat myself up because I think, you know, the causes are very strong and the outcomes are very strong for the students. But more than nine of staying passionate, like I said before, I’m just, you know, like self reflecting because that’s where the passion is, reignites that little spot
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 49:11
thank you so much for listening to this episode of voice and beyond. I hope you enjoyed it as now is an important time for you to invest in your own self care, personal growth and education. Use every day as an opportunity to learn and to grow so you can show up feeling empowered and ready to live your best life. If you know someone who will also be inspired by this episode, please be sure to copy and paste the link and share it with them. Or share it on social media and use the hashtag a voice and beyond. I promise you I am committed to bringing you more inspiration and conversations just like this one every week. And if you’d like to help me, please rate and review this podcast and cheer me on by clicking the subscribe button on Apple podcast right now. I would also love to know what it is that you most enjoyed about this episode and what was your biggest takeaway? Please take care and I look forward to your company next time on the next episode of a voice and beyond.