Spending 14 years in the media industry and still discovering how he can grow as a human, Ben Sorensen, Australian Media Personality and Real Country Radio Presenter, tells us about his life as he knows it…
It all started when the Anglos met the Saxons back in the day – no, I actually started out doing music. I was a trained organist and once I had an audition for a production house and the music director said to me, ‘Can you sing?!’ and I said, ‘Na mate, I’m here to play keys for you.’ And the director said, ‘Yeah, yeah. But can you sing?!’ and I said, ‘No, No, No.’ But he said, ‘You know what? Let’s just try it now.’ So I did and he shuffled me off to the Queensland Youth Choir, Australia, where I spend quite a few years singing there as a bass. Then I realised that singing, although easier because you didn’t have to pack any instruments, was still not a profitable way to make a living and do what you love although it was a lot of fun.
Once my voice was broken I started Spruiking cheap shoes and jewellery and one of the guys that I worked with asked if I wanted to play a character in a Christmas carols event. He was an event manager too so he was already involved, he said, ‘There’s a little bit of singing but it’s mostly just being stupid’. So I agreed as that’s what I do and I turned up and it was the Burleigh Carols in the Park where 22,000 people attended – which in Australian terms is pretty alright. I mean you had to line up for a sausage sizzle and that’s when you know it’s a good event!
I soon got a call from one of the producers, who was also a producer for Channel 9 (it’s a channel here in Australia), and she asked if I wanted to do some voice-overs for a show she was working on and did I want to do some stand-up comedy crowd warm-ups for a kid show. So I said that sounds fun and I it resulted to me being in a couple of TV series and like a bazillion ads which I still do.
Voice-overs I just absolutely love because you never know what you’re going to get. You open your computer and there will be a list of scripts there and you just go, what am I going to do today? I’m going to be a kangaroo in a cartoon in the morning and then I’m going to be selling some political dream in the afternoon and then I’m going to read a children’s book after that. It’s just all over the place and I love it.
So after doing a bit of TV, there was a regional radio station which asked me to do breakfast radio. It was a perfect time in my life because I had just got divorced and didn’t really know what I wanted to do next. So I spent a couple of years doing that on the sunshine coast.
This is when I realised one of the saddest things about media and the music industry. No one is really interested in quality content. No one is interested in hearing what the real story is. More and more media outlets are just putting noise between ads.
There was a thing going around on the internet saying that the difference between when you paid for music and when you got it free when you paid for music you had artists such as Johnny cash and Jimmy Hendrix and all those really great artists but now we’ve got Rihanna and Justin Bieber. In my opinion, if that’s the difference, I want to pay for my music quite happily.
It’s also made harder on another level for musicians and artists because people expect quality content for free now, not just consumers but also networks and stations. Nobody wants to pay for anything at all under any circumstances and that seems to be the default position out there which makes it really hard for anyone to earn a living and what I see is we’re losing some amazing skill sets and we’re losing some simply fantastic opportunities to grow industry’s like music and the arts and journalism.
I mean anyone can pick up a guitar, anyone can open their mouths and sing. But to do it really well, to do it insightfully, to create beautiful music, to have lyrics that tell a story that documents our history as people, I think is really special. I don’t think in any medium we respect that enough and one form of respect is actually paying for stuff.
To me, it was my understanding that I couldn’t do good content and I didn’t have the resources to do good content as a musician. I also didn’t have time because I started doing a breakfast show and then they thought I was pretty clever so they put me on production as well so I ended up doing breakfast and production. Then they said, ‘You can do a lunchtime show as well can’t you?’ So it worked out that I was on air something stupid like seven hours a day plus doing all the production for the station. It was only a little station at the time but to be on air back in the old days you’d have half an hour of prep for every hour on air. But the general manager said ‘What do you want prep time for?’ and I said, ‘what do you mean?’ and he said, ‘well you can do whatever you want but I’m not paying you for it, it’s not part of your job so I’m not paying you for it.’ And that seemed to be accepted. She was running the station and she didn’t understand the value of paid prep time which is something that is absolutely essential in creating quality content.
That’s when I had a little snap in my head and said, ‘Yeah, you know what? I love what I do but there has to be a better way,’ and later on I realised that part of that is an aspie trait of mine which is to go be focused on doing the best that you can at any moment in anything. Even if it means that you come off second best. This is when I created a little interview show called Real Country where I would interview artists and play a track at the end of it, it was a little segment thing which I really enjoyed doing.
I also cannot stand egos or entitlement. I just find it really unconstructive and it’s a waste of energy. I’ve learnt the bigger someone’s ego is the easier it is to damage it and by dealing with all those stations I have made some amazing friends but sadly there’s a lot of people that seem to have that ‘well you should bow down to me because I work in radio’ attitude. What that attitude says to me is that we are losing the human side of our industry. I think the most important thing is connecting with people, being real, knowing our own shortcomings and understanding that other people have them too. I think that’s where the compassion and empathy comes in, in just working with people and accepting people as they are and how they are.
We’re seeing people not understanding the value of all of those little things that experience teaches. The little things that being passionate about a topic enables us to do and we’re losing that because now it’s about getting a piece of paper and getting a job and then doing whatever your boss says to keep the job as opposed to thinking, ‘I am a passionate person that wants to grow the industry because I love it and I want to be the best individual that I can be,’ instead I see that this is being eroded.
This is partly why when I finally left the radio station, as well as starting to do magazine publishing, I converted my radio segment into a show called Real Country and at its peak it was on maybe 170 stations in six countries which sound impressive but it’s a lot of work. But through all these experiences I learnt that I like to encourage other people to use their brains because if we don’t use it we lose it. So I eventually created my own company that does content and creation.
One of the most important things in the world today is getting people to think. There is much trickery in this world, even down to your tub of your low-fat yoghurt! Heaps of trickery! But the thinking individual is able to independently grab information from all different sources, process that information, understand it in context and come up with a good decision. I don’t mind if people make bad decisions as long as they have good information so if you make the wrong decision at least make the wrong informed decision.
Actually, I had this really great quote from an aboriginal musician called Jimmy Little. He had absolutely the biggest heart that I have ever come across in the industry, just being in the room with him was such a pleasure. I have a list of favourite humans and he is definitely on there. I asked him to give a really useful piece of advice and he said something to the effect of don’t do too much, do enough, do your bit, do enough. But then make sure you leave enough for others to do as well so they can contribute. It not about the one, it’s about working out how we can do this together and in order to do a job properly or to understand a role properly you can’t do everything.
I think we are at the stage where we need to think about how we can save our independent media. How we can look at creating opportunities that are profitable for artists and musicians and how we can develop those concepts and ideas so that it’s not ‘oh great you’re a musician, what’s your day job?’ or ‘oh great you’re a journalist, looks like I’ll buy you lunch.’ I think there’s a lot of areas where we disrespect people who are professionals which discourage skill in those areas but then it’s only because we don’t see the bigger picture.
So aside from the content, there was also a lot of work for me as a master of ceremonies (MC), facilitating events and group training, as well as doing one on one business consultancy in media, marketing, PR and most of all strategy. This was to teach people because I believe you cannot whine about something or have a go at anyone or any industry unless you have had a crack at changing it yourself. It’s about being aware of nuances and if you haven’t actually gotten into it and had a go at doing it, it’s a bit hard to go, ‘oh well you should, you should, you should.’ Don’t ‘you should’ the world, get in there and have a crack at doing it or offer the support they need. ‘How can I help?’ Which comes down to passion and compassion, how we can make the world a better place.
I feel that this is the simplistic way of how we should be resolving our problems. It’s just about going well how can I be a good human? How can I participate in a fair and ethical way? How can I grow and evolve? I mean I’m not perfect and no one is which is all the more reason to be compassionate. We all have different levels of experience and understanding but once we remove things like fear and greed we start to see a richer side. The only fear we have is fear itself and that’s what holds us back. If we just relax and let knowledge, compassion and understanding be our guide we start to see that our media gets better, music gets better, our events get better, our food gets amazing! Because we’ve reconnected with that, we’ve understood that. That’s where I am in my world now. Working out how I can grow as a human, how I can be a better person and how I can try and walk my talk.
Ends (2,073 words)