From punk rocker to music scholar

Monday 2 September 2013

Dr Sam Bennett, a former punk and alternative rock performer and one of the School of Music’s newest recruits, talks to NATASSJA HOOGSTAD HAY about where her love of music came from and why she has landed her dream job.

Dr Sam Bennett, was raised on music.

“My father was a singer, guitarist, and DJ. He was obsessed with collecting records so most of my childhood memories are of listening to records, going to gigs and weekends spent in record stores. As a young child, I saw bands like Queen and the Rolling Stones, which was an enormous influence.”

Sam joined the ANU’s School of Music as a Senior Lecturer in July this year, relocating from London, her home of 21 years, with her Canberran husband and front of house sound engineer, Clem, and their 7-year old son.

Sam, who was previously a senior lecturer at the University of Westminster, is spearheading new courses at the School of Music.

With a background in alternative music culture rather than elite classical training, she says this is her “dream job”, because it allows her the luxury of creating new courses and building the School’s capabilities in her areas of expertise: popular music, music technology, recording and production.

The School of Music is looking to position itself as a springboard for students’ music careers; striking a balance between teaching practical skills and industry know-how in addition to the traditional, academic side to music, she says.

Sam’s musical education began well before she finished school, and she credits her musician father with putting on her career path: “because of my upbringing, music was a natural choice for me,” she says.

Sam Bennett performingHer father’s varied musical tastes, she says, also gave her a well-rounded understanding of modern pop and rock music, including its foundation in styles such as folk, blues and soul. Sam learned to play guitar throughout her teenage years and went straight into performing in the London music scene, playing in punk rock bands after leaving school.

Working in the industry is where Sam developed an interest in music recording and sound engineering. For a while she split her time between recording and performing before eventually dedicating all her efforts to the production side. She spent time working as a sound engineer in two London studios before moving into teaching, but continues to be involved in commercial production – in 2012 she produced the debut album for 6-piece UK shoegaze band Sheen.

She has been teaching for the past decade, and co-authored the UK’s Foundation Degree program in music technology. Sam has a Postgraduate Certificate in Education from the Institute of Education, University of London, a Master’s degree in audio technology and a PhD from the University of Surrey.

Working on her PhD (funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council) under Professor Allan Moore, which examined technology, the recording process and the effect this has on the music we hear, was, Sam says: “one of the best times of my life.”

“I got to spend a great deal of time in music studios and interview engineers and producers like Steve Albini and Stephen Street. It was really like completing the circle for me, meeting my heroes who recorded and produced the music I’d listened to as a kid.”

During Sam’s career alone, the music industry has undergone radical changes. “The internet has changed everything – the production, distribution and consumption of music,” she says. “For example, many people are streaming music, and you’ll see performances uploaded to YouTube within seconds of a live show.”

The development of cheaper, software-based production tools and distribution of music online and through social media means the industry has undergone something of a democratisation.

From the musician’s perspective, it’s about more than the performance. “These days, musicians need to be jacks of all trades, and learn about marketing, business, distribution and social media, says Sam.

“The key is entrepreneurship – finding a gap and carving out your own career.”

Updated:  25 October 2013/Responsible Officer:  Head of School/Page Contact:  CASS Marketing & Communications