FEATURE ARTICLE: What does it take to be a mum in the music industry? An interview with Fiona Duncan.

Posted 14 May 2020

FEATURE ARTICLE: What does it take to be a mum in the music industry? An interview with Fiona Duncan.

This week we have captured an inspiring and heart-felt interview from Jane Gazzo who spoke with a number of women about how they have navigated their successful careers and family life. Fiona Duncan, band manager of Spiderbait, Arts Events Officer and Mother of 4 shared a snippet into her life.

Image Source: Australian Music Vault, Music Industry Mums, Fiona Duncan and family

Fiona Duncan grew up in Beaumaris, Victoria. For over 25 years she has managed ARIA winning rock group Spiderbait and more recently has joined the Greater City of Geelong as Arts Events Officer.

Fiona lives in Geelong with her husband, 4 children, 2 dogs, 3 chickens and 1 fish.

What is your earliest musical memory?

ABBA and my love for them was absolute. My friends and I would “play” ABBA at recess, lunchtime, on the school bus, on weekends, any moment we could. I was always Anna. When they played at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl I desperately sat by the phone after school every day trying to win tickets on 3XY. I have never really recovered from the trauma of not going to that concert.

Now, any concert my kids want to see I try my darndest to get tickets to. It helps heal my childhood trauma – even if it means I have had to sit through numerous Taylor Swift and Katy Perry concerts!

What was your childhood like? How were you raised?

It was the 1970s so it was a heady mix of old school strict with a big slug of larrikin booze culture. Roaming free, no blood alcohol testing for drivers, no seatbelts in the back seat, and trampolines without safety nets…I don’t even know how I’m alive!

Dad and his friends would get pissed and jump off the roof of the house or go for nude runs around the streets. Our neighbor was former footballer Tom Hafey – he must have been horrified by the undisciplined larrikins. Mum thankfully was the complete opposite of dad.

How did you see your mother’s values in action when you were growing up?

Mum was a child psychologist and a very smart and academic woman. She was very interested in economics and financially literate. She was always lecturing me on her morals and values until they were drilled into my brain like a mantra. She was strict and high expectations of us.

  • Always have your own money for independence
  • Never marry and become a housekeeper
  • Make sure you have a career
  • Never give a woman a kitchen appliance as a gift
  • Whatever you do, work hard at it
  • Read books all the time

I remember when I first met my now husband, one of the first things I said to him was “I’m never getting married.” Seven years later he caught me in an oxygen-deprived weak moment and I agreed to marry him. I was actually really scared to tell my mum I was getting married for fear of her reaction!

When did you know you wanted to work in music industry?

Melbourne radio station 3XY was running a competition for two kids to win a role in the new Mi-Sex film clip for the song ‘Castaway’ (1982). A friend of mine was super keen so I agreed to wag school and go along as her buddy.

The competition involved hundreds of kids hanging around outside the 3XY building whilst Ian ‘Molly’ Meldrum wandered through the crowd to pick two kids. Weirdly he picked me. It was an awkward moment as I was really only there as an onlooker and to score a sticker. My friend wasn’t too impressed.

I then had to make the phone call to my parents to explain why I wasn’t at school and why I was at 3XY. Oh, and could I fly to Sydney to be in a film clip? Being taken inside the radio station with Molly, flown to Sydney, all the behind the scenes action – makeup, costume, catering, being up-close with the band, the film crew, the music pumping – how could I not fall in love with music industry with that experience?

I studied a Bachelor of Business Marketing at university. It was a natural progression to combine that degree with my love of music into a career.

Were there any female mentors you felt you could call upon when you started out in the music industry or did you have to navigate your own path?

I didn’t have any mentors. It was very much stumbling along my own path. I didn’t feel like there were many people I could turn to in the music industry and when Spiderbait exploded in the early ‘90s I felt so overwhelmed and out of my depth.

I wasn’t confident enough to ask for help because as a woman in management, I felt I had to over-deliver to prove myself and that asking for help would see me as a failure. For a while I was so overwhelmed and alone in that space that I became depressed. It’s one of the main lessons I tell anyone who will listen – speak up if you don’t know. It shows strength to acknowledge a gap in knowledge and I’ve since discovered people do love to help. Women nowadays are so well connected and supportive with each other. The industry back when I was starting was such a boys club.

When I had children, I didn’t have anyone else in the industry I felt I could talk to or share with and sadly, I often found other women to be the least supportive. The most unquestioning support came from two men who worked high-up in Australian record companies. They were both heads of the respective companies which Spiderbait were signed to. I am forever grateful to them both.

A couple of years ago I was invited to the One of One women in music industry breakfast in Melbourne and I was so overwhelmed by emotion. All these women in the industry were supporting each other and speaking openly about the challenges, fears, and issues they were dealing with. I am so happy the industry has changed for the better.

Did you worry about how you would make motherhood and the music industry work?

Oh my goodness, yes! Anyone who got pregnant and had a baby seemed to disappear from the industry back then. I didn’t stop to think how it would impact my career but everyone else had already decided I was out of the game. No way was I accepting that. It never crossed my mind.

I had no music industry mother friends. I coped by shutting down into my cave and just got on with it and tried to survive. My partner is incredible and took over when I had to go on tour or interstate for record company meetings or overseas. There’s lots of women who have children now working in the industry its fantastic to see. It makes me sadder in hindsight that I was so alone in that experience. I do have to say though, that juggling motherhood and the music industry made me a better manager. I was always focused and spent my time wisely. I’m also pleased to say Spiderbait had some of their biggest successes in terms of chart results and record and ticket sales in my motherhood years.

Was there a time when it fell apart? Or felt like it was?

There’s moments every day! This has especially happened since starting working full time out of the house with the City of Geelong council. It’s great work but juggling full time work with 4 school age kids is full on! The guilt and sense of failure is real! With my eldest there were a couple of years when I missed every assembly that she was presented with an award due to Spiderbait’s hectic touring schedule. It doesn’t sound like big deal now but at the time it gutted me, but this the experience of many working mother’s in all industries.

Did you ever feel like you needed to be superhuman?

Yes! Being a full-time mum can be exhausting and rewarding. Same thing goes for working in the music industry so combining the two can be a crazy exhilarating ride that takes you to the edge. Being a woman and a mother standing strong in a male dominated industry while holding down a household and raising kids is super challenging.

I remember traveling to the US to negotiate Spiderbait’s record deal with Interscope Records whilst 30 weeks pregnant (having to fudge my dates to be allowed to travel internationally) and leaving behind my 19 month old at home.

Then in 2004, Spiderbait’s single ‘Black Betty’ was the highest selling rock single for Universal Music Australia at that time. I managed the band as a solo manager throughout this time without any assistance, through the death of my father, the birth of my 2nd baby Max and whilst having a 20 month toddler to wrangle all at the same time. I definitely felt like a super-human! The following few years saw the band flying high, touring and releasing and I was hanging on by the skin of teeth. But we all survived and live to tell the tale. And I went on to have more kids! Thank god for my beautiful partner and friends.

How do you balance your time with kids/hubby and family time?

It’s such a juggle and I feel like I fail at everything at different times. In COVID social distancing I am loving being busy but then taking some time out to relax with my family. We try our best and hug a lot and I tell I love them every day so if I’m missing in action at some key moments, they’ll remember the love (fingers crossed). When I fail I just tell them I’m giving them material to discuss with their counsellors when they’re older!

READ THE FULL ARTICLE HERE: https://www.australianmusicvault.com.au

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