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In this episode Stephanie Eslake editor of cut common speaks to Jazz musician, educator and music producer Matthew Boden. Stephanie asks Matthew about his perspectives on music‘s infatuation with excellence, and the positive and negative impact this has on the industry.

The pair discuss making music education applicable, and adaptive to provide context and opportunities in a fast moving industry, and discuss how through education students can experience real life industry situations. Matthew also talks about his ongoing career working as a professional Music producer scoring for the screen and working with orchestras around the world.


Text transcript


Stephanie Eslake (00:08):

Hi, Matt. It's great to chat with you here in Hobart for music Tasmania. Thanks for joining us.

Matt Boden (00:13):

My pleasure. Thanks for having me Steph. Mm.

Stephanie Eslake (00:15):

Now you've developed so many careers in music simultaneously. You're a widely recorded jazz pianist. You're a music educator at the university of Tasmania, although views are your own, and you're an orchestrator working on film soundtracks around the world. So I think it's safe to start you off with a pretty tough question. Are you ready?

Matt Boden (00:33):

<laugh> absolutely bring it on.

Stephanie Eslake (00:34):

Good. I wanna know what you think about this idea of excellence cause musicians like you are taught to work really hard and they practice for years to achieve perfection. And we often think about successful musicians as elite artists, which can be damaging too. What does excellence mean to you and how should we approach it as an industry?

Matt Boden (00:53):

That you're right. That's a hard question, but a really good one. Um, <laugh> got me from the get go. Um, so excellence, I think, um, and you mentioned the word elite for performers, which I think is really interesting. I think there are a few angles on this topic. The first one being obviously the comparison to the sports world, we talk about elite athletes and the AIS and training and all of that kind of thing. And often the parallels are drawn, which I'm not particularly comfortable with. I don't think music should be a competitive sport. Um, and I think excellence is actually in the eye of the beholder in the audience. I do think musicians spend too much time thinking about excellence and what it means. And I think there are hangups for whatever reason on technical ability as being a measure of excellence. And of course, you know, your ability to, uh, play an instrument or, uh, work, find your way around a door or, um, manage 120 piece orchestra on the page or whatever it might be, um, or, you know, improvised to a high level within certain, uh, musical languages.

Matt Boden (01:50):

I think all of these things are difficult to achieve and require time on task and all of these kind of things. But as far as excellence goes, there's only one real metric for me. And that is, does it move the audience? Can you communicate something about humanity? Can you say something from the heart? Um, I think some of the best technicians can leave an audience very cold and people who don't necessarily have what we would consider technical outstanding technical ability can, you know, very easily move an audience. So I think the idea of excellence being tied to technical ability only is, um, is a falsehood.

Stephanie Eslake (02:24):

Mm we're gonna come back to a few things in there, but let's sort of, uh, talk a bit more about your interest in jazz. You traveled to Europe and then you came home to settle back here in Tasmania again. So why was this sort of jazz and improvisation, a sort of form of music making you a really connected with to the extent that you built your life around it, traveling all over the world. And it's,

Matt Boden (02:47):

Uh, it's a really good question cause it's hard to put a finger on, but I think at the end of the day, that music, uh, which I obviously still play and am very much involved with, um, is to me one of the highest forms of self, if you can progress to a point on your instrument where technique is not limiting you anymore, then you have to acquire a command of various, uh, improvised languages. And, um, for me, the attraction was the language of, um, the forties and fifties in America of, of, of B, B essentially. Yeah, for me, there's no, there's no greater feeling than being on the bandstand with a bunch of like-minded peers and, um, being able to turn on a dime and go anywhere in the music.

Stephanie Eslake (03:28):

So coming out of this life as a performing artist, what was the turning point where you realized you wanted to go to work in music education as well?

Matt Boden (03:36):

That had always been there? Um, I think because I'd had such great teachers from a young age who were also players and still involved in the scene, it all just felt part of the whole ecosystem. And I've always, you know, taught in various guys and to greater or lesser extents, um, over the years. But I think for me, yeah, it's just, it's part and parcel. I feel a responsibility and a duty to pass on what I can from the Jazze obviously I'm, you know, I'm so far removed from the source, but I've tried to acquire as much as I can over the years and to, to pass on, you know, not, not just the, the music itself, but the feeling for it and the, um, the enthusiasm for that music. And hopefully that, you know, sparks people on their own journeys. Music education for me is more, more about giving back than anything else. But it's also about allowing people, uh, in this day and age, the space to think creatively, to think entrepreneurial, to try and find themselves if that doesn't sound a bit too hippy DVY, but you know what I mean? Especially once you get into the higher education sector, having some kind of space and, and a moment to breathe where you can find your feet, figure out what you want out of life and out of music in particular. So making and creating that space for people is, is really important.

Stephanie Eslake (04:45):

Mm. Speaking of the higher education sector, tell me a bit about what you do in your role at the university of Tasmania. And it's interesting that you said that part of what you sort of value as a music educator is giving back, not only in the sense that you are giving theory and technical education, but you're giving passion back as well. So how does that kind of fit in with your, your role at uni?

Matt Boden (05:07):

Initially when I moved back to Tassie, I was teaching casually, um, picking up, uh, whatever needed to be done around the place while I got on with my PhD. And then the opportunity arose to take on more of a full-time tenured position, which was fantastic. Mm.

Stephanie Eslake (05:22):

Which year did you start?

Matt Boden (05:22):

2016. So my roles there, well, I started out obstensibly as a contemporary lecture. We'll come back to more problematic terms later, taking on jazz theory in history at that point, um, doing some, uh, you know, Western art, music theory, tutoring, ensembles, performance, whatever it was. And now, uh, I've set up the commercial music creation stream there, which deals basically with music for media scoring. And I also teach 'em the music technology teach across almost all streams there in some way, shape or form, or I'm involved with all musics, which is how I like it. Um, I'm not into this idea of siloing and, you know, separating things out. So going back to what you mentioned about passing on passion, that's something you can't teach, but it's something you can just show. And by talking about what I do in the real world and trying to involve students in that where I can, and, you know, show them the professional ropes and how things are done in the simulator as we call it, trying to keep it as close as possible to reality is, you know, what I'm there for.

Stephanie Eslake (06:16):

Mm. Is this kind of idea of showing emerging musicians and, and music workers, how the industry actually looks in real life and inspiring passion that way. Is that sort of what you would kind of imagine might be an ideal form of music education, because it is definitely moving away from the more conventional, like curriculum based sort of do an exam, do an assignment that kind of paperwork.

Matt Boden (06:38):

Yes. So, yeah. Uh, I think where we're going down here and I think we have the opportunity to do this in Tasi, perhaps more than other places I'd like to think we can be flexible and reactive to what happens in industry, as it changes at such an enormous pace. And, um, you know, universities are tend to be reactive in that manner. So, um, I'm hoping we can be more proactive in that space. Yeah. I'm trying to create, trying to create experiences for students where they can partake in projects, uh, that are more or less the same as they would happen in the real world with the same horrific deadlines. And, um, you know, the pressure that comes with that. But without, you know, without having to actually put any money on the line or your reputation on the line, you can try it out in the simulator and see how you go.

Matt Boden (07:24):

The converse to that is because Tasie is so disconnected. Um, physically from the rest of the world, it is very different space down here. Um, and what I love about Tassie is Tassie doesn't care who you are. You could show up here from Hollywood with the biggest, uh, reputation and all this stuff under the belt, and people wouldn't know who you are and they won't really care, which I think is really empowering <laugh>. And I think it's actually a great thing about Tassie. Tassie's a great leveler. The, the, the converse to that is, um, it's hard to then convey the intense pressures and demands that come with operating in the real world, especially as what we do as musicians and how the business structures, uh, exist and payment structures exist. You know, people have a fixed image in their mind of, you know, salaries and wages and getting paid on a fortnightly basis, which obviously isn't what happens in music. So you've actually gotta go quite a long way and go pretty hard before you can start earning some kind of consistent income. And I think that can put people off. So there's, you know, I do love the space that we can get down here to get things done. I would like to think I'm trying to bring some of that rigor of the real world in as well, but, you know, everyone's gotta figure it out for themselves,

Stephanie Eslake (08:30):

But how do you simulate that real world experience and not gloss over those sorts of challenges that people have along the way? How do you sort of create passion for people and not help them remain oblivious to all the difficulties they're gonna face when they pop out of the education system and have decades ahead of, of financial hardship of burnout, of, uh, competition of all these challenges.

Matt Boden (08:54):

So, um, yeah, to give an example of that, uh, what happened last year for my second years, uh, we, I asked them all to score a short clip from a movie, uh, you know, five, six minutes, um, do, uh, create a mock up of that in signaling software. Then we'd get it out of that onto paper, print it out and have the orchestra perform it. Then they'd have to produce a hybrid mix, which is samples and real instruments. After the fact I do all I can to make it real world. I mean, obviously they've got a longer lead time for composition than you would have in the real world, but once that's completed the process, then the timelines from finishing that to getting everything prepared onto paper, having it professionally, as close as they can professionally printed, and then we bind it. Then we record from that moment onwards.

Matt Boden (09:37):

It's very much real world. And I say, well, if it's not right now, it's not gonna come out in the wash. That's okay. Live through the process, observe what you can do better. Next time. Don't worry the product isn't going out in the world. If it screws up, no one cares. We're not worried about it, but I'm observing how you deal with the process and what you're learning along the way and how you're reflecting along the way. So that hopefully I'm gonna show you the door. I'm gonna show you how to do these things. This is an expected process. Hopefully you can go through that, lock it away and go right next time I have to do this. I know where the bar is. So, and what I'm trying to do all the time down there is this has to be processed focused. I I'm much less interested in the product at this stage. If you can get the process under control, your product will be good. Eventually,

Stephanie Eslake (10:25):

I guess, one of the things that I'd wanted to ask you about your work at the university as well, is how, even though you are creating these opportunities for students, how do you find the experience of working in an academic environment and how can you be creative within that?

Matt Boden (10:40):

It's interesting because yes, obviously universities have existed for a very long time. Traditionally conservate trials were not part of university structures. Music skills often existed independently, but now we've been brought into the fold, you know, which presents its own challenges. The, the academic part of what we do, um, is still important, um, is still crucial actually for students, they need to be able to write and express themselves in the written form. And there are things that, you know, everyone should be able to get their head around. The academic space is still a creative space, uh, as long as you approach it that way mm.

Stephanie Eslake (11:14):

Approaching that space from sort of a research perspective or from this portfolio building perspective, sort of makes me think of the question. At what point can these musicians be musicians? Is it even enough in this era and the way that the industry is looking with so much turning to digital sides and collaboration and, and what things are gonna look like in a COVID and post COVID music industry, is it enough for a musician just to play their instrument? <laugh>

Matt Boden (11:43):

I mean, I always think it should be, if we're talking about music as a profession, if, if the end goal is, uh, for a performer to be as good as they possibly can be, then I, I think pursue that to all ends and, you know, to the exclusion of all else, I still think I always have done. And I still think universities are a great place to meet your future colleagues. The people you're gonna be working with in the industry, from here on out. I still work with people I met over 20 years ago at or around 20 years ago at the Victorian college of the arts and people I went to, um, Utah with and people I met on the scene in Europe. It's about social networking, more than anything else in many respects, of course, it's space and time to figure yourself out, get better at your instrument, learn to write all that kind of stuff, uh, progress your art form, but it's very much about networking.

Matt Boden (12:31):

And, um, I think that needs to be, uh, further in focus than it is at the moment. And maybe that's just me looking back through, through the years and thinking I could have taken advantage of that a little better, but yeah, I think, uh, given the way the industry's going, it does scare me a little bit in post COVID times, how much the Australian industry has shrunk. However, we're artists, we adapt. We're good at shifting. We're good at, and I hate this term. We're good at pivoting. You know, the, the potential is, is in the eye of the beholder. I mean, I, I'm not too worried about the industry. I think we'll be fine.

Stephanie Eslake (13:03):

Yeah. When it comes to the idea of adapting, which, uh, often requires musicians to work together, to find new solutions to things and combining that with the idea of networking, uh, and how you met a lot of your future colleagues when you were studying this brings to mind something that I'd like to talk to you about quite candidly, which is the idea of stigma surrounding who you are networking with. So you have, for example, you have the classical musicians in a university or beyond university even, and then you have contemporary musicians and often one will judge the other. So perhaps the classical musicians are a bit pompous or the contemporary musicians, uh, from a completely different world. How can we stop those ridiculous and very long held and very common, uh, perceptions and stigmas, and actually embrace working together. And I'll have a disclaimer that my background is classical. So I'm from the pompous side. Apparently <laugh>

Matt Boden (14:02):

See. I've mean you, you're showing you're inherent bias by calling yourself POS oh yeah. You know, this is, um, it, all of these things, I, I just find the labeling and the siloing utterly ridiculous. I always have done, I find it frustrating. And, uh, I've been on the receiving end of both sides of the, the fence when, you know, cuz I exist in, in multiple worlds. I, I, I think of myself as a musician. Sure. I identify as a jazz pianist, but I also identify as a screen composer and I'm, you know, I love all music and I'm interested in all music. I just, I, I get utterly frustrated with this stupid schoolyard rubbish that goes on from all camps of music that look down their nose at the other side, whichever the other side happens to be at that point in time. And often this is institutionalized through, um, unfortunately through, uh, through state actors who get funding, um, through, uh, unfortunately through schools and universities too.

Matt Boden (14:57):

These things have been baked in for decades and decades and decades. It's the 20, it's the 21st century for goodness sake. I mean, we really need to get over this. So with my role in the industry and in the education sector, I gotta tear these walls down. We've all gotta have, make a concerted effort to play nicely in the sandpit and you know, appreciate what other people do. There's just this, um, prejudice that exists. <laugh> I just find it amazing that we're at this point of, you know, the indu, the music world eating its own rather than standing up for one another and saying, hang on, no, this is all very valuable. This is all interesting. And it can all feed into all sorts of different areas. It doesn't just have to be siloed. And this doesn't mean we let go of excellence, which is often, I think an underlying concern excellence can be someone who is mastered Paganini and um, you know, can play anything on the violin.

Matt Boden (15:53):

For example, that's an incredibly demanding instrument to learn, to play to an expressive level. And this is where I think I'm going with this. That is just as excellent as a guitarist who can, you know, string four or five chords together, but can say just as much emotionally with that, or it can mean as much as a jazz trail. It can mean as much as, uh, it can mean as much as, you know, minimal screen music writing. The point is excellence is tied up with how we value things. And what I value in music is emotional connection. Often excellence is in quite is equated with, um, outstanding technique, but that's not enough if you can't convey something human via, whatever music you're engaged in, then you're not excellent.

Stephanie Eslake (16:38):

So if your idea of excellence is intertwined with human emotion, how does excellence differ from the perspective of a listener compared to the perspective of a musician? Because a listener can observe excellence and be taken aback and have a really, uh, deep connection with music, but a musician might, uh, feel that excellence is something that's hard to obtain and the source of a lot of pain, to be honest, depending on how much pressure is applied with it,

Matt Boden (17:08):

That's very true. You know, often audiences will react to the human, the humanness of the music and the, and the, the emotional character that's, that's being carried in there. And they don't give two hoots about technique musicians get so hung up on all of this stuff, um, that is to do with, you know, bettering their craft. And that's fine. Um, and it can be torturous. I mean, spent far too long in practice rooms and staring at screens in front of sequences still do love it, but <laugh>, it can be, you know, long and torturous, but then anything worthwhile is difficult.

Stephanie Eslake (17:42):

I feel like we need to

Matt Boden (17:44):


Stephanie Eslake (17:45):

Uh, unpack the last bit in a mental health perspective. Sure. Um, if I can be candid about it, it sounds like that's sort of along the lines of artists must suffer for their work

Matt Boden (17:57):

<laugh> yeah. And that's a terrible cliche and that's not really what I mean. I mean, I, I guess anything, um, striving for anything is gonna involve hard work. And at the same time, I think that's a process of transformation. And when you can get to a point where you have, um, enough craft to be, uh, realizing what's in your musical imagination, the hard work becomes serious fun, but I think artists have to work hard, but there can be a lot of enjoyment in that process.

Stephanie Eslake (18:27):

Tell me about the business play, pause record.

Matt Boden (18:30):

Um, play pauses record is a company, uh, a music services company in Melbourne owned by, uh, mark by and Briany bys. Um, and I work, uh, for them as a contractor I've been working with, uh, mark now for over 10 years within that business world. And, uh, we describe ourselves as, as a music services enterprise, which means that we do everything from composition to orchestration, to synth programming, to, uh, preparing sheet music for screen and stage to all sorts of things that the music business is all about. So it's, yeah, it's a multifaceted company and we, uh, we work really well together. We've got very complimentary skill sets from different genres and different capabilities on different instruments. We record with, you know, various orchestras around the planet for, and, and contract those orchestras for, especially for composer clients that within orchestrate for. So there's, I'm jumping around a bit, but the, the, the fact of the matter is we, if there's a music services to be provided, we can do it. And we act not only in and of ourselves, but we are contractors. So we will, if a composer requires an orchestra, we'll hire one, if they need to be, uh, connected with O other producers and, um, you know, hopefully we can make things happen. So we're a bit of a, we're a bit of a hub.

Stephanie Eslake (19:43):

Mm I'd like to learn more about that sort of, uh, the running of a music business. But first you had just mentioned so many different skill sets that your business supplies, and it is a very small business and you physically work on so many of those different tasks. So I am just wondering how you came out from your education as a jazz pianist and now teaching at the university and somehow obtained all of these skills along the way. Like at what point did you learn them? And also is it necessary for musicians to adopt and eat up as many skills as they possibly can to be successful in, in a variety of ways in their music careers?

Matt Boden (20:18):

Absolutely. I'll jump on that last thing you said. Yes. Yes, yes. Obtain as many skills as you can in as many different areas as you can. So you can't just rely on being a performer. You can't just rely on being a composer. You can't just rely on being an engineer. Hopefully you have a very multifaceted skill set that will make you employable. A lot of these skills I've acquired is just by having the, um, courage to continually screw up, make mistakes, and, um, keep getting better at it. I think I was addicted from very early on to hearing the stuff that you put on the page played. It was a thrill, you know, even if it sucked or if it was bad, or if it was, you know, wasn't even performed particularly well, or it was the wrong kind of Tesa chair or whatever, who cares, you know, music got played and I got a buzz outta that. So it's always been there.

Stephanie Eslake (21:04):

I feel like that's really rare and maybe terrifying for some people to think of the idea of making mistakes and failing, because when you're talking about music, people are on the stage and if they fail, it's in a very public way, <laugh>,

Matt Boden (21:15):

<laugh>, that's true, but that's all part and parcel. You know, I <laugh>, I, although I must admit, um, I steads for the thing that put me off that kind of environment for a very long time. <laugh> because I, I'm just not interested in music as sport in that manner. And I failed miserably at it, tried to memorize a Beethoven Sonata, got up and froze halfway through cuz I was 14 for goodness's sake. No one should put that much pressure on a teenager. Um, but anyway, you know, I learned a lot from that and pick myself up and got on with it. But I think filing is absolutely imperative. If you're not failing, you're not learning, you're not growing. You've gotta try stuff. You've gotta live on the ragged edge. Otherwise everything's, if everything's too safe, there's just no way through it. So for me, the, the, the arranging and orchestrating and composing kind of grew organically out of my curiosity around music.

Matt Boden (22:05):

And I've always been transcribing and pulling things to bits. And then when I started working with mark, that that began basically because mark knew that I knew my way around music software and knew how to cobble together arrangements and bits and pieces. Um, and then he took the leap of faith on me and said, right, I want to get you to orchestrate one cue on the next film session I'm doing. And he walked me through the process, you know, pointed me to several different resources. Uh, as far as orchestration goes said, well, here's, here's the bar. Here's what you need to do. Are you up for it? And I said, hell yes, I'm up for it. Let's go. So I'm, uh, I've had a great mentor in that space, but most of this is through she bloody hard work and determination. And this is what I mean by serious fun. I don't lose myself for hours in transcribing carrying on and arranging and figuring out exactly well, alright, we've got a triple wins orchestra, Rimsky go golf rules of three rules of five. Hmm. What are we gonna do here? We're gonna double this with the violas. Maybe not hang on. What are theos up to, you know, I lose myself in this for hours and I love it.

Stephanie Eslake (23:05):

That sounds just as much about problem solving as it does about music.

Matt Boden (23:09):

Absolutely. And I think you've hit upon something there that it is very much about problem solving, you know, the mu and the music happens to be a happy byproduct in this case. But thinking back through things, I'm very systems oriented too, grew up around computers and pulling them to bits and putting them back together again and figuring out what makes things work. So, um, yeah, problem solving.

Stephanie Eslake (23:28):

Hmm. So with this business, what are some of the big projects that you've been working on?

Matt Boden (23:33):

Um, we've done all sorts of things over the years. Um, at the moment, uh, we're finishing up the score for the next show at the Melbourne planetarium. Um, we are about to wrap, uh, uh, a horror movie, an Australian horror movie, which is great. That's been have a lot of fun too. Both those projects have been excellent and totally different, um, totally different sound palettes and, uh, um, and ways of going about things. We published, uh, a library music city with, uh, evolution media in the UK. Um, we've done everything from feature films, uh, Australian feature films, European feature films through to, uh, involvement with the orchestration of some games like battlefield, one from electronic arts. We've been involved in all sorts of processes and, and projects. Um, and they're all different. And they're all really interesting. And that's the great thing I love about this part of the business is the variety. Variety is the spice of life for some appreciate,

Stephanie Eslake (24:25):

You know what I mean? <laugh> yeah. <laugh> how, how is it possible that being in Tasmania yourself and, and an Australian business play pause record, how do you land international clients of that scale?

Matt Boden (24:38):

That's having been out there and made the networks? Um, so these, these things are very much about networks. So as we were saying earlier, the more people you meet, the merrier, it it's quite interesting. I think the music world is still small all over the world, even though there's hundreds of thousands of musicians all over the planet, the, the, the connectivity is very much there. And the biggest thing you can do is engender trust in people from there. If they trust you, they will recommend you and onwards you go. The other part of that is obviously professionalism. And, uh, what I term overdelivering, whatever the spec is, go over and above to, to make life easy for whoever you are working for and make the project as, as good as it possibly can be. Um, I'm detouring little here, but you know what I mean? <laugh>

Stephanie Eslake (25:22):

Yeah, no, I fear that this news may come as intimidating to those people who are very focused on perhaps being in the studio and doing the work and now have to think, oh, no, unless I'm out there networking with people and actually talking to people face to face, I'm not gonna make it <laugh>

Matt Boden (25:39):

Unfortunately it is a reality, you know, to be clear I'm, I'm I find it difficult. Um, I can I find it rather intimidating at, at heart, I'm an introvert. I love to spend my time CLO to the way in the studio or at a piano. That's where things are great, but you know, it's a truism of the industry. It's not what, you know, it's who, you know, that's also a terrible cliche and it's not true. It is what you know, and it is who, you know, but they are equally important. So, sorry, folks, you gotta get out there.

Stephanie Eslake (26:08):

<laugh> yeah. I suppose at least one of the benefits of networking specifically in the music industry is that you are talking with other people about something that you all love. Yes. So I would, I would like to think that makes it a little bit easier, or even a pleasant experience to some people, no matter if they're introverts, which I also am.

Matt Boden (26:27):

<laugh>. Yeah. And I, I think that's a really good way to look at it because then it becomes not about hustling. It becomes about connecting and actually making friends and meeting people who have the same passions and interests. And that's cool. You know, be there, be interested, take part, chat to people, go to events, go to screenings, go to gigs, you know, just be around. It will happen from there. And yeah, don't hustle. Hustling's not cool. <laugh>

Stephanie Eslake (26:52):

That sounds like excellent advice to wrap up our lovely conversation with. So thank you so very much for, for being here and talking with us for music Tasmania, Matt,

Matt Boden (27:01):

My absolute pleasure. Thanks for having me.


Music Tasmania acknowledges Tasmanian Aboriginal people as the traditional owners of this island, lutruwita (Tasmania). We pay our respects to elders past and present and acknowledge traditional peoples' connection to country. We respect the traditions and customs of the Aboriginal people of lutruwita, who remain the custodians of these lands.