Reality TV: Is The Voice selling a dream that doesn’t exist?

Winning The Voice doesn’t necessarily guarantee you’ll be livin’ la vida loca in the space of a year. DARREN LEVIN reports.

A Sony record deal. Supports for Fall Out Boy, Good Charlotte and Yellowcard. A Nick DiDia-produced debut. Two albums in the ARIA Top 50. To a casual observer Tim Morrison and his band Trial Kennedy were living the dream, but 12 years after forming in bayside Melbourne, the band decided to pack it in after one final jaunt around the country in June. “Girlfriends became casualties to the hard slog of the road,” read a line from their bio, which catalogued the harsh realities of putting your life on the line for a career in music. “You name it, the band went through it.”

Since then, Morrison has settled for something more stable: A job building caravans that he says he loves. But such is the lure of the spotlight, he ended up on The Voice last night as a last-ditch attempt to forge a career in pop. “We had a lot of success, constant touring, supports with international bands,” he lamented in a pre-recorded interview before his performance of U2’s ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’. “It was our day job, it was our night job – just slogging it out for 12 years straight. Without sounding jaded against the whole music business industry, it got to a stage when we could play to 1000 people, come home on a real high and realise we’ve made no money. [I’ve] personally made not a cent.”

But if Morrison thought slogging it out in the pub scene for 12 years was hard, winning The Voice doesn’t necessarily guarantee you’ll be livin’ la vida loca in the space of a year. When the cameras stop rolling, the public stops caring – and that’s when the real challenge begins. Just ask Karise Eden, who was dubbed “the voice of her generation” after winning the competition last year. So is the 20-year-old singer living up to that tag nearly a year on? Well, it’s pretty hard to find out.

With the new series of The Voice underway, we thought we’d check in with Eden to see how things have progressed. The response from management was telling: “Karise is currently in transition to having a new team around her. Until all that is sorted we’ll put these interviews back.” It’s a far cry from July last year, when she was in the midst of the kind of promotional circus usually reserved for the Beyonces and P!nk’s of this world.

“When the cameras stop rolling, the public stops caring – and that’s when the real challenge begins.”

In the weeks following The Voice, the “new Australian queen of soul” seemed to be living up to all the superlatives thrown at her by a judging panel that included Seal, Keith Urban, Delta Goodrem and Good Charlotte’s Joel Madden. Four of her songs – covers of ‘Stay With Me Baby’ and ‘Hallelujah’, an original ‘I Was Your Girl’, and her winning song ‘You Won’t Let Me Down’ – had cracked the ARIA’s Top 5 in one week. The last act to have achieved that feat? The Beatles in 1964. Her album did pretty well, too. Released seven days after her The Voice triumph over Sarah De Bono (remember her?), My Journey debuted at #1 on the ARIA charts and was later certified double platinum, with sales in excess of 140,000. To put that in perspective, she outsold One Direction, The Black Keys and Mumford & Sons in a calendar year.

But once the initial fanfare died down, Eden – a troubled teenager who spent her formative years in women’s refuge centres – retreated back to the NSW Central Coast for a three-month break. “I think the first couple of days I’m just going to stay inside and barricade myself off and turn the phone off and just relax,” she said at the time. “It has been such a crazy few months.” When Eden emerged it was to announce her first run of headline shows, a “Heavenly Sounds” tour of churches in October, which ended prematurely after she contracted the flu in Hobart just four dates in.

Since then she’s played an afternoon slot at last month’s Bluefest – wedged between Saskwatch and Nicky Bomba – and started work on a new album, with her label Universal confirming she’ll have new material out later this year. “People are asking ‘where have you been’ ‘have you quit?’” she posted recently on Facebook. “NO! I haven’t quit … I’ve been writing and recording, moved into a new place and basically ‘getting sorted’ with my personal life, for the new year to come.”

And then came revelations she was flogging her car. In the days leading up to Sunday’s series two curtain-raiser, Eden reportedly put her $36,000 Ford Focus – which she won, along with $100,000 and a record deal with Universal – for sale on Facebook. That post was apparently removed by the request of her label, replaced with some advice, perhaps a warning, to the current crop of contestants: “To the artists – whatever happens just have fun!”

But fun was probably the last thing on Morrison’s mind when he took to the stage last night to belt out ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’. Walking up to the mic, the seasoned performer looked nervous and perhaps a little unsure. “This is about putting myself out on a limb and pushing myself in a different direction,” he said before. “I have a lot to prove to myself.”

Morrison won through to the next round, but he still faces a long road ahead if he wants to win The Voice. And then what? While 12 years in the music scene makes him better equipped than Eden to deal with the inherent pressures, the shopping mall fanfare, and the extreme highs and lows of being a reality TV popstar, all that national exposure is unlikely to equate to a sustainable career in music in this country – and Morrison should know that better than most.

In a piece I wrote recently on how much Australian musicians really make, leading industry accountant Tom Harris said the most you could hope to pull in as a top-tier indie four-piece in Australia was $65,000 a year. “That’s sort of only one or two years while you’re at the top,” he qualified. “You have to back it up with an equally successful album, you have to continue it on, and how many bands can do that for a long period of time?”

As for the major label artist, the Karise Edens of this world, Harris says they’ll need to go overseas – unless you’re Delta, of course. “Delta went nine times platinum [630,000 copies] in Australia, and there are occasional big acts like that, but realistically bands in Australia go overseas the first opportunity they get and that’s just happening more and more now because that’s the only way to really make it … Kylie Minogue, Savage Garden, Jet, Nick Cave, The Temper Trap, they all relocated overseas in order to reach their level of success.”

While unquestionably brave, Morrison’s appearance on The Voice last night speaks of the desperation many artists in Australia face. He’s tasted the highs of a somewhat enviable career near the top of the indie chain, only to come out the other end with not a cent to his name. And if winning The Voice and its TV audience of two million isn’t the solution to his rather modest aim of making a living playing music, then what is?


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