“Career? I can’t even really use the word ‘career’. It doesn’t feel like a career to me. It just feels like pursuing what I’ve been passionate about.”
Twenty-plus years as the drummer for punk-rock band Gyroscope, has afforded Rob Nassif the opportunity to develop dynamic career portfolio as a musician, rehearsal studio owner and band manager. Aside from being the group’s drummer, he owns The Hen House Rehearsal Studios in Perth, and manages Perth band, The Faim, all from his base in New York.
Growing up in Perth, Rob began playing in the band in his mid-teens. Passionate and determined, the band prioritised rehearsing and performing from day one.
“Gyroscope pursued it like raging animals. Our first year out of high school we played 110 shows just in Perth. I still, to this day, don’t know another band that’s done that. It’s hard to actually play that many shows in Perth… So we were actually playing twice a week, rehearsing twice a week; four out of seven days a week we were pursuing it.”
While the band has achieved considerable success and recognition in Australia, having toured the country extensively, been signed to a range of large scale independent and major labels, while also being nominated for several Australian Record Industry Association (ARIA) Awards, winning numerous WA Music Industry (WAMI) Awards, a J Award and Channel V Award, it took the band over a decade to become established and for the members to earn a liveable wage.
It was during this time that Rob studied a Commerce degree at university (“the marketing and advertising has helped”), and financially supported himself by working in retail and at RNR Rehearsal Studios which he would later purchase and rebrand as the Hen House. It was 2008 before the band were able to draw a liveable salary, which was a “huge moment” for Rob who had begun questioning his decision to pursue music a few years earlier.
“When you get to 25, 26, you start to think, ‘yes, it’s good, I’m having fun, but I’ve also now toured the country seven times; [but] still make no money.’ You start to worry about your future a little bit. So that’s where the challenges come as you get older, and that’s where you have to keep the steely nerve that this is worth pursing and what you’re passionate about.”
The band’s 2008 release, Breed Obsession was their most successful to date, reaching number one on the ARIA Charts, and achieving Gold [35,000 units] sales, while facilitating significant opportunities to undertake headline tours of Australia and as a part of national touring festivals. The album was originally intended to be the band’s last, but as Rob explains,
“It all changed. Breed Obsession did great for us; Cohesion [released in 2010] did great for us; then the rehearsal studio and then the second rehearsal studio. It’s been charmed; really it’s been great.”
The challenges of sticking it out in the early days of a music career have provided Rob with a great deal of insight as he moves forward into other realms of the music industry. In 2010 he established the Hen House and started managing Perth band The Faim in 2015. With new opportunities come new challenges, as he reflects,
“By the time I had this space I really had accomplished being a musician and I was on a salary… It was challenging because I was still touring with the band, so it forced me to have to trust staff, create systems to run the business.”
A strong support network has been vital to the development and sustaining of Rob’s career. As a musician, strong management and supportive record label employees have supported a positive career trajectory for the band, while the network of local musicians in Perth has supported the Hen House, as he explains:
I’d been in the Perth music scene for ten years, longer, 12, 13 years; I knew everybody. So I literally messaged everyone and I said, “Hey, come and rehearse and hang out with me.” So we were able to go from a really low number of bands a week, in the space of six months to tripling the number of bands; [to] quadrupling.
Being based in Perth, the need to overcome long distances and in order to reach audiences on the east coast of the country, and to take advantage of opportunities such as performing as part of the annual South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas, have seen Rob utilise a range of competitive grants schemes. He recognises their vital importance in supporting these endeavours, explaining,
“[Grants] can be the difference between a band succeeding and not succeeding; that’s the reality of it. It sounds like pretty heavy stuff. It never comes down to just that; no band is going to succeed just because they got grants, of course not; but it can be the difference in giving bands a bit more time and opportunity.”
Rob continues to draw on his experiences in the day to day pursuit of his career, places a high value on learning through doing, as he explains, “I tell all the bands here: it’s great that you rehearse, and you need to rehearse, but one show is equal to ten rehearsals, really. That’s my motto.”
Having lived through the upheavals of a shift toward, and then away, from the major label system, the digitisation of the sector (“[2010’s Cohesion] made us more money than Breed Obsession from a touring perspective, but we sold less albums”), Rob sees distribution as on the biggest challenges to the sector. Reflecting on this and the ongoing importance of radio,
“Spotify, you put it up there and anyone in the world can listen to it. That’s great about the distribution. It’s flat, it’s easy, it’s out there. But then no-one is going to listen to it because they don’t know who you are. The way a lot of people, still to this day, get heard is through radio. I still think that it’s still a very effective method of distribution, but it’s very challenging because radio programming just gets narrower and narrower.”
However, with digitisation comes great opportunities, as Rob explains,
“If you can be really unique and if you can be great and you can create an amazing piece of content or crazy, amazing song, it can spread quicker than ever before. If it’s legitimately awesome.”