Osher Günsberg may seem a strange choice for a #TBT interview, but he’s been a keen observer and participant in the local music industry for the last twenty years. Many readers may know him as the host of Channel 10’s ‘The Bachelor’, or of last night’s ARIA Awards, but he started off working the graveyard shift for Brisbane’s B105 before becoming an on-air host for Channel V and ‘Australian Idol’.
Sadly our #TBT interviewer Brad was troubled by a dodgy internet connection so he couldn’t get as stuck into things as he usually does, but we hope you enjoy Osher’s insight on his career and the issues plaguing today’s artists as much as we did.
Osher initially aimed to be a performer, following a school performance when he was ten. “I chased that my whole life,” he tells us. “When I got to high school, I tried to play in every band I could get into. Rock band, stage band, and orchestra… I even sang in barbershop quartets and choirs and everything!”
After school Osher started to pursue his dream by playing in bands, but he had also developed a promising career in radio. “If you start getting on radio, you can’t really tour,” he admits. “I was starting to get older and I had a job in radio, so it got too hard to push the boundaries of it.”
That’s not to say that he wished he had given the rock star thing a go when he established himself later.
“Here’s the thing… I was good but I wasn’t great,” he concedes. “I saw that very clearly when I started doing ‘Idol’. I would see hundreds of singers who were excellent. I associated myself with being excellent, but the thing that can take excellence to exceptional is thousands of more hours, which I didn’t have the guts to do.”
Instead Osher focused on radio, where he had gone from the graveyard shift to the slightly more competitive afternoon slot at Adelaide’s SAFM.
“The trick with FM radio is that you basically have to wait for someone on the day shift to die before you get a job, because you could grow old on radio.” he tells us. “Back then you could get old on radio quite easily, Barry Bissell hosted ‘Take 40 Australia’ until he was 60!”
Cabin fever set in after just five weeks but then a golden opportunity presented itself.
“A friend of mine who was working at Foxtel got in touch with me and told me that Channel V was looking for new presenters,” Osher recalls. “At the same time, there was a show on ABC called ‘Recovery’ who were looking to rebrand and change presenters so I made a videotape on a super 8 camera and edited it on the VHS machine in the SAFM Boardroom. I sent it to both Channel V and ABC. Channel V called me back, invited me to go to Sydney for an interview and eight weeks later I was on TV.”
Osher, then known as Andrew G, got into the swing of live TV easily thanks to his years of radio experience.
“They’re essentially the same thing,” he explains. “You’ve got to keep it exciting and entertaining, not fuck off the artist, make sure you respect the artist and the fans who are listening in, make sure you know your shit and that you get entertaining content for people who don’t know the artist. There’s a lot to learn and I was grateful enough to learn that in radio. So that’s where I did my apprenticeship.”
Osher’s favourite interview subject is Dave Grohl, whose manners taught him an important skill.
“I was reminded to be humble by him,” Osher tells us. “He could’ve been like ‘I’m the guy from Nirvana. I’m the king of the world’, but he was always just a dude who was happy to be there and stoked to be alive. I’ve tried to take on as much of that as I could.”
Some interviewers would probably jump in here with some hard-hitting questions about artists Osher has pissed off throughout the years, but we wanted to discuss a more pressing subject. His 1980s heavy metal long hairstyle.
“I might have wanted to look rock and roll because I was playing in a funk metal band,” he laughs. “I changed my look many times before I got into TV. I had a red beard; I had a green beard… there were lots of different colours.”
His look may have been rock, but Osher reckons he has an easy affinity with every kind of music.
“I can listen to a Public Enemy record as much as I can listen to a Carly Rae Jepsen song or Taylor Swift’s new CD,” he reveals. “I’m able to appreciate what it is that makes a song great.”
Osher even understands that making a good pop song is actually quite difficult.
“It’s easier to make a record that only suits skinny jeaned guys from Newtown who takes Sociology at UNSW,” he explains. “That’s because to write a pop song you’ve got to make those guys, their girlfriends, their little sisters, their mums and the bus driver like the same songs. That’s a difficult thing to do and that’s the true mastery of writing a pop song and the hooks that you’d have in your head all day. The bigger, the bolder and more hooky they are, the better I reckon!”
In 2003, Osher was offered the chance to co-host the inaugural Australian edition of the global ‘Idol’ franchise. The local series would go on to make stars of the likes of Guy Sebastian and Jessica Mauboy. Osher reveals that he knew it would work straight away.
“We just seemed to hit upon this magical moment in Australian culture when we had the right show with the right cast and meaning at the right time,” he tells us. “It was an incredibly lucky experience and all that hard work matched the desire of the nation at that point in time.”
This is when our chat took an interesting u-turn. We mentioned that we thought that lowering album sales may have been related to ‘Idol’ viewers being more interested in the journey than the outcome. But Osher disagrees.
“Music sales have changed so much in the last ten years that it would be unfair to talk about that in the context of ‘Idol’,” he countered politely. “Case in point… Aloe Black wrote an article for Wired Magazine about how ‘Wake Me Up!’, which he co-wrote, got 169 million plays on Spotify, for which he got pay $4,000. That is absolutely criminal in my opinion. If that were on radio or TV he would’ve been paid so much more.”
This interview was conducted right around the time Taylor Swift took her music off Spotify due to its ‘experimental’ nature.
“Rightly so,” Osher agrees, when we bring it up. “I certainly hope that someone on Swiftie’s team can pull some sway there with Spotify because they really don’t pay what they should pay. It’s certainly not fair competition for radio stations, which would be able to compete with Spotify if they didn’t have to pay APRA and the RAAA as well.”
We then proposed that at least streaming services weren’t as bad as illegal downloading.
“If you are actively using something like Spotify, even if you’re paying, you’re not paying the artist what they’re worth,” Osher maintains. “If you really love the artist, buy the record. That’s how I feel about it. You can ignore it all you want but that’s the absolute truth… that person is not getting paid. You may as well be stealing directly from them.”
That being said, Osher acknowledges that the industry can’t go backwards, but needs to find a new way forward. “I think it will be something that is direct to consumer,” he offers. “That’s already happening with some artists, who are dealing directly with their fans. There may be no more record companies in the future.”
Because our chat was coming to an all too quick end, we wanted to find out how Osher manages the unpredictability of working in the entertainment field.
“Well… I try to keep disciplined,” he laughs. “The trick is to have seven things going at once, so that if something isn’t moving, you have six other things to focus on. But that’s the life of any freelancer or anyone who is outside of a corporate 9-5 structure. I have the same fears as anyone who has a job that relies on their own hustle.”
For those wanting to make it as a performer in the music industry, Osher’s advice is simple; radio success does not equal financial success.
“If you’re Taylor Swift, you’re rich,” he chuckles. “If you’re an Australian artist, you’re in a Toyota Hiace touring. A lot. That’s the only way you can make money.”
Indeed, Osher says it is consistent hard work that has been the backbone to his career.
“I try to be as authentic as I possibly can but I also work very hard,” he concludes. “My goal is that whenever I am on set, I just try and be the most professional and prepared person I could possibly be. That’s what I try to do.”