Coda Conduct: how to crack the Aussie hip hop industry

June 19, 2015
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“I want to write a sci-fi rap set in the future,” 23-year-old Sally Coleman says.

Meanwhile, 22-year-old Erica Mallett might write a thumping track about the family pet.

“I do love my dog,” she says.

Welcome to the fiercely funny and eclectic world of Sydney-based hip hop duo Coda Conduct. But don’t be fooled - these girls take their music career very seriously. Originally from Canberra, the duo played their first gig two-and-a-half years ago, after discovering they shared a “bedroom passion” for writing rap songs.

“We had no idea how to start,” Sally tells Hijacked.

But having each other for support and encouragement made the idea of forging a career in the music industry seem much less daunting.

“It was like, you want to be a rapper, I want to be a rapper - maybe we can be rappers together!” Erica says.

With a loyal local following already behind them, they got their break when they won the Canberra leg of the Triple J Unearthed competition, followed by a spot at Groovin’ the Moo festival earlier this year.

“Unearthed has been so amazing to us,” says Sally. “They’re really about providing genuine opportunities to new artists.”

Hard work and networking were important right from the start. The duo became part of the “tightknit” Canberra hip hop scene, and found an audience well before they gave Unearthed a go. Sally advises other up-and-comers to use this tactic. Rather than submit an unpolished track to a cutthroat competition like Unearthed, it’s better to be patient.

“It can be worth waiting,” she says. “Refine your sound and figure out what you’re doing before you jump into that pool.”

Coda Conduct’s debut EP Butter Side Up emerged via this diligent approach, and a successful Pozible campaign gave their dream a cash injection. Meanwhile, effort went into self-booking their first tour, which gave them a solid understanding of the grind behind the glamour of the music business. Now the girls have a booking agent who does all the organising for them, which allows them to get on with the task of playing their music. The agent approached them because of the positive word of mouth being generated about the duo’s music and their professional attitude.

“Showing we’re serious about [our music] is really so important,” Erica says.

 The best rappers are the ones who just embrace their natural selves - and their environment and their culture - and embody that in their music, rather than try to be something they’re not.

They learned quickly that making it in the music industry means being business-savvy as well as creative.

“One of the main things we’ve learned from Coda is business management,” Sally says.

They never thought they’d become so knowledgeable about ABNs, joint bank accounts, tax file numbers and domain name registration – but without all the admin, there wouldn’t be a band. When they’re not managing their fledgling empire, the girls love getting stuck into the business of writing raps. Inspiration is everywhere – they write about life experiences, jobs, family, boys, the environment, whatever.

“We’re extremely eclectic,” Sally says.

But no matter the topic, there’s always a light-hearted tone at the centre of their work. They pride themselves on employing humour in their music to get their messages across.

“We like to be a little playful and I think that connects with people,” Erica says.

They also know the importance of staying true to themselves, and don’t look to the US hip hop scene for inspiration.

“I don’t feel like we are aiming for that target audience. I’m not going to start rapping in an American accent,” Sally says. “The best rappers are the ones who just embrace their natural selves - and their environment and their culture - and embody that in their music, rather than try to be something they’re not.” 

So what do their parents think of all this? Are they worried about their daughters’ unconventional career ambitions? Hardly. Sally describes her family as “ridiculously supportive”, while Erica’s grandad proudly wears a Coda Conduct T-shirt and knows all the words to their songs – a true measure of success.

For up-and-coming bedroom rappers contemplating a similar path, the duo says the best advice they can offer is to collaborate, and keep at it.

“Other people are your biggest resource. Collaborate with them, make friends with them, go to their gigs. It’s all about the people,” Sally says.

“You’ve just got to be persistent, and don’t be afraid to get out there and reach out to people,” Erica adds.

Interview over, Coda Conduct can finally get back to rehearsing – they’ve got some seriously sassy sci-fi raps to write.

Coda Conduct's national Pool Room tour kicks off on Saturday, June 20 in Brisbane. For tour dates click here.

Phoebe Hartley

Phoebe makes films, eats dumplings and studies journalism. She tweets sporadically at @phoebehartley.

Image: Cole Bennetts