IN FOCUS: Musician strikes a chord with social enterprise

Helmut Uhlmann is a musician and social entrepreneur. From a  young age he has been working to build his career. With ongoing persistance and hardwork, Helmutt has a vision to assist other young  musicians in Western Sydney. After two university degrees and with a wealth of industry street cred’ under his belt, I sat down with Helmut to talk about this upcoming venture and Busk for a Cure.

After a few technical difficulties with wifi, we were off and chatting!

Image courtesy of Helmutt Uhlmann

NW: Who is Helmut?
HU: I am an artist/social entrepreneur. I enjoy connecting and creating with people. I would say I have been doing it since I was a teenager. In a very limited capacity and in a limited way, but that’s the time I had my humble beginnings.

Whilst working at KFC, I decided to create my own path and my own avenues of income. I wanted to do that in a socially conscious manner while combining that with music.

NW: What is about music that it became your medium?
Music is a universal medium. You can communicate things through music in a way that other mediums simply cannot. I love reading essays and books. They can go into a lot of interesting facts and be very powerful in their own right, but there is a form of emotive expression and connection that music can create that I haven’t seen replicated in any other medium.

NW: Does that have to do with the addition of rhythms, beats and various sounds? Why do you think that is?
Definitely! There is something very emotive and intrinsic about humanity’s ability to communicate via music and that is something that crosses cultural barriers. Regardless of what language you speak, music can connect to just about anybody.

NW: How did you come to start Bunk Bed Beats?
I started BBB under my bunk bed at home, that’s how it got its name many years ago. Every time I did odd jobs and had money I wouldn’t go out partying, I would go buy a new piece of gear – a guitar here and synth there. After having done an internship for a while, I realised that I wanted to create my own music business and was ready to move on after learning so much.

I got my start at Mars Hill Café in Parramatta when I was 16. I was learning how to engineer live sound and when I was 22 they offered  to rent a studio room to me that wasn’t being used. That’s when BBB transformed from being a home studio to a professional studio space.

NW: That segways well for us to talk a bit about the Open Mic nights and Mars Hill Café.
Those are two actually different things. The open mic nights were with Songs on Stage, an organisation that puts on open mic nights across Sydney, including Mars Hill Café (back when it was around). That was a part time job. I used to host a lot of open mic nights across Sydney and that was a great avenue for me to meet a lot of artists and get a lot of experience in the grass roots music industry. Then the Mars Hill Café Gigs used to have a heap of artists playing, including open mic nights. My role was a bit different, focusing on live sound. Some way or another I owe everything that I have now to MHC, which was itself a social enterprise. In 2011 I was a music manager and I used to book the bands there and take care of the PR and marketing side of things. I stopped doing that when I got more into the studio side of things. Unfortunately in June last year (2015) Mars Hill Café had to shut its doors.

Mars Hill Cafe, Parramatta. Image sourced from



NW: Has there been a replacement for MHC?
No and I don’t think there can be a replacement for MHC. It was a very special and a unique environment. I would love to, as I go further down my own path, implement some form of equivalent in the future. But MHC truly was a one of a kind social enterprise.

NW: You are currently a student with the School for Social Entrepreneurs (SSE) Citi Youth Launchpad. Are you able to tell my readers more about your venture with them?

HU: We can talk about that. As you have heard me pitch probably 1000 times (both laugh) the social venture that I have created within the social entrepreneur framework are Artist Empowerment Workshops that focus particularly on disadvantaged youth in western Sydney. So these artist empowerment workshops are a re-branding of a social venture that I previously ran before going to SSE as a part of BBB, which were free home recording workshops. The different between these empowerment workshops as opposed to home recording workshops, the reason they re-branded, is because they no longer focus only on home recording, though that is still one aspect of it. It also covers other areas of the music industry including: marking and PR, songwriting and music strategy – so how to discover what your values are what short term and long term goals you need to achieve to feel you are embodying those values –  a lot of project management. There are a few different courses now, they are also no longer completely free, they are $30. When they were completely free people wouldn’t appreciate the value of it. They would book a place but not turn up on the day. Charging a nominal fee demonstrates that it has value. There are still full scholarships available for disadvantaged youth in western Sydney, those who are most in need of this kind of workshop. I really do believe this can create positive socio-economic outcomes for disadvantaged youth because even if they don’t get employment within the music industry – it is a notoriously difficult industry for a reason – they will be developing a sense of self, a sense of identity and that is a key component to avoiding risk factors.

NW: Did you learn most of your skills and knowledge on the job, through the internship and university?
I would say most of it on the job and by being very observant. Experiences and people I have learnt from. University was a great experience, I had learnt a lot, but it was so theoretical that I needed the internship and experience. There are some degrees where the degree is necessary, like accounting and medicine, but music is not one of those degrees. I started to draw up my business while I was studying.

NW: What advice would you have to young people who want to make music more than just a hobby?
Find what it is that you love and become the best at that. All while hustling and making the most of each opportunity that you can find. It’s all about the hustle.

NW: Good things come to those who wait, but only what’s left by those who hustled, right? (both laugh)
HU: Yeah! And I’d say a FT job in the music industry is a unicorn that very few people find. You need to find your own space and your own point of value and difference.

Firstly, discover what it is you love. Do as many things you need to do to discover what that is you love. If you don’t find the thing you love in the music industry you won’t have the energy and the drive you need, it’s not smooth sailing and you are going to need a lot of motivation to get through the tough times when no one cares about what you are doing. You are wasting your time.

To avoid being drowned and beat down by those feelings you need to discover what you love.
From there get experience, make networks, build your contacts and reputation for being passionate about that area.

Once you have built a solid amount of experience, if things haven’t already naturally turned around, then it’s time to create your own brand and identity within the industry and build your reputation at being amazing for whatever it is that you do.

NW: Let’s talk about another passion of yours coming up on May 21st this year (2016). Tell me more about how Busk for a Cure came about.
My mum had battled cancer for ten years. I founded busk for a cure in 2014 and at that point it was a way to, I guess show my appreciation and care for my mum whilst combine that with my love for music and entrepreneurship. BFAC was first just myself and four artists performing in Hyde Park. I shaved my hair off and gave 100% of the donations straight to the Cancer Council NSW and Crohn’s & Colitis Australia. We split it with both charities to

My friend Carly who suffers from Crohn’s has suffered all of these horrible, horrible effects, it is very debilitating and not many people know about it. People with Crohn’s often feel misunderstood. I wanted to make sure BFAC become about more than just my mother and cancer. So by combining the two, was a way to raise the profile of a lesser known illness with a higher profile charity. Then in 2015 I lost my mum to cancer on August 20 and at that point it created the biggest and most intense motivation for Busk for a Cure. Busk for a Cure 2016 was one of the few things I felt any degree of motivation for.

NW: You have a massive line up for Busk For a Cure this year!
YES! We have 50 artists across five locations in Newtown.

NW: Just in Newtown?
Yes this year just in Newtown. We have four 100% confirmed locations, the fifth is still being finalised – out the front of the Newtown Neighbourhood Centre (one of our sponsors), in front of Newtown Mission (also a sponsor) Camperdown Park and corner of Alice and King Street.

NW: How did you source the artists involved?
Before we went public we searched through our own contacts – I have a team of 10-20 awesome people with me – then triple J Unearthered. Since going public we had a heap of other artists get in touch with us, so we picked up some extra artists.

NW: Are you setting a fundraising target?
This format is so grass roots. We haven’t felt it is appropriate to come up with a target. We don’t have enough understanding of how an event like this will be received.

NW: What vibe can be expected? Is it just musicians who happen to busking as a part of Busk for a Cure?
One of the philosophies of Busk for a Cure is to make transparent charity fun. It’s all about making charity a genuinely engaging experience for the community. It is fun, engaging, community oriented and 100% of the funds go towards Cancer Council NSW and Crohn’s & Colitis Australia.

I am very honoured and grateful for how much support we have received from the artists and the Facebook page. Within one week of launching we got 1000 likes on the page. There is so much support from the community.

NW: So to wrap up, do you think 5 year old Helmut would have seen you doing this?
No way! Five year old me thought he wanted to be a lawyer so he could make lots of money and buy all the toys in the world!

NW: If you could say anything to your 5y/o self what would you say?
Chill out

NW: Your 15 year old self?
Also chill out and be more grateful. Be more appreciative for what you have.

On top of all this, Helmut is also working on his next record which he is keeping under wraps at this stage. To find our more information or to get involved with Busk For a Cure, follow the links below or get social on social media!

Busk for a Cure

Bunk Bed Beats 

Helmut Uhlmann



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