Episode 77 – Meri Amber

Meri writes the songs that make the accounting world sing


Meri Amber is a singer of crazy songs. The geek pop singer-songwriter graduated from the University of Sydney with a degree in commerce (accounting) but has gone on to a popular music career performing her original songs all over Australia and New Zealand. She’s even written an entire album of accounting songs. The corresponding music videos got her a lot of attention, so I was excited she could take the time to talk with me.

In this episode, Meri and I talk about how important being creative is in the world of business. Not breaking the law creative but the kind of next level thinking based on the data given. Clients aren’t paying so much for the work but more how are we going to use this information? And we talk about being worried to share your passions with coworkers or clients because you think they won’t relate. She says, “You need to show it if you want other people to acknowledge it!” It’s even better if you can correlate it to a benefit for the firm, which isn’t as difficult as a lot of people think.

Meri Amber is a professional geek pop singer-songwriter touring Australia and New Zealand.

She graduated with a Degree in Commerce (Accounting) from the University of Sydney.

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Super EP CD cover photo

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Meri performing on stage at a Comic Con in Australia

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    Today, it’s all about this week’s guest, Meri Amber. She’s a self-professed singer of crazy songs. She’s a professional geek pop singer/songwriter traveling all over Australia and New Zealand, performing at Comic-Cons and other quirky events, singing songs about robots taking over the world, Doctor Who, zombies, and accounting. So Meri, thank you so much for taking time to be with me today on the Green Apple Podcast.

    Meri: Yay! Thank you for having me.

    John: I’m sure some of the listeners are like, “Well, how does this apply?” and it’s because you graduated from university with an accounting degree.

    Meri: I did. I studied Commerce at the University of Sydney. I actually did Commerce-Law, so it was a combined degree and I majored in Accounting, but I didn’t finish the Law degree. I finished the Commerce degree and then went into my crazy songs career instead.

    John: Yeah, but you did an internship, correct?

    Meri: Yes.

    John: With a firm there while you were still in university, so you do have some of that work experience. You’ve played in an office before, if you will. Absolutely. Sometimes the sad thing is that a lot of people are just being characters. They’re not being their real selves, so that’s the whole mission of this podcast, is to try and get people to see that just being you really pay some huge dividends in the long run. So I guess the question that I love to ask everyone is just how did you pick Accounting?

    Meri: It was a little bit complicated because when I was in high school, I was a super dweeb. I was very nutty and that’s probably something you can pick up just in general, but I didn’t actually want to go to university at all. So I put down the course that had the highest entrance mark. I think the entrance mark for my course was 99.65 at the time and I’m like, “No human can get that mark,” and of course I got that mark. And so, I deferred for a year and the deal with my parents was if I got famous in a year then I didn’t have to go university. Unfortunately, I did not get famous, so I had to go to university and I no longer had a choice of what course I’m doing because I put this one with the high entrance mark that I actually didn’t have a really big interest in to be honest, but I thought it was okay. They had a good law review, they do comedy, and I thought that would be fun. So I was signed up to this law course and there was a secondary degree to take with the course. I tossed and turned about it a little bit, not an awful lot because I was already doing a degree I wasn’t particularly fascinated by, but I chose Commerce in the end because I figured it’s very unlikely I’m going to get to the end of a five-year degree that I’m not interested in. At least if I get to the end of a three-year degree, I’ll have a usable one, so I took Commerce.

    During taking Commerce, I actually realized that it’s a very useful degree and it’s a very interesting degree, which surprised me, I’ll be honest. I didn’t actually think Accounting would be when I first had it as a compulsory subject in my first semester, but then it seemed like it’s really good introduction to how the world works and all these things that you’re never told during school about how the big machine runs. And so, I took it on as a major despite not initially thinking that would be my major. I guess that’s where that led.

    John: That’s fascinating.

    Meri: I still think it’s a very useful degree.

    John: Yeah, most definitely. It’s one that I’m sure you’re still using today, running basically your own business as a musician.

    Meri: Definitely useful.

    John: Absolutely and I think that’s really fascinating how you started out picking Law simply because it was the hardest thing ever and you thought you’d never get in and then you did, so that’s funny. Luckily, Accounting saved you.

    Meri: It’s especially so funny because everyone thought Law would be that really interesting one like all those dramas on television where there’d be like the cases, and it was just — I could not get into it. It was just endless reading of things I couldn’t — but Accounting, it was good.

    John: You know, I want to go back and talk more about your music career and being a musician. I think it’s so fantastic that you’re out there doing it and making a go of it. Very soon you’re getting ready to go on tour again, so I’m glad that we’re able to get some free time to talk with you before the craziness starts, but how did you get into wanting to be a musician?

    Meri: Well, I would say I was a musician long before I did accounting.

    John: Sure.

    Meri: I went to a performing arts high school, so I had to audition to get into that. And during my time doing that, I was part of a number of state bands. I toured around Australia during high school. I was part of a big production called School Spectacular that was broadcast on television. I went through a talent school and all that sort of thing, so I was already pretty into the music stuff. That was my main thing prior to graduating from even high school. I kept it up during university obviously, not just with the accounting songs, but I guess it’s one of those things where — I had a guitarist explain it to me once where if you’ve got this passion, all this gift or whatever it is that you decide to call it, it’s kind of a blessing but it’s kind of a curse in a sense because you can’t stop yourself from doing it, if that makes sense. And if you do, you’ll feel guilty and you’ll be drawn back to doing it. You can’t really deny yourself that and I guess that played out. I had to do it.

    John: That’s exactly true because that passion is inside you. Like you said, even before you’ve studied Accounting, even before you had the internship, clearly it’s still inside you now afterwards and it will be inside you forever. And so, these hobbies and these passions that people have, that’s you and then on the outside is your job. That’s the suit that you put on during the day, but that passion is still underneath that. And I think it’s really fascinating how people sometimes forget that or they let the suit outside cover that up. What do you think it is that makes people want to maybe be reluctant to open up and share that side of themselves?

    Meri: Well, I went to a bank recently for becoming a professional adult human and I’m pretty sure that that was a very good demonstration as to why people don’t tend to tell other people “I’m a musician” because the reaction and the response is very cold. The real serious adult world seems to view that as not part of it, I suppose.

    John: Right. “You could make a living at this? That’s a real job?” I get the same reaction as well, but the thing that’s really fascinating is those people have passions as well and hobbies as well. To make the leap to do it full-time is crazy hard and most people can’t and shouldn’t do that because they’re not very good at it, so keeping it as a hobby is perfectly fine, but yeah, those people have things as well if they really just stepped back and thought about it. That’s for sure. We all do. I guess when it comes to being a musician, what instrument did you play in high school? Was it guitar as well or were you doing orchestra type of things? Because I was a trombone player, so I’m just trying to brag it up a little bit here.

    Meri: That would be so cool. I always wanted to play trombone because you can do that noise.

    John: Yeah. It’s like an airplane flying over. It’s a total goofball.

    Meri: Did you ever attack anyone with the trombone like go up behind them and be like, “I’m sorry, I’m tuning,” and just whack them behind?

    John: It happened on accident a couple of times, sure, when you’re younger. Yeah, the spit valve — yeah, it’s not — there’s no picking up chicks with the trombone. Let me tell you that much. There’s no “hello, ladies”. That’s for sure. Just look how quickly we went off the rails. I told you, it’s going to be nuts.

    Meri: I played the guitar, piano, bass guitar, flute, and I sang.

    John: Oh wow!

    Meri: I went to a performing arts school. That was actually pretty normal. A lot of people play it, a lot of instruments, and it’s pretty average.

    John: That’s impressive.

    Meri: It sounds like a lot, but it wasn’t.

    John: Yeah. There were some overlap there too and you’re still reading music. Performing-wise, what’s the coolest place you’ve performed or the most rewarding experience that you can think of? Is there one that stands out or more than one maybe?

    Meri: There are actual venues and I’ve performed in the Opera House and I’ve performed in the Entertainment Centre, so they’re exciting because there are thousands of people there and that’s exciting on its own, but I think some of the best performances I’ve ever had were actually pretty intimate ones like even in Comic Conventions, there’s often very big crowds at Comic Conventions, so it will be big rooms as well, but then I travel to Perth where no one knows I exist for the first time last year.

    I had this really small room booked because I was like, “No one knows I exist. Is anyone even going to come?” and I think I had the tiniest number of people come. It was somewhere between 10 and 20 in the end, but it just became this family thing where I was like I don’t need the microphone. I’ll just sit here and sing songs and we can chat and things. By the end, we had a big group hug and it was amazing. I don’t know. It’s not the typical thing where it’s just the biggest is the best because sometimes things like that, you just feel a deeper connection and you remember a little bit clearer.

    John: Right, and the magic happens and you can feel that as a performer. I know exactly what you’re talking about. I’ve done some shows where I opened for the band, Train, in front of 3000 people or something. By the time I finished telling the joke, stopped telling it, it gets to the last person in the crowd and then by the time their laughter gets to me, I’ve started the next joke and you’re just like, what’s going on? It’s so weird, but then there are also shows that I’ve done here in New York City in front of 20 people and it’s just electric. It’s just so fun and yeah, you don’t need the microphone. It’s just like let’s just hang out and really let it rip. I know exactly what you’re talking about, but still to be able to say you’ve done the Opera House and the Entertainment, that’s pretty sweet. Not everyone can say that.

    Meri: Most of the time now I’m doing entertainment centers and places like that because they’re Comic Cons.

    John: That’s fantastic, but you remember where you came from, that’s for sure. You remember those little ones. So would you say that when you clearly were doing the music, when you were going through school and even in your internship, was there anything from the music that you felt translated into your work or your studies in Accounting?

    Meri: Well, I actually had a speech that I did about — it’s some accounting event where I was like I actually think that people think creativity and Accounting are not compatible at all. The joke is obviously creative accountants, yeah, they exist, they’re in jail, but I actually think that it’s got a lot to do with it. Obviously when you’re sorting things out into financial statements, you don’t go creatively making stuff up, but how you use that information, how you analyze it and make sense of it and then plan things from it is creative. The kind of more important parts of everything really are how you use the information once you’ve sorted it out.

    John: That’s exactly right.

    Meri: I actually think it’s pretty important and if you don’t have that then you’re not really doing accounting. You’re just sorting things out.

    John: Right, you’re doing something that a robot could do.

    Meri: A robot will probably do in the future.

    John: Yeah, because in the US anyway, there’s a huge push, and I think in Australia as well, is to become trusted advisors as opposed to accountants. And so, you’re never going to become a trusted advisor if all you know how to do is the technical stuff. You need to be able to explain it to people and how you’re going to use this data. Just giving people data doesn’t do anything. What are you going to do with it? You’re exactly right, so I think that’s fantastic. It’s also cool that you were able to see that in a moment and be able to use that. I know that it’s frustrating because not everyone sees that, but we’re working on it.

    Meri: That’s on the accounting academics a lot of the time, I think. I don’t know this for certain.

    John: Sure, and then you know when you’re out in the working world and how open people are to it. So when you were doing your internship, did you ever mention anyone that you were a musician or did people know that maybe you had that side of you?

    Meri: Well, I handed in a CV to get the position and my CV outlined all these wonderful, colorful things about me as a human, which may have helped me get the position, I’m not sure, but it had everything from the fact that I’d performed in various places, so the fact that I could speak Hungarian to the fact that I had interest in X, Y, and Z, but I think it’s like — I’ve heard it before. The CV has to look really good and impressive and you’re this multifaceted, amazing human. And then as soon as you get in, they want you to be stupid and just do the one thing that they told you to do, and that was how it played out.

    John: Okay, all right. Why do you think that is? I’m sure not only you, but your peers and your friends also experienced the same thing where you come into a big firm and then they just want to hammer you out flat and make you all a commodity. Do you have any ideas on why that might be?

    Meri: I suppose they have a certain number of tasks that they’ve hired you to fulfill and that’s all they really want from you. It’s pretty difficult to understand. Another human takes effort and that’s time that they could be spending on their to-do list. I don’t actually know. It’s a hard question.

    John: Well, that’s why I have you on, but I agree. It does take time and you’re not using billable hours to hang out and get to know someone. That’s not chargeable, so we’re not making money, but when people aren’t happy and taking six days and quitting, that’s much more expensive than my billable time for this one day type of thing. I agree with what you’re saying. I was just curious if it was different in Australia in any way, but I think that that’s really fascinating. So when it comes to organizations and cultures, do you think it’s more on the firm to create that culture or is it more on the individual to make a little small group amongst themselves and try to open up a little bit and change things?

    Meri: Probably both. Essentially, if you want people to acknowledge your talents, you’re going to have to show then your talents and you’re going to have to show initiative. Otherwise, no one will know things about me if I don’t tell them, but at the same time, if the company or the organization squashes that every time you bring it up, well, you’re obviously not going to continue pushing for it and you’re not going to keep bringing it up. So I think it’s probably a little bit of both, but there has to be some sort of benefit for the organization in it. So I think that’s probably where the creative thinking comes into it because if you’re not able to find a way where you can present what you do as valuable to the organization, they’re probably not going to go for it just because as you said, they’re after the money, using their resources as efficiently as possible including the human resources.

    John: Right, yeah, and it’s unfortunate because a lot of times organizations don’t see your biggest asset is your people, so you need to take care of that first before you do anything else. And so, a lot of times that’s kind of the backburner. That’s the last thing people think about and it’s unfortunate, but those organizations will slowly go away because people don’t want to be around those people anymore. No matter how much you’re going to pay me, I still don’t have a soul inside right now, so I’m going to need to go somewhere that will nurture that.

    Meri: Google had something like that where they gave people a certain amount of time every day to do what they want to do.

    John: Yeah, they did, and that’s how Gmail started, I believe, and cool things like that. It’s something that when I’m at some conferences I’ll throw out. “Hey, what would happen if you gave everybody four hours of go do your hobby or passion a month, like an hour a week, four hours a month? Go do your passion and then come back and tell us about it.” Imagine when you have an intern, if that was the case, and you went out and performed and came back and told everybody, “I just performed at the Opera House,” they’d be like, “What the what?!” You would be a legend for sure. But then you did tell me a story when we first talked where you were doing a performance shortly after the internship and a former manager was there and saw you.

    Meri: Yeah. It was really interesting because I did my internship and he was actually the direct person looking after me and he would be the one emailing me the tasks to do throughout the day, which I always found very odd, by the way, because we were always like two meters away from each other, so he could just come and tell me, but no, it was always email. When I did the show, I came down and he actually had quit his job, and this was probably about half a year, no more, half a year after my internship. We were chatting afterwards. It was a really interesting kind of change how we were chatting with one another. It was maybe a different environment, different context because we were no longer working there, but it was a lot more open and it was really nice.

    John: Yeah. That would’ve been really odd if he just stood two meters away from you and emailed you and then you had your conversation that way, but it’s so cool when you’re able to have that human relationship there and just create that. Hey, we’re just two people. Let’s just chill out on the snooty snootiness here in the office type of thing.

    Do you have any friends or peers that you’ve heard that work places that are doing some cool things, that do celebrate some of that? And what do they do?

    Meri: Well, I know that a few of my friends have gone on to work in offices and things. I think one of them is — I don’t know whether I should say the name. One of them a place where —

    John: Yeah, they’re all places.

    Meri: One of the bigger ones, one of the bigger firms, although he doesn’t do anything specifically himself. I met an accountant who’s the only other musician I know that does accounting and he’s an accountant rapper. They work in the same organization. The accountant rapper is in New York and my friend is in Sydney. It’s just amazing because they’re actually nurturing that specifically the fact that it’s accounting rap and such and I thought that was amazingly cool. And then my friend who works at that organization also said that it’s very, very friendly. I didn’t have the best in terms of my internship experience. I didn’t have the best time, but he says he’s loving it. So I suppose if you’ve got that going, people are probably going to enjoy it more because they can say that you care for them. I don’t know. That sounds really lame.

    John: No, but that’s exactly it. It’s just an authentic, genuine “I care about you as a person” and you as a person can provide billable work, but you can also provide whatever your hobbies and your passions and who you really are. That’s comforting to hear. It’s also cool that you didn’t intern there because now you’re rocking the world doing your music, so I’m kind of happy that you didn’t. I think that’s really fantastic. I guess before we wrap it up with my 17 rapid-fire questions, do you have any words of encouragement to others?

    Meri: I don’t know. I guess if you are an accountant then it’s always worth pursuing your hobbies on the side and never giving them up. And if you are not an accountant, Accounting is a good thing to study even if you go off and become a crazy singer of crazy songs. It’s still very useful and it’s a surprisingly unboring degree despite the fact that it sounds like the most boring thing to do. It’s practical.

    John: I know. I don’t know who created that stereotype, but I want to karate chop them in the throat. I really do. I just want to — it’s so frustrating to me. All right. So before I get on an airplane, fly to Australia, come rock out on the stage, bring out my trombone and join you onstage at a Comic-Con — I don’t even know. It would be like the end of the universe, but I do have my 17 rapid-fire questions that I’d like to run you through, so here we go. Here we go. All right, first one, super easy. Do you have a favorite color?

    Meri: Yellow.

    John: Yellow, okay. How about a least favorite color?

    Meri: Not really. There’s that pooey color, I suppose, where it’s like a mix between olive and brown. Who likes that anyway?

    John: Yeah, like a greenish — pea green like — ugh, yeah, I got your back on that one. Yeah, that’s pretty nasty. How about Star Wars or Star Trek?

    Meri: Star Trek.

    John: Star Trek, okay. When it comes to computers, more PC or a Mac?

    Meri: PC.

    John: PC, wow! I’m surprised. Okay, I was surprised by that. And so, when it comes to a mouse, are you more of a right click or a left click?

    Meri: Probably left.

    John: Okay, all right.

    Meri: A lot of opening in separate tabs going on.

    John: Okay, all right. They’re super nice guys, super nice guys. What’s a typical breakfast?

    Meri: I have this amazing breakfast that I make every morning. It’s always the same thing. It’s oats but has chopped up fruit on top of it and little bits of other things like coconut.

    John: Wow! Okay. So when it comes to instruments, more lead guitar or drums?

    Meri: That’s a tough one. I’d say drums purely because even though I play guitar, lead guitars can be so annoying.

    John: So when it comes to shoes, more heels or flats?

    Meri: Flats. I like heels. They just hurt a lot.

    John: Do you have a favorite number?

    Meri: Thirteen.

    John: Thirteen, and why is that?

    Meri: I was born on the 13th on the 13th hour and it was a Friday the 13th, so that was exciting.

    John: Holy smokes! You’re like divine intervention here. Pens or pencils?

    Meri: Pens.

    John: Pens, okay. How about Sudoku or crossword puzzle?

    Meri: I guess Sudoku because you don’t have to think very hard. You can do that while you’re brain dead.

    John: Yeah. You’re that good. I like it. Cats or dogs?

    Meri: Cats.

    John: Cats. How about diamond or pearls?

    Meri: Both.

    John: Both, every other one, diamond-pearl, diamond-pearl. Three more. Do you have a favorite actor or actress?

    Meri: Not really, but I guess — I could say David Tennant just because we’re doing this rapid-fire because of Doctor Who.

    John: Okay, that’s good. Are you more of an early bird or a night owl?

    Meri: Both.

    John: Both. And the last one, the favorite thing you own or the favorite thing you have.

    Meri: I would say my engagement ring.

    John: Oh! So good for you. Congratulations! That’s really, really fantastic, really awesome. Well, thank you so much, Meri, for being with me today on the Green Apple Podcast. This was really, really fun.

    Meri: Thank you for having me.

    John: Wow! That was really, really fun. I particularly loved how Meri said that you need to show that fun, passionate side of yourself if you want people to acknowledge it. And if you’d like to see some pictures of Meri onstage and links to her music and her website, go to greenapplepodcast.com. And while you’re there, please click that big green button and do my anonymous research survey. Okay, thank you so much for sharing this with your friends so they get the message that we’re all trying to spread, which is to go out and be a green apple.

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