Live Nation’s Arthur Fogel on U2, David Bowie and the Australian touring landscape

Arthur Fogel is the biggest player in live music who doesn’t sing, dance or strum a guitar.

The Canadian-born impresario has been characterised by Bono as “clearly the most important guy in live music.” Madonna called him a promoting “genius.” All with good reason.

As Chairman of Global Music and CEO of Global Touring, Live Nation, Fogel guides the concerts giant’s music division in the acquisition of musical shows around the globe. He’s the go-to promoter for the world’s leading acts including U2, Lady Gaga and Madonna, the mastermind behind most of the top-10 biggest box office tours of all time.

An inductee into the Canadian Music Industry Hall of Fame, the entrepreneur was the subject of the 2013 film ‘Who The F*** Is Arthur Fogel,’ which documented his move away from the drumkit and into the live scene, through to the Rolling Stones’ ‘Steel Wheels’ tour which revolutionised the global touring business and his mega-tours for the likes of Pink Floyd, David Bowie, The Police and Neil Young and many others.

Fogel is currently in Australia for U2’s ‘The Joshua Tree Tour,’ the band’s first visit to these parts since 2010’s 360° stadium jaunt.

TIO interviewed the industry legend at the Live Nation Partner Summit last week in Brisbane, where LN’s brand partners gathered at the Fortitude Music Hall.

Speakers on the day included Live Nation Australasia CEO Roger Field, artist Mojo Juju, MTV Vice President and head of MTV for Asia-Pacific Simon Bates and Jaddan Comerford, CEO and founder of UNIFIED.

Here are some of the highlights of Fogel’s Q&A:

On U2 taking its ‘Joshua Tree’ tour Down Under
This region of the world is the most logistically challenging in terms of moving a show. It’s complicated and its expensive but it’s important…the band hasn’t been here for nine years, 14 years to Japan and they’ve never been to South-East Asia in a 40-plus year career.

It’s important for artists to properly touch all regions of the world. It’s very easy for people to move on and forget about you if you don’t show them love. That was one of the reasons why it was important to get down here at this time. But it is challenging, there’s no question.

David Bowie
He was the greatest artist that I ever worked with. One of the greatest ever. He was unbelievably talented, ahead of the curve. Trend setter. If you asked many big-time artists who their influence was, it’s him. He was an incredible live performer and he was a great person. It was quite sad when he passed away, of course, but he did leave us with a great gift. That’s for sure.

Madonna
She is a master of promoting. She’s always had very good instincts of how to be seen and how to make news and how to create a story about herself. That’s served her very well for a long time. She’s a very talented and astute woman, for sure. I’ve worked with her for about 20 years. It’s been quite a remarkable experience.

On the growth of LN and the touring industry
When we formed Live Nation in 2005, there were a number of priorities for us in terms of what kind of company we wanted to shape. One of the top, if not the top item was, global. To build a try global footprint for the company, to expand our touring capability and volume, with artists taking to new places and really expanding the company globally.

When I started the global tours on that 1989 Rolling Stones (‘Steel Wheels’) tour, there were maybe 18-20 countries in terms of an itinerary for a tour. Now there are 60-plus. You look at Latin America, Eastern Europe, Middle East, South Africa, South-East Asia. It’s a real place to do shows, to do business.

People want to see shows. It is such a driver of our company now, the international segment of what we do. Fortunately we were able to make some serious financial investment to be able to build that footprint and put ourselves in business with some really incredible people.

The business of touring
The business itself has exploded in terms of people wanting to go to shows. When I started, touring was about selling records. You toured to sell records. Now it’s gone 180-degrees, where the live part of the business is the driver and the distribution of music is a different subset. It’s about exposure and people knowing your music. The revenue generating is through touring.

Lessons to learn from Canada
The relative smallness of Canada was a huge motivator and driver to build our business outside of Canada. It was not a popular strategy at all. It was very challenging and difficult and everyone wanted us to fail. It was absolutely the right strategy.

If I had one observation, I do think the level of competition and fragmentation in the Australian marketplace can very much work against the industry as a whole at times.

It’s a 20,000-foot observation of how a relatively small market in terms of population which Australia is, it can be complicated with the number of shows and tours and competition for the dollar. That at times can be very challenging.

Australia is a very vibrant marketplace for live entertainment. It’s going to want to continue to grow and flourish if done somewhat carefully.

The growth of Asia’s live market and its impact on Australia
There’s no question. It all fits together in terms of making things more efficient, cost effective. To borrow a phrase, it’s about giving people what they want. (Music) is such an important aspect in peoples’ lives. Now people all over the world are getting the opportunity to participate.

This article originally appeared in The Industry Observer.

A-ha’s Mags Furuholmen talks ‘Take On Me’ anniversary and the long, long wait between Australian tours

It’s been said, if you can remember the ‘60s, you weren’t there.

If you can remember the year 1985, lucky you.

Step into the time machine. 1985 was a pivotal one for music. The single most important moment in live music happened in mid-1985, as Bob Geldof’s Live Aid showed the world how the artist community could rally and react to a catastrophe, raise millions and rock you at the same time.

As years go, it was a decade at its crossroads. Music was changing. The new wave was gone, the electronic pop sound was done. Stadium rock was about to take charge, with U2, Bon Jovi and Guns N’ Roses ready to rule the next half of the decade.

Pop music was a tribal war in 1985. You read ‘Smash Hits’ and ‘Number 1’ imports, magazines that had surprisingly broad appeal which reached into such luminaries as The Smiths, Midnight Oil and Echo and the Bunnymen. If you liked those groups, you hated Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet. Duran Duran fans hated Wham. No one really liked Culture Club.

Then, in 1985, a-ha came along. Three good looking gents from Oslo, Norway, with exotic names and, according to one of those pop magazines, a passion for climbing trees. No one hated on a-ha.

If Frankie Goes to Hollywood was your drug of choice, you’d find space in your world for a-ha. Tears for Fears fanatics (there were some) could secretly dig a-ha.

Signed to Warner Bros, a-ha operated in their own lane. Their overnight success with ‘Take On Me’ was at least a year in the making. The song was originally recorded and released in 1984 but failed to bother the charts. A new version was cut and a gamble on an eye-catching new music video paid off, big time.

And it continues to.

Filmed by British director Steve Barron, weaving pencil-sketch animation with live-action using a technique called rotoscoping, the clip is flying towards one billion hits on YouTube.

Only one band from the ’80s has reached the milestone, GNR’s ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine,’ which hit the magic number this month. ‘Take On Me’ has a full 50 percent more views than another iconic video from the era, Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller.’

‘Take On Me’ peaked at No. 1 in Australia and remained in the chart for 16 weeks. It went to No. 1 in the United States exactly 34 years ago this week.

Since then, it’s had a life all of its own. These days, kids jam to it at school discos. The song featured this week in the U.S. edition of ‘Dancing With the Stars.’

“Thirty-five years down the line, even we have to tip our caps and say, ‘you’ve really been a tireless soldier on our behalf,’” says a-ha’s Magne Furuholmen, the keyboardist who gave the world that famous riff.

“We probably spent a few years talking it down, trying to get people to focus on new stuff we’re doing. Obviously the video is unique and it has some features that stand up and stand the test of time. At this point, certainly speaking for myself, I’m just surprised and proud that the song has done so well and still finds an audience.”

Australian audiences were the first to fall for the charms of a-ha. And they’re arguably the least rewarded for that loyalty.

When the group embarks on a tour of Australia and New Zealand early year for a run of arena shows and open-air dates for the A Day On the Green series, it’ll break an agonisingly-long drought. A-ha, comprising singer Morten Harket, Mags and guitarist/chief songwriter Paul Waaktaar-Savoy, last played these parts in 1986, some 34 years ago, when they tore through 14 sold-out concerts. They’ve never visited NZ.

“Time flies. You have to put it down to bad management, you have to think,” says Furuholmen with a laugh.

“We started out our career on stage in Australia. Perth was our first ever gig as a band. It was a fantastic experience. We always figured we’d be coming back if not every year, at least every two years. Thirty years later you’re shocked to find out its our first time back since then.”

The ABC’s ‘Classic Countdown’ series gives us a glimpse of those golden years. One particular episode captures the fresh-faced Scandinavian group with the world at their feet, and a rabid Aussie fanbase at their fingertips.

During a performance of their global hit at the ABC studios, Harket can be seen testing his multi-tasking skills by signing autographs while singing along.

Furuholmen can multi-task, too. Since the ’80s, he’s split his time between creating music and visual art. “I’m happy to have both in my life and be able to do a bit of crop rotation, as it were,” he explains.

He’s a fan of Australia’s food and beaches. And he’s in wise-cracking form, a master of dad jokes — “I have a great future behind me as a surfer,” is one beauty — no doubt honed on his two sons, both of whom are heavily into music.

One of his lads, Thomas Vincent Furuholmen shot the video for Mags’ ‘This is Now America,’ a politically charged song that the band fired back at Donald Trump earlier this month when the U.S. president shared a rip-off of ‘Take On Me.’

They make a good team, these Furuholmens. “I get a lot of exposure to new stuff from them, from their discoveries,” Mags explains. “And I’m doing my best to educate them about what was going on prior to them being born in the 90s, know what I mean.”

“There’s a lot of great new artists coming up. The artists seem to be getting younger and younger, and maturing at a young age.

“I don’t know what the future will hold. Super-sophisticated and mature artists in diapers doesn’t seem like a remote possibility if you look far enough into the future.” Mags might be joking, but he makes a point.

When a-ha return to these shores next year, they’ll revisit their junior years. They’ll play in full their debut LP Hunting High And Low, a record that kicked-off a career that spans more than 55 million album sales and a place in history with a theme song for the James Bond franchise (‘The Living Daylights’ from 1987). Coldplay’s Chris Martin has repeatedly referred to them as one of his “favourite bands of all time”.

Expect to hear ‘The Sun Always Shines on TV,’ the music video for which picks up where ‘Take On Me’ left off. The touching title track, plus ‘Train of Thought,’ and, of course, that evergreen hit.

“We’re in a situation now where we’re looking back and maybe we’re able to, in retrospect, enjoy what we created in the ‘80s. We kind of kept running, kept looking forwards. Right now, doing this first album in its entirety is a bit of an exercise that revitalises those first songs for us.”

The group should be hitting their strides by the time they arrive here next February. They’re currently on a stretch of dates which takes them through the U.K. and Europe, Middle East and South Africa before they touch down for the first Australian concert, scheduled for Wednesday, Feb. 19 at Perth’s Kings Park & Botanic Gardens for ADOTG.

Frontier Touring and Roundhouse Entertainment are producing the 2020 Australasian trek, with Rick Astley opening. The ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’ singer leads the support line-up for the ADOTG dates, with a mystery guest expected to be announced next month.

Will the Nordic trio lock-in studio time anytime soon to record a follow to 2015’s Cast in Steel, a top 10 album in the U.K.?

“I wouldn’t hold my breath on that one,” Mags admits. “Right now, we’re just enjoying being able to go out and play in different formats to different audiences around the world.

“Hopefully it’ll make us enjoy performing these songs to people that helped get us to where we got, eventually. If it hadn’t have been for the people who bought that record, we wouldn’t be here today talking.”

Visit frontiertouring.com/aha for Australasian tour dates.

This article originally appeared in The Industry Observer.

Pop will eat itself with mega-collaborations: Opinion

Pop isn’t a dirty word, but there’s something whiffy about it.

The biggest stars of pop and their mobile think-tanks are always searching for something to stand out. Actual talent isn’t always the essential ingredient. It comes with the territory, always has.

We’ve sorta seen it all. In the ‘70s, we had guys dressing like seafarers, and space men. Elton got it done dressing like a duck and wearing daft glasses. The ’80s introduced the era of lavish music videos, and slick, choreographed dance moves, slogans (remember Frankie Says and Choose Life). Manufactured pop bands have always been a thing, from The Monkees to the Spice Girls, 1D and everything K-pop. We’ve had meat dresses, eye patches, axe-wielding creatures.

Pop has always loved looks and gimmicks

It’s never been confused with rocket science or brain surgery and that’s ok. But we find ourselves at plonked in an era where pop has overdone it, with all-star collaborations. It’s bloated from eating at the buffet and, watch out, because pop is going to eat itself.

Why do mega-collabs work? Because of the “wow” factor, yes. But the machinery is social media and streaming services. The more famous the guest artist, the more “followers,” the more potential listens and, here comes the “C” word…cross-fertilisation.

Back in the day, when a big record hit the shelves, we used to study the lyric sheet. In 2019, when a frontline international pop star’s album “drops” (and to similar extent, hip-hop and EDM long-plays) music hacks and fans immediately pour over the number of collabs.

This is pop’s new gimmick
Take for example, DJ Khaled. The former Florida radio disc jockey crunches away with eight albums, none of which bothered the Australian charts. And then, he hit the formula with his ninth effort, Major Key, and its 32 celebrity guest artists. Major Key hit the top 10.

Khaled outdid himself with his followup, Grateful, which featured 35 a-list guests and was powered by the lead single “I’m the One” and its famous faces, Justin Bieber, Quavo, Chance the Rapper and Lil Wayne.

With a few clicks, those five dudes can mobilise a staggering number of followers across their Instagram, Facebook and Twitter accounts. Count ‘em up. Actually, don’t bother. We already did it.

Right now, the combined figure is 454 million followers, and climbing towards the half-billion mark, all of who can be marketed to with a few clicks. Boom.

Prior to ‘I’m The One,’ DJ Khaled had never appeared in the ARIA top 50 as a lead artist.

His current effort, Father of Asahd, has 28 “assists” and is at No. 7 on the national albums chart, the same peak position as Grateful.

Superstar Scottish DJ Calvin Harris is enormously rich with powerful friends, many of whom appear on his latest album. Precisely 21 of them joined in on Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1, which hit No. 2 on both sides of the Atlantic, and No. 5 in Australia.

It’s no mystery how we got here. Technology and smart producers enable vocalists to literally phone it in. There’s nothing new about it, just more of it.

A quick history lesson

Elton John and Kiki Dee had a hit with the cheesy but enduring soft-rock duet from 1976 “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart.” Dee, the first British woman to sign with Motown’s Tamla Records, recorded their lines in separate sessions. She reportedly never met Elton in person until they cut the music video. Strange but true. Nothing strange about it now.

When Ed Sheeran announced his No. 6 Collaborations Project, the conversation isn’t about the songs or where Ed’s head has been since Divide, how he conquered the world, quit Twitter and got married. Nope, the album campaign is all about his famous friends. And it’s a secret! Cool.

There used to be something fun about seeing the top geezers on a record. Bowie and Mick. Bowie and Queen. “Lady Marmalade.” It’s losing its “wow factor.”

Consider Lil Dicky and his star-studded eco-statement “Earth”. The U.S. funnyman and rapper roped in 28 giants of pop, including Sia, Bieber and Ariana Grande. “Earth” peaked at No. 17 here and in the United States.

It’s as though a hundred million pop fans checked out the clip and went, “cool, I’m hitting Tik Tok.”

Sheeran will have a hit with his 6 Collaborations Project, there’s no doubt. Whether it surpasses Divide, I doubt it. Pop music needs to find its next thing. In time, the mega-collab will go the way of The Walking Dead.

Got any fresh ideas? Because pop needs them.

This article originally appeared in Tone Deaf.

Australia’s Music Industry Posts Solid Growth

Australia’s music industry is on the up, with labels trade body ARIA and authors’ rights society APRA both reporting strong gains.

Wholesale figures published this week by ARIA show total music sales in the market leaped by 6% to A$195.6 million ($140 million) in the first half, ignited by a digital sector which saw a 14.2% bump during the period, to A$162.5 million ($116 million).

It’s another confident result, coming off the back of double-digit full-year growth for 2017, which represented the greatest spike Australia’s industry had experienced since 1996.

Streaming is, once more, a big part of the revival. In the first six months, subscription revenue exploded by 35.1% to A$105 million ($75 million) while ad-supporting streaming revenue grew to $12.7 million ($9.1 million), up 31.9%.

There were continued sharp falls for CD albums and singles, and digital track and album sales are, apparently, on the way out. The CD albums market was the Australian industry’s engine-room until recently, but today generates less than 20% of total revenue. In the six months to June, CD albums accounted for just A$32 million ($23 million) in sales, down 30% from the year-before period.

With streaming brands Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube Music and others connecting with Australian consumers, execs are confident of more growth in the years to come. “If we compare our penetration with markets around the world where streaming is more mature, for example Sweden, there is still considerable room for growth in the Australian market,” ARIA CEO Dan Rosen tells Billboard. “It is also expected that new devices such as smart home speakers will drive the next phase of growth.”

Last year, revenue from streaming services topped A$213 million ($165 million) in Australia, up 55% from A$137 million ($106 million) the previous year, and generated the largest slice of the overall market (54%) for the first time.

In other news, APRA AMCOS is on the verge of posting its own solid set of results. During a breakfast meeting at the Bigsound conference last week in Brisbane, Australia, the organization’s CEO Dean Ormston said Australia’s music market is in great shape.

Full year revenue should come to about A$420 million ($301 million), up by 8.7% on last year, with a record high foreign revenue of $43.7 million ($31 million) for the reporting period. “It is fair to say we are a very strong growing, healthy music industry,” Ormston said.

Via Billboard.