Australia’s ‘Golden Generation’ of Musicians: 12 Months Of Highlights

Published by The Music Council of Australia

Golden generation. It’s an expression typically associated with, and overused by, sports fans. For the first time in more than a decade, the cliché has been thrust upon Australia’s current crop of elite musicians. Lars Brandle takes a wide-angle look at the last, big 12 months for Australian music.

5 Seconds of Summer, Iggy Azalea, Flume, Sia, Vance Joy. All of them resounding success stories over the past year. All are Australian. None are alike.

Make no mistake, a wave of Aussie artists are scoring abroad right now, with this famous five in the leading pack. And they’re filling their boots across the key metrics – record and ticket sales, streams and online chatter.

We’ve been here before, but what’s different is this class of Aussies isn’t built on rock. This time its pop-punk, rap, electronic, folk, it’s songwriting, bad-boy haircuts, and in the unique case of the veteran Sia, a desire to shun the spotlight (a move that’s having the opposite effect).

Australia’s music scene has rarely been lacking in talent, though in a good year no more than a small handful of homegrown acts typically get a shot at global success. Many of those who did enjoy a break have been too niche for the mainstream (the Saints, the Go-Betweens) or novelty (remember Joe Dulce’s “Shaddap You Face”?), some haven’t followed up on their early promise (Wolfmother) and others quit while they were ahead (Savage Garden).

This new crop is producing some staggering numbers.

The acronym 5SOS will have most folks over the age of 24 scratching their heads. Many teens, mostly girls, can’t help but scream the name. The Sydney four piece are arguable the hottest pop group on the planet right now, thanks in part to the power of YouTube, a mutually-beneficial tour with One Direction, and good hair. The group’s self-titled debut full-length album opened at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 in late July, following the No. 2-peaking EP “She Looks So Perfect”. The EP reached No. 1 in the U.K., a first for an Australian group since Madison Avenue’s “Don’t Call Me Baby” back in 2000. “5 Seconds of Summer” also topped the albums charts in the U.K. and Australia.

Iggy Azalea, who was raised in Mullumbimby in northern NSW but raps with an American twang, put up a chart feat which hasn’t been seen since “Beatlemania” swept the States. Through May and June, Iggy held down the top two spots on the Billboard Hot 100 with “Fancy” featuring Charli XCX and as a guest on Ariana Grande’s “Problem,” respectively. “Fancy” held the top spot for 8 weeks. During that stretch, she became the first artist to simultaneously hold the top two slots with their first two Hot 100 entries since the Beatles did so back in February 1964 with “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and “She Loves You.

Questlove, the multi-talented Roots performer and executive producer of the new U.S. music show SoundClashshared the love in a July interview published in Time.

“I don’t think it’s any mistake that four or five of my favourite singers are from Australia. Like between Hiatus Kaiyote, there’s a bunch I can name for you right now, but I don’t think it’s a mistake that a lot of my favourite artists are coming from Down Under.” He singled out praise for Sia Furler, and showed solidarity for the under-fire Iggy, whose “Fancy” he described as a “game-changer” for hip-hop.

Sia is no stranger to hit-making. She’s written smashes for the biggest names in pop music in 2013, including Jennifer Lopez, Beyonce, Rihanna and Katy Perry. In the U.S., she’s emerged as a bonafide star, even though the spotlight is her kryptonite. In May, she performed “Chandelier” on Ellen with her back to the audience. Two months later, she landed her first U.S. No. 1 with “1000 Forms of Fear,” her fourth studio album.

Vance Joy (real name James Keogh) scored a multi-album international deal with Atlantic Records in 2013. His hit “Riptide,” the top song on Triple J’s most recent Hottest 100 poll, cracked the top 10 in the U.K. in early 2014 and is opening doors for the Melbourne artist in the U.S. and Continental Europe. “Riptide” is now a worldwide million-seller. His debut album is on the way.

Flume’s story is just taking off. The electronic music wunderkind (otherwise known as Harley Streten) sold out three shows at New York City’s 3,000-capacity Terminal 5 in July, prompting one U.S.-based colleague to email this reporter “what is up with that guy Flume?” At just 22, Flume has emerged as one the brightest new names in clubland.

What lessons are there to learn from these winners? Well, each has toiled and without exception all the performers had a plan (and a solid support team of music biz personnel). Talent helps too. And luck has played its part. The role of Gotye shouldn’t be overlooked. Wally de Backer was the first pick of this so-called golden generation. When “Somebody That I Used To Know” rose to great heights in 2012, he took everyone by surprise. It was around that time, I received messages from colleagues and industry friends in the U.S. “Hey, this guy’s great. Who’s next?” was the gist of it (and yes, there was the obligatory “when did you guys get so good?” The natural response: “we’ve always been good, you just weren’t watching”). NYC-based Glassnote founder Daniel Glass called it the song of the year when he delivered a keynote at the 2013 Australian Music Prize ceremony in Sydney, Prince professed his love for the tune when he awarded Gotye the Grammy for Record Of The Year. The track stayed at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for eight weeks and it came in at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 Year-End list for the year. The so-called “Gotye Effect” has rubbed off, but unfortunately it can’t be bottled.

For those with a stake in Australian music, a handful of dangling questions have been at least partially answered in recent months. Will Australian artists follow-up on the breakthrough work of Gotye? Could an Australian hip hop artist crack the U.S.? Is our talent pool big enough? The final of those three questions will have its answer proper in the months ahead. Angus & Julia Stone have a new album coming, as does Megan Washington. Courtney Barnett’s global fanbase is growing. Gang of Youths has a lot of early buzz. Michael Chugg’s discoveries the Griswolds, Lime Cordiale and Sheppard are all making noise in the U.S. Jessica Mauboy impressed with her stint at Eurovision, and she has a personal drive to crack Europe.  The pool runs deep.

“When Midnight Oil, Kylie and INXS were coming through, that was the closest to Australian music being capitalized on,” recalls Michael Gudinski, chairman of the legendary Australian independent music empire the Mushroom Group. “Tame Impala is primed. If another two or three artists break through then it’s fair to say the Australian invasion is on the way. It feels good to me.” Watch this space.

This article originally appeared in the Music Forum Journal.

The Hot Seat: Lindy Morrison, Go-Betweens

Published in The Music Network

Those drummer jokes guitarists love to tell. Well, they don’t apply to Lindy Morrison. Morrison is a whole lot more than just a time-keeper. She’s one of the Australian music industry’s great all-rounders – an artist, a teacher, an advocate. Morrison got her break as drummer with the critically-revered Brisbane band the Go-Betweens.

Her work can be heard on Cattle and Cane, selected by APRA in 2001 as one of the Top 30 Australian songs of all time. Lindy is the National Welfare Co-ordinator for Support Act Ltd, the benevolent society for musicians and workers in the music industry. She also teaches Music Business at Sydney Institute Ultimo, sits on the board of PPCA (representing recording artists) and in 2013 received an Order of Australia (OAM) medal, for services to the Australian music industry as a performer and an advocate.

You juggle so many roles. How do you describe yourself on that sheet of paper you hand to immigration?

I have no idea. I’m constantly amused by what occupation I have to put down when I’m filling out paperwork. I make a decision based on how I want them to treat me. The last time I was at a dentist, I wrote “social worker.” Because that’s how I wanted them to see me. If you want to be treated like you’re working in side-show alley, then put “musician”.

I’ve met many folks over the years who’ve been taught by yourself. What’s some of the best advice you give to music business students?

To understand how copyright works. To advocate on behalf of recording artists’ rights. And to take control of the contracts; you can understand the contract, you can understand the language in the contract. It’s not that hard. I love teaching music business and I love teaching copyright. I’ve the most extraordinary Powerpoint presentation on the history of copyright law which I’ve built up over ten years. That’s how obsessed I get. I went to the University of NSW a few years ago and got a Master’s in Legal Studies, and I really concentrated on the intellectual property subjects just so I could be more ‘conversent’ with people when it came to talking about copyright.

What drives you? You have an OAM. These things don’t just fall from trees.

What drove me to take an interest in the music business was when the Go-Betweens broke up in 1990, and I was completely unaware of how the royalty streams were operating, what contracts were in existence. And I slowly uncovered those contracts over the years and then began looking closely at accounting. Most labels will inadvertently make mistakes with accounting. People are often down on the majors, but for mine, it’s been the independents that I’ve had to really keep a track on, what licenses have occurred, whether or not the payments have been made, whether the deductions match up with the contract. By way of example, Beggars Banquet were taking a 25% deduction on packaging (with the Go-Betweens), before we got on top of it and realised the contract only said 20%. These little things add up. Particularly when the Beggars contract is 90% of a 100% anyway. To this day that figure is because of vinyl breakage.

What is your role with Support Act?

I have a social work degree, and I work part-time with them as a social worker. We provide grants to people who work in the industry, not just musicians but roadies and others, who become ill or fall on hard times. We pay bills, up to a certain amount of money each year. My job is to help people with their applications, to advocate on their behalf with other agencies, to help them decide which is the best way to spend their grant, then keep in contact with them during the time they get their grant from us.

One of my favourite jobs is working down at the Bondi Beach at the community center. There’s an intellectually disabled band I’ve worked with for many years, called the Junction House Band. They write and record all their own material, and have done for 20 years. I can do all this because I love the music industry. I’m not one of these people who bag it. The great thing about the music industry is that it attracts so many people who live on the margins. So many people couldn’t exist outside our industry and they’ve managed to have successful careers, or just made a living.

You’re on the board of the PPCA. We’ve seen an escalation in the simulcast situation with close to 200 stations pulling regional simulcasts.

It’s a shame they did that. I think they misunderstand the issue. Basically the full Federal Court and the High Court have said a simulcast in not a broadcast. A broadcast is a specific technology, a simulcast can reach a much wider audience. We’re just asking for compensation for the use of our recordings over the web, for streaming on simulcasts. I’m involved because the PPCA pays recording artists. And I want to see recording artists paid for the work they do in creating these unique pieces of copyright. We just want to negotiate with Commercial Radio Australia. Malcolm Turnbull, the Minister of Communications, has said the Government can’t legislate this. It has to be sorted out in the marketplace. It’s a commercial transaction, the independent arbitrator the Copyright Tribunal can make the decision on what the fee should be. Very learned people sit on that tribunal.

In your time with the Go-Betweens, did you know you were doing something important?

I knew that the work was brilliant and I thought the boys’ songwriting was brilliant, which is why I joined the band. As a three-piece we cut a fine figure as a group; the chemistry between members of the group is often underestimated. It’s what happens within a group that becomes fascinating and it comes out in the instrumentation and other finer details. And then getting Robert Vickers (bass) and Amanda Brown (violin, oboe, guitar, keyboards), it was such a unique group of individuals, a unique sound. We were very interested in culture, reading, film, galleries. Of course when we started we were very inexperienced on our instruments. And we grew together.

It’s curious that the Go-Betweens haven’t been inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame.

There’s a reason for that. Robert won’t do it. He and Grant discussed it before Grant died, that they’d never want to be a part of that Hall of Fame stuff.

Do you think he can be swayed?

I wouldn’t try. That’s just how he feels. But they did accept an ARIA Award, post the “classic” period (laughs).

Incredibly, the band has a toll bridge named after them in Brisbane. But officials didn’t quite get the name right. It’s missing the hyphen, and the “S” at the end.

That was Campbell Newman, Queensland voted and that was the name they wanted. But then the politicians decided to have it go both ways by having a name that could mean two things. But it is a beautiful bridge. It’s so elegant. I went to the opening ceremony and it was the first time I’d seen Robert Forster for such a long time. It was truly amazing, walking over the bridge and catching up on 20 years. I’ve had Brisbane friends complain about the toll, and that people don’t use the bridge. I don’t care. I’m happy about the fact the bridge is named after the Go-Betweens.

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The Hot Seat: Lorne Padman, Vice President/Label Manager – Dim Mak

Published in The Music Network

 

For veteran dance music exec Lorne Padman, the beat goes on in another corner of the world. After nine years with Vicious Recordings, Padman last year made the leap across the Pacific and into an executive position at Steve Aoki’s Dim Mak. Now based in L.A., Padman reports to the label’s President Lee Kurisu and its owner/founder Steve Aoki, the high-profile deck-master who came in at No. 8 in DJ Magazine’s recent Top 100 DJs poll. At Melbourne-based Vicious, Padman served in various functions, from Label Manager, Radio & TV Plugger, and Artist Management, and was part of the initial development team for some major dance brands including Avicii, The Potbelleez, Dirty South & Angger Dimas. In this, his most extensive interview since taking the new job, Padman gives an insiders look into America’s exploding EDM business, and offers some words of advice.

Lorne, what does your job entail?

I primarily manage 14 staff and interns at our Hollywood office under direction from Founder Steve Aoki and President Lee Kurisu and travel a little for functions and festivals around the U.S. The main focus of my role requires me to apply my diplomacy and attention-to-detail skills to the staff whose tasks I manage. Though the opportunities are boundless in terms of the numerous people we interact with for events, branding, sponsorship, marketing and on recordings. Rolling with Steve Aoki has been eye-opening to say the least, as it’s customary to engage in down-to-Earth conversations with otherwise inaccessible celebrities and influencers. Even without Steve in tow, the Dim Mak “badge” is the biggest door opener I’ve ever known.

At the Electronic Music Conference in 2012, Tiesto said he employed a team of 35 fulltime staff. Will yours ever challenge that?

Yes, it’s part of the plan to bring in talent when the demand presents itself. Dim Mak has had the most successful quarter in the 17 year history of the label, so the trajectory is defiantly skywards.

How did your gig come about?

Dim Mak’s celebrated history has been driven by super motivated employees — many of whom have Dim Mak tattoos — whose first job here was as an intern. Aoki’s new vision is to capitalise on the worldwide rise of EDM by bringing in key staff with strong backgrounds that can support these über talented staff and take the label to the next level. That first started with the mastermind Lee Kurisu who ran Thrive Records for 11 years and one of the most respected, up-and-coming publicists in America, John Ochoa. Steve told me he’d spent 6 months searching globally, and appointed me as the “final puzzle piece”; there’s elements of being Dim Mak’s diplomatic leader and someone who has literally served every function in the building from artist signing and management to audio and video editing, legals and artwork. When he called me in Melbourne, I seriously thought he was asking me for someone I knew in L.A. who would be right for the role and I was quite surprised when he said “no man, I want you!”

You’ve been in the States for four months now. What are your thoughts on the “EDM” landscape over there?

“Bigger than Ben Hur!” It’s on a scale hard to mentally visualise until you are immersed in it. I feel the “DJ-as-a-rock-star culture” is heavily reinforced over here because if you think about it, years ago bands like The Beatles for example were “popular” music, which was shortened to “pop” music. What’s popular right now around the world is Dance music. So the Dance music creators being producers and the Dance music performers being DJs are now the new “pop-ular” stars. The EDM landscape here is serving as a platform for these popular producer and performers, and the demand is in the shape of hordes of fans switching on to an exciting new movement in their eyes.

Considering the EDM business got so big so quick, many observers are trying to predict when the “bubble will burst”. What are your thoughts?

No chance. The new generation of 15-year-olds over here are primarily listening to “entry level” commercial Dance music and the pre-drinking age 18-year-olds are listening to “cooler” Dance music, but its all Dance music, as opposed to Urban or Rock. So America is building a Dance Music “Army.” And with massive players like SFX investing so heavily, its only going to keep expanding

Is “EDM” a bad word?

No, it’s perfectly suited to categorise what it is. No one had a problem with Rhythm & Blues becoming R&B? We’ll look back on this era like we do on those of the rock n roll, disco and pop eras of the ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s as the era where Dance music had become so prevalent it demanded its own category.

There are few Aussies working in the U.S. music business, and likewise few Americans back here. Any tips on how an exec can make that leap Stateside.

Not discounting the amount work that needs to go into learning a whole new market, the similarities between our cultures are boundless so it really can be a smooth transition. And although the contacts and radio frequency on the dial changes, I believe it’s the underlying skill set of “systems and processes” that are critical to success. When I moved from Perth to Melbourne 10 years ago, I was told Melbourne is a big city, but if you know the right people, it’s a small city. I’m finding that the same for L.A. – it’s not as daunting as you’d think. So my biggest tip is that your chances of success are enhanced greatly if you have an outgoing personality, a genuinely engaging nature and are prepared to put yourself out there, as this is absolutely a networking-town filled with others who are willing to go the extra mile for you.

We’ve seen a handful of homegrown artists go and make a name for themselves in the U.S. — Tommy Trash, Stafford Brothers. Do you need to be based over there to make it happen? Do you need the right haircut and a “six-pack”?

Yes, most definitely. There’s no substitute for being on the ground, creating personal connections and vibing with other key influencers and players who can help your network. Even when you have a big song that cuts through, it can only be made much bigger by being in the faces of strategic amplifiers. Tommy is a great example of someone forming an amazing U.S. strong team around him, giving him the foundations for lift off. Dirty South is another being accepted as a bona fide U.S. player on the ground and the Stafford Brothers have made a name for themselves by networking their arses off and enjoy a well-deserved reputation of holding the most epic parties in L.A. Oh and as for the having the haircut and “six-pack” – yes, a good hair cut is mandatory, “six-pack” optional.

 

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The Hot Seat: Martin Goldschmidt, Founder, Cooking Vinyl

Published in The Music Network

 

When Martin Goldschmidt established Cooking Vinyl back in 1986, his label had a distinct lean towards folk music. Not any more. Yes, Billy Bragg remains one of Cooking Vinyl’s most iconic artists, having come on board in 1993. But the Bard of Barking slots into a roster alongside the likes of the Prodigy, Amanda Palmer, Underworld, Groove Armada, the Cranberries and Marilyn Manson.

When Goldschmidt began working with the Prodigy, predictably, a lot of noise was made. The London-based imprint partnered with Ingenious Media Investments to release the electronic punks’ fifth studio album Invaders Must Die back in 2009. The set went on to be one of the year’s biggest-selling independent records in Europe, and shifted more than a million worldwide. Cooking Vinyl got hot.

Goldschmidt is recognised as one of Europe’s savviest independent music chiefs, with an artist-centric strategy, whether his firm is functioning as a label proper or in a services-only capacity.

Cooking Vinyl Group, which also includes its sister company Essential Music & Marketing, landed a deal in 2011 to fund future projects through U.K. venture-capital company Icebreaker.

The British indie label recently opened for business in Australia, with an office in Melbourne led by two former Shock Records executives, Leigh Gruppetta and Stu Harvey. Cooking Vinyl Australia has since struck a partnership with PledgeMusic.

What has been the secret to the success of Cooking Vinyl?

Understanding what our job is. The old school vision of a record label is about amassing a bank of copyrights and exploiting them ruthlessly. Suing the public and paying the artist as little as possible. Hated by both. We see the job of a label is to sit between the artist and the public. The better we serve those two masters, the more successful the artist is. We live and die by our artists’ success.

The label began with folk origins. Clearly the label has changed. What’s been behind that radical evolution?

My personal taste were always very wide in terms of genre but always leaning to left-field, edgy music. Most people’s taste are cross genre. Strip out genre and focus on left-field, edgy – and Amanda Palmer, Billy Bragg, Prodigy, and Marilyn Manson on the same label make complete sense.

When I spoke with Billy Bragg recently, we talked about his long standing relationship with yourself. He said Pete Jenner had told him “the best record deals are the ones that only last seven years and that you get your rights back at the end of that.” Apparently that’s the type of deal you and Billy have and you’ve been going like that for more than 20 years. Is it dangerous to be too flexible?

At the time we signed Billy, it was a case of Pete saying “jump” and me saying “how high.” It took me years to appreciate what a great deal it was for both of us. Firstly, I don’t think CV would be here today without Billy.

Originally the deal was for 3 years. Billy has now stayed with us for twenty years and renewed the contract six times. He has not stayed through loyalty, and I have written to him several times and said that I believed we were the best option for him and what we could do for him, but that he should only stay if he also thought that. I don’t expect blind loyalty.

To my knowledge it was the first artist services deal and although there can be downsides to these deals they have big upsides which worked really well for Billy. His back catalogue sales are very strong. In these deals the artist gets the lion’s share of the money but has to pay all the costs from it. Before the costs are paid, their unrecouped balance can look like bad major label excesses but after the costs are paid then they earn far more money than a royalty deal. Billy has done very well. On top of this he has known and approved how we have spent his money. He knows exactly what he earns from Spotify and also every other piece of the pie by Spotify and business partners. So the artist and management have far more information and control than a standard record deal. Furthermore the fact the costs belong to the artist, not the label, creates a true business partnership with interests better aligned. Pete also taught me some other brilliant twists like letting the artists do official bootlegs to sell at shows and on their website only. It’s really hard for many of our artists to earn a living and selling 2,000 bootlegs without the record company taking a cut could mean they make $20,000 which can really square the income circle and get them through.

You’re launching in Australia. What’s the appeal with doing business Down Under?

The biggest appeal is the people. Our new team are all good friends and people we have worked with for many years. It’s a well-kept secret that my Mum was Australian and my wife is from Tassie. I’ve heard all the jokes. I have an Aussie passport. I have spent a lot of time in Oz. Finally you guys speak English – well, strine anyway – and that makes it easy culturally both to work with, and you get a lot of the music we do better than most places on the planet.

You also have a presence in the U.S. Where to next?

The U.S. is currently a publishing and A&R operation. We don’t use Erik Gilbert to oversee releases but instead we partner with local quarterbacks very successfully. For example last year we sold 120,000 Marilyn Manson records in the U.S. We are looking at other markets carefully. We strongly believe in finding the right people and until we do we will not set up in a country. So we have just taken on product management in Germany and are looking at a number of countries and opportunities.

 What’s the ultimate goal with the CV Group of Companies?

I wish I could talk about it, but there is no plan. I really admire the Beggars business model and success. There is a great synergy between our companies and for example owning our own distribution company, Essential Music, which strengthens both entities. That said Essential’s success this year — with Passenger and others — totally eclipses our own.

The Universal-EMI deal went through, the majors are still playing their game. What’s vexing you right now?

To be honest our business is growing every year. We are getting great artists to work with. We earn a decent living and we’re having a lot of fun. Nothing in the business arena right now.

You told Billboard your revenue target for 2012 was about £10 million. What’s your target for this year?

£12 million

Much has been said about the small royalty streams coming from streaming services. Where do you stand on the likes of Spotify?

Love ‘em. Recorded music is a niche product. Spotify and YouTube are the biggest weapons we have to seduce the public to pay for music and make it a mass market product. The concept of fighting piracy is a joke, the key is to seduce via a great business model. Spotify are getting a lot of heat right now. But it is interesting that their name is synonymous with streaming. It’s like becoming what a Hoover is to a vacuum cleaner. What I don’t get is why people take their stuff off Spotify but still use YouTube and Soundcloud and say nothing about Grooveshark. To me it is pure ignorance. Now if people want to shout about inadequate remuneration from streaming in major label record contracts then I have some sympathy.