Yunupingu’s Year

Published in Billboard Magazine

Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu, the blind aboriginal singer and multi-instrumentalist from Australia’s Northern Territory, is emerging from the shadow of his former band Yothu Yindi.

His critical acclaim hit new levels after he mesmerized viewers Oct. 19 at the Australian Recording Industry Assn. Awards with a haunting performance of “Bapa” from his gold-certified (35,000-plus) debut solo album “Gurrumul” (Skinnyfish Music/MGM). Yunupingu collected the best independent release trophy during the show, after which viewers voted with their wallets, sending “Gurrumul” soaring 27-3 on the next week’s ARIA Top 50 Albums chart. AC-leaning radio stations have started adding “Bapa” to playlists.

Yunupingu spent nine years with pioneering indigenous roots act Yothu Yindi (1986-1995) and has subsequently released two albums as a member of the Saltwater Band. Skinnyfish Music is targeting Europe next for his solo album, beginning with a U.K. release Feb. 9 through Proper Distribution.

“We’re looking to get Gurrumul to the U.K. and continental Europe next year,” Darwin-based Skinnyfish co-founder/GM Mark Grose says. “We’re hoping to secure a couple of major concerts in May and do some media promo work around them. In the next couple of years, the U.K., North America and continental Europe are the key areas for us.”

Yunupingu is signed to Sony/ATV Music Publishing and managed and booked through Skinnyfish.

Curious Kate

Published in Billboard Magazine

 

Despite four Australian Recording Industry Assn. (ARIA) Award nominations for her gold-certified (35,000-plus) 2007 debut album, “Little Eve,” Brisbane-based singer/songwriter Kate Miller-Heidke opted to take an alternative route for her follow-up, “Curiouser” (Sony BMG).

“A lot of the first album was written by me in a room—very private, very introspective,” the alternative/pop artist says. But “I escaped the second-album syndrome thing because of the power of collaboration.” Miller-Heidke’s collaborator on the songwriting for the sophomore album was her partner, guitarist Keir Nuttall.

The album itself was cut in Los Angeles with Mickey Petralia (Beck, Flight of the Conchords) handling production. With hefty national radio support from the top 40 network Nova, it opened at No. 8 on the ARIA Top 50 Albums chart one week after its Oct. 18 release, eclipsing the No. 11 peak of its predecessor. Miller-Heidke recently signed with Sony/ATV Publishing and is booked by the Harbour Agency in Sydney.

Now Miller-Heidke’s team is making plans to bring the singer to audiences further afield. “The wheels are in motion to release in Japan in January and be in that market for February and back again for the summer,” Brisbane-based manager Leanne de Souza says. With an international showcase itinerary being drawn up, she adds, “The hard work is just beginning.”

The Hot Seat: Marianna Annas

Published in The Music Network

 

The creative industries’ crusade against online piracy is entering a new phase. Only this time, the setting of a key battle-zone is Australia’s Federal Court. And the litigators are the movie studios.

The ongoing trial of Perth-based Internet service provider iiNet is providing a compelling test of Australia’s copyright law in the digital age. The cross-examination last week of the ISP’s chief executive officer Michael Malone soaked-up column inches in the press, but the case has left many questions unanswered. What precisely does the music industry stand to gain from all this? Perhaps not a great deal, explains Marianna Annas, General Manager of Australia’s Music Industry Piracy Investigations (MIPI), who has closely watched the case unfold. TMN caught up with Annas for some clarity on the iiNet case, and some direction on where the piracy fracas is headed.

What’s actually happening in the studios vs iiNet case?

The film industry has taken action against iiNet for authorizing copyright infringement by allowing its customers to engage in illegal file sharing of movies and TV shows on its network.  The film studios are seeking declarations that iiNet infringed copyright in particular films, permanent injunctions to stop iiNet infringing the copyright in the films, and orders requiring iiNet to take reasonable steps to disable access to any online locations outside Australia which contain copies of the applicants’ catalogues. They are also seeking damages and costs. It’s a significant piece of litigation under our copyright regime, but it is not intended to achieve and is unlikely achieve the outcomes we would like to see in relation to digital piracy.

Does the music industry stand to win anything from this case?

A positive outcome for the film industry will not necessarily provide a silver bullet with respect to digital piracy. Unfortunately litigation is usually a long and protracted process and iiNet is vigorously defending the case, making appeals through the Federal and High Courts a real possibility.  In the meantime, ISPs continue to do nothing in relation to infringing content being distributed through their networks,  Also the judgment will only establish liability in respect of nominated copyright infringing material (ie. the films which are the subject of the case) and any injunctions granted will not apply broadly to illegal file sharers. And the proceedings will not necessarily have an educational effect on issues of cyber responsibility which we consider to be important in terms of the future of the music business.

In recent months, we’ve seen a groundswell of industry and legal support abroad for a “graduated response” or “three-strikes” policy for ISPs. Will Australia ever become embrace a “three-strikes” stance?

We have since 2007 proposed that a ‘graduated response’ procedure be implemented under an industry Code of Conduct. Similar laws have been passed in Taiwan and South Korea this year and last month the French Constitutional Council introduced such a system. In Australia we remain committed to the formulation of a Code of Conduct between content owners and ISP, which would sit alongside our copyright legislation, and encourage internet users to use legitimate online music services and would deter repeat infringers with the possibility of account suspension. It would not require ISPs to monitor the conduct or activities of their subscribers, and would not involve any policing or snooping – this aspect has been extensively misconstrued, including within sectors of the music industry. Quite simply, warning notices would be sent to ISPs on the basis if investigations undertaken by organizations such as MIPI and if after a series of warnings a user was to continue their infringement, the ISP would enforce the contract it has with the user and suspend or terminate their service.

I see the controversial mash-up outfit Girl Talk is lined-up to play the Big Day Out 2010 (Girl Talk was the subject of the documentary “RiP: A Remix Manifesto”). What do you make of the act’s message?

My first observation in this temporary role remains my most lasting impression: that without in any way underestimating the damaging effects of illegal downloading, as an industry we are not adequately addressing the issue of unauthorized sampling and remixing. Unauthorized sampling is invariably a commercially-driven exercise, and Girl Talk is a case in point. Samplers and mash-up artists profit unfairly from the unlicensed use of other artists’ work. Consent is not obtained, royalties are not paid and three discrete copyrights are often invoked – the musical work, the sound recording and the recorded performance. To many artists who are sampled in this manner, the issue is simply about giving them the opportunity to hear the sample, and give consent. Most artists will say that being given the chance (and the respect) to hear the sample and give their consent takes precedence over the licence fee, and one artist recently described it as just ‘good sportsmanship’. The act’s message that ‘copyright infringement is cool’ is no more than a euphemism for ‘profiting from stealing is what I do’

ARIA’s first-half figures slight market growth. Is the industry finally getting to grips with piracy?

It’s looking like illegal downloading isn’t particularly fashionable at the moment!  As an industry, we’ve done a lot of educational work in the last few years at various levels from educational institutions to government and industry. The government has declared that the interests of content owners and service providers must be balanced in order to promote and develop a vibrant digital economy. And in the last six to 12 months, we’ve seen a growth in digital music services providing compelling and competitive deals and many choices across different types of services are now available – from more traditional services like iTunes and Nokia Music Store to genre based services and labels’ dedicated services such as bandit.fm and getmusic. New business models are being explored with a genuine embellishment of partnering opportunities and what music fans want.

Is the music biz winning the war?

Even though the recent ARIA digital sales figures represent a relatively small increase, they are very encouraging. We need more engagement and galvanization as an industry. We’re often not perceived as being unified on issues such as piracy. It’s unfortunate that inaccurate information is often bandied about, particularly in relation to digital piracy and new business models . Everyone in the music industry without exception, has a responsibility to access the correct information, and if it’s going to be disseminated or relied upon, that it’s done accurately.  As far as winning the war goes, I think the music business, particularly locally, has treated the playing field with more dignity that its opponents have and there is clearly a lot to be said for educational strategies which have a long term focus.

 

[Marianna Annas has since been appointed Manager of ABC Music Publishing.]

Pink: Going Over Down Under

Published 2009 in issue 27 of IQ Magazine

 

Funhouse may have taken Pink to a new level in Europe and the US, but the Australian tour propelled her to a whole different league. Lars Brandle reports…

The term ‘superstar’ doesn’t quite do justice to Pink’s status in Australia. Down under, her album sales are a class apart, and no one comes close to touching her in box office terms. Her 58-date Funhouse Tour has been destroying records up and down the country this year, selling 658,000 tickets and generating a total gross of A$80million (€49m) in just three months on the road. No other solo artist in the history of Australia’s touring business can boast such figures.

Put in perspective, the figures are enough to make one’s head spin. To illustrate the point, if you rescaled Australia’s population of 21 million with the United States 304 million, then Pink’s tour would have shifted 9.5 million tickets to her compatriots and generated a staggering ticket gross of US$1billion (€676m). You get the picture.

“It went to a level none of us could believe,” says Michael Coppel, the veteran promoter who masterminded the historic outing with Pink’s astute manager, Roger Davies. “Even with 58 shows and 650,000 tickets sold, my feeling is that we were 15-20 shows short of what we could have played.” Across the entire stretch, 99.23% of all venue capacity was sold-out.

The Funhouse Tour was nothing short of a “freak of nature,” notes Michael Harrison, tour co-ordinator for Michael Gudinski’s rival promoter, Frontier Touring. “The last time we saw something like that was her previous tour, and then before that Dire Straits in the mid-80s. I wish it would happen more often. It was a freak thing where an entire country embraces an artist across the board.”

There was a time, however, when the Pink ticket wasn’t so hot. In April 2004, Pink hit the road for her first national headlining tour of Australia. Then, as now, Coppel – owner of Melbourne-based Michael Coppel Presents – orchestrated the visit. “We virtually had a disaster,” he recalls. “It was meant to be a 100,000-ticket tour and we only sold 25,000.” On that run, no house was more than two-thirds full and, ultimately, a number of shows were cancelled.

“People were saying I should cancel the tour because it was going to be a messy financial loss,” Coppel says. “But I thought she had something special. And I figured the money was already spent so I’d carry on and try to build something for the future.” And build something he did. Coppel and Davies went back to the drawing board and got to work on creating a tour for the record books.

Come April 2007, a dozen dates were pencilled in for Pink’s I’m Not Dead Tour. And then tickets “just exploded,” Coppel says. “We were going to play another 12-date tour but we ended up doing 35 shows and selling more than 307,000 tickets. The shows were so great, the word of mouth spread and we just kept adding shows.” Each time the performances would sell out, so Coppel would add more dates. They too would sell out. “We criss-crossed the country three times. At that point it was the biggest tour by a female artist in Australian touring history.” By the end of the tour, the Pink show had been on the circuit for eight weeks. The spectacular outing was rewarded at the 2007 Helpmann Awards – the Australian live entertainment sector’s annual gala – where it won the best international contemporary concert category.

“When we looked at the tour for this year, Roger Davies and I mutually agreed if we did 250,000 tickets that would be fantastic,” Coppel says. “We thought the 2007 tour had been a high water mark on the beach. We wouldn’t get back there.” But the Funhouse Tour outsold I’m Not Dead on the presale.

Central to its success was the model of return visits. Word of mouth from Pink’s performances would percolate so that the next time she was in town, tickets flew.

“Some people came three, four, five times,” Coppel says. “Even though it is a much more expensive way of doing it, there was always a huge buzz when we came back.” Merchandise sales alone raked in an estimated A$10m (€6.2m).

Making Her Move

Records are meant to be broken and Pink has made a habit of smashing them in Australia. Her fourth studio album I’m Not Dead (LaFace/Sony Music) was the second-best selling record in 2006, and again in 2007, according to labels body ARIA. Funhouse was the second-best seller in Australia in 2008, beaten only by Kings Of Leon’s Only By The Night (RCA/Sony Music). Each album has sold upwards of 600,000 copies in a market where platinum certification is recognised at 70,000 by ARIA.

On the live front, Pink has demolished a swathe of Australian venue records. Her latest three-month itinerary included 17 non-consecutive, sold-out dates at the Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne and ten shows at the Sydney Entertainment Centre – all of them records. She also became the biggest-selling artist in the 23-year history of the Brisbane Entertainment Centre (BEC) when she performed 11 concerts to more than 127,000 fans.

“The undoubted highlight of this year was Pink breaking records for both the number of shows undertaken and the number of patrons attending,” says BECs general manager, Tricia McNamara.

In fact, when Pink returns to Brisbane Entertainment Centre, she’ll have her own throne waiting for her. The AEG Ogden-managed venue celebrated her record-breaking achievement by naming and redecorating a set of toilets, which are now affectionately known as the “P!NK Ladies.” “By the way,” she told the audience during a Brisbane date in late August, “if anyone needs to pee later on, I have a toilet upstairs dedicated to me. I want you all to christen it”.

It’s this good nature which has won Pink the hearts of a nation. “Australians like people who are genuine, people who’ve got tickers on themselves, who are realistic about what they are and who they are,” Coppel says. “The persona you see in the interviews, it doesn’t get manicured, it doesn’t get trained or spun, or produced. She’s really a normal person.”

For all her tomboy charm, Pink thrives on a competitive streak and a fierce determination to be the best in her game. “What kept her going in Melbourne was breaking the John Farnham record (which stood at 13),” Coppel explains.

“The last four shows, which were added on, basically sold out in a day. We did 17 in total, but how many more could we have done? Another two or three at least. Maybe four.

Good Influence

Coppel describes the artist as driven and supremely fit – a gym rat who does a two- or three-hour workout each day before diving into a two-hour performance. “She’s intense and hyperactive, very energetic and she can wear you out,” he laughs.

Indeed, for many associated with the tour, keeping up with Pink has been the hardest challenge. Kuy Thurman, team leader with Stage and Screen Travel Services that took care of all travel and hotel requirements says it’s the longest tour he’s ever worked on. “It was certainly a challenge due to the mammoth volume of information and the extended duration requiring intense attention to detail,” he says. “However, the professionalism of the international touring parties made it an absolute pleasure to work on this tour.”

Domestic Telco Optus sponsored the Australian leg of the Funhouse Tour and contributed a high-profile TV ad campaign where the singer mixed it up at a pool party with a CGI-rendered penguin disc jockey. “We were a fraction nervous doing a TV commercial and getting a lot of mainstream free-to-air coverage which could contribute to a (consumer) burnout,” Coppel says. “That didn’t happen. The entire tour was a rare occasion we had such huge success and not a hint of criticism or backlash.”

There’s an extra incentive to lure Pink back down under. Ticket sales across all her Australian shows to-date are approaching the seven-figure mark. “The first show of the next tour will be the millionth ticket she sells,” Coppel enthuses. And when might that show take place? “My guess is that 2012 might be possible,” he suggests.

And for many in the crew, quite what was achieved is still sinking in, even three months on. “It was surreal,” says production manager Richard Young. “It’s very difficult to appreciate how big she is there when you’re in it. It became a source of humour at one point. ‘Oh, it’s back to Melbourne, is it?’ And they’d know where you liked your desk set up. It was an amazing thing.”

Click here for the PDF version of IQ issue 27