No Regrets: Michael Gudinski

Published in The Music Network

 

Ask any European or American music executive their thoughts on the Australian music industry, and the response will be a classic short-list of rock and pop stars. AC/DC will get a mention, Jimmy Barnes will feature prominently and of course Kylie Minogue. And no-one in the industry is likely to ever forget Michael Gudinski. The Mushroom Group chairman is the enduring face of Australia’s music business. And it’s no wonder. Gudinski spends a vital chunk of his working year shuttling between hemispheres, testing the pulse of the big music markets – and the big players.

In Australia, Gudinski is arguably the only music man whose name is familiar at the “household” level. That’s because the exec known as MG has driven the careers for a vast number of great Australian acts as well as some of the greatest International superstars to grace these shores. And there’s a lot more fuel in the tank. The Music Network caught up with the industry icon.

You’ve just been to the U.S. and Europe. Are the big markets receptive to Australian music?

They’re receptive to great music. You’ve got to be very careful not to overplay the fact you’re Australian. That doesn’t mean you’re not proud. A band like The Temper Trap made the commitment to move over to the UK, and because they’re there and available it’s really made a huge difference. The vibe on The Temper Trap is massive. The band are doing a massive tour in the USA in March and April. They are one of the biggest breakthrough acts (in the UK) of the last year.

The album’s gone gold (100,000 units), and Korda Marshall (whose label Infectious Records has the UK rights to The Temper Trap) expects it to go platinum-plus (300,000 units). They’re a hot commodity and I’ve been doing my best to keep Australia up the front of the line.

And what’s your take on the health of the live market?

Everyone’s becoming concerned about the lack of new superstars coming up through the ranks. It’s absolutely imperative to give the punters value and put strong bills together.

Are you keen to get your hands dirty with another festival?

There is a gap in the market, particularly for multi-day festivals. But you’ve got to get the right strengths, the health and safety in order, the right sites. Had we continued with Alternative Nation, I’m confident we would have become a resounding success.

Is it tricky striking the right balance with some of the artists you bring out?

For some of these younger acts, my past success with Mushroom Records means nothing to them. You’ll do a tour and make money, but if the act doesn’t want to talk to you or have you around, no worries. Whatever they want. But for me, to be able to enjoy business and work together, I’d go out of my way to do anything for those guys. Some people like the stability of the older guy who is still doing it, spending the time. When I did the Vampire Weekend tour, I wasn’t here but they were asking about me. That stuff makes you feel good and it makes you feel wanted. For some acts in particular it’s better for me to keep in the background. That’s why we’ve got a multi- pronged attack (with Michael Harrison and Gerard Schlaghecke).

After all these years, have you finally buried the hatchet with Michael Chugg?

It’s very competitive between us. All said and done, we’re good friends. My wife Sue and I flew in for his 60th in Thailand a few years ago. I think he was pleasantly surprised.

Away from the music business, you’ve acquired a passion for horseracing…

I grew up next to the Caulfield Racetrack. I grew up with racing. Chris Wright (chairman of the UK’s Chrysalis Group) got me started one year. I’ve probably got a piece in a dozen horses. The two things I’ve never done which I hope to achieve, is a No. 1 album in America and to win the Melbourne Cup. If we ever win the cup I’ll have to come up with something better than John Singleton did (who bought drinks for the entire Rosehill racecourse in Sydney when his horse won the Golden Slipper). I’d give it all up for a No. 1 album in America. Frontier had a share in a basketball team, the Sheffield Sharks (in Britain), which was an absolute disaster. We try to keep most of our investments in the music business where we have a strong understanding and a lot of control over them.

Any changes in the breeze?

Sound Relief was a very gratifying experience for me. I’d like to take it a lot further (with philanthropic causes). There might be some opportunities in other areas of the business. We’re coming into a new area of the business, this being exhibitions. We’re also very interested in Mushroom Television, and we’ve got two or three new shows coming up. I’m going to build a music studio and a house on a property I own at Mt Macedon because it’s become renowned for having so many great songs written there. As I’m getting older, I’m thinking I should enjoy life a little bit more. Not that I haven’t enjoyed life, but I should probably worry a bit more about my health.

I’d like to spend a lot more time working closely with my children (Matt and Kate Alexa), I regret that even though they are working in the business, I haven’t spent as much time with them as I’d like to. The last couple of years it has been critical to see the beginning of Liberator and Liberation start to stand on it’s own two feet as well as my son Matt having strong success with Illusive Entertainment. I’m under no pressure, but my wife Sue would like me to be home a bit more.

You delivered a keynote speech at this year’s MIDEM conference. did you get a sense that the conference is on the wane?

MIDEM is a great place to network, particularly for publishing and for European and territory releases. I could see a lot of business being done there, and it’s no surprise it’s the longest running conference in the music business. It has been said the show was down 1,000 in attendance from the previous year. Having not been there for the best-part of ten years, I felt the Australians had an amazing presence.

It was the best it’s ever been, apparently. They asked me to speak on Australia Day, which tied-in with the launch of The Frontier Touring Company’s 30th anniversary. For young Australians, MIDEM is under-estimated. It’s much more European- centric than American-focused. And it’s very publishing oriented. Everyone talks about SXSW, but MIDEM has its own place.

Back home, arts minister Peter Garrett is throwing his weight behind a “Foreign Music Acts Certification Scheme” for acts touring Australia. Will it work?

I’ve always supported it. There have been loopholes and ways around it (in the past). And there are very special circumstances. If (the support act) is selected a week beforehand, it won’t work. The most important thing is that the main act decides who they are going to use early on, because if you don’t get the advertising thrown on the bill, it’s not as effective. I fully support anything that will help Australian music.

Is the promoting game hyper-competitive in Australia?

You look at other countries in the world, the situation in Australia is ridiculous. There’s nothing you can do to stop it. We get calls all the time from people asking, ‘do you know this promoter or that promoter’. In that regard, it puts a false value on certain shows. There’s been a number of examples lately where fans were forgotten. Some of the big hip hop acts in particular have been ridiculously priced.

Michael, do have any regrets staying here rather than making a move to the UK or the States?

No, I don’t regret it. I made a conscious decision to bring my kids up in the town where I was born. I wanted to be able to drive them past my old school. We set up an American office at one stage with A&M when we had Oz Records. I still didn’t live there. My only regret is that if I had made the move, it might have made a huge difference to the careers of a couple of our Mushroom artists. Groups like Split Enz, who were huge in Canada and quite big in England. We had Jo Jo Zep, The Falcons and The Sports.

We had a lot of acts who had a real shot, but might have had only had small successes (abroad). Split Enz really wanted me to move overseas – this was something that grated at the time. I just didn’t want to do it. When The Temper Trap came to us early on and said they wanted to move to England, I was all for it. And I explained the sacrifices. In hindsight, these are the right things to do. I’ve always been very happy working in Australia and New Zealand and being a big fish in a small sea.

Do you have an ethos for the bands you chose to promote with Frontier?

In the early days when I started Mushroom and we started Frontier, we really wanted to like what we worked with and be fans. But there are so many different styles of music and music that appeals to all age groups. These days it’s become big business but nothing is better than working with people you like and respect.

 

Click here for the original story.

Click here for the “Thirty Year Frontier” feature.

“Chugg on Gudinski.” Lars Brandle talks to Gudinski’s old running mate. Click here for the story.

Lars Brandle chats with the execs who are next in line to the Frontier throne. Click here for the story.

Thirty Year Frontier

Published in The Music Network

 

After 30 years in the business, The Frontier Touring Company has emerged as the leading touring company in the country. Michael Gudinski took time out of his hectic schedule to catch up with Lars Brandle, to discuss the trials and successes that come with 30 years in such a tumultuous industry.

Back in January 1980, one of Britain’s freshest exponents of the new wave movement, UK Squeeze, embarked on their first tour to these shores, closely followed by global smash act The Police. Three decades have passed, and the hits have all but dried up for UK Squeeze. To the casual fan, they are best remembered for their upbeat smash Cool For Cats and for keyboardist Jools Holland, who has since gone on to bigger things. The promoter of that early national run has also gone on to bigger things. Much bigger things.

The UK Squeeze trek was the first presentation for The Frontier Touring Company, an upstart promoting company helmed by Michael Gudinski, then a 27-year-old music entrepreneur. “I was a workaholic who had a dream,” says Gudinski. “But it wasn’t work to me, I just lived it and loved it. Eventually, the dream came to fruition.” Fast forward to 2010, and Frontier has grown into a touring powerhouse. The biggest names in the game have toured Australia under the Frontier Touring banner – Bob Dylan, Madonna, Frank Sinatra, Guns ‘N Roses, Eagles and Elton John among them. And the shows keep on coming.

This year Frontier celebrates its 30th year in the business, and the promoter is fast closing-in on its 500th tour. Gudinski, whose penchant for a party is the stuff of industry legend, has a cast- iron excuse to celebrate. The new decade is but a month old, but Gudinski is already clocking up the air miles, catching up with contacts on the other side of the planet. Looking out for the next big thing. And spreading the gospel on his next big thing, The Temper Trap (released in Australia and New Zealand through the Mushroom Group label Liberation Music). “Everywhere I go, people are talking about The Temper Trap,” he enthuses. “It’s really given me renewed excitement that perhaps the big American success will come after all. The next few months will tell. Warren Costello is one of the most underestimated managing directors in the Australian Record industry and we work very well together. Our work style compliments each other and the success of The Temper Trap can be attributed to this”.

The Music Network caught up with Gudinski in the aftermath of a whirlwind trip to Europe and the US, a visit which took in MIDEM and the Grammy Awards, a show he attended with his “mates” Kings Of Leon. The band were big winners on the night, and the festivities continued well into the next day. The veteran impresario also delivered a keynote Q&A as part of the MIDEM music conference in Cannes, the first Australian in 43 years bestowed with the honour. Fittingly, he spoke during MIDEM’s Indies Summit, on what was Australia Day, January 26th.

Gudinski gave the MIDEM audience an inside look at the machinery of the Mushroom Group, and a few tasty soundbites. Forget the 360-degree deal, he told delegates. Between himself, Island Records’ founder Chris Blackwell and Chrysalis Group chairman Chris Wright, the indie label legends “came up with the 365-degree deal, because we worked every day and we worked fucking hard.”

Business was always in Gudinski’s blood, but live music was his first obsession. As a teenager, the music fan honed his music business acumen on Melbourne’s dancefloor circuit. At 16, Gudinski was promoting dances. “They became quite a success and we expanded them all around Melbourne,” he recalls. Gudinski found a mentor in music exec Bill Joseph, and the young entrepreneur left the family home to follow his calling. Gudinski found a place to stay in his beloved St Kilda and dabbled with band management, taking on the New Zealand group Freshwater.

Admittedly, the band never became successful. But the experience did give Gudinski a taste of the harsh and unpredictable nature of the music industry. In a band-meeting, one of the members disagreed with the young music man and broke his nose – one of two times it has happened in his life. “If the guy is still alive, he must be just torturing himself,” muses Gudinski. Later, Gudinski would manage Skyhooks, a band who would be inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame in 1992. Few would now dare take a swing at the executive.

In the late ‘60s, Gudinski had found a willing ally in Ray Evans. The pair established Mushroom Records in 1972, and launched the Evans Gudinski touring business as a vehicle to promote its acts. The touring company had a lively start, promoting British and American blues bands beginning with John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers, then Muddy Waters and Willie Dixon, plus dates for Manfred Mann and Jethro Tull, and even national tours for a rising new band called AC/DC. Gudinski was preparing to take on the world.

But it wouldn’t be with Evans Gudinski, which crashed out with financial problems. Gudinski pushed on, confident he’d hit upon the right formula. And with a team comprising the likes of Michael Chugg, Evans, Frank Stivala and Philip Jacobsen, Gudinski had found the right chemistry. By November 1979, The Frontier Touring Company was born. “We were the young guys on the street,” he recalls. “We went after a genre of music that a lot of other people didn’t understand. Because of the record company, I’d already spent a bit of time in England, (so I knew to chase) bands like Squeeze and The Police. We were prepared to do a lot of new acts, and it started to snowball quickly.” New talent would prove be a constant theme in the protocol of Frontier Touring.

As time moved on, Frontier’s executive decks would reshuffle, with various partners going their own way, while Chugg became one of the faces of the business. Frontier had a two-pronged attack.
Gudinski ran the show from Melbourne, Chugg would be the Sydney counterpart, the “king of the road” with all the tours at his fingertips. Together, they felt they had the place all wrapped up. At the turn of the millennium, the lethal duo had a seismic bust up. Chugg established his own, rival business Michael Chugg Entertainment. Slowly, but surely, Frontier fought back and took control of the situation.

Gudinski assures the pair have buried the hatchet. “It’s very competitive between us. When it’s all said and done, we’re good friends,” says the Frontier Touring chief. “Chuggi’s proven he’s a great promoter. And so he should, he was taught by the best,” Gudinski laughs. “He’s doing well in his own right, and I’m proud of him.”

Looking ahead, Frontier Touring is keeping one eye on the talent, and another on new tools to bring the goods to market. Frontier’s Web presence underwent a major overhaul last year, directed by Reegan Stark (Frontier’s publicist for 7 years) and emerged as a sophisticated direct- marketing engine with a database of roughly 400,000 music fans. Dates on David Gray’s October 2009 tour sold out without a dollar spent on advertising.

At 57, Gudinski still enjoys a party, and he’s still very much the boss at Frontier Touring. But there is a clear succession plan in place for the business. Phillip Jacobson (an original partner) continues to act as an invaluable consultant on financial matters, and Frank Stivala, who is the only remaining partner in The Frontier Touring Company still heads up The Premier Harbour Agency. There are significant roles for Sydney-based Michael Harrison, an 18-year veteran who rose through the ranks at the affiliated Harbour Agency, and Melbourne-based Gerard Schlaghecke, a 27-year company veteran who also learnt the ropes on the agency side of the business with Premier Artists. Another key exec is Gudinski’s son Matt, managing director of Mushroom Group-affiliated Illusive Music.

Gudinski senior also pays tribute to chief financial officer Carl Nicholas, a 26-year company veteran and a red wine connoisseur par excellence and Mary Bainbridge who has been an integral part of Frontier for 26 years.

Gudinski admits chatter on a sale of part, or all, of Frontier Touring will inevitably crop up in the years to come. “We’ve still got a lot to offer. Are we desperate for a sale? Are we running around hunting for it? No. But we have had different offers, and you’ve got to look at the options that come up.” Don’t anticipate Gudinski to cash in his chips just yet. And unlike his old adversary Chugg, there are no plans for a tell-all book.

Michael Gudinski’s MIDEM keynote Q&A can be streamed at midem.com

Click here for the original story.

“No Regrets”. Click here the Michael Gudinski interview.

“Chugg on Gudinski.” Lars Brandle talks to Gudinski’s old running mate. Click here for the story.

Lars Brandle chats with the execs who are next in line to the Frontier throne. Click here for the story.

The Tote Is Dead

Published in The Music Network

 

Victoria’s tough licensing rules and security conditions are squeezing the life out of Melbourne’s grassroots live music scene, local venue owners warn. The search is now on to find strong support from the music industry, a white knight who can exert some of its own pressure. Whatever the outcome, it’ll be much too late to save the Tote. A symbol of inner-city Melbourne’s buzzing live music circuit since 1980, the Tote Hotel closed its doors for the last time on January 18th. Bruce Milne, proprietor of the iconic Collingwood music venue, says the Tote was a victim of harsh new liquor licensing measures.

Under the rules, any bar or pub which hosted live music and operated outside the defined “ordinary” trading hours of 9am to 11pm could be considered a “high risk” venue, meaning the licensee would face expensive new levels of safety and security compliance.

Victorian Police recommended a “high risk” status for the Tote, pegging the venue on a par with the city’s roughest and toughest boozers. “It was a simple case where I couldn’t operate profitably under the ‘high risk’ (category). And we couldn’t afford to keep fighting it,” explains Milne, who says alcohol-related incidents were an extremely rare spectacle at his venue. “I had to sack 16 people. For me, I was seething with anger at the unfairness of it all.”

Victoria’s director of liquor licensing sue McClellan says the rules are firm but fair. In 2010, the Tote’s liquor licensing fees would have risen by $1,673 to $5,962.50, a hike of almost 40% in one year, the director of liquor licensing confirms to TMN. “License fees are about recouping the costs for regulating the industry,” says a spokesperson for McClellan. “Previously, regulation of the industry came out of the tax-payer’s pocket. Now licensees pay for the licensing of their own industry.”

Jaddan Comerford, co-owner of the Staple Group, says the laws are causing “direct damage” to Victoria’s live music community. It’s a sector which – according to APRA – is worth approximately $30 million in annual payments to performers. “We need to engage with government and discuss the issues that are important to our industry,” notes Comerford. “We’re trying (through indie trade association AIR), but it’s not always easy to get the message through.”

The untimely closure of the 330-capacity Tote sparked a period of mourning. Thousands of regulars gathered outside the Johnston street venue to pay their final respects for a site which had hosted gigs by Spiderbait, You Am I, Paul Kelly, Silverchair and Jet, among many others. Milne, who acquired the Collingwood venue’s licence with his brother James in 2001, says the music industry needs to take action, and soon.

“We need to have statements of support from across the board from the John Farnhams, the Paul Kellys, saying (music venues) mean something to people out there in the community,” comments Milne. “If the government is smart, we’ll see some dramatic changes soon. They’re desperate to make this problem go away. Hopefully what happened to the Tote won’t happen to other venues.”

Apparently, The Tote isn’t the only Melbourne venue to feel the pinch. A number of Melbourne’s smaller music sites are considering whether to pull the plug on live music. The Railway Hotel in North Fitzroy has already yanked its live music programming because its operators couldn’t soak-up the inflated costs. “We were told we must have two security guards on with any live entertainment, even if we had just six people in the room,” explains Peter Negrelli, manager and booker of the 180-capacity Railway Hotel. “If you have a performance where you know you’ll have 200-300 people, sure. But if you’ve got a weeknight gig with acoustic, low- level amplified music, the rules are crazy.”

Tim Northeast, owner of the larger Corner and Northcote Social Club venues, cautions that the government’s crackdown on licensed premises was a “threat” to the music industry. “The people of Melbourne and the music industry at large must fight hard to protect the smaller venues from becoming collateral damage in the fight against street violence,” he says. Help might be on the way. Kathleen Maltzahn, the Greens Party candidate for the Melbourne district of Richmond, has challenged the state government to back away. In an open letter to the government entitled “Keep Melbourne Live,” Maltzahn has proposed a four-step compromise to safeguard the region’s live sector.

The action doesn’t stop there. Local lobbying group Fair Go 4 Live Music recently met with Tony Robinson, Minister for Gaming and Consumer Affairs, to air the industry’s concerns about the knock-on effects of the Liquor Licensing regulations. Falling short of making a change to policy, Robinson did agree to investigate the issue in the coming weeks and would meet with McClellan on the issue. In the meantime, the Tone Deaf Website is hosting an online petition to persuade a change in legislative mood. In its call to arms, the petition warns that the liquor licensing laws and regulations are “destroying the vibrancy and viability” of the live music circuit. Another action-group, which goes under the working title Save Live Australian Music (SLAM), is organizing an inner-city rally on February 27th to protest the lack of government support for live music.

“When I started out in the music business, there were a whole lot less rules about music venues and there were a whole lot more of them. There was music playing on every corner, and it was a pretty good time,” says Warner Music Australasia president and CEO Ed St John. “It feels like this sector of the industry has been squeezed tighter and tighter over the years. We seem to have become a more regulated society, and rock ‘n’ roll is something some people have a real objection to.”


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Hazard Warning

Published in Billboard Magazine

 

Vanessa Amorosi has lived a fast life. The Australian pop singer signed her first record contract at 14, became a recording artist at 16 and was a million-seller by 18.

Now 26, she’s set for an international push for her current Universal Music Australia album “Hazardous,” with the major’s European affiliates firming up 2010 release plans.

Amorosi topped the Australian Recording Industry Assn. singles chart last October with “This Is Who I Am”; by year’s end, it had shipped 140,000 copies and finished as the third-best-selling home-grown single of the year, according to the ARIA.

Parent album “Hazardous” opened at No. 7 in Australia the week after its Nov. 6 release and is now ARIA-certified gold (35,000 units). “In the process of growing up and becoming a woman, her music has transformed into what it is now on the current album,” Amorosi’s Melbourne-based manager Ralph Carr says.

The self-published Amorosi is booked in Australia by Premier Artists and in Europe by Primary Talent. After playing a handful of Australian shows in January, she begins a nine-date arena tour supporting Rob Thomas Feb. 5 at Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne. A national headlining tour is planned for later this year.