The Hot Seat: Chris Murphy

Published in The Music Network

 

INXS’ Manager Chris Murphy talks to TMN about managing the band (again), their new Original Sin album and how he’s planning to get them “back in stadiums in 3-5 years”.

Chris, how did you find yourself back with INXS. Was it an acrimonious split?
No. I was the first manager who wasn’t fired (laughs). I retired from it. I said I’d manage INXS for 10 years, it ended up being 15. My two daughters needed me, and I needed a change. The only negative aspect of it was that INXS hated me for making that decision. After I stopped managing them, it took a long time to get them out of my psyche. We got together the same way I met them – a bit of fate. I was in Cuba, and I was thinking ‘this is the sort of place INXS needs to come to. There’s music everywhere.’ Not long after, Kirk Pengilly rang me and said, “Our masters are coming back. We’d like to have our masters with you.” I flew around the world to analyse where the brand was at. And I realized there’s at least 100 million people who are aware of the INXS brand. I thought there’s a huge opportunity for INXS. In 2008 we started to get serious and map plans out. It was like you’d lost your family for 12 years, and for some reason you all start getting together.

How big can they be again?
I’m confident within the next 3-5 years, INXS will be back in stadiums. And I have no doubt. Are they going to be big in every country in the world? I don’t know. I’ll work every country individually. Australia is going first, then we’ll work South America, Canada, Europe. We won’t release it in the US until early next year. Someone said the other day, “why is INXS still continuing?” In America and France, they don’t say that. It’s only in Australia. I love Australians and INXS love Australians, but for some reason they’ve been the hardest on INXS. To this day, I do not get it.

What level of consumer research do you undertake?
A lot of people see me as a rebel, gung-ho type, shootingfrom- the-hip character. But I always do (analysis). I don’t like failure. What I’m doing for INXS today is not trying to solve an issue or problem today. I’m setting up a strategy that will last 20 years.

You’ve been quoted as describing Original Sin as the most important INXS album since Kick. How so?
There’s the sense of where the band was at creatively when they started their walk into Kick. It has the same emotional leadup. The band had been doing all these things over the past 12 years, since the death of Michael, the TV show and all the drama associated with it. On this album, I spent a couple of years dissembling the band. Forgetting all the pressures to try to have a hit record, forgetting those pressures of expectations. And just go out and have a good creative time and enjoy yourselves. They had a skip to their step. I’ve only seen that twice with INXS, once with Kick and with this album.

What do you hope Original Sin achieves for the INXS brand?
The band had been beaten up in so many ways. INXS is one of the most creative bunch of musicians and songwriters I’ve ever come across, and they’re also the most professional. But they’d closed down their creativity by the type of people they were working with. I needed to unlock it. What we had to do was expose the depth of the song catalogue, blending old and new. Part of this process is to show the depth of the songs. And to reveal a songwriting genius, Andrew Farriss. He’s the most successful songwriter ever to come out of Australia. He’s sold 40 million freakin’ albums!

So when will Petrol Electric rollout out the INXS catalogue?
We’re trying to work out an interesting way to put it out. I want to see what happens if you do give people something specially, physically. Not just a bloody jewel case with a bit of flimsy paper in there. For the December 10, we’ll release a limitededition deluxe version of this album. It’s a 40-page book, with the album and there’s a version of Ben Harper and Nikka Costa doing a swamp version of Devil Inside as the bonus track. We’ve done our final research for a January limited edition t-shirt and CD box. We really have to evaluate what’s going on with the consumer and the marketplace. The four record players only have to have a meeting in New York, and if they decide CDs are too expensive, they could drop it and go digital. I love digital. But if that happens, I don’t think it’s the right thing.

 

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The Hot Seat: George Couri

Published in The Music Network

 

In the US, country music doesn’t suffer an image crisis. It’s a colossal, mainstream business. George Couri knows this. Some years back, the Austin, Texas-based artist manager made the conscious decision to shift his attention away from rock and pop and focus on the country genre. Now Couri is targeting Australia for his stable of artists, which includes breakthrough acts Joe Nichols, Jack Ingram, Eli Young Band and Kevin Fowler. TMN caught up with the 888 Management President.

Greetings George, what brings you to Australia?
I’m down here setting up Jack Ingram and Joe Nichols, who are both coming out here for CMC Rocks the Hunter next March. Jack might continue with two shows after that, and Joe is definitely coming back in the first week of May for a headlining run of about seven dates. We’re very serious about coming to Australia on a regular basis. My guys spend a lot of time focusing on the US and sometimes we go into Canada. But I’m putting the vast majority of our international efforts – 90% — in Australia.

Why Australia and not the UK or another European market?
You have to have a champion in whatever market you’re talking about. Between (promoter) Rob Potts and Universal, there are two entities willing to begin developing these guys here more. The potential here is massive. And it seems the fans here are like in the US — once you get them they’re loyal to you.

What’s Nashville’s perception of the Australian country scene?
It’s considered one of the strongest markets, though people don’t talk about it much. When Tim McGraw does really well, and Alan Jackson sells a lot of tickets very quickly, that makes its way back to the country music business in the US. Those two tours in particular have raised a couple of eyebrows, they’re reminding people there’s a lot of country fans in Australia. The artists selling out the big arenas here aren’t necessarily selling lots of records, but when they hear somebody is coming they feel it’s an event not to miss.

Does Australian country music still suffer an image problem in the US?
Well, musically, they’re a little different. Australian country acts seem a little more folk or Americana than what the mainstream Nashville country artists do. I’d love an Adam Brand or some other Aussie act to get in there and have success in the US Country radio is a big part of it and you have to spend time getting all the program directors to know the acts, and to believe there is something beyond the song. Collectively, there are more music radio stations in America that play country than for any other genre. There are 140 stations that really matter. To get those program directors to invest in playing your music, you really have to spend time. It can be a long run. It won’t happen a week here and there.

How are country record sales holding up in the US sales?
Other genres have declined in the US faster than country, but country has still declined. The percentage of sales in digital is higher for every other genre than country. In the last two months, and in the next few months, a lot of big, established hot country artists are putting out records – Zac Brown Band, Jason Aldean, Taylor Swift, Reba McEntire, Rascal Flatts, Sugarland. And they’re all selling. Taylor Swift sold a million in a week, which is a lot more than her last record did. Jason’s last record did about 100,000, while his new one did almost 200,000. Your blurb mentions you’ve taken artists from playing to a couple hundred people to playing to tens of thousands.

How have you done that?
Persistence. One of my artists, Eli Young Band, worked their tail off in the Texas area for 5-6 years. When we met they were doing 300 people in a market, up to 1,000. We’ve now had a top 10 hit and sold 19,000 tickets to a Dallas show. They’re five-times bigger than they were three years ago. We talked to fans more, occasionally gave them downloads, included them in things, allowed them to voted on T-shirt designs. Make everything about including the fans. Don’t treat them like you’re marketing to them, continue to make good records and work hard.


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The Hot Seat: Adam McArthur

Published in The Music Network

Adam McArthur, GM of Moshtix and now Foxtix, discusses News Limited’s move into ticketing, lower fees, new business and overseas expansion.

When Foxtix announced its arrival last month, it made bold claims of challenging the big two of Ticketmaster and Ticketek. What’s the plan?
We’ll take them on with the Moshtix experience, which is having lower fees as a starting point and a much-more flexible experience. We’ll do that through our technology, and we don’t have that legacy of a highcost operating structure. They’re used to receiving high fees. For them to change, they’d have to accept earning less money doing the same thing. We expect our fees to be a lot lower than what’s currently being charged by the big players.

How much lower?
We can’t change the ticket price, but we can certainly change the fee part of it. And it varies by deal, depending on the level of services that are required. We certainly see it in the 20-30% range of the fee (charged by the big two). The fee should be in the $4-5 range in most situations (on international tours). Some transaction fees are soaring well above that. We’ve seen some transaction fees through Ticketek at $17-$18. They’re blaming the credit card charges, but they’re not being charged that themselves. There are some large fees in this country. They don’t need to be as high as that.

How’s business?
There are a couple of deals coming up which are in the process of being signed. Moshtix is doing very well, but it is being impacted by the festivals market. The oversupply is affecting our customers in that space. There are a couple of standout festivals, but most are a fair way down on last year. They’re expecting sales to happen later in the cycle than early on.

You look at December and you’ve got U2, Bon Jovi, Linkin Park all touring here and that upsets the festival market as well. It’s going to be hard for (Foxtix) to win the first couple of deals. There’s going to be a lot of competition from the big two not wanting to let us in. Over the course of 3-5 years, we expect to take a significant chunk out of those two players.

Foxtix is handling a David Campbell indoor concert. So will Foxtix chase the pub-end?
We’ll stay in pubs and clubs with the Moshtix brand. Foxtix will be the more mainstream events, covering theatre, arts and certainly music but focusing on an older demographic than what we have done with Moshtix.

What’s been the initial reaction of the launch?
The promoters are saying that strong competition would be good because there hasn’t been competition at that end of the market for a long time. There’s probably 20-30 ticketing companies in Australia but they’re all very small and they have a very small niche. And no-one has the investment to take on the big players because of the deep pockets needed to do that. But they’re slightly wary because they know many of the large deals – for stadiums and arenas – are in long-term ticketing arrangements.

In Australia, the venue controls the ticketing rights. We won’t change that overnight, but there’s always opportunities around and tenders coming up which we’ll be involved in. There’s a good part of the market we can go after – outdoor shows, the arts community, large exhibitions, and the sporting market.

Why is News Limited getting busy in ticketing?
The majority of News Limited’s revenue is from advertising. If you go back to the 2005-2006 period, the advertising market started to downturn. Ticketing is an alternative revenue stream. Also it fits well within a media company because if you promote events more widely, then you can sell more tickets. It’s worked well over the past three years with Moshtix, which has been really successful. So what’s Moshtix’ marketshare? We think it’s in the 5-7% range.

Will you merge the two ticketing companies?
We went through those talks before we launched the brand. Our original approach would be to use Moshtix across everything. A year ago, we decided we needed a new brand. I’d like to think they both have their own life. But there might be a time when it just makes sense to merge them, if one is able to serve both of those markets properly.

So you’re looking abroad?
Yes, we’d like to start an international expansion in the next five years. We should prove ourselves first in Australia and NZ. If we’re able to do that, then there’ll certainly be opportunities to expand.

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Dan Sultan: Sex. Rock. Soul

(Photo credit David Anderson)

Published in The Music Network

 

In Australian music circles, Dan Sultan has arrived in a massive way. But to the mainstream, he’s still the cute guy from Bran Nue Dae. Or he’s simply off the radar. That’s all about to change.

It’s the small hours of November 8, the post-ARIA Awards celebrations are in full-swing. One night-owl has more reason to celebrate than any other, Dan Sultan. Just hours earlier, the charismatic singer had joined INXS on stage and was separately anointed ARIA male artist of the year, beating out Guy Sebastian, John Butler, Paul Dempsey and Dan Kelly. It came as a shock to all, but a surprise to no-one who has followed his journey.

“This is awesome. No indigenous artist has ever won this award,” Sultan told this reporter, with an enthusiasm sadly missing in today’s rock fraternity. “Bands like Scrap Metal and Yothu Yindi, they’ve worked so hard over the years to break down the barriers. Tonight, we broke those barriers just a bit more.”

Sultan has a lot of love and respect for his community. He’s the youngest member of Black Arm Band, an ensemble of indigenous artists whose manifesto is to perform, promote and celebrate contemporary Australian indigenous music to the highest standard “as a symbol of resilience and hope in the spirit and action of reconciliation.”

The singer isn’t so much chipping away at the barriers, as kicking them in. Album sales are ticking away, but it’s at the critical end of the spectrum where he’s cracking the nod. Earlier last week, Sultan won the first of his two ARIAs, claiming the Best Blues & Roots Album award for his sophomore effort, Get Out While You Can. The Sydney Opera House has become a happy hunting ground. The famous venue was the setting of another brace of wins on Sept. 27, when Sultan took out best male artist at the Deadly Awards, the annual celebration of indigenous music.

Days later, Sultan scooped a pair of gongs at the Australian Independent Music Awards in Melbourne, including the prestigious best independent artist trophy. “I had no doubt he was going to win the male artist ARIA award,” notes his manager Buzz Thompson. “It seems the last audience that he’s going to win over is the young kids. He doesn’t fit anywhere. He’s just got such broad appeal. And his pure diversity has had him everywhere.”

That’s something of an understatement. Sultan has appeared on the big screen, on stage alongside Neil Finn, INXS and Paul Kelly. He’s been on the small screen, appearing on Spicks & Specks, Rockwiz and Good News Week and he’s played with You Am I at the National Rugby League Grand Final.

Clearly it’s been a remarkable 2010. The turnaround from struggling muso to stage-setter has been a remarkably swift one. “I’ve been living off my music for the last couple of years. But to be honest, it’s only been over the last 12 or so months that I’ve had a proper living from it. Now there’s food in the fridge. I’m 27, living off my music. I consider myself lucky to be able to do that.”

Luck has played only a small part in Dan’s tale. Born in Melbourne to an Irish father and Aboriginal mother, music was always flowing through the family home. There was a lot of rock music, and a lot of soul music. Those influences are all there in Sultan’s music, which has been interpreted in the music press as soul-rock.

“Essentially, it’s just rock ‘n’ roll,” he says. “But if you want to get particular, it’s country-soul rock ‘n’ roll.”

Sultan is ambitious. He wants to take on the world, and win. Nothing unusual there. And it’s nothing that hasn’t been done before from these shores. It’ll be an uphill battle, Sultan admits, but he’s faced challenges his entire life.

“Indigenous people in this country — no matter what we do whether its sport or the arts – we have to be twice as good to get half as much attention,” he says. “I’ve won independent artist of the year at the AIR Awards, but I haven’t been on the cover of anything. But that’s ok. It doesn’t bother me.” After the ARIAs, a whole lot more attention should now come Sultan’s way.

With two albums to his name, the singer has grafted away on the road over the years, making many friends along the way. His 2006 debut Homemade Biscuits was co-written with guitarist and long-time collaborator Scott Wilson and released in 2006 with the help of John Butler’s Seed program, a project to support Australian artists from any background to have their voice heard.

The album merely tickled the sales charts, but it caught the ears of Paul Kelly who invited Sultan and Wilson to participate in a special Kev Carmody tribute concert Cannot Buy My Soul in 2008. Sultan would also pay homage to Kelly, performing on the Before Too Long tribute concerts in late 2009.

Along the way, another ARIA winner, Clare Bowditch, honoured Sultan with the affectionate nickname The Black Elvis. It’s a reference that just won’t go away. “She was giving me a compliment and I take it as a compliment,” he laughs. “I love Elvis, but at the same time I don’t believe it.”

Others did. His talents grabbed the attention of movie producers who cast him as the handsome badboy Lester in the popular 2009 theatrical release Bran Nue Dae, where he acted alongside Oscar-winner Geoffrey Rush and another indigenous artist, Jessica Mauboy. Sultan has no pretences about his acting chops.

“It was a lot of hard work, probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I was out of my comfort zone, but I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat.”

In 2009, Sultan was back at his genre-busting game with Get Out While You Can, its themes touching on drug addiction and domestic violence, through to skydiving accidents, prison and worship of the fairer sex. Pulling guest performance slots from Ella Hooper and Vika and Linda Bull, his sophomore album debuted at No. 8 and raced to the top of the AIR independent albums chart, but peaked at only No. 90 on the ARIA sales chart.

Sultan also impressed the members of INXS. They contacted Sultan’s manager Buzz Thompson with an invite too good to refuse. Sultan would take frontman duties for a recording of the band’s classic early track, Just Keep Walking which appears on the November 8 release Original Sin, an album of re-imagined INXS classics. Sultan and Wilson cut the track between live dates in London.

The singer reunited with INXS to perform the song at the 2010 ARIA Awards. Last Friday saw the Sultan and Wilson wrap-up their national “Up Close & Acoustic” tour. Plans are to take a break after the Australian summer to write works for a third album, with Wilson again by his side. “I have some good ideas floating around,” he says. Having played a handful of UK shows this year, including Womad festival and a showcase at the Water Rats in central London, Europe’s festival circuit is on the cards for mid-2011.

“We want to base ourselves in London next summer and be there for perhaps 10 weeks, says his manager Buzz Thompson, who is in talks to secure international releases. “We’re really pumped for Europe,” says Thompson. Sultan will also play Canadian Music Week and will likely perform at next year’s SxSW festival.

For now, Sultan can enjoy the afterglow of his surprise ARIAs rewards. The magazine covers will come, and sales should spike. Everything is falling into place. And Sultan is happy to share to spoils.

“Every day it gets better for indigenous artists. That’s just because we keep fighting and working really hard,” he says. “There are stories of Scrap Metal, the Aboriginal band in the ‘80s, rocking up to the pub they’ve been booked to play for months and the publican saying ‘no, there’s no band here tonight.’ Now I get gigs where I either get a cab charge or a driver picking me up from the airport and I stay in nice hotels. That’s because of the work that they’ve done. And I’d like to think the work I’ve done, and the work Jess Mauboy has done, it’s going to make it a lot better for the next generation.

“Everyone is saying it’s getting better. What is happening is that other people’s attitudes towards us are getting better. It’s not us getting better. We’ve always been that good.”


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