The Hot Seat: Dan Rosen

Published in The Music Network

 

We chat to ARIA CEO Dan Rosen about local content quotas, the best ways to tackle piracy, and how he will approach this year’s ARIA ceremony.

It’s been a tough couple of months since you arrived in the job. The ARIA awards was a ratings flop, and we learned that the Australian CD business dropped savagely. What are the big challenges and how will you tackle them?
On the PPCA side, we want to ensure we can grow the distribution pool. Last year, it reached $20 million, so it’s grown to a sizable amount of money that we can give back. We’ve got a few continuing challenges. One is to eliminate the 1% cap that commercial radio stations pay for recording artists. We’ve got a High Court challenge coming [May 10-12]. And we’re claiming that it is unconstitutional. That is an unjustified rate and there’s no reason why the government should set an artificial rate. The industry has been fighting that for a number of decades.

The other, more-publicised fight we’ve been having is with the fitness industry. We’re currently appealing that decision [the Federal Court overturned the Copyright Tribunal decision to increase copyright fees]. On the ARIA side, people are loving music as much as ever. We don’t have any problem with demand. And we still have great Australian artists coming through. The challenge is how to stop people doing the wrong thing in illegal piracy of music, and how to get people to do the right thing. We also have to educate people on the value of music.

So what is the plan for tackling piracy?
The AFACT v iiNet ruling didn’t exactly back the creative industries. The iiNet decision didn’t settle the issue. There’s something in there for everybody. And certainly it did show the ISPs that they do have liability [the Federal Court ruled that iiNet had not authorised its customers to infringe copyright online; AFACT is appealing in the High Court]. We need to make sure there are commercial models available in the digital world. We’ve set up an Australian Content Industry Group (ACIG), which brings together not just the music industry but also the book industry, software industry and computer games industry.

Piracy is not just a music industry problem. As creative industries, we’re working hard to come up with a commercial resolution with the ISPs and lobbing Government to make sure they’re aware of the problem; they can help us put pressure on the ISPs to come up with the solution.

Is it possible to ever win this battle with piracy?
Absolutely. We have to work on a solution to it, because it’s not justified. It’s directly impacting the industry, it’s directly impacting artists’ ability to make a living. It’s directly impacting labels’ ability to invest in the next crop of artists coming through. It’s a difficult challenge, but we’re not prepared to just lay over on it.

There’s a considerable amount of concern about content quotas not extending to digital radio.
Yes, that was unfortunate. There was a moratorium of three years. We need to work hard to make sure local content quotas are maintained in the digital environment.

Is there not more the biz can do together to push commercial radio to play more Aussie music?
We have to work hard for it. I look forward to working with Chuggi and the other promoters on how we can really make a dent on this one.

Michael Gudinski was quoted earlier this year as saying “irrelevant people” should be removed from the ARIAs format. How will you approach this year’s ceremony?
It’s an incredibly important year for the ARIAs. It’s the 25th year. It’s a momentous occasion and it gives us a great opportunity to really celebrate the Australian music industry. We’ve spent a lot of time consulting with the industry, with guys like Michael and other promoters, artists, labels and managers to learn what we can do and how we can continue to improve and evolve the awards.

My mission is really to put on an event we can all be proud of. In tennis we have a Grand Slam. It would be great to have the ARIAs as one of the big award shows that people have to come to and watch. We shouldn’t shy away from getting international acts down here. We are part of an international community. We’re a player, not a bit player. We’re top 10.


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Leaking Lineups: Whetting appetites or raining on parades?

Published in The Music Network

 

When is a leak a good leak? Well, if you’re running a record label, the typical response is “never”. But in the world of festivals, the answer is a little more convoluted. Lineup leaks are becoming commonplace and they can generate more buzz than buzz- kill. TMN investigates.

When Splendour in the Grass revealed its bill last Wednesday, there were few real surprises. That’s because the news was already out there. A leak the previous week spilt the beans on the bill, which will feature headliners Kanye West, Coldplay and Pulp, alongside the likes of Jane’s Addiction, The Hives, Regina Spektor, The Mars Volta and Mogwai.

Earlier, Splendour had been the subject of a rumour, masquerading as a leak when a fake Splendour poster showed up on the web. Splendour’s co-founders Paul Piticco and Jess Ducrou declined to comment for this article. But they wouldn’t have been laughing at how control was yanked from their release process.

“I don’t think anyone will tell you an inadvertent leak where someone photographed an ad or artwork is a positive,” says Richard Moffat, Manager of Melbourne-based Way Over There, an independent company which programs a string of venues and events including Falls Festival and Sunset Sounds. “There’s no doubt that it’s a negative for everyone, everytime.”

Splendour is the latest in a growing list of festivals to spring a leak, joining the likes of Soundwave, Vivid Live Festival and America’s Vans Warped tour. Indeed, the event can wear its spoiler as a badge of honour. The more celebrated the show, the more desire to bust its big announcement.

For promoters, leaks fall somewhere between a nuisance, and a handy nudge for its publicity machine. The Splendour spoiler won’t harm the show. Splendour 2011 will sell out, and the official website generated more than 1.8 million page hits in 15 minutes following the announce. Jumping the gun on a line-up, however, can cause a right sting up and down the foodchain, particularly with media partners and the featured artists. Triple J would have lost considerable impact when they “exclusively” announced the line-up last Wednesday.

“Leaks are inevitable,” notes Meagan Loader, Triple J‘s Program Director, “but this all adds to the excitement.” Falls Festival’s 2009 line-up was leaked a day early. “It was completely frustrating and we were tearing our hair out when it happened,” Falls Festival founder Simon Daly told TMN at the time. “We’d put so much work into it and worked so closely with so many stakeholders for the announcement.”

Live events strike “program announce” contracts with their artists, an assurance that everyone enjoys the big release at the same time. Not surprisingly, artists also like to control the flow of their own news. These artist contracts were at risk of being compromised when this year’s May 27-June 13 Vivid Festival at the Sydney Opera House, which will feature the likes of Spiritualized, Chris Cunningham and Bat For Lashes. Hackers pulled the line-up from the Opera House website and exposed the news a day early.

The 2011 event’s curator and Modular founder Steve “Pav” Pavlovic brushes it off, describing the scenario as “hours of enjoyment watching people scrambling to try and decipher the line- up.” Sydney Opera House Head of Contemporary Music Fergus Linehan admits, “We should have had it covered, quite frankly.” Website security has since been tightened, but Linehan says it’s an impossible call to say a leak won’t happen again. “If you’ve got a couple of thousand fanatical kids who want to know what’s going on in the back-room of your website, they’ll find a way.”

Publicists play a role in locking- down leaks. A journalist who breaks an embargo will earn a black mark, and can generally kiss goodbye (for a while, anyway) any special favours. Any publication whose staff prematurely discloses a line-up stands to lose future ad-income.

“There’s been many incidents where we’ve been the ones to spring the leak,” admits Tim Hardaker, Partnerships Director at Sound Alliance, parent company of inthemix, FasterLouder, Mess+Noise and SameSame. “Initially it got some noses out of joint. We got a few baseless legal threats, a mountain of abusive emails and some very angry phonecalls. We weren’t even publishing anything that a savvy Internet user wouldn’t be able to find out for themselves. It was the fact we were giving the information a national platform for exposure that caused some concern.”

Hardaker says event partners will sometimes enforce an NDA (non-disclosure agreement) to tighten leaks. “There’s so many external and internal stakeholders involved in a large-scale festival announcement or album release. It’s go to be almost impossible to avoid leaks.”

As the northern festivals season kicks into gear, speculation on the line-up for the big shows is heating up. The Vans Warped tour press conference lost some of its gleam when the lineup – which includes Gym Class Heroes and 3Oh!3 — recently slipped onto the net. Several eager fans spotted the news and promptly spread the word. “I really am seeing the power [of Facebook and Twitter] right now,” Warped founder Kevin Lyman told Billboard Magazine.

In the UK, the rampant media speculation about who’ll headline the annual Glastonbury festival is “now so widespread that it’s become something of a national sport,” notes Greg Parmley, editor of British-based live and touring publication IQ. Headline slots at the top-tier UK festivals are now multi-million pound deals, so potential leaks are heavily policed.

“When 5% of the bill sells 85% of the tickets, having that exclusive performance or first announcement can make all the difference,” explains Parmley. The unlikely winner from a leaked program can be the middle and lesser-ranked artists, who would otherwise be lost in the mix when the full bill is revealed. Organisers of Soundwave Revolution are leading the way by drip-feeding names from the line-up into the social networking space. In this case, Soundwave Revolution is in control. They weren’t when the 2011 Soundwave lineup leaked online last August, a situation which didn’t sit well with promoters

Line-up leaks, it would seem, are here to stay. Get used to it and prepare for the unexpected. “The key to successful campaigns is always planning and setup. When you get thrown the curve ball of a leak, it will change the dynamic of the campaign,” explains XYZneworks Music Channels Marketing Director Ben Facey, who joined the broadcaster last year from Warner Music Australia.

“Our industry moves with such pace, you should be able to react accordingly, even though it’s clearly not your initial plan. You also have to look at leaks as nearly part of a campaign these days and having a so called ‘seeding track’ or something that has leaked can work in everyone’s favour as well. It’s how you deal with the leak as a company.” In the current market,” reckons Facey, “you should nearly be looking for [leaks] to happen.”

In the recorded music world, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a major label executive who finds an upside to unauthorised pre-release leaks. A carefully constructed release campaign can be unravelled at an instant by a leak, causing a knee-jerk response where the recording is rush- released through iTunes to stem the haemorrhaging. In the face of a sharply down- turning recording business, the IFPI’s then-CEO John Kennedy in 2007 declared war on pre-release leaks. The international record labels’ association’s new CEO Frances Moore has picked up the cudgel.

“Curbing pre- release piracy is a particular priority for the recording industry,” she says in the IFPI’s latest Digital Music Report, “as it hits albums at the most vulnerable point in their sales cycle.” That cycle is in fast-motion during the four weeks of a release, when an album typically sells over half its copies. The IFPI works with member labels to monitor leaks and, according to the organisation, has seen the typical leak time reduced from a few weeks to a few days before an album goes on sale. Australia’s Music Industry Piracy Investigations unit (MIPI) tackles leaks by issuing takedown notices and letters of demand.

The anti-piracy unit also investigates the source of the leak and may pursue “appropriate enforcement or educative action” explains MIPI General Manager Sabiene Heindl. The majority of pre-release leaks of Australian music have originated through “highly organised and sophisticated release groups,” Heindl notes.

Sometimes the label itself is the unwitting culprit. Universal Music Australia landed itself some unwanted headlines in 2009 when the music major’s Getmusic download service released U2’s album No Line On The Horizon a full two-weeks early. It was through a simple timing glitch on the website. The indiscretion didn’t go unnoticed. Bloggers bought the MP3 files, collected screengrabs, and told the world. The Edge later told London radio station XFM, “The one good thing about that is a lot of our fans have already given us their thumbs up.” U2 can live with album leaks better than most. Their 360 tour was recently declared the biggest money-spinner in history. Box office sales for 360 are expected to climb over US$700 million.

Which is where the grey area lies. Using recorded music as a loss-leader to generate tickets sales doesn’t take a genius to figure out. Gauging the steam coming from a leaked track can give a label the right fuel for a campaign. “Embrace them,” says Pav, of leaks, “and turn it into positive noise.”

Leaks of Note

Technology has given music fans a global platform to share anything from thoughts and photos, to pre- announcement festival artwork and major releases.

• In July 2004, U2’s The Edge lost more than a plastic disc when he left a CD in his personal stereo while on a photo shoot in France. The CD contained a demo version of How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb, an album some months away from release. Apparently, French police were immediately called in to question a handful of suspects, including photographers, make-up artists, set builders and stylists. The leak didn’t harm the project. Atomic Bomb has sold more than nine million copies.

• In January 2010, Mumford & Sons’ Little Lion Man was revealed as the winners of Triple J Hottest 100 some days before the Australia Day countdown. The inadvertent exposure came from the ABC Shop’s website, where an ad for the February issue of JMag carried a picture of the “winning” British folk-group. Crikey’s website ran a screen grab, Triple J told listeners to ignore it. And bookies stopped taking bets on the result. The nation tuned in just to make sure.

• In August 2010, a snap from a camera phone hit the web, showing what appeared to be the bill for the 2011 Soundwave festival tour. Iron Maiden, Queens of the Stone Age and Slayer featured on a pirate themed poster complete with a jolly roger in the title. The leak was the real deal, and it undermined a carefully orchestrated announcement campaign.

 

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Duran Duran: Lucky Thirteen


Published in The Music Network

 

Thirteen isn’t such an unlucky number for Duran Duran. The iconic British pop group is enjoying fresh legs as they stride forward with a new studio album, their thirteenth. And they’re taking their marks for a world-tour which should visit these parts before too long.

With British production maestro Mark Ronson at the helm, Duran Duran’s latest album All You Need Is Now represents something of a new start for the band, and a sound which captures their glory days.

TMN caught up with Duran Duran’s founding bass player John Taylor in New York City, where the group is knocking down a gruelling schedule of promo commitments.

“It’s been so busy. It’s been crazy. I don’t know if we’ve ever put more behind an album than we have this one,” Taylor explains. “I guess there’s a feeling that this is ‘the one’. That we’ve got traction with this one. We got a feeling that it’s something really worth campaigning for. So we’re just pulling out all the stops, man. Which you really have to do, if you want to compete.”

In the first half of the ‘80s, Duran Duran didn’t so much as compete, but dominate. They enjoyed a string of hits which drove career album sales north of 80 million units, and established the band in pop music folklore. Remarkably, more than 30 years have passed since Duran Duran set alight the airwaves – and teenage hearts – with Planet Earth. The hunger for hits hasn’t dulled.

“Thanks to you fuckers (Australians), we had hits at such an early age, our first single on,” Taylor laughs. “We never in our wildest dreams imagined we’d become pop stars with No. 1 hits. Once that starts happening for you, then suddenly you’re writing for that. And when it stops happening, which is inevitable, then it starts feeling like a failure. When we enter the studio with a view to writing a song, we’d like that song to be a hit. That’s what Duran Duran are. We’re not Radiohead, we’re not The Rolling Stones. We’re like a pop group. If pop groups aren’t having hits, they’re like cars without tyres. We’re terribly addicted to hits.”

Mark Ronson is no stranger to creating hits. His production of Amy Winehouse’s multi-million selling sophomore album Black To Black turned his protégé into a global household name. A life-long “Duranie,” Ronson has brought a self-confidence back to Duran Duran. On their two prior albums, the group had experimented with producers du jour Timbaland and Justin Timberlake, to limited commercial success. Where those records sounded like a band trying desperately to stay relevant, All You Need Is Now is the sound of a band back in the groove. It’s unashamedly “early-era” Duran Duran, from the vintage drum machine beats in Before The Rain to Simon Le Bon’s pacey vocal melodies in Leave A Light On. They’re back doing what they do best – ‘80s pop.

“We cannot get away from the ‘80s,” comments Taylor. “Perhaps the best you can do is like The Rolling Stones with Start Me Up. Just to write a song which somehow captures the spirit of what people remember about you back in the day. When you’ve had a few years of phenomenal success, the idea of reinventing yourself into some kind of other mould, well I’m starting to think it’s actually impossible.”

Mixed by Spike Stent (Madonna, Björk, No Doubt), All You Need Is Now carries guest vocals from Scissor Sister Ana Matronic and neo-soul singer Kelis, while Arcade Fire’s Owen Pallett supplies the string arrangements.

Though the pull of the ‘80s seems an irresistible force, a pioneering spirit remains strong in the band members. Duran Duran were at the vanguard of the music video medium, and in recent years the group were strong advocates in the Second Life virtual reality game. Now, the act has thrown support behind Flipboard – billed as the first “social magazine” for the iPad — and some of the bandmates are avid Twitters (Taylor has punched out more than 1,600 Tweets, considerably behind Le Bon).

Months ahead of its physical launch, Duran Duran released a nine-track version of All You Need Is Now as an exclusive through iTunes. It was a gamble, which could have cannibalized sales of the CD. But Taylor is keen to play the maverick. “It’s been so long since anybody in the industry said, “we want your product sooner, rather than later. We want it now.’ There was an urgency at iTunes which really turned us on.”

Duran Duran has taken an alternative route to where they stand today. With their 2007 album Red Carpet Massacre, the band completed a two-album contract with Sony Music. After many years in the machinery of the major record business, the new LP is represented globally through a network of record company partners, including many independents (including Shock Entertainment in Australia).

All You Need Is Now landed at No. 11 on the Official U.K. Albums Chart. In Britain, the album is released through Tape Modern, a joint-venture of keyboardist Nick Rhodes and one-time Duran Duran vocalist Stephen Duffy. Sure, the band is disappointed to have not scored a U.K. top 10 hit on debut. “Well, as I said to my wife, it could have been No. 12,” muses Taylor. In the US, All You Need Is Now re-entered the chart a few weeks ago at No. 29, shifting 16,000 copies. It’s their 11th top 40 title stateside. “I don’t know if we really need hits to validate our existence,” admits Taylor. “We’ve put out an album that the fans of the band are being drawn to, that they’re loving in a way that they haven’t loved an album of ours in years. So maybe, it could take 12 months to find an audience.”

In that time, Taylor and his longtime colleagues are hoping to make a detour Down Under on their world tour, which will see the band take centre-stage at America’s Coachella festival and Britain’s V Fest. At this stage, no Australia plans are set in stone. “We love Australia and we’ve got a great relationship with Australia and I don’t see why we wouldn’t be coming to Australia at some point behind this album,” Taylor notes. “I’m really hoping that enough people will get on board with the album that we’re going to be able to make a tour that is going to be viable.”

And does John see any hits on the new record? “I don’t really know. Because I don’t know what a hit sounds like. I trust Mark. He’s had some hits in the past few years and he felt there were a couple of songs on the album that could be hits. Having said all of that, I don’t desperately need this album to be a hit, but I’m appreciating that people are liking it and the fans are really liking it. That might have to be enough.”

All You Need Is Now is out now through Shock Entertainment


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The Hot Seat: Fergus Linehan, Head of Contemporary Music, Sydney Opera House

Published in The Music Network

 

You’ve been in the Sydney Opera House job for about six months. What’s your vision?
It’s about trying to get the flow of really good work through the building as often as possible. It isn’t terribly visionary, but that’s really what you want. You want to make sure if there’s a major artist coming through, that we do everything we can to facilitate them being under those sails.

That (main) room is about artists who have a certain degree of maturity about them in terms of their work, because it’s an unforgiving room if you can’t put it across with a degree of virtuosity. Music capable of metaphor and subtext, that’s what we’re looking for. And trying to accommodate the best we can. If you’re really trying to create a venue that reflects the aspiration and taste of people in 2011, a big part of that is to be able to reflect quality popular music.

The Opera House last year hosted the ARIAs, the Deadlys, and of course you’ve got Vivid LIVE again this year. Is that all part of a repositioning of the Opera House as a sweaty live venue?

We don’t do many sweaty rock shows, mostly because our main rooms are seated venues. Our main programming outlet is a 2,200 seated room. We’re opening up a 600 standing capacity studio space. Vivid will be the first time we’ve given it a roll out in that way. We’ve got a whole lot of artists coming in to play that room for Vivid, like Odd Future (Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All), Azari and III. That (room) will change some of our programming dynamic.

These (types of alternative shows) have been going on at the Opera House since the beginning. The difference is it’s probably happening now in a more considered way, in a more programmed way. The days where this type of programming was “something for the young people” is long gone. It’s now about providing people with a perceived rounded cultural diet, and that includes popular music. The actual audience crossover is quite significant.

Last week your Vivid announcement leaked from the website. Did it keep you up that night?
For a moment. We should have had it covered, quite frankly. You’ve got a “program announce” contract with all the artists. Fortunately it stayed on a few threads and didn’t go too far. How many shows are you putting into the venue? We have six venues in here and across the whole year there’s something like 2,000 shows. That’s mainly because there are many resident companies there. My focus is on putting four or five really interesting shows into the big room each month and we’re starting to really look at animating the studio space.

Does the Opera House need to be revitalised?
It’s not a question of revitalisation, because it’s an incredibly busy place. The Opera House is Australia’s town hall. Millions of people come through it each year. It goes 24 hours, it hosts state funerals. If Barack Obama shows up tomorrow, we all know where he’s going. It’s not a place that needs revitalisation, but it constantly needs a really good flow of contemporary thinking. And part of that is it needs to be responsive to the community it serves, which is NSW and Australia, but also as a tourist function. A big part of that now is being able to be coherent and impact in terms of contemporary music.

Has there been a tangible effect from the spotlight Oprah Winfrey cast on the Opera House?
In terms of a programming point of view, when you’re going to booking agents it keeps the venue in the mind’s eye. And maybe it says something to an artist about the fact they’ve achieved something in their career. Some big egos step out on that stage and say, “wow. Look at what I did.”

Any plans to bring the ARIAs back here in 2011?
I’m not party to that discussion, but there is some sort of talk about it.

Vivid runs from May 27 to June 13


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