The Hot Seat: Ray Elias, Chief Marketing Officer, StubHub

Published in The Music Network

 

by Lars Brandle

Ray, your colleagues have been widely quoted in the press as saying StubHub was considering setting up shop in Australia. How far down the track are those plans?

We have no immediate plans to come to Australia, but hope to have a presence sometime in the next few years. When we do come to Australia, we’ll likely look to replicate the model we’ve established in the United States, which includes local offices where fans can pick up their tickets and partnerships with leagues, teams and venues to enhance the fan experience.

Can you explain to our Australian readers what exactly StubHub does?

StubHub is a secondary ticket market that connect buyers and sellers and we’re building our business to be a place that connects fans with live event experiences.

So why does Australia need StubHub? What are you going to do differently?

I think it’s a bit presumptuous to say Australians need StubHub, but we feel like we offer a service that benefits fans by providing them choice and access to the live events they want to be at. In the U.S., StubHub has differentiated itself from competitors by providing a marketplace that specialises in tickets, which includes robust trust and safety, world-class customer service and a world-class user experience for buying and selling tickets.

Where do you see the inventory coming from?

Sports memberships, music, theatre? Anyone can sell on StubHub, but StubHub itself never sells tickets. In the U.S., about 75% of our sales come from sporting events and the remainder is everything else.

Will StubHub’s entry to the Australian market start a wave of discounted tickets?

StubHub operates a free and open market in the U.S. without price restrictions. At this point we see nearly 50% of tickets being sold at or below face value.

Ticket reselling companies have something of a rogue’s profile. How will the company challenge that perception in Australia?

In the U.S. we focus on consumers, which is different from the rest of the industry. And other secondary ticketing sites typically sell their own inventory, which we believe is a conflict of interest.

Australia has a handful of big ticketing players. Behind that, it’s a fragmented marketplace. What are your ambitions should you come here?

This isn’t new territory as it is the same situation we face in the United States. We’ve believe there’s as much opportunity in Australia to serve fans as there is in the U.S.

Some promoters and ticketing agents reckon you’re going to face difficulties based on the differences to the U.S. market with our lack of sold-out events and season ticket holders. How will you navigate those peculiarities?

Providing access to events that are sold out is one thing we do well, but the majority of events in the U.S. don’t sell out. What we offer, is not only access but the ability to choose the location of where you sit and hat is something that is in demand regardless of whether the event is sold out or not.

In March this year, your company’s Internet presence was upgraded for cross-border trading, apparently opening the market up to more than 55 countries including Australia. What activity have you noted from that?

What we’ve noticed is that we’ve gotten more sales from Australians than from any other market.

And in the U.S., StubHub has been trialling paperless options using mobile phones. What’s the feedback on that been like?

We’ve just start testing mobile barcoding, so it’s a little early to provide feedback. We do think that this is the future of ticketing.


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The Hot Seat: Paul Piticco

Published in The Music Network

 

No one has done more than Paul Piticco to put the city of Brisbane on the music industry map. Through his management firm Secret Service, Piticco guided the stellar career of Powderfinger, while his Dew Process label has become a benchmark for quality with a roster featuring the likes of Sarah Blasko, Bernard Fanning, the Grates and the Living End. Piticco is also joint-promoter of Splendour in the Grass, fast-becoming one of the most popular festival destinations on the planet.

Is the conventional label model a relic?

The traditional record deal is something that’s certainly under review. The way record sales are, record companies are investing less. Artists will still need the services of the record company — the marketing, the promotion, the A&R input in some cases. But an artist doesn’t necessarily need someone to give them money, and to own their copyright. A&R funding the way it has worked in the past isn’t going to be tenable going forward. Our idea is to start a new business model based around providing services of a label without having to make the same A&R investments. And in turn, give artists the control of their copyright.

How is your company structured?

There’s three main pillars. The services businesses include management, digital marketing, PR, financial services and the Secret Sounds Sponsorship company. The pillar which deals with copyrights includes Dew Process, Dew Process Publishing and this new as- yet unnamed model. And then there’s the concert business, which we’re expanding. We’ve diversified into areas we feel we can make a difference. We don’t try to take on too much, but we do a few things exemplarily and do them in multiple areas. And they seem to feed into one another. There are about 36 people in our organisation now — 12 in Sydney, 12 in Brisbane and 12 in Byron Bay, which is predominantly my partner Jess Ducrou’s staff. We’ve gone a long way from the spare room under my parents’ house.

Do you still see Dew Process as core?

Yes. Dew Process has a “less- is-more” philosophy. We focus on trying to spend more time developing less music rather than going for a volume business. We only release 12- 15 records a year as opposed to a bigger label which might do 40-50.

Splendour is fast becoming one of the world’s marquee festival destinations. Is Australia’s festival market unsustainable?

I don’t know if the word “unsustainable” is right. But there’s going to have to be a correction. Either prices will have to fall so people can afford to go to multiple festivals, or talent booking will have to change so there’s a bigger array of talent, and the festivals aren’t recycling talent six months later.

Splendour is one of the most expensive tickets going around.

It’s a big investment. We realise that. Splendour’s event ticket — if you don’t factor in camping, which is a whole other set of costs — is only $130 a day. It’s less than a Big Day Out, it’s less than a Parklife. And we deliver as many acts a day. We have over 90 artists over the three days. We do feel that we got to a real threshold point this year in particular. Also, not having the festival in Byron Bay the last couple of years has made it less appealing. People love the idea of having a Byron holiday in the middle of winter.

So what happens with the process of bringing Splendour back to Byron Bay?

It’s currently with the NSW state government, hopefully being assessed for approval. We’re very confident. We’ve done everything that’s been requested of us. We’ve put forward a very good case and hopefully it will get the tick of approval in the next couple of months.

You’ve been outspoken on fraudulent ticket sales and scalping. Is that still a problem?

Not so much. We built a system where the ticket was non-transferable and it totally fucked up scalpers. However, when you haven’t sold out and you want people to be able to transfer tickets, it’s a problem. It’s kind of the devil and the deep blue sea in that sense. We’ll have to re-evaluate the ticketing system. We built one that’s too complex and has become quite onerous for people to use. Society at the moment is demanding ease.

How are the Powderfinger lads enjoying their break?

They’re having a great time. Bernard is in Spain, Darren is travelling around Europe. A couple of them are off surfing. Some are making music, and doing new business ventures. We’re going over edits to their first book, which is due out in November through Hachette. Their biography delves back into the childhood upbringings of the individuals, the history of the band. There’ll be a lot of stuff that’s never been discussed in the music media.

Having Powderfinger leave the spotlight must have felt like a void in your business.

I wouldn’t say “void”. But it’s certainly a little less exciting on the management front. We were operating on the largest scale we could, certainly in this country. I was happy to take some of the time back. People would say, “What are you going to do now?” I’d go, “Well, I’ll just work 60 hours a week rather than 80 hours a week.”

You once told me your ultimate plan was to move to the bush.

I’m there. I live in Mount Warning with my wife, three kids and the dog. I love living in the country. I listen better, think better, I come up with better ideas and feel better about being a person out there. I love being in cities, but it’s nice to go in, do what you have to do, use it, abuse it, and lose it.

 

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The Hot Seat: Graham Ashton, BigSound

Published in The Music Network

 

Graham Ashton has worn many hats in the music business. A former artist, Ashton has accumulated two decades of independent and major-label experience, working across positions in A&R, marketing, promotions, publicity, international licensing and sales. These days “Asho” wears just two hats. He’s the founder of Brisbane-based Footstomp Music, and this year marks his second in the role as Executive Programmer for the BigSound conference.

Asho, this year marks the 10th anniversary of BigSound. What will be the overarching theme this time around?

If we have a theme, it’s a focus on relevance and the artist community. We strongly believe that if you get the music right, the rest will follow.

What will be different about this year’s show?

The key difference will be with BigSound live. We have extended from six to eight stages and therefore from 60 to 80 acts. Seventy of the performers are Australian with the remaining ten made up of Kiwis and Canadians. The good news is that all eight stages are still incredibly close. We have been ruthless with proximity.

What’s the best part of the job in programming BigSound?

The team for sure. I moved back to Queensland about five years ago and watched BigSound grow in my label role. Since joining the team, I now get the passion and sense of pride that everyone has in the event. I happily describe the BigSound team as a “wanker-free zone”.

And the worst? How are the stress- levels in the days leading up to the big week?

Rock ‘n’ roll doesn’t run smoothly and there will always be fires to put out. The BigSound team have a great attitude about smiling through the madness and I try to emulate their style.

The launch for BigSound was held April 14 in Sydney, not in Brisbane as it has every other year. Why the move?

The one thing that really stood out for me last year was that BigSound has truly become a proper gathering of the tribe for the Australian music community. That, along with the fact that having it in Brisbane again would have been preaching to the converted. That’s really what motivated the decision. It was a brilliant night and I hope we can take it to Melbourne in 2012.

How do you see BigSound growing in the next five years? Is there any scope to raise the capacity for the daytime conference element?

Right now it feels like the sky is the limit. Last year, we significantly increased attendances in both the conference and BigSound Live showcase. This year we hope for a bigger jump. It’s all about balance now. To grow where necessary, but tenaciously hold on to what is unique about the event.

Asho, you also juggle the job with your Footstomp company. What exactly does Footstomp do?

I started Footstomp a year and a half ago and we are proudly doing a little better than surviving. We are a music services company specialising in artist, project and event management and artist mentoring and we work with artists from all over the world. BigSound is the marquee event that we manage. We have also recently started our record abel, Footstomp Records.

Has Footstomp kicked any goals yet, and what are its ultimate ambitions?

The quality of events and artists best describe our achievements – BigSound 2010, King Cannons, Busby Marou, You Am I, The Naked And Famous, Glenn Richards and many, many more. The ultimate ambition is terminal adolescence.

You recently moved into new offices with Warner Music Australia. What’s Footstomp’s relationship with Warner Music?

Footstomp Records is an indie label imprint for Warner Music Australia. Our first signing, stomper001 are our mates Busby Marou and we hope to announce stomper002 in the very near future.

Being based in Brisbane, does it create another challenge to operating in this industry?

I’m fortunate that i spent a decade in Sydney. I still spend a lot of time in the major music centres, especially Sydney. I may be old- fashioned, but I like to meet face-to-face with people as much as possible and therefore spend plenty of time on planes.

This year’s September 7-9 BigSound event will again be held in Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley live music precinct. For more visit: bigsound.org.au


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The Hot Seat: Mark Poston, Chairman, EMI

Published in The Music Network

 

Mark, your team at EMI Australia has moved into a new space. Has this anything to do with the activity going- on with EMI’s owners on the other side of the world?

One of my goals when I started as chairman was for our HQ to be a creative hub that represented who we are. It’s a workplace that exudes and encourages creativity and innovation from our staff. It’s a short walk to (VP of A&R) Scott Horscroft’s infamous BJB studios and it’s strolling distance to various venues. I had this idea to make two of the street-facing windows — named the EMI Art Project — as art installations that showcase local talent. I really believe in the synergies between music and other aesthetic disciplines like design, fashion and art. The move has nothing to do with Citigroup. It speaks volumes about the Australian business that we have a million dollar investment in our new office. No job losses have occurred, we just moved across the bridge. We are planning for growth for the overall business.

You’re the youngest head of the four majors’ affiliates Down Under. What steps do you take to improve yourself?

I try to listen and learn from other people. It’s really important to surround yourself with high-calibre, talented people who aren’t afraid to express a different point- of-view. If you’re in this business, you need to have young people with new ideas and energies around you. On a personal level, I took up Bikram yoga again on January 4. I love the physical challenge and the meditation angle of it to help switch-off my brain. Third year as chairman I really had to find a better work-life balance. And you need to practice what you preach, otherwise you lose credibility with your team.

You spent some years with EMI in the U.K. What did you learn from the experience?

Much more than I could ever articulate into words. I really worked hard to prove myself quickly. Suddenly I was representing EMI with some very successful managers and execs. Working in global marketing gave me great experience in what’s required to have a successful worldwide campaign as a part of the team for Coldplay and Gorillaz. You need to be on top of your game, understand the issues, deliver on what offers solutions and win people’s trust. I found myself travelling the world and sometimes presenting to whole EMI companies. And of course I found myself in all kinds of ridiculous situations like meeting Paul McCartney, taking high tea — and late night calls — with Diana Ross, having Damon Albarn sing to you at his studio and seeing hundreds of incredible gigs. My time there made me realize how much I love Australia and how much more optimistic we are as a culture.

When you spoke at One Movement last year, you called for greater support from the ISPs and Labor government. What’s stopping the music business and the ISPs from hammering out a mutual deal?

We all remain optimistic on working on an industry-led solution with ISPs in order to achieve an outcome that addresses the issue of illegal-file sharing. The government will be a key stakeholder in helping to drive this process. Yes, I’d like to see things move faster and more collaboration with all creative industries. It’s high on the agenda of ARIA and it’s also very complex.

The ownership of EMI has rarely been out of the news in the past four years. We recently learned that Citibank is shopping the company. Is it all a drag on team morale?

It’s great to finally shake off all the speculation about our ownership and move into a new chapter. The sale is no surprise to me or my team. We all think it will happen quickly. It’s not in anyone’s best interest we lose another major and I don’t believe that will happen. I have faith in (EMI Music Group CEO) Roger Faxon and in what we’ve done to re-engineer the company to the successful creative and commercial — and very profitable — entity we are now. My team is unshakable at this point. And between me and Faxon, they’re constantly kept up-to-date with the latest news and the issues. As a consequence, they don’t buy into the bullshit.

The Australian company has made some interesting entrepreneurial deals. The TheInSound is one, the arrangement with AAPT is another. What’s next?

You’ll see us continuing to innovate especially in the new-deals space. You’ve got to keep testing and trying new ways to connect music with people. We’re excited about the calibre of talent in our “She Can DJ” national female DJ competition. Rimmel just came on board as one of the sponsors and there are conversations to take it globally. As part of our partnership with Stop/Start and John O’Donnell we have one of the tours of the year which you will hear about any minute now.

We all feel “that magic stuff” around Papa Vs Pretty as one of the breakthrough acts of the year and we’re making plans for overseas. Musically we’ve got an impressive line of new albums on the way including Faker, 360, Coldplay, David Guetta, Laura Marling, The Kooks, Pink Floyd, King Cannons and Goldfrapp, just to name a few. I caught up with Luke Steele in LA where he’s working with Jeff Bhasker (Kanye West) which obviously will be a big album internationally. I’m incredibly excited about Gold Fields and Bleeding Knees Club. And then there are the ones I can’t tell you about yet.

 

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