The Hot Seat: Philip Mortlock, Head of Creative, Alberts

Published in The Music Network

 

Philip, the Australian record industry’s flagship ARIA Awards this year celebrates its 25th anniversary. You’re one of the ARIAs’ founding fathers. Why was it initiated?

They were established to create peer-voted awards to “recognise excellence in Australian recordings” by Australian artists. It came at a time where we had popular voted awards via Countdown – the highly popular ABC TV series – and it was felt we also needed an award that would be judged by a collective of artists and music industry and media. It was also important to cover genres of music that weren’t being recognised.

Ratings for the ARIAs have taken a kicking in recent years. Are you concerned with the direction the Awards has taken?

I’m concerned with the obsession with the TV show itself and not enough focus on the credibility and integrity of the awards and the Australian artists they’re about. It has always been a balancing act to get it right. And they got it right once it settled into the Acer Arena with enough scope for the industry gathering, the live performances and the TV event. Sure it costs a lot to make it work but the benefits for the industry go way beyond TV ratings and of course there’s an important post-awards knock-on effect.

Televised awards ceremonies around the globe have all endured declining ratings, not just the ARIAs. Should energies be placed elsewhere?

The Awards process – that is the nominations, the focus on what has been great in Australian music and the presentation of the winners in each category — needs as much exposure as possible. The media focus and the TV event are crucial but the obsession with competing on prime-time TV is a major distraction. If the awards and the artists who feature in them are not potent enough for this position on TV, then tone-down expectations and find another avenue for exposure.

There is an air of desperation when non-music “star power” is added to the mix to supposedly increase the potency of the TV event. We’re fortunate to have a remarkable, original talent pool of artists – less about stereotypes, more about inventive, creative innovative and diverse musical exploits.

What do the ARIAs need to do this year to get back its mojo?

Focus on the great talent we have. Let them be the creative force to make the ARIA Awards a “must see” – “must be at” event. At last years event – which we would all prefer not to be reminded about – Megan Washington was asked what she would like to do in her performance. She asked for and gave the awards a very entertaining highlight. The ARIAs honours many genres, but it’s important not to appear to discriminate in the selection of awards to be highlighted.

You’ve steered independent music companies for longer than you might care to remember. Are the ARIAs as relevant to the indies as they are to the majors?

Quite simply, the ARIA Awards is the best marketing opportunity the industry has to show its best. I remember much of what has occurred when I worked at a major (Warner Music for 17 years) and then as an indie now for 19 years. We all deal with the same artist community. The artists and the music itself grows organically and we, as an industry, are there to nurture and develop the prospects. It can be done via an indie or a major. And in both ways it can be done with the same level of expertise and integrity. The ARIAs can and should reflect that.

Speaking of the indies, where do you see the independent publishers and labels really exploiting their opportunities in the coming years?

The lines are being fudged. Labels, indie or major, publishing and management. A more general term these days is “rights management”. The machinations of the business are being tested due to the changing dynamics of how people consume music. As an industry, we need to go with it. There’s growth to be made and the focus should always be on quality and accessibility.

The indie sector is best equipped to develop the new talent from the ground up. They have the patience and long-term view. But we’re also seeing that many artists that have done the development stages can stay indie and still do remarkable business. Major companies can and do play a role as well. We should never lose sight of the endless possibilities an Australian act has in getting out to a wider international market.

Anything else you need to get off your chest?

The key word for these times is “listen”. We’re bombarded from all angles on a moment-by-moment basis. Listen and take it in before being judgmental. Listen for the spark of a difference and don’t simply listen to hear familiarity. Having been so fortunate to live through the growth of “the album” as an artistic expression for the artist and a hugely successful format for the industry, I’m hoping the concept of “an album” will remain in some form.

This is where you discover more about the artist, the music and yourself, when you delve into the work. I’m excited by the instant gratification aspects of digital and streaming and all the rest, but I’m hopeful and confident that the idea of an artist wanting to create a body of work to record and perform is still the fundamental.

 

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The Hot Seat: Tim Clark

Published in The Music Network

 

How did you and your partner David Enthoven come together to create IE Music?

We met back in 1968, when I was with Island Records, the leading independent. And he was with EG, a really successful management company at the time. David managed King Crimson, Roxy Music, Emerson, Lake and Palmer — all of whom were signed to Island. He also managed T-Rex for a while. We worked together for the next eight years or so, until he took his acts off to Polydor for a shed- load of money. It was just through an extraordinary set of circumstances that we got together again in 1991. He had an office in West London and he wanted someone to help share the rent. I was also looking for an office. There was no intention of us actually going into partnership together. Of course, in hindsight, it was only a matter of time. He was managing Bryan Ferry at the time. Brian Eno approached us to do some work for him.

The real turning point was in 1994 when we were approached by Virgin to do an executive management role on Massive Attack. Massive Attack had a young manager who recognised he had little experience. And he wanted an experienced management team to help. Up to that point, David and I were just a couple of old farts. Almost overnight, Massive Attack turned us into “wise old gurus”. That really was the start of building a successful company.

Are you still signing artists?

Absolutely. In the last three or four months, we’ve taken on Duffy. We’re still looking. But in this day and age, you have to be incredibly picky, because it’s very difficult to break new acts. Will you be doing any business while you’re in Australia? Yes, we’ve got a small office in Sydney which is run by Dan Medland. We also have a joint venture with Inertia to find up-and- coming Australian talent and to manage that talent on a worldwide basis.

You also have a team in L.A.

It’s a small office. We have Josie Cliff, who has managed Robbie Williams for ten years. She’s a director in the company, and we really couldn’t operate without her. We also have David Russell who previously managed Sia and is now managing Duffy. All the people that are managing artists on our behalf actually started here in junior roles and in effect we trained them up.

At his peak, Robbie Williams was literally the biggest act in the world.

Well, I think he still is. The phenomenal Take That tour has showed just how popular not only Take That were, but Rob as an artist went down astoundingly well on all the dates. He is a huge star and he’s an ultimate gent. He’s a really thoughtful, considerate nice guy. And he’s pretty shrewd. [Take That’s 29- date mid-year U.K. tour grossed U.S $185,175,360 and sold 1,806,473 tickets].

You orchestrated the enormous Robbie Williams integrated deal with EMI back in 2002.

It was the first of its kind, certainly for its scale. How did you set about creating it? We knew that to most effectively promote a major artist we had to be in a position to look at all the potential streams of revenue in a really cohesive way. It meant that we wanted to be able to take decisions about recorded music and ticketing and live, and all the rest of it. This was really coming into the age of being able to bundle things. We recognised that if the record company felt they had ownership of an artist, that was going to be almost impossible to achieve. So the real emphasis on all of this was to strike a partnership deal with a record company, and to have the record company have an interest in all of the other revenue streams so they could work with us in exploiting all of those rights in a complementary fashion.

Robbie Williams is out of contract now. Having learned all the lessons we learned the first time around, we are now putting together a more sophisticated version of that deal we struck with EMI.

Are you looking at the majors, or are you looking at doing something independently?

We’re looking at both.

Are there plans for Robbie to come out here any time soon?

Not with Take That, but we certainly hope that Rob’s new album is released next year and that a tour will include Australia. ”

Word Magazine has an illustration of former EMI chairman Guy Hands about to detonate the “EMI” building with Robbie cowering behind it. The headline is “The man who broke the record industry.” Is he the guy who broke who the record industry?

No, he didn’t. Digital technology is what has changed our industry and is changing the economic model of our industry. And we have to get to grips with it. The major record companies have singularly failed in that respect. But it shouldn’t cause any wonder. In any revolution, it’s the big corporations that are the slowest to change. There are many exciting things happening because of digital technology. The only two things that matter to this industry are the artists and the fans. Everything in the middle actually has to justify their roles. Major record companies are probably the ones who need to change most.

Does Robbie always listen to your advice?

Of course. He doesn’t always take it, but we wouldn’t expect him to.

Tim Clark will be a guest speaker at the September 7-9 BigSound summit.


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Music Matters blog

Published by Music Matters

 

Music was always a presence in the family home. It wasn’t so much noise in the background, rather a shaping influence much like the voice of an elder. Mum is the guardian of an imperious – and ever-expanding — record collection. She would fill the house with tunes, sounds to suit her mood. Music would soundtrack the everyday. As a young lad, the album artwork would have me spellbound. As a pre-schooler, I’d dip into this vast mass of vinyl, where I discovered bands with strange haircuts and equally odd names. The Beatles, the Bee Gees, the Rolling Stones. A husky-voiced man called Bob Dylan sang to a Tamborine Man, and implored everyone to get stoned. It sounded like fun.

Music was the third parent. To this day, Mum insists my first word was “ABBA”. I learned to read from the grim handbook which accompanied Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds epic. Mum owned a copy of the extraordinary A Clockwork Orange soundtrack, recorded by Walter Carlos – many years before he became Wendy. The album was an epiphany; here was a sound which dazzled my young ears. Captured in the grooves was Carlos’ arsenal of analogue synthesizers, set to classical music. And the gatefold sleeve carried pictures from the movie, including various snaps of naked actresses. I listened to that album many times.

My father has an uncanny knack for playing any instrument by ear. He’d crafted some canny tricks with the piano – playing jazz with his hands crossing over one another. And with his back turned to the instrument. Amazing stuff. But it was nothing more than a party trick to him. Here was this great talent, no more than a stunt to pull for a captive audience. I’ve not spotted him with a guitar in hand, but no doubt he could play it with some venom.

The music, well it rubbed off on the two youngsters.

My brother Axel, who is three years my senior, always had a great artistic talent. He could draw from a young age. Sophisticated drawings, completely unlike the scribblings I could muster. We established a nice arrangement where he would draw, and I would perform the colouring-in. Through his skill with a pencil, we mapped out a childhood dream – a rock ‘n’ roll fantasy –which was realised in a way.

Like every other young kid in my generation, we looked to KISS for inspiration. These guys would hurl lightening from their guitars, spit blood. In primary school, I landed a detention for swapping KISS trading cards in the school-yard. Apparently, dealing KISS cards was like playing with fire. My friend’s religiously-inclined mother had banned him from listening to the band. For a young guy, there was clearly a lot to like about these rock demons. My father, though, wasn’t quite as straight. On the night of November 25, 1980, he took myself and my brother to see KISS play at Lang Park (now Suncorp Stadium). It was my first experience at a show. Admittedly, the action was hard to spot from my distant vantage point. Particularly so, considering dad was too stingy to pay for a ticket. But he took us to the site regardless, and we grabbed an angle from behind a fence, my skinny frame sat on his shoulders.

My brother and I wanted what KISS had, and we hatched a plan. As two young dreamers, we would analyse our KISS cards with the Destroyer album playing on the stereo. We dreamt up our own band, which Axel fleshed-out with crayon and paper. We’d given this project the ill-advised moniker of RIPPER, a name we’d lifted from a compilation in Mum’s collection. If memory serves correct, the album had a picture of a woman wearing torn jeans with the word “Ripper” written across her naked arse; The concept of the band RIPPER was no less ripped-off. We all wore facepaints in this “cartoon” group. And there were fireworks. I played the organ (!!!), and no doubt had feline paint on my face.

Incredibly, some 15 years later I would share a stage with Axel, myself sat behind the drumkit and the big brother playing guitar, just like in those early drawings. There were no fireworks, and very little makeup. But we did rock, possibly.

That third parent, music, is still guiding our lives. Axel has found his niche in Berlin, where he has been based for some years with his post-electro clash group Team Plastique. Myself, well, I write about music. And I’ve been lucky enough to carve a great career out of it.

Music still inspires me as it did when I was a child. And there are few things more amusing than seeing my daughter dancing up a storm on a Saturday morning, with Rage pumping out of the TV.

I’m still impressed with my Mum’s vinyl collection, and my Dad’s musicality. And my brother’s creativity is hard to beat. And I still love the soundtrack to A Clockwork Orange, though vinyl sounds better than the CD. And those pictures on the gatefold sleeve were bigger and better than the reproduction in the CD artwork.
My life was shaped by the music happening around me. The dark hues of Nick Cave and the genius of the Go-Betweens, the pop masterclass of Duran Duran and the electronic world-of-wonder that is Boards of Canada.

Music makes us giggle like a child, and punch the air like a fool. Music takes us back into the past, and makes us think about the future.

Music is part of my tribe’s DNA. Yes, Music Matters absolutely.

The Hot Seat: Declan Forde, Harvest Festival

Published in The Music Network

 

Conventional wisdom would have it that Australia’s festival market is saturated. Why launch with Harvest in Australia, and why now?
Yes, saturation certainly seems to be the word that’s being thrown around the Australian festival market. There’s a perception that there are more festivals than the market can sustain. Compared to the US, UK or Ireland, Australia has a relatively level playing field. No one or two promoters dominates the market here in the way they do in most other countries in the Western world. So the negative, anti- competitive practices that try to smother many good ideas overseas are a little more subdued here. The flip side of that, of course, is that there are a lot more promoters here and there is a high level of competition for the scene in general and ultimately for bands and punters.

AJ [Maddah] and I have been talking for many years about launching a music and arts festival in Australia, and we’re very conscious that it’s not going to be a stroll in the park by any stretch of the imagination, and that there are a few music festivals here already. But we do feel that what we’re setting out to do with Harvest is different from other festivals, and that it will be a success both commercially and in terms of the quality and overall vibe of the events. We’re happy that we’ve succeeded in selling that message to the bands we targeted for this year’s event, and that the team putting together the three festivals are very excited and clearly focused on what Harvest is about.

Any good initiative seems obvious with hindsight, so hopefully that will be the case with Harvest.

What will set Harvest apart from the many festivals already on the scene?

We have taken a very organic approach with the development of Harvest. We’re coming into this with excitement and positivity about what our festival will be about. The team who are working on Harvest are not discussing what other events we’d compete with, or identifying any particular “hole in the market”. We work from the heart, and want to make these events as thoroughly enjoyable for the artists and punters who come to it. As corny as it sounds, that’s the truth.

We will just be doing it in Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney. Three festivals is as many as we can do while maintaining the attention to detail that will be crucial in making each event special. In each leg, there will be three music stages and three broad art and performance areas. Each leg, will run from 11:00am ‘til 10 or 10:30pm. They all take place in beautiful sites, and there will be a general overall emphasis on aesthetics — a feast for all the senses. We aim to surpass people’s expectations. The fact that each leg will be situated within 30 minutes’ drive of each of the respective city centres means that it will be a proposition less taxing — in terms of money, time and effort — than some other events.

How did Harvest come about?
AJ and his wife Jo first came to Electric Picnic in 2006 and have been to four of the last five Electric Picnics. My partner Jenny and I really hit it off with them and they looked after us when we came on holiday to Australia the following Christmas and New Year’s. Since then we have talked about bringing an event with a similar ethos to Australia, and over the years discussed many different options. I think we’ve hit the right format at the right time this year.

A leak threatened to rain on Harvest’s parade. Did you ever identify the source and how did it affect the event’s plans?
It was quickly established that our phones had been hacked by some of Rupert’s cronies. Probably. Probably. Retributive action has since been taken.

You’re relatively new to Australia. What do you make of the live sector here?
One thing I noticed when at SXSW and The Great Escape this year was how many of the best acts coming across were from Australia and New Zealand. I’ve been a fan of the likes of Cut Copy, The Temper Trap, Dappled Cities, Midnight Juggernauts, Fat Freddy’s Drop or Angus & Julia Stone for years. Obviously, the sheer distance from other touring markets is really a defining issue for bands from Australia and New Zealand. The cost of getting to London or L.A. is obviously massive so there have been scores of acts over the years who haven’t managed to make it big outside their home country.

It’s a familiar story for quite a few Irish acts, and we’re only a couple of hundred miles from London rather than several thousand. The local content quotas for Australian radio is really important in ensuring there remains a healthy indigenous scene here; it really does my head-in to look at festival bills all around the world with the same list of North American and British acts. There’s loads of brilliant new music coming out of Australia, and Australia should be exporting it to the world.

 

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