The Hot Seat: John F. Curtin, Totem Onelove

Published in The Music Network


Something seismic occurred last year in Australia’s festivals market. It’s debatable, yes, but many in the biz will admit the top-selling fest was an EDM event. While most observers were distracted by the swelling number of events, and the inevitable gigs which crashed and burned, Stereosonic arguably pushed ahead as the nation’s No. 1. Stereosonic shifted upwards of 180,000 tickets – about 30% more than the 2010 edition. The Sydney date alone did more than 65,000 tickets, a mind-boggling number for any one-day show.

In showbiz, they say you’re only as good as your last show. If that rings true, then Stereosonic is up for another bumper year. The first two hours on sale last Thursday were “huge – much bigger than last year,” explains John F Curtin, Marketing Director across Totem Onelove Group, which handles touring, marketing, events and promotes the major festival brands Stereosonic and Creamfields. The affiliated Onelove Label is owned by Onelove and is a joint venture with Sony Australia. This year’s five-date Stereosonic tour kicks off November 24.

What’s the magic behind the fest?

The directors behind the business are extremely hands-on and passionate about what they do. We’re not a live band festival or a hip hop festival, where a lot of other festivals are trying to cater for five or six different markets. It’s very-much dance music-centred. We’ve got great venues. And you’ve got people who when they finish their uni exams or school exams, it can be great start to their summer. The numbers are a great thing. I was proud to see them grow but the festival also grew a lot (in a production and organisational sense). Our market is primarily 18-22 year olds, and a lot of those acts people haven’t necessarily come across before. But through their friends and YouTube and streaming services, we’re opening-up their eyes to a lot of these artists.

You’ve booked something like 47 international acts?

You must spend a fortune on talent fees. Yeah, it’s not cheap. When you’re talking some of the bigger guys like Avicii, Tiesto and Calvin Harris, it’s not just one guy with a crate of records, they’ve got an entourage with PR people and production people and you’ve got acts who need hotel rooms, and no one flies economy anymore. We run it smart in the sense that we’ve got Sydney and Canberra on the same day so we’ve got a private jet flying between Sydney and Canberra, and a helicopter from Sydney airport to Homebush. We have private jets flying acts between shows. It works really well for us. It means acts can come to Australia and play eight shows over two weekends. The landscape has totally changed. When I started touring acts, you’d just buy and book an artist. Now there’s a big plan around their album release and which other festivals they want to play. It’s a really well-drilled marketing machine, and they’ve got some of the best marketers in the world working with them. We look at five-year plans with these guys.

Your brief is in digital marketing. Where are your marketing activities really connecting?

Social media is extremely popular for us. For us, Facebook is the biggest. The level of interaction and sharing is massive. Twitter hasn’t cut-through yet. It’s still very centralised to people in marketing and media. But it’s great for artists. We do a lot in terms of getting our promoters to push content out to their networks. We also have a strong industry ticket-selling component. A lot of our promoters are out there in universities and their own nightclubs selling tickets for us. Sometimes you have to make a statement. We put advertising across trams in Melbourne, and in the past two or three weeks we’ve seen 40-50 photos of our tram on Instagram. You can’t buy that kind of stuff.

We’re also creating our own content on our website. We’ve hired journalists to do that for us. The people are coming to the pages and “liking” content, and it’s going into their own newsfeed. We’re really mindful of not only above the line advertising, but because its such a captive audience and because this age group listens to their friends so much, we’re trying to create as many tools as possible for people to actually promote our festival toward their network without them even realising they’re doing it. We’ve created our own Stereosonic magazine. Our app last in November last year was the most downloaded music application in the app section of iTunes. We do a lot with mobile billboards. We’re also doing a lot with street posters and billboards around the country. We have trucks driving around Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth. It’s an interesting form of advertising for us – it’s cheap but it gets noticed.

Does Creamfields play a support role for Stereosonic?

As a company, it’s important for us to represent two festivals in the year. There’s nothing worse than putting in a great offer to an artist but they’re not available and you can’t offer them a “plan b”. It’s been great to almost trial a few acts at Creamfields, and look at bringing them back to Stereosonic later in the year or the year after. We’re still playing around with the formula. I believe we could go towards a night event. We’ll see.


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The Hot Seat: Gregg Donovan and Stu MacQueen, Wonderlick

Published in The Music Network


Wonderlick Entertainment has entered the record business and in doing so, can now boast a “triple threat” business model. The brand built by Gregg Donovan and Stu MacQueen has launched Wonderlick Recording Company, through a long-term joint-venture with Sony Music Australia.

The label deal comes just weeks after Wonderlick entered the music publishing arena through a global JV and administration arrangement with EMI Music Publishing Australia, naming The Paper Kites as its first signing.

It’s all part of a plan hatched some years ago, according to Donovan and MacQueen, who formed Wonderlick Management in 2007. Today, that business is established as one of the premier talent management firms in the country, representing a roster which includes Boy & Bear, Josh Pyke, Grinspoon, Airbourne, Marvin Priest, The Paper Kites and newcomers Jackson McLaren and Max & Bianca. The latter two artists are the first signings to the new label, which remains separate to the management company.

Why are you getting into the record biz?

GD: It was really about setting-up a business model which could be ready for the new world. Obviously, the industry has gone through dramatic changes in the past 10 years. For us, 2008 was a real eye opener. One of our artists was overseas and travelling with their label, and we were being held over a barrel to give up rights we couldn’t service. There are so many businesses on a rights-grab move. So we set about establishing a structure that we felt wouldn’t make “360-degree” a dirty word, so to speak. Managers are in the hot seat right now because they’re the ones dealing with all of these different rights. So we’ve gone and built a full-service music company that can provide all-rights in an artist-friendly way. And we’re not double-dipping on commission.

Sony Music Australia chief Denis Handlin has a remit which extends into Asia, and obviously Sony Music is a multinational. Is Asia a priority?

GD: Absolutely. Everyone in the industry is looking toward the Asian market. It’s not just Asia. We’ll also be aggressive about Europe, the UK, Japan and elsewhere. We’ve always had a flat-earth mentality with all our acts. We’ve worked really hard for the last ten years, travelling the globe with our acts and setting up our contacts. It’s always been important to us to build acts outside of Australia.
SM: Denis’s passion and energy and enthusiasm to take our artists international was a major positive for us. He’s obviously well-respected within the group, and few people have run major record companies for as long as he has. We’re confident having him in our core will make a difference to our artists internationally. Sony is providing support for recording, video, marketing, promotion, distribution. We’re very much partners in this.

EMI Music Publishing is about to be swallowed-up by a consortium led by Sony ATV. How does that affect your publishing business?

SM: It’s business as usual, but the dust has yet to settle. In our discussions with both sides, we feel comfortable with how it sits. We feel that Sony ATV, which is ultimately where the deal will end up, they’re really excited about us and we’re looking forward to working with them on building a really strong publishing roster. We’re certainly not concerned about it.

Since Spotify launched here, there’s been a lot said about the small amount of cash flowing back to the artists.

SM: It’s early days and these services need time to reach critical mass. These issues will improve, but we need to be vigilant and make sure the artists are being looked after. The best thing the industry can do–and they’re a little late on this–is monetise the chaos. It’s been chaotic with the way the business has gone, particularly in the online space over the last few years. You can’t fight that. You’ve just got to find a way to monetise it, make a way for it to work for the artists, the labels and the industry.
GD: History tells us new technologies create booms for our business. So being supportive of that and trying to find the right way forward is very important for all of us.

As a manager, what do you look for in an artist?
We’re looking for something special and unique which stands out from the crowd. And someone we feel we can have a long-term career with. We’ve never been into fast money. We’re looking for a little fairy dust, a little magic. Something we feel our strengths can contribute to their long-term career.

Entry-level artists are always on the hunt for a manager. Do you find them, or sometimes do they find you?

GD: We find them. They shouldn’t worry about that. They should work out how to sell-out their local club, or get a bunch of hits on their YouTube channel or get people to their Facebook page. They should do what they do and make it fantastic. And put it out there. Really, it’s up to the acts to create their own heat in their own area. They can’t underestimate the power of selling 100 tickets at their local club, and the club telling an agent, who then puts them on a support, and then we hear about it. It’s all interconnected in some way. It’s very much a “six-degrees of separation,” and it works very well in our country.


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