Rockin’ Summer: Oz Enjoys Solid Touring Season—Can It Last?

Published in Billboard Magazine
Australia’s live scene has enjoyed a long, hot summer like no other. Most promoters say the live business Down Under has never been healthier, and new statistics published by the Australasian Performing Right Assn. (APRA) and trade group Live Performance Australia seem to back it up.

But quietly, impresarios are wondering just how long the good times will last. Some festivals have fallen by the wayside, and some promoters admit that the super-heated concert business will cool down. But not just yet.

“Last summer was awesome,” says promoter Paul Dainty of Dainty Consolidated Entertainment. “A lot of people came into it wondering if the market could sustain all those tours. It was one of the busiest summers ever.”

The promoter presented acts like Bon Jovi, Michael Bublé, Miley Cyrus and Enrique Iglesias, all of whom did “storming business,” Dainty says. “Basically everything we did was sold out. It was a phenomenal summer.” Dainty has another phenomenon on his hands with Eminem, whose three open-air shows—Dec. 1 at the 60,000-seat Etihad Stadium in Melbourne and Dec. 2 and Dec. 4 at the 50,000-seat Sydney Football Stadium—sold out in about 30 minutes.
Ticket pricing is a hot topic at the moment. “We’re now seeing tightening in the market, definitely in relation to tours that have very high premium-ticket prices,” Dainty says. “If you see a $300 ticket, it’s getting much tougher to get those away. If your second price is $150-$170, people are targeting those.”

Australians are relatively flush at the moment. But they’re discerning as to how and where they spend their cash, veteran promoter Gary Van Egmond says. The economy is in good shape, the local dollar is flying high against its U.S. counterpart, and the word “recession” isn’t mentioned—or felt—in these parts.

According to a recent Credit Suisse report, Australians are the world’s wealthiest people on a median basis and second in the world behind only Switzerland on an average basis. Australia’s relative financial comfort means more money to spend on entertainment. And how.
A new study of live music’s economic impact found that the business generated $1.2 billion Australian ($1.2 billion), a figure that includes ticket sales and revenue from food and drink.

The study, conducted by accounting firm Ernst & Young and commissioned by the APRA and the Australasian Mechanical Copyright Owners Society, found that Australia’s live music sector generated total profits and wages of $652 million Australian ($670 million) and supported close to 15,000 full-time jobs. Live Performance Australia’s separate “Ticket Attendance & Revenue Survey” found live entertainment ticketing revenue in 2010 grew 22.6% to $1.3 billion Australian ($1.4 billion).

Concerts and festivals are big business in Australia. “Per capita, it’s easily the biggest live market in the world,” says veteran promoter Michael Chugg, who in 2011 presented Bob Dylan, Keith Urban and Dolly Parton, among others.

International tours will slow, but “it won’t happen this summer,” says Chugg, who anticipates a cooling-off in the festivals space. “There will be a settling-down of what’s been going on. We’re seeing that already.” Chugg’s company, Michael Chugg Entertainment, called off the Sept. 29-Oct. 2 Great Southern Blues Festival, citing “unsatisfactory” ticket sales, while the promoters of Soundwave Revolution (which blamed the loss of a key headliner), Funk N Grooves (poor ticket sales) and Rewind (again, ticket sales) all felt a chill. Canberra’s long-running Stonefest reconfigured its live rock music component because attendance was tumbling.

In the past 10 years, the festivals circuit on these shores has literally exploded. Some players refer to it as the “festivals frenzy,” where, it seems, every major city has a choice of more than a dozen fests during the summer.

“There’s certainly a lot of [festivals],” says Paul Piticco, co-promoter of Splendour in the Grass, which was headlined by Coldplay, Jane’s Addiction and Kanye West. “If you look at the summer festival schedule now, there’s a lot of new festivals. From the time Parklife starts right through to Bluesfest, you’ve got Future Music, Big Day Out, Laneway, the new Harvest festival, Homebake, Good Vibrations . . . It’s a dance from the time it gets warm to when it gets cold again. It’s quite packed.” Splendour—one of Australia’s most popular multiple-day fests—reportedly sold 30,000 tickets, roughly 2,000 short of a sellout. But it still made money, Piticco says.

Peter Noble, director of the iconic Bluesfest, says, “Discretionary spending is tighter this year than last year. The economy tells you, ‘You cannot maintain the level of festivals in Australia, and the supply of talent doesn’t exist.’ Economics then pushes up the price of talent and makes it unviable. The big events will remain established. The midlevel ones will do it tough. And it is going to get a whole lot tougher before things improve.”

Riding Ups And Downs Down Under: As ARIA Awards Approach, Australia Sees Cause For Optimism

Published in Billboard Magazine

 

The music market in Australia, like its counterparts elsewhere, has had its share of ups and downs in recent years. In 2011, however, it’s been mostly up.

A new wave of home-grown acts are making their mark, live music remains strong as ever, and digital music sales are booming. Physical sales are in decline. But they’re not crashing, leading executives note.

“It’s a buoyant market,” Universal Music Australasia president George Ash says. “There’s a real wave of creativity coming through the industry at the moment. There’s a lot of opportunity from artist creativity to services in the digital world. It’s entrepreneurial and, best of all, creative.”

That creativity will be on display at the Australian Recording Industry Assn.’s (ARIA) annual awards taking place Nov. 27 in Sydney. Three acts–Goyte, Boy & Bear and Drapht–lead the field with seven nominations each. Indigenous artist Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu and rock act Eskimo Joe earned six nods. Birds of Tokyo picked up five nominations, while pop singer Guy Sebastian and late rocker Billy Thorpe earned four nods each.

Certainly the music industry should feel more upbeat at this year’s awards.

The Australian market slipped off a cliff in 2010, registering a decline in value of 13.9% to $384 million Australian ($390 million). It was a sobering result considering the Australian record business had returned to growth in 2009. Although ARIA no longer publishes midyear market figures, sources suggest the market has returned to growth in 2011. But it’s still below the 2009 figure.

Piracy continues to be a thorn in the industry’s side. However, there’s a sense that the government, Internet service providers (ISPs) and content owners are reaching common ground.

“The biggest challenge remains making significant breakthroughs on controling unauthorized downloads and to continue to develop existing and new legitimate services,” says Denis Handlin, chairman/CEO of Sony Music Australia & New Zealand and president of Sony Music Southeast Asia & Korea.

Handlin, who also serves as chairman of ARIA, points to discussions held between the content industries and the ISPs, convened by Australia’s attorney general.

The attorney general’s office in October also announced an inquiry into “safe harbor” practices that, Handlin says, “provide a very positive outlook for a system that will minimize illegal use and encourage more legitimate services.”

Piracy clearly hasn’t gone away, but the “P” word seems to be disappearing from the vernacular Down Under and the industry is pushing ahead with its Music Matters education campaign that launched in August to promote the value of music.

Australia’s record business never took the approach of suing file sharers, and the industry has watched from the sidelines as film trade association AFACT has taken legal action against iiNet to hold the ISP accountable for copyright infringements. AFACT’s ongoing case has largely faltered, and a High Court showdown is due the first week of December. If AFACT wins, it may pave the way for further action against ISPs. But that’s a big “if.”

Regardless, Australia’s ripening digital marketplace is entering an unprecedented phase of activity. Spotify is hiring staff ahead of its Australian launch, while market-leading brick-and-mortar retailer JB Hi-Fi should make a big splash with its anticipated Now subscription platform and download service. The retailer, which has 200-plus locations, reckons that Now will boast between 6 million and 8 million licensed tracks when it arrives before year’s end.

The action doesn’t stop there. BlackBerry launched its BBM music service in early November. And Universal Music and Sony Music’s Australian companies have formed a joint venture called Digital Music Distribution, which supplies music services including the music radio programming on the Foxtel pay-TV platform.

“Australia is probably a bit behind Europe and North America when it comes to streaming models, but what we lack in market penetration we make up for in proliferation,” says John Watson, president of Eleven: A Music Company and John Watson Management. “Things are certainly in a state of flux right now. The good news is that the business is now totally listening to the needs of consumers. The days of the music industry acting like King Canute and trying to hold back the tide are thankfully behind us now.”

Digital music services are jostling for a sizable business. In the year ending June 30, the digital market grew by 32%, according to Billboard sources. Digital revenue Down Under now accounts for 40% of all sales, up from 27% in 2010. Soon, the market will be evenly split between physical and digital sales.

Australia’s digital revolution is set against the backdrop of the Labor government’s National Broadband Network. It’s an ambitious national rollout of high-speed cables, intended to connect nearly everyone in this vast and sparsely populated country of 22 million.

By 2020, the ambition of the NBN is to place Australia among the world’s leading digital economies. In five years, users connected to the network may be able to download at speeds of 10 gbps. The NBN, however, has become a political football, with the opposition Liberal Party seizing on its $36 billion Australian ($37 billion) price tag coming amid a shaky global economic environment. What the Australian digital market will look like in 12 months’ time is anyone’s guess.

At physical retail, JB Hi-Fi continues to lead the way with an estimated 40% of the CD albums market. The No. 1 digital music service is iTunes, handling more than 70% of digital download sales. In the coming months, however, JB aims to chip away at iTunes’ commanding lead.

The challenges facing music publishers in Australia are the same felt by every music business around the world. “Digital is still growing very strongly, which we’re happy about. But if income from distribution of digital product can’t plug the gap, what other revenue sources can?” asks Brett Cottle, CEO of the Australasian Performing Right Assn. and the Australasian Mechanical Copyright Owners Society. “Publishers are facing that same decline in their revenue. And they’re having to deal with a hell of a lot more data and micro-payments.”

Universal Music in Australia is the recorded-music market-leader with a share of about 40%, ahead of second-place Sony Music, and the local companies of Warner Music and EMI. Australia’s independent music scene is a vital one. According to independent labels group AIR, indie acts accounted for 43 out of 125 nominations for this year’s ARIA Awards.

AIR conducted market-share studies in August and found the results favorable. “We realized that our combined members were consistently achieving 25%-35% market share in Australia. That’s a massive chunk of our industry,” AIR GM Nick O’Byrne says. “We also estimate that more than 85% of the different titles commercially released in Australia are indie.”

According to ARIA sales data, indie company Inertia managed 11.5% of market share by distributor in one week during August, an “amazing” result, O’Byrne notes.

On the downside, the Australian industry lost two key music TV platforms when free-to-air Network 10 cut the long-running “Video Hits” weekend show in August, and the publicly funded Australian Broadcasting Corp. this month shed its quiz show “Spicks & Specks.”

“It’s sad,” says Paul Piticco, director of Dew Process and Secret Service Artist Management. “Many people are now connecting the Internet to their TV, where you can essentially program your own music channel.”

It’s a case of losing two music TV shows, and gaining one. Sources say NBC’s music talent show “The Voice” will come to these shores in 2012.

Innovation isn’t exclusively at the technological level. A new breed of artist is coming up and shifting big volumes on some titles. On the albums front, 2011 has undoubtedly been Adele’s year. The British songstress replicated her success in Europe and the United States with some Australian chart feats of her own. Adele’s eight-times platinum-certified (560,000 units) album 21 (Remote Control/Inertia) topped the ARIA albums chart for 23 weeks, a feat eclipsed by only three other sets–Dire Straits’ Brothers in Arms, Delta Goodrem’s Innocent Eyes and Jack Farnham’s Whispering Jack–since the ARIA charts launched in 1983.

Adele’s smash singles “Rolling in the Deep” and “Someone Like You” are both certified five-times platinum (350,000 units). The year’s biggest tracks in Australia were released by U.S. dance act LMFAO and Melbourne-based Gotye. LMFAO’s “Party Rock Anthem” sat at No. 1 for 10 successive weeks and is eight-times platinum (560,000), while Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know” (featuring Kimbra) spent eight consecutive weeks at No. 1 and is certified six-times platinum.

Universal Music Group International COO Max Hole tips Gotye and fellow Australian artist DJ Havana Brown to go on and enjoy international careers.

“I’ve often thought I don’t understand why Australia doesn’t score more consistently than it already does,” Hole says. “Distance is definitely one factor-unless you can come up with a magic song that short-cuts everything. Gotye may well have that magic song.”

Along with ARIA nominees Drapht and Boy & Bear, the year also saw breakthroughs by newcomers like the Jezabels, Stonefield and Cloud Control.

“There is so much great talent out there,” says EMI Music Australia chairman Mark Poston, whose local roster includes Empire of the Sun, Birds of Tokyo and Angus & Julia Stone. “You just need to work smarter and harder [in Australia] to make a sales connection and build fan bases, and to build careers.”

Thunder From Down Under

Published in Billboard Magazine

 

Amid pop-oriented fare by Miley Cyrus, Scissor Sisters and the cast of “Glee,” a recent top 10 entry in Australia’s album chart was distinctly harder—and faster and louder—than the rest.

Parkway Drive’s No. 2 debut on the July 4 ARIA chart with “Deep Blue” (Resist Records) confirmed Australia’s hardcore scene’s emergence as a commercial force to be reckoned with.The breakthrough by the band from the New South Wales beach town Byron Bay followed Brisbane six-piece Amity Affliction’s No. 6 entry in June with its sophomore effort, “Youngbloods” (Boomtown Records). Those are remarkable rankings for indie acts with national media support largely limited to hard-edged music monthly Blunt, whose publishers claim a circulation of 18,000, and state-owned radio network Triple J.

Their success comes from “hard work and constant touring over the years, not just of the [state] capital cities but well into the regional areas,” says Stu Harvey, host of Triple J’s weekly hardcore/punk show “Short Fast Loud.”

“There’s people all over the country listening to this music,” agrees Amity Affliction’s manager Luke Logemann from Staple Management. Emphasizing that point is the band’s upcoming regional tour through Sept. 8 that will take in such bywaters as Wollongong, Dandenong and Ballarat.

Australia’s hardcore scene has been building since pioneering acts Day of Contempt and Price of Silence emerged from Adelaide in the mid-1990s. Today, international outfits like Killswitch Engage (the United States) or Bring Me the Horizon (the United Kingdom) have mounted Australian tours playing 1,000- to 2,000-capacity venues. This fall, U.S. bands the Devil Wears Prada and the Ghost Inside will support Parkway Drive in theaters and arenas, including Brisbane’s 9,000-capacity Riverstage.

Indie labels Resist Records in Sydney and Boomtown’s parent Staple Group in Melbourne are hardcore’s main players, with both specializing in multiservice deals.

Resist handles Parkway Drive’s recordings, bookings and management. Such deals “were born through necessity,” founder Graham Nixon says. “When these bands were starting out, there weren’t really any agents who were interested.”

Amity Affliction has a similar deal with Staple, whose concert promotion arm Destroy All Lines has organized hardcore package tour Boys of Summer each January since 2006, headlined this year by U.S. act Every Time I Die.

Staple also runs regular hardcore club nights in cities and towns across the country. “All the scene kids go there,” notes Nick O’Byrne, GM of indie labels trade body AIR. “It’s the only place that caters specifically for them.”

According to Staple Group co-founder/promoter Jaddan Comerford, “the Internet and live is where it all happens for these bands,” with Amity Affliction particularly active online. Prior to the release of “Youngbloods,” its MySpace page hosted a nine-part video diary by the band members and offered an iPhone application that provided free streams of the album, news, photos and videos.

Now, even as a new wave of bands like Break Even, Deez Nuts and Confession emerges around the country, their immediate predecessors are looking further afield. Nixon says four Resist hardcore acts—Parkway Drive, 50 Lions, Miles Away and Carpathian—are touring Europe this year, whereas “just a few years ago, you’d have had just one band in that genre making the trip abroad.”

Parkway Drive, a regular U.S. visitor since 2007, plays the Vans Warped tour in the States through Aug. 15 before traveling around Europe, Australia and New Zealand for shows throughout the rest of 2010. And Amity Affliction has November European dates penciled in, followed by a North American push through 2011.

Already, there are encouraging signs in the United States, where “Deep Blue,” released on Epitaph, bowed at No. 39 on the Billboard 200 dated July 17.

Back home, hardcore is “bigger now than it’s ever been,” Nixon says, “and it’s not going to go away.”