No Regrets: Michael Gudinski

Published in The Music Network

 

Ask any European or American music executive their thoughts on the Australian music industry, and the response will be a classic short-list of rock and pop stars. AC/DC will get a mention, Jimmy Barnes will feature prominently and of course Kylie Minogue. And no-one in the industry is likely to ever forget Michael Gudinski. The Mushroom Group chairman is the enduring face of Australia’s music business. And it’s no wonder. Gudinski spends a vital chunk of his working year shuttling between hemispheres, testing the pulse of the big music markets – and the big players.

In Australia, Gudinski is arguably the only music man whose name is familiar at the “household” level. That’s because the exec known as MG has driven the careers for a vast number of great Australian acts as well as some of the greatest International superstars to grace these shores. And there’s a lot more fuel in the tank. The Music Network caught up with the industry icon.

You’ve just been to the U.S. and Europe. Are the big markets receptive to Australian music?

They’re receptive to great music. You’ve got to be very careful not to overplay the fact you’re Australian. That doesn’t mean you’re not proud. A band like The Temper Trap made the commitment to move over to the UK, and because they’re there and available it’s really made a huge difference. The vibe on The Temper Trap is massive. The band are doing a massive tour in the USA in March and April. They are one of the biggest breakthrough acts (in the UK) of the last year.

The album’s gone gold (100,000 units), and Korda Marshall (whose label Infectious Records has the UK rights to The Temper Trap) expects it to go platinum-plus (300,000 units). They’re a hot commodity and I’ve been doing my best to keep Australia up the front of the line.

And what’s your take on the health of the live market?

Everyone’s becoming concerned about the lack of new superstars coming up through the ranks. It’s absolutely imperative to give the punters value and put strong bills together.

Are you keen to get your hands dirty with another festival?

There is a gap in the market, particularly for multi-day festivals. But you’ve got to get the right strengths, the health and safety in order, the right sites. Had we continued with Alternative Nation, I’m confident we would have become a resounding success.

Is it tricky striking the right balance with some of the artists you bring out?

For some of these younger acts, my past success with Mushroom Records means nothing to them. You’ll do a tour and make money, but if the act doesn’t want to talk to you or have you around, no worries. Whatever they want. But for me, to be able to enjoy business and work together, I’d go out of my way to do anything for those guys. Some people like the stability of the older guy who is still doing it, spending the time. When I did the Vampire Weekend tour, I wasn’t here but they were asking about me. That stuff makes you feel good and it makes you feel wanted. For some acts in particular it’s better for me to keep in the background. That’s why we’ve got a multi- pronged attack (with Michael Harrison and Gerard Schlaghecke).

After all these years, have you finally buried the hatchet with Michael Chugg?

It’s very competitive between us. All said and done, we’re good friends. My wife Sue and I flew in for his 60th in Thailand a few years ago. I think he was pleasantly surprised.

Away from the music business, you’ve acquired a passion for horseracing…

I grew up next to the Caulfield Racetrack. I grew up with racing. Chris Wright (chairman of the UK’s Chrysalis Group) got me started one year. I’ve probably got a piece in a dozen horses. The two things I’ve never done which I hope to achieve, is a No. 1 album in America and to win the Melbourne Cup. If we ever win the cup I’ll have to come up with something better than John Singleton did (who bought drinks for the entire Rosehill racecourse in Sydney when his horse won the Golden Slipper). I’d give it all up for a No. 1 album in America. Frontier had a share in a basketball team, the Sheffield Sharks (in Britain), which was an absolute disaster. We try to keep most of our investments in the music business where we have a strong understanding and a lot of control over them.

Any changes in the breeze?

Sound Relief was a very gratifying experience for me. I’d like to take it a lot further (with philanthropic causes). There might be some opportunities in other areas of the business. We’re coming into a new area of the business, this being exhibitions. We’re also very interested in Mushroom Television, and we’ve got two or three new shows coming up. I’m going to build a music studio and a house on a property I own at Mt Macedon because it’s become renowned for having so many great songs written there. As I’m getting older, I’m thinking I should enjoy life a little bit more. Not that I haven’t enjoyed life, but I should probably worry a bit more about my health.

I’d like to spend a lot more time working closely with my children (Matt and Kate Alexa), I regret that even though they are working in the business, I haven’t spent as much time with them as I’d like to. The last couple of years it has been critical to see the beginning of Liberator and Liberation start to stand on it’s own two feet as well as my son Matt having strong success with Illusive Entertainment. I’m under no pressure, but my wife Sue would like me to be home a bit more.

You delivered a keynote speech at this year’s MIDEM conference. did you get a sense that the conference is on the wane?

MIDEM is a great place to network, particularly for publishing and for European and territory releases. I could see a lot of business being done there, and it’s no surprise it’s the longest running conference in the music business. It has been said the show was down 1,000 in attendance from the previous year. Having not been there for the best-part of ten years, I felt the Australians had an amazing presence.

It was the best it’s ever been, apparently. They asked me to speak on Australia Day, which tied-in with the launch of The Frontier Touring Company’s 30th anniversary. For young Australians, MIDEM is under-estimated. It’s much more European- centric than American-focused. And it’s very publishing oriented. Everyone talks about SXSW, but MIDEM has its own place.

Back home, arts minister Peter Garrett is throwing his weight behind a “Foreign Music Acts Certification Scheme” for acts touring Australia. Will it work?

I’ve always supported it. There have been loopholes and ways around it (in the past). And there are very special circumstances. If (the support act) is selected a week beforehand, it won’t work. The most important thing is that the main act decides who they are going to use early on, because if you don’t get the advertising thrown on the bill, it’s not as effective. I fully support anything that will help Australian music.

Is the promoting game hyper-competitive in Australia?

You look at other countries in the world, the situation in Australia is ridiculous. There’s nothing you can do to stop it. We get calls all the time from people asking, ‘do you know this promoter or that promoter’. In that regard, it puts a false value on certain shows. There’s been a number of examples lately where fans were forgotten. Some of the big hip hop acts in particular have been ridiculously priced.

Michael, do have any regrets staying here rather than making a move to the UK or the States?

No, I don’t regret it. I made a conscious decision to bring my kids up in the town where I was born. I wanted to be able to drive them past my old school. We set up an American office at one stage with A&M when we had Oz Records. I still didn’t live there. My only regret is that if I had made the move, it might have made a huge difference to the careers of a couple of our Mushroom artists. Groups like Split Enz, who were huge in Canada and quite big in England. We had Jo Jo Zep, The Falcons and The Sports.

We had a lot of acts who had a real shot, but might have had only had small successes (abroad). Split Enz really wanted me to move overseas – this was something that grated at the time. I just didn’t want to do it. When The Temper Trap came to us early on and said they wanted to move to England, I was all for it. And I explained the sacrifices. In hindsight, these are the right things to do. I’ve always been very happy working in Australia and New Zealand and being a big fish in a small sea.

Do you have an ethos for the bands you chose to promote with Frontier?

In the early days when I started Mushroom and we started Frontier, we really wanted to like what we worked with and be fans. But there are so many different styles of music and music that appeals to all age groups. These days it’s become big business but nothing is better than working with people you like and respect.

 

Click here for the original story.

Click here for the “Thirty Year Frontier” feature.

“Chugg on Gudinski.” Lars Brandle talks to Gudinski’s old running mate. Click here for the story.

Lars Brandle chats with the execs who are next in line to the Frontier throne. Click here for the story.