The Hot Seat: Michael Long – Event Producer, ARIA Awards

Published by The Music Network

 

The ARIA Awards are fast approaching. And this time around, there are some big changes — both in front of house and behind the scenes. For the first time in a decade, the Australian record industry’s flagship awards ceremony will take place at the Sydney Entertainment Centre and Mark Pope won’t be at the helm. Pope’s right-hand man Michael Long–the long-time ARIA Awards Director of Operations–is now in charge of the November 29 show as Event Producer. It’s an unenviable task. Get it right, and you’ve done your job. Mess it up, and the entire country knows about it. Long has a lengthy career in touring and event organising. He tour-managed INXS from 1984-1995, he managed Jimmy Barnes from 1997-2000 and he’s worked as tour director for Cold Chisel. From 2001-2004, Long produced the Music Oz Awards for WIN TV at the Wollongong Entertainment Centre, and he’s served for seven years as National Festival Manager at Good Vibrations. He’s also kicked goals of a more literal kind, having worked with Liverpool Football Club great Craig Johnston in a Business Development Manager capacity.

 

The ARIA Awards are fast approaching. And this time around, there are some big changes — both in front of house and behind the scenes. For the first time in a decade, the Australian record industry’s flagship awards ceremony will take place at the Sydney Entertainment Centre and Mark Pope won’t be at the helm. Pope’s right-hand man Michael Long–the long-time ARIA Awards Director of Operations–is now in charge of the November 29 show as Event Producer. It’s an unenviable task. Get it right, and you’ve done your job. Mess it up, and the entire country knows about it. Long has a lengthy career in touring and event organising. He tour-managed INXS from 1984-1995, he managed Jimmy Barnes from 1997-2000 and he’s worked as tour director for Cold Chisel. From 2001-2004, Long produced the Music Oz Awards for WIN TV at the Wollongong Entertainment Centre, and he’s served for seven years as National Festival Manager at Good Vibrations. He’s also kicked goals of a more literal kind, having worked with Liverpool Football Club great Craig Johnston in a Business Development Manager capacity.

The 2010 edition was widely perceived as a fail, and it’s probably tarnished the brand with the general public. What was learned from that experience? We lost focus on what the night is all about, which is to recognise the success of Australian artists and give them their moment of recognition. This year we’re having it in concert-style, more like the Grammys, where everyone is facing the stage. So there’s not a bad seat in the house. It will really put that focus back on the awards and the reason why we’re there. We also learned a lesson in 2010 with the genre awards. The vision from those series of concerts was fantastic, but having those nominated artists performing in the week leading up to the awards took the focus away from the Awards night itself. From the general public point of view, it was a confusing message.

What will this year’s show look like? Having the concert seating on the arena floor and not having the table setting is a big change to how we have done it in the last ten years. But we feel the perception of that will be producing a shorter, sharper show which will be more dynamic, more entertaining. All the food and beverage aspects will happen in the foyer and outside areas we are creating. It’ll be very luxurious. There will again be a 45-minute dinner break, and when we return for the second half of the show we’ll have ten awards and six performances. Afterwards, we’ll go back out for coffee, dessert and mingling. Then a shuttle service will take the industry to the Marquee at The Star for the official ARIA aftershow party. It’ll basically go 3.30pm to 3am. That’s back to how it was many years ago when people kept partying all night.

Why the Entertainment Centre? It comes down to a lot of different things: venue availability, logistics, the night of the week. Allphones Arena has been an incredible venue for the ARIAs, but the Entertainment Centre came to life on the date for us.

How does the budget compare to last year? Budgets are tight. There’s no denying that. It’s the same with every major music event. We’ve had to rethink a few things. But it will still be a world-class event, and the industry will still receive the same food and beverage package that they’ve received in the past.

Is there a future for the show on live, free-to-air commercial TV? The partnership that we formed with Go last year was extremely successful. Usually, the viewing numbers start really strong then by the end of the evening they drop off. Last year, it stabilised and increased toward the end of the show. The event was playing more to the direct music demographic of the channel, and there was chart success for the artists who won awards and performed on the night. At the end of last year we had a rethink and were really happy with the results we achieved in 2011. It was a really positive step forward from the previous year.

Some say the Awards should go small, and pull the plug on TV broadcast altogether. Would that be a good thing? That has been discussed, yes. But it’d be a shame if that broadcast didn’t happen, if the music-loving public that can’t make it to the live event couldn’t actually get to see it on TV.

What do you think is the general perception out there of the ARIA Awards? You brought up 2010. Yes there was some ‘brand damage’, if you like. Or perception from the general public was a bit confused. But in 2011 we really did make some ground back. In 2012, our response from the general public on ticket sales has been overwhelming. There’s a lot of excitement out there. We’ve got radio on board this year. We’ve got full support from Nova/Austereo. And ARN are supporting the ARIAs this year. There’s a lot of goodwill out there and a lot of positive energy. The perception of the ARIAs is that we’re coming back, and we’re coming back strong.

Is the ARIA Awards Event Producer job a poisoned chalice? Ha ha. I don’t know. Ask me on November 30.

 

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