The Hot Seat: Michael Parisi, Wunderkind

Published in The Music Network


Michael Parisi is one of the most accomplished Australian A&Rs of his generation. A journalist early in his career, Parisi made his mark during two long stints with Warner Music Australia. He served with WMA as A&R manager from 1993-1999, where his hitlist of multi-platinum signings included Regurgitator, the Superjesus and the Whitlams. He later headed the A&R department at Mushroom Records.

In 2000, Parisi set up Sputnik Records, a joint-venture with Mushroom Records, where he signed a little known prog-rock trio from Devon by the name of Muse. Parisi has also served as head of Festival Mushroom Records and, later, as president of A&R for WMA where he signed and guided the careers of Daniel Merriweather, George, Eskimo Joe, George, Motor Ace, Machine Gun Fellatio and Gabriella Cilmi.

In 2009, the exec launched the Wunderkind label and Michael Parisi Management, which includes a consultancy arm The Right Path which works with such companies as Red Bull and 3D Marketing. Parisi also partners Profile Music U.K.’s Paul Guardiani on the in-store music business Profile Audio Branding.

Wunderkind recently struck a joint-venture with Michael Gudinski’s Mushroom Group, ahead of releases from Parisi signings Owl Eyes and Stonefield.

Michael, you’re relaunching Wunderkind through Mushroom?
It feels like I’ve come full circle. I originally joined Warners in the early ‘90s and left in 1999 to start Sputnik, a little label inside the Mushroom family designed to sign young, developing acts. I left Warners 12-13 years later to start with Mushroom again, this time with Wunderkind. It feels like history repeating itself. Michael Gudinski has always been there for me to offer advice through all stages of my life and my career. With Michael, there’s no hidden agendas. He’s inspirational. He’s visionary. When he gets behind something, he’s unstoppable.

What’s the mission of Wunderkind?

It’s meant to be an incubator label, which is to take artists from a very early development stage and develop them carefully until they become big artists. I make no bones about the fact we want our acts to succeed on a commercial level. But it’s about the journey, and how we get there. And we’re proving that with Stonefield and Owl Eyes. We’re going back to the good old days of artist development where you can take your time and stagger your releases, helping artists to build their fanbases so when you do drop a record, there’s someone there to catch it. Most of the acts I’ve worked with over the years I’ve developed over a period of time. In the case of Gabriella Cilmi, for example, it took three to four years of development. Unfortunately for her the second record was rushed and a major disappointment.

It’s been said the majors don’t have time to develop artists any more.

Bigger labels have different agendas. They have to make ends meet on a daily basis. They have to have hits in order to survive. Whereas with labels like Liberation, their business is not predicated on music sales alone. With the majors, it’s predicated on selling music, though they are starting to partake in artists’ other income steams. Too often, though, record companies try to rush the creative process. We’ve all been guilty of it in the past. When you try to fast-track the process, things can come undone really easily. Artist development is so crucial these days, but it appears it’s only happening in earnest in the indie sector.

What releases are on the slate?

Owl Eyes has a debut album due October 12. Brooke has been in development for nearly three years. We’ll have the album finished by the end of July. Producers Jan Skubiszewski and Styalz Fuego are working on some tracks. Chet Faker, Dan Hume from Evermore and Geoffrey O’Connor have helped out. Stonefield are a work in progress. Two of them are still at school. In someone else’s hands, there may have been a temptation to thrust them into the spotlight and throw them into the mass media pot. But we’ve held back intentionally. Another act I’ve been developing is Way Of The Eagle, which is basically the brains trust of Jan Skubiszewski. Jan has been working with the likes of Illy, Phrase, Merriweather, Owl Eyes, Alex Burnett from Sparkadia. It’ll push the boundaries in terms of production in this country. We’re probably looking at an EP release later in the year, followed by an album first quarter next year.

Let’s talk about A&R. Sony Music UK boss Nick Gatfield described it as a “dark art.”

He’s not wrong. A&R is probably the most subjective concept in the world. One man’s treasure is another man’s trash. What you’re trying to do is second-guess what the market is going to like. And what they’re going to buy. It’s a constant battle getting your bands heard and appreciated. It’s an uphill battle every step of the way. Not only do you have to get the public on side, but you have to get your record company on side first. Everyone thinks they’ve got an A&R brain and it’s a relatively easy process to find great bands or songs. A&R by committee is essentially what kills companies and projects. It’s probably the most thankless job in any record company. If you get it right, you’re a hero. If you get it wrong, you’re out of a job.

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