The Hot Seat: Paul Piticco

Published in The Music Network

 

No one has done more than Paul Piticco to put the city of Brisbane on the music industry map. Through his management firm Secret Service, Piticco guided the stellar career of Powderfinger, while his Dew Process label has become a benchmark for quality with a roster featuring the likes of Sarah Blasko, Bernard Fanning, the Grates and the Living End. Piticco is also joint-promoter of Splendour in the Grass, fast-becoming one of the most popular festival destinations on the planet.

Is the conventional label model a relic?

The traditional record deal is something that’s certainly under review. The way record sales are, record companies are investing less. Artists will still need the services of the record company — the marketing, the promotion, the A&R input in some cases. But an artist doesn’t necessarily need someone to give them money, and to own their copyright. A&R funding the way it has worked in the past isn’t going to be tenable going forward. Our idea is to start a new business model based around providing services of a label without having to make the same A&R investments. And in turn, give artists the control of their copyright.

How is your company structured?

There’s three main pillars. The services businesses include management, digital marketing, PR, financial services and the Secret Sounds Sponsorship company. The pillar which deals with copyrights includes Dew Process, Dew Process Publishing and this new as- yet unnamed model. And then there’s the concert business, which we’re expanding. We’ve diversified into areas we feel we can make a difference. We don’t try to take on too much, but we do a few things exemplarily and do them in multiple areas. And they seem to feed into one another. There are about 36 people in our organisation now — 12 in Sydney, 12 in Brisbane and 12 in Byron Bay, which is predominantly my partner Jess Ducrou’s staff. We’ve gone a long way from the spare room under my parents’ house.

Do you still see Dew Process as core?

Yes. Dew Process has a “less- is-more” philosophy. We focus on trying to spend more time developing less music rather than going for a volume business. We only release 12- 15 records a year as opposed to a bigger label which might do 40-50.

Splendour is fast becoming one of the world’s marquee festival destinations. Is Australia’s festival market unsustainable?

I don’t know if the word “unsustainable” is right. But there’s going to have to be a correction. Either prices will have to fall so people can afford to go to multiple festivals, or talent booking will have to change so there’s a bigger array of talent, and the festivals aren’t recycling talent six months later.

Splendour is one of the most expensive tickets going around.

It’s a big investment. We realise that. Splendour’s event ticket — if you don’t factor in camping, which is a whole other set of costs — is only $130 a day. It’s less than a Big Day Out, it’s less than a Parklife. And we deliver as many acts a day. We have over 90 artists over the three days. We do feel that we got to a real threshold point this year in particular. Also, not having the festival in Byron Bay the last couple of years has made it less appealing. People love the idea of having a Byron holiday in the middle of winter.

So what happens with the process of bringing Splendour back to Byron Bay?

It’s currently with the NSW state government, hopefully being assessed for approval. We’re very confident. We’ve done everything that’s been requested of us. We’ve put forward a very good case and hopefully it will get the tick of approval in the next couple of months.

You’ve been outspoken on fraudulent ticket sales and scalping. Is that still a problem?

Not so much. We built a system where the ticket was non-transferable and it totally fucked up scalpers. However, when you haven’t sold out and you want people to be able to transfer tickets, it’s a problem. It’s kind of the devil and the deep blue sea in that sense. We’ll have to re-evaluate the ticketing system. We built one that’s too complex and has become quite onerous for people to use. Society at the moment is demanding ease.

How are the Powderfinger lads enjoying their break?

They’re having a great time. Bernard is in Spain, Darren is travelling around Europe. A couple of them are off surfing. Some are making music, and doing new business ventures. We’re going over edits to their first book, which is due out in November through Hachette. Their biography delves back into the childhood upbringings of the individuals, the history of the band. There’ll be a lot of stuff that’s never been discussed in the music media.

Having Powderfinger leave the spotlight must have felt like a void in your business.

I wouldn’t say “void”. But it’s certainly a little less exciting on the management front. We were operating on the largest scale we could, certainly in this country. I was happy to take some of the time back. People would say, “What are you going to do now?” I’d go, “Well, I’ll just work 60 hours a week rather than 80 hours a week.”

You once told me your ultimate plan was to move to the bush.

I’m there. I live in Mount Warning with my wife, three kids and the dog. I love living in the country. I listen better, think better, I come up with better ideas and feel better about being a person out there. I love being in cities, but it’s nice to go in, do what you have to do, use it, abuse it, and lose it.

 

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