The Hot Seat: Doc McGhee, McGhee Entertainment

Published in The Music Network


What do Guns N’ Roses, Bon Jovi, Motley Crue and KISS all have in common? They rock, they’re hugely successful and they’ve all been managed by Doc McGhee. The LA-based exec has an enviable track record for taking smaller artists to the big stage and beyond. McGhee has never been accused of small ambitions. Over the years, he’s had a hand in the careers of James Brown, Diana Ross, Hootie & the Blowfish, Scorpions and Skid Row.

It was McGhee who produced the Moscow Music Peace Festival in 1989, when he took 640 crew, 64 trailers, two 757 aircraft and some of the biggest rockers on the planet, and landed it all on a Moscow runway without a permit. McGhee’s company currently oversees a stable of more than 20 acts, including veterans KISS and Ted Nugent, Aussie country artist Adam Brand and newcomers Vintage Trouble. TMN recently had an appointment with the Doc.

What’s your management style? Being honest and being on top of things. It’s about coming up with the right plans, the right marketing situations for the artists and giving them their day in the sun. If it’s worth doing, it’s worth overdoing. I’m kind of a micro-manager and a facilitator. You have to do both. You’re like the father; they look to you for everything. But you have to really like somebody to have to sit and go through all of the aches and pains in somebody’s life.

Are premier-league rock bands living a largely cleaner lifestyle than they did in the Crue’s day? People are a little more in-tune with trying to have a business rather than having a party everyday, so they maintain a little better than they did in the past. There’s still craziness in rock bands, because these people usually aren’t college- educated. Most of them don’t even have high school educations. They only ever wanted to play in bands.

Any artists you’ve had to walk away from? Oh, I’ve had several. We have a motto here, “When the catshit gets bigger than the cat, you’ve got to get rid of the cat.” The day you don’t want to talk to them, you should let them go because you’re not going to do a very good job for them.

I’ve read a quote attributed to you where you’ve said all rockers want to die. Every young band that’s coming to a height in their career after three or four years of touring and starting to become big, have that fear of being the bar-band ten years from now. They have in their mind, “I want to be James Dean” or “I want to go out a legend.” I had artists who used to say, “If you’re 30 years old you should be put in a farm. You have no use to society after you’re 30.” Now they’re 55.

What are you looking for in a band? I look for heart, determination, a connection with people. I don’t pick people because they have a song. I pick somebody because they have a connection. We don’t try to change people. We try to give them an empowerment to become better artists in what they want to do. And to control them, keep the seal on the lid on. We say, “Stay in your lane, don’t crash the plane. Keep going up and up and up, don’t turn left or right. Just stay in your path and do what you do.”

On the flip side, what should a band look for in a manager? It’s about experience and dedication. Where have they brought people to? Did they get a band for six months and get fired? Did they bring them up from a baby band to a big band, and maybe they just rode the pony? And it’s about what that organisation has to offer. In today’s world, you have to have publicity and a whole stack of people that promote and market your artist, because the labels don’t do that anymore. Now it’s up to you to do it. Those days are over when the kid who couldn’t play an instrument but drove the van was the manager. They can have some success, but as soon as that band has some success, they’re going to come and talk to me and three other people.

You’re managing blues- rockers Vintage Trouble. What’s the plan? They just did 120 shows in 160 days in Europe to 400,000 people. They’re blowing out in Europe, so we’re taking them to Australia to do five dates for Chuggi, and then we’ll do television, and come back to market. That’s a connection band.

Finally, what’s news with KISS? Are there plans to come to Australia? Yes. Next year. 2013.

Vintage Trouble play three dates at the Sydney Festival from January, Friday 27 before heading to Melbourne for a January 31 date at Melbourne’s East Brunswick Club. Shock Records released The Bomb Shelter Sessions today.


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The Hot Seat: Ben Marshall, Sydney Opera House

Published in The Music Network


When Ben Marshall clocks in for work, he’s doing it under the sails of the Sydney Opera House. Going on two years, Marshall has played a big hand in selecting the iconic venue’s music program and he’s responsible for the annual Graphic Festival. It’s been anything but a traditional path to get there; born in Zambia, Marshall spent his early years in Burma and Britain, before his family emigrated to Perth when he was six. Later, Marshall trained as a lawyer and fed his music habits as a nightclub promoter. A sales role beckoned at Inertia, where Marshall would ultimately set-up the independent music company’s touring division, Civil Society. Under the “Sydney Opera House Presents” banner, a fleet of hot “indie” acts will play the Opera House from January to March, a program designed by Marshall and his colleague Fergus Linehan. The lineup starts with Fleet Foxes, followed by Beirut, Laura Marling, Erykah Badu, Bonnie Prince Billy, Bon Iver and Dirty Three.

The Opera House has a strong early lineup of alternative acts. What’s the musical vision for the site?

A lot of it is about getting the good work into the building. Obviously the Opera House has a long history of programmed contemporary music. I started with a brief to look at the world of contemporary music that had worked so well with Sydney Festival. The challenge for us was raising the Opera House into the normal flow- on conversation of the contemporary music industry. A lot of those acts (we’re interested in) are on the more ambitious and complex side of the indie rock scene: Mavis Staples, Blind Boys of Alabama, Aaron Neville, Erykah Badu. It’s really a case of, “What have we got to help out the show and the level of the art that we want in the building.” There’s any number of contemporary music shows I think would be best-off in other venues in the city and we’ll happily let them go there.

Is the idea to position the Opera House in the space for medium- sized venues?
It’s less about seeing it as another standard venue and a place to play. It’s somewhere where (Head of Contemporary Music) Fergus Linehan and I will have a conversation. If the fit seems right and the art is what we want in the building, that’s when we’d love the act to play here. We’re not trying to have 300 shows a year. Or even a hundred. It’s generally around the 30-40 mark. And it’s really a case of getting it right and keeping the excitement and sense of occasion with having a show here, rather than aggressively trying to take a big chunk of the market and becoming renowned as a reliable mid-sized venue. Really, if the art is right then we are interested. If it isn’t, then we’ll happily sit it out.

The concept “art” seems fundamental to how you create your wishlist?
Yes. It’s also, to be prosaic, our wishlist, plus who’s coming into the country. And we rely strongly on good relationships with the local promoters being easy to deal with and having quick response times to queries. The art is the important element for us. The art for which arts centres were originally designed – opera and classical and theatre and dance – are all perfectly valid; though the aspirations of the societies they find themselves in are probably changed to encompass the more ambitious and complex and interesting ends of contemporary music as well. Programming acts like Bon Iver, Fleet Foxes, Beirut, Unkle is responding to the aspirations of the public in the same way that the more classical forms of arts programming has always done. We just see contemporary music as being in the tradition of that.

And the contemporary music program is subsidised, right?
Obviously the entire Opera House is subsidised, so it’s not like anyone is making any money off anything that happens here. Contemporary music generally holds its own.

Is it an easy pitch, offering the venue to overseas acts?
It’s quite binary. It means a lot, or nothing. Most of the time, it’s important. We’ve discovered to reasonable surprise it has a validating role with some artists. Belle and Sebastian, a hugely successful act who has toured the world for years, sold hundreds of thousands of records, renowned worldwide; apparently their mothers have never really expressed much interest in their shows or careers. But as soon as they said they were performing at the Sydney Opera House, it was boasting rights to aunts, uncles and grandparents.

Is Vivid 2012 on the cards?
Yes. Vivid is planned for the middle of the year. That’s Fergus’ baby. A lot of the programming is done. And it’s very exciting. We’re been really pleased on how that has gone. But we felt in 2011 it really hit its straps and got critical mass. Pav did a great job.


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