The Power Brokers

3 July 2012 | 1:40 pm | Michael Smith

Gudinksi: "I’ve been doing it a long time and it’s nice to get a bit of recognition but really I think it’s very much a tribute to Melbourne and the people around me.”

Just who are the most powerful people working in the Australian music industry today? The people that have made things happen, who have shaped the industry as we know it today, and who are already shaping the way it will look tomorrow? These are pretty big questions and inevitably there are no truly definitive answers, and some of the selections the AMID team have made, in consultation with a number of industry professionals, are bound to be contentious. 'What about so and so?' and so on…

But this is how things seem to stand, right here, right now, based on the criteria upon which the selections were made: an individual's ability to 'shape' the scene - whether within a structure they've created themselves or something already established that facilitates that involvement in industry initiatives; their overall career accomplishments; the economic impact of their endeavours; and their public profile. There are no winners or losers either – the Power 50 is simply a celebration of outstanding achievement and dedication to the music industry. Those who made the 50 can justifiably be perceived as simply the best of the best.

Michael Gudinski has to be one of the canniest men in the music industry. He began as a gofer at one of the leading agencies in Melbourne in the early 1970s and managed bands like Chain before he set up his own label, Mushroom. Today he oversees Frontier Touring, Premier Artists, Liberation Music and so on. Yet he's the first to admit that, for a few years there, he actually took a step back.

“At the moment I've been pretty spurred on with work and stuff,” he explains, “because, number one, I think there's the best cluster of Australian artists I've seen for 25 years. Not just stuff we're involved with like The Temper Trap and The Rubens but in general, acts like Husky, Jezabels, Gypsy & The Cat, the list goes on. I just hope a few of them can follow up on the success we've just had with The Temper Trap and Gotye, because it's one of the dreams I've had for Australian music. There was a bit of a burst a long time ago I guess with Men At Work, Kylie, INXS, Midnight Oil, but there's never really been the full onslaught and I really think there's some amazing music.

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“The tyranny of distance is nowhere what it used to be but it's still obviously very, very competitive. I think in a way iTunes has been an incredible innovation that the record companies really should have been on top of many years before. The great thing about iTunes, I think, is there's no such thing as returns anymore; the sales are factual. The downside, I suppose, is that while singles are way more than they've ever been, the album has been decimated. The big thing though is don't look back – what was 15 years ago, the business is different; you've got to look forward. The biggest-selling singles in the '80s or the Kylie days in the '90s, you'd sell 200,000 copies and that would be massive, but both the LFMAO and the Gotye/Kimbra song, they've done about 800,000 copies – there'll be a song soon that'll do a million copies in Australia – that's just phenomenal!”

Much of the reason for Gudinski's rediscovery of his “mojo” as it were he puts down to the enthusiasm and determination of his son to create his own niche in the industry in co-founding the Illusive Group of companies eight years ago.

“You can't take for granted owning your own company. There aren't many people in the world that own their own companies, and sure, I could have sold to Live Nation, from a Frontier point of view, but for myself to be committed and active because I've got a son and so many key staff that have been with me so long, I just thought, can you imagine me going to a worldwide meeting going, 'I'm Mr Live Nation Australia, can I speak?' I can understand why Michael Coppel's done that but there's always going to be, in all fields of the music business, there's always going to be independents and that's something I'm really enjoying because, when you're doing it yourself, you sometimes forget.

“When I sold Mushroom Records, it was the right thing to do but I mostly rebounded very quickly with Liberation. Even so I went through a few years where I really wasn't loving music and it's been amazing that, as you get older sometimes you think maybe you're not up to certain current trends and you've got to have the right people around you, but I still love good music and I think that The Temper Trap were very significant for Liberation because that really gave the label a little modern tinge. And I really can't underplay what my son's done to my own interest I guess because he's been such a leader with new technology and stuff like that, and I've been renowned to be [chuckles], much as I've absorbed it and invested heavily into it, it's only the last couple of years I've been working on an iPad. I've certainly invested hundreds of thousands of dollars into the Frontier site and was very proud that it's seen as the best touring site.

“I was definitely a leader. I look at all these 360 deals the last ten years and I most probably came up with that whole format but the difference was we had the companies to handle each part of the rights. I think it's pretty unfair for people to grab rights that they're just going to farm off to other people. Seriously, it's about having patience, nurturing and letting artists find their feet. It's really all about the music.

“One thing I'd really like to achieve in the next period of time is to have a massive reunion, because the artists and the staff have really been the strength of the company. I've been doing it a long time and it's nice to get a bit of a little of recognition but really I think it's very much a tribute to Melbourne and the people around me.”

There hasn't a more recognisable music industry figure over the past 30 or 40 years, though the punters at his concerts may not always realise that the shouty guy in the black t-shirt bossing people around from the stage is Michael Chugg. Chuggi has grown from passionate lover of music to tour manager to international tour promoter heading up Chugg Entertainment.

“From an international promoter's point of view, things are pretty good,” Chugg says of the current state of play. “I mean, patterns of ticket sales have changed; certainly with the economic times, people are being very careful and they're once again picking and choosing the sort of shows they wanna go and see. But overall, from a big band point of view right down to unknown acts, it's doing extremely well. And it all bodes well for the future with new venues in Perth comin' online, things like that.

“From an Australian music point of view I think it's just getting stronger and stronger, both here and internationally. I'm very excited about the amount of young bands that are here. There've been some great initiatives in the last couple of years, like Sounds Australia, that works with the international community at conferences and conventions and showcase events all over the world, and that's really, really working for Australia. And the amount of young Aussie acts I see all over the place, it's just fantastic, and I think that'll continue as well. So, from my point of view I think it's a very good time and it's a very exciting time.”

What does Chugg feel he's brought to the whole business of international tour promotion that younger emerging promoters can now utilise to enhance the future of the industry?

“Well, we've certainly got a lot of fuckin' promoters! That's growin' every day,” Chugg laughs, never one to mince words. “I think, you know, we built a really, really good organisation and a great team, we've some fantastic people on board running marketing, promo and production, and, you know, just making things work. I think all our work over the last 12 years on the internet – we utilise the internet now to be a marketing tool… You know, the one thing that I've learned is the whole internet thing is very, very strong but at the same time you still need all the traditional marketing tools as well, so it's about broadening the marketing horizons and using everything.

“There are some acts you can virtually sell-out just by using the internet and Twitters and phone technology and all that, but in the main it really needs everything going for it. But certainly the internet's changed so many things. Bands have short-circuited the process of moving forward; no longer are big acts automatically signing with major record companies, and there are a lot of young indie labels sprouting up all over the world, and I think that's very exciting. People in this office are checking things all the time and it's very much becoming a live world now. The records are basically becoming a way of getting known and being able to work – bands that can cut it live are in a really, really good position.

“All the majors selling to each other or going broke and what I think could well happen in the next few years, a lot of these new indie labels will get together and they'll become the next WEA, the next PolyGram conglomerate. But the thing that's changed and will never be the same again is that the acts are more in control now. So the acts are getting the lion's share of the money, and the digital sales of songs is booming and the same with ticket sales. Traditionally it was the box office, the agencies and the phone. Then internet ticketing, print out your own ticket at home came along and that was a huge part of it. Now people are buying through their phones – that's just gone to about 80% of ticket sales.”

Chugg Entertainment too is changing as quickly as the times and technology. “We've probably been the main promoter of young indie acts. With our partner Danny Rogers we created Laneway, which has become a great vehicle for Australian and international acts, and we've broken quite a few acts – Florence & The Machine, Feist, people like that all broke out of Laneway. Now it's in New Zealand and Singapore and we'll probably go into a couple of other territories in the next 12 months.

“So we're certainly changing. We're also looking at getting involved with young Australian artists on a world basis. The first one we've actually signed – we haven't made a big noise about it yet – is Lime Cordiale, a Sydney band. Obviously we've got lots of contacts worldwide and if we believe in a young Aussie act we can certainly get 'em placed in the right places. Of course, touring will always be the mainstay but we'd like to start getting involved in releasing records – we've released a few acts' records over the years, but in the next 12 to 18 months we'll certainly be concentrating a lot more on that. We also want to keep developing our Singapore office we've had open for about three years, and doing a lot more acts in that part of the world and Australia, and tour Australian acts, to expand Australian music really.”

Millie Millgate is one of the all-too-few women within the upper echelons of the local music industry. Millgate is Music Export Producer with Sounds Australia. She began in the music industry two decades ago booking acts into the now sadly defunct Hopetoun Hotel in Sydney's Surry Hills, and has been a band manager, for The Camels among others, and a MusicNSW representative.

“Definitely, in all parts of the world, I can't recall a healthier time for Australian music,” she admits. “Just the sheer number of artists that are out there touring and securing partnerships of all kinds, getting various synchronisation opportunities into film and television, it's really amazing, and I think more than that, it's the people just talking about Australian music. I think the internet's certainly been an element of access and discovery and Australians overall have been quick to adapt to the new technologies and really use them well, and certainly for young artists and self-managed artists as well.

“But I think what Sounds Australia has done and what the Australia Council, through their investment in that program, has done has just allowed more and more people to learn about Australia, and the idea of being isolated is just getting knocked down every time there are 400 of us at South By Southwest (SXSW), and noticing more of us every year at The Great Escape and Canadian Music Week and into the Asian events.

“I don't think Australia as a market alone is sustainable any longer, just with the decline of sales generally. I think people need to look abroad a lot earlier than they might have, and I think the capacity to do so has opened up and we've got some amazing and enthusiastic, savvy and smart young managers that are really leading the charge, and artists that are damn good! I do feel that, with time, it's that touring circuit and the really strong infrastructure we've got here that prepare our artists [for the international market]. One of the easiest jobs I've got is preparing and putting on showcases, and knowing that pretty much every time the Australian act's going to get up and really deliver in the live arena. I don't think we've even scratched the surface of what opportunities Sounds Australia can bring to Australian artists; there are so many other markets and the emerging markets of Asia and Latin America, and different, sort of more unique and boutique events as well. So I think just getting the model right with the big one [SXSW] has been great and just to see how embracing the industry's been and how much they're prepared to work together, help each other and share networks is just so encouraging.”

As to the future, Sounds Australia is in the enviable position of having been given $1.7 million in the 2012 Federal Budget, handed down in May, as part of the federal government's $3 million commitment over the next four years to “support contemporary music artists by increasing the number and frequency of venues booking live music and to encourage international acts to use local support acts”.

“We need to really preserve our venues,” Millgate adds, “and encourage spaces to allow live music is vital. But for the most part, I think it's really exciting and we're really in a high time for Australian music. Thanks to that really tidy budget allocation, which really took us all by surprise, Sounds Australia is in a really exciting time internally just looking at how we can best we can use that money to enhance what we're already doing – open up a number of other markets that we really feel there's a need and a demand for us to provide support.

“And I guess in a much more strategic and holistic investigation beyond just the showcase thing, world and the conference side, what else could Sounds Australia look at doing? And just in terms of professional development generally, working more with other sectors and their export plans; and other ways to, you know, through media, really start to promote Australian music. Up until now, our remit has absolutely been just about the showcase conferences, so we're starting to look at how that might build out and, just generally, bring on more people, which would be wonderful,” she laughs, “because at the moment it's just two of us doing Sounds Australia. Just having more resources, sharing that wealth of knowledge in terms of the international networks, and certainly the number of people now that are championing Australian music, the more access they have to those networks the better. It's been a really incredible example of what can happen when everyone plays together.”

Paul Piticco is the founder of musician management company Secret Service Artist Management, and established two indie record labels, Dew Process and Create/Control, in 2002 and 2012 respectively. Dew Process boasts Sarah Blasko, The Living End, The Hives, Mumford & Sons, The Grates, Last Dinosaurs and Bernard Fanning on its roster. Create/Control was established to present a different business model to traditional record labels. Piticco is also, with business partner Jessica Ducrou, co-promoter of Byron Bay music festival Splendour In The Grass and co-promoter of Secret Sounds Touring. Both are also partners in a sponsorship company, Secret Sound Sponsorship, “working,” as Piticco explains, “in a new and rapidly developing area of the music business and one that we feel is going to be vital for survival of bands in the future”. Ducrou also runs her own agency, Village Sounds.

Piticco came to management – like most young, enthusuastic people entering the music industry before courses began to be available – from an intuitive angle, and learned along the way. He was fortunate enough to begin that journey looking after the interests of Powderfinger, as well as Magic Dirt, Big Heavy Stuff and more. “Always one of the great principles of Powderfinger, and one that was enforced upon me, was think about things from the fan's perspective – always, every consideration, from how you price the tickets, how you market something, what song you pick first.

“It wasn't really about what we thought would sell the most or get the best reviews; we started from the audience, who the Powderfinger fans were and worked back from there, trying not to take into consideration all the things that are between an artist and the fans, which back in those days – they're far less numerous these days because with the internet you can connect direct, it's so much easier – but then you had to negotiate with your A&R guy at the record company, and the A&R guy had to convince somebody at radio, then somebody at radio had to convince the programmer and eventually, if it was supported by all those people in that chain, a song might find its way to ears of a fan or potential fan.

“And to be honest, all the things that we do, we try to base on that philosophy. Sometimes we make mistakes and have to correct them if we misinterpret what our audience wants, whether it be a festival ticketholder, somebody that's buying a record from the label or what that might be. Ultimately, you need to make sure that you're in tune with the person that is your customer.”

Piticco soon found that as well as managing bands, his company found itself making a lot of the A&R decisions for the various labels to which the bands were signed – where to record, what to record, make the videos and so on. “After a while,” he explains, “we kind of had some success with those acts and we're thinking, 'Well, why are we in all essence doing this free for another entity, creating great copyrights and great music that we're not really getting rewarded or some degree of acknowledgement for.' So the idea was to start a record label that followed all those principles that we had as a management company and try to be more creative in A&R, and try and find a way to get the artists' wants and needs across, and even to this day, Dew Process artistic control clauses in contract still ultimately end up with the artists having the final say, and always will be that way.”

The creation of a second label, Create/Control, “was a reaction to the fact that, you know, it's evident, in looking at the charts and looking at our industry, that people are finding out about and consuming music differently, and the net result of that I guess is a decline in revenues from music sales, and with that decline in revenues comes a decline in investment. Dew Process still operates under the old model because some artists really need a record company's investment and are prepared to accept the terms that go along with investment today.

“The idea with Create/Control was to have an alternative to ourselves, because we didn't want to be necessarily Dew Process saying 'Sure, if you need and want what we do, that's great, but if you don't need and want what we do, and you have amazing music, we would love to still have a forum or a format to be involved with you.' It's very important to a lot of artists these days to control their copyright and own their masters, and they can get that if they go to a distribution company, but those companies, whilst they're very good at distribution, they're not particularly good at developing careers, marketing, promotional activities, all the full services if you will of a record company. So the idea, as simple as it may seem, and I'm surprised nobody's really done it here before, is to provide everything that you get as if you'd signed an extensive contract but yet have the flexibility and the copyright ownership remaining with artist that you would if you just did the distribution deal.

“And the interest in Create/Control, I must say, has been immense – we've been inundated with people making enquiries, wanting to know how it works – and there's no shortage of great music coming up through that label; we feel really excited about it. And interestingly, it's a model that, if we get down right in the next year or two, can work outside of the music business. It could work for up-and-coming authors, maybe visual arts, who knows where we could go with it.”

As to how Piticco sees the way the industry may be moving into the future, he feels that “the doom and gloom of the music business is just something I'm not buying into. It's different to how it was, and the revenues might be different, but there'll be music and there'll always be an audience for music that's good. I speak to a lot of young people, either in their 20s or in their teens, that are just entering the music business, and they don't know how it was ten years ago – it's just how it is for them. There is no comparison, and I try and think of it that way. I just try to always towards the future and innovate. The same with Jess and the same with all our businesses – what's next? How do we make this relevant we can now? The music future is actually something to be excited and to be embraced.”