Live Music's Week Of Corporate Pain

29 March 2024 | 12:35 pm | Stephen Green

Multiple live music businesses face liquidation, bankruptcy or restructure as the industry's bad week gets worse.

NYE In The Park

NYE In The Park (Supplied)

The live music industry is facing one of the darkest periods in its history as the fallout from bubbles created by COVID funding, spiraling artist and insurance fees and the cost of living crisis bite. With the crisis funding now gone and audience preferences shifting, the industry is feeling real pain.

This week saw Splendour in the Grass cancelled and Pandemonium Rocks stripped back to a single stage event (although we still don’t know the details), but under the big headlines, far more businesses are feeling the pinch with liquidators and administrators having a very busy week.

The week before a long Easter weekend is always a time to sweep out inconvenient truths and this week was no different, with ASIC having a very busy few days of music industry pain.

Sadly on Wednesday, Castlemaine State Festival announced that they were entering voluntary administration after heavy losses from this year’s event. Despite financial support from Creative Victoria, Mount Alexander Shire and multiple patrons and donors, the event was still unable to weather the financial storm.

Deloitte Financial Advisory were appointed Voluntary Administrators with the task of investigating “the events and circumstances leading up to their appointment and will work closely with all stakeholders to assess the options available to restructure the operations, preserve the legacy of the festival and determine a path forward.”

The event was established in 1976 and is thought to be Australia’s largest regional arts festival, compounding the cultural loss.

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Coming to its end yesterday was ITP Music Pty Ltd, better known to punters as Sydney’s iconic NYE In The Park. First held in 2017, the event was founded by the now defunct agency Falcona and its final edition was held in 2022/23 headlined by Flight Facilities after being taken over by Shoalhaven based ITP Music in 2021. A Winding Up order was granted by ASIC after the event was unable to pay its debts to Kennards Hire earlier this month and its liquidation was confirmed by the regulator yesterday after a ruling in the supreme court.

Also taking its final breath yesterday was Mark Spillane’s Unbreakable Touring Pty Ltd. The company had a chequered history with various successful and unsuccessful tours across a decade or so in business. The company was responsible for the cancelled Anthems festival in 2020 and toured Live, Billy Ray Cyrus and more. Spillane’s bad month started with a Daily Telegraph expose around a current court action against his interests by Hollywood legend Steven Spielberg, but it was the ATO that was ultimately his undoing with the the department taking legal action to wind up the company earlier this month.

Already declaring himself bankrupt twice, Spillane was also involved in various failed ventures including Van Fest and Stone Fest and got national media attention when he made an offer to buy Queensland’s Dunk Island in 2021 before backing out of the deal. Court documents show he has been involved in at least 26 failed companies. Unbreakable Touring proved to ultimately be breakable with a federal court order resulting in a liquidator appointed yesterday.

Popular Victorian merch company Versus Merch Pty Ltd was also put into liquidation yesterday after ten years in business. Founded by musician Evan McLellan, the business started out creating merch for small artists and grew to become a full service corporate merch firm. The business had investment from Tractor Ventures and pioneered print on demand short-run merch for artists.

It is unclear what caused the company to fail, however the company expanded into live music with touring division The Syndicate launched less than twelve months ago focusing on hardcore bands. The company toured US act Ignite (which wrapped up four weeks ago) and Sick of It All and announced an eventually postponed a tour for Desolated.

Musical theatre is having its own rough time at the moment with three small companies also struggling for their survival this week. Brisbane-based SK Entertainment headed up by Samuel Klingner had a ‘restructuring practitioner’ appointed to the business earlier this month and registered an extention with ASIC yesterday. The producer was responsible for touring productions including the Friends musical and tapdancing production The Tap Pack. Their last production (unless the impending restructuring is successful), was the regional tour of Menopause: The Musical.

In the same boat of restructuring are Showtune Productions, musical theatre producers behind shows like La Cage Aux Folles and Liza Minelli’s 2009 Australian tour. The company also registered an extension on their restructure by ASIC this week. Red Line Productions, not for profit theatre company that re-opened the Old Fitz Theatre in 2015 is also in line for a restructure according to ASIC documents filed this week. Built in 1997, according to their website, alumni from the venue include Tim Minchin, Kate Mulvany, Mark Priestley and Brendan Cowell. Red Line Productions passed the venue to New Ghosts Theatre earlier this year who currently operate the venue.

It’s clear that the focus on major festival difficulties in the music industry is warranted, but below the surface a large shift is happening across the board in live music as the old rules are being challenged and the new rules are still being written. While there are so many different reasons for companies to face challenges, the industry is certainly in the spotlight, with a Parliamentary Inquiry announced. The role of funding, getting rid of bad actors, supporting legitimate cultural enterprise and the ability of the industry to react to the changing needs of their own consumers should make for an interesting inquiry.