‘We’re a leader, not a follower’: Gudinski on Mushroom’s big year
As the global music industry’s worst year heads towards an end, Mushroom Group chair Michael Gudinski is feeling upbeat and atypically looking for the silver linings.
The obvious one is that his company notched up five #1 albums in 2020, with a remarkable 17 nominations at tomorrow’s (November 25) ARIA Awards.
All indications, he says, are that next year is going to be equally strong.
The five chart-toppers marked the recorded music industry’s biggest successes for local acts by any label this year, and surpassed the group’s achievement in 2016.
Mushroom’s #1 albums were Violent Soho’s Everything Is A-OK (April), The Teskey Brothers’ Live at The Forum (May), Vika & Linda’s Akilotoa (Anthology 1994-2006) (June), Music From The Home Front (June) and Kylie Minogue’s Disco (November).
Additionally, Music From The Home Front returned to the top spot in September with the limited edition collectors triple vinyl pack, while Vika & Linda’s Sunday (The Gospel According To Iso) and DMAs’ The Glow just barely missed out on summit status.
“Number ones are a real compliment and confidence boosters,” Gudinski tells TMN. “But it’s really about long term careers.
“We’ve always been a company that has had a diversity of acts and we’ve always been a company that believes that great artists take time.
“It’s a testament to us moving forward, restructuring, and having great people.”
An important element is how Mushroom’s staff have become more inter-generational than ever, with his son, executive director Matt Gudinski, bringing in younger blood like I OH YOU founder Johann Ponniah to the group’s mainstays, including Chris Maund and Warren Costello.
AFL tragic Gudinski compares an effective music company to a football team.
“The best thing the experienced players do is to stay relevant and not look back at how it was 20 years ago, but pass on and inspire the youth.”
Does he have a healthy rivalry with major labels in this country?
“There’s always rivalry and competitiveness. We’ve always been famous for not getting into bidding wars, we want to be a leader and not a follower.
“Without making it a policy, we’re certainly signing acts that a number of big labels wouldn’t.”
During the pandemic, Mushroom looked at creative new ways to market acts, helped keep artists afloat, and diverted more money towards its publishing division to generate more co-writes.
The flexible working culture within Mushroom allowed it to transform on Friday, March 13 when COVID restrictions were introduced.
When its live music divisions like Frontier Touring and Harbour Agency went dark, literally within hours Gudinski had made the decision to shift staff to TV production.
Nine Network’s Music From the Home Front and the ABC’s The Sound put Australian music before local audiences in primetime, while his online series’ The State of Music and Introducing partnered with the Victorian Government.
“It’s obvious to me that after what we’ve gone through (with the pandemic), people are looking at Australian made things and supporting them.
“Not just music but in food and fashion, among other things. So I’m really looking forward to next year,” he says, adding that there is plenty of young energy in the pipeline.
“A lot of acts are totally independent, and I’m not against that. But there comes a time when you’re ready to go the next step. Having a strong promo and marketing team is very important.
“We’re looking at changing the deals for some, to tailor for the acts we’d like to work with. The one thing we’ve always done is help the creative process, and not take over the creative process.”
Looking at the wider music industry, Gudinski expresses excitement that in 2020, indies like Future Classic and Chugg Music went on to widen their international success, and how fifteen Australian acts topped the ARIA Albums Chart.
He talks about how the media set-up for Minogue, as well as for AC/DC and Midnight Oil (both Sony acts) will generate interest in their back catalogue, and add to the across-the-board rise of catalogue sales and merchandising this year.
There’s only one negative, says Gudinski, and that’s the state of singles.
“If you did the research into how many singles from new artists there were this year, you’ll get a shock. Catalogue music is outstanding in keeping artists relevant, but breaking new artists is really the lifeblood of the industry.”
The problem, according to him, is radio’s continued irrelevancy in breaking acts and the lack of local versions of The Tonight Show or The Graham Norton Show.
“Half the artists on The Sound have never been on television.”
He’s gone into shadow boxer mode as 2021 approaches.
“I feel very fortunate for a bloke who never finished school, my health is better than ever.”