Mid-Year Report: Australian Music Business Hard at Work
There really is no business like showbusiness. For a moment there, however, it felt like the lights were glitching out.
Australia swerved the GFC, but couldn’t dodge the COVID bullet. The pandemic tore a new hole in the live music industry which, until March 2020, had felt bullet-proof.
Fleets were grounded, venues closed for months, years. Tours and festivals were scrapped, rescheduled, postponed, and rescheduled again. Awards ceremonies and conferences went “virtual,” then “hybrid.”
The streaming business ticked away, vinyl kept spinning. But without live entertainment — showbiz — the economy of music was treading water, at best.
Now, as we reach the cooler, mid-year period of 2022, business is heating up.
As the industry looks ahead to better days, TMN unpacks some of the big local developments in 2022 so far.
Mushroom Group 2:0. Life After Michael Gudinski
Michael Gudinski would be chuffed. The “family” Gudinski assembled under the sprawling Mushroom Group continues to put runs on the board, putting those most difficult of times behind it.
The industry great left us suddenly in March 2021, having kept the indie powerhouse humming along during a dark age for live music.
Gudinski’s son Matt stepped up, and steered the company to some memorable wins. Among them, a global partnership with Virgin Music Label & Artist Services; the launch of an artist management division, Mushroom Management; a new leadership structure at Frontier Touring, further integrating the Mushroom Group business with its partner AEG Live; and a stuffed calendar of tours, including Foo Fighters and Billy Joel stadium dates though the Always Live campaign, a partnership with Visit Victoria.
Frontier Touring is behind Ed Sheeran’s 2023 tour of Australia and New Zealand, which has swollen to 13 stadium dates. Don’t bet against Sheeran smashing his own all-time box office mark.
Live Music Is (Mostly) Back
Not so long ago, Australia’s concerts landscape was red hot, generating billions, welcoming the biggest international names and placing them in front of massive audiences around the land. And then, it wasn’t.
For two years and change, the good times had been sucked out of Australia. Now, with vaccines pumped into all but the most hard-headed of us, the good stuff is on the way back. The concerts calendar for 2022 and 2023 looks like a fairytale for music fans, starved of action for too long.
There is a caveat. With this flood of live fun, concert producers are faced with labour shortages, a scarcity of venues and mutations of COVID are buzzing.
For live music in mid-2022, it’s eight steps forward, one step back.
Sony Music’s First Female Lead
After nearly four decades, finally, a changing of the guard at Sony Music. Vanessa Picken will slot into the top job at Sony Music later this year, leading the major music company’s activities in Australia and New Zealand, and becoming the first woman to do so.
Announced in June, Picken’s appointment was welcomed by the industry as a “monumental milestone” and “history in the making,” and a fresh start for a company that was led by Denis Handlin for 37 years, a reign that ended in controversy a year earlier.
Ever since, the domestic operations of Sony Music has been overseen from U.S. head office.
The Picken era at Sony Music begins this September.
New Government, New Problems
There’s change in the air. Britain’s prime minister Boris Johnson has been given his marching orders, though who knows when he’ll finally walk. Former U.S. president Donald Trump is facing heat for his role in the ugly Jan. 6 insurrection. And in these parts, a new government led by prime minister Anthony Albanese.
After nine years of guff and bluster from Tony Abbott, then Malcolm Turnbull and, finally, Scott Morrison, the music industry breathed a collective sigh of relief as Albo and his ALP swept into power on May 21.
The new boss is a music anorak, as is culture minister Tony Burke, who has positioned himself as a friend of the music industry, and is pushing on with the National Cultural Policy, currently in the consultation phase.
Ahead of the election, the music business presented a three-point plan, focusing on direct investment in the creation of great new Australian music, skills development and global exports, incentivising the use of local content on streaming and broadcast platforms, insurance to provide certainty for local audiences and programs to build industry sustainability through strong intellectual property and national mentorship programs.
Whether the policy adopts those points will determine the length of the music industry’s honeymoon period with the new government.
In Liberals-led New South Wales, a bad smell in the air. Just days out from the 2022 Splendour in the Grass, a new, enforceable rule that demands under-18s be accompanied by a “responsible adult” at all times while at the event and showgrounds. “Police will be present at the event, roaming throughout the crowd checking that underage minors are with a responsible adult,” reads a statement from organisers.
Important announcement regarding under 18's at Splendour. pic.twitter.com/g8EzlY50yR— SplendourintheGrass (@SITG) July 11, 2022
#MeToo Is Still In Motion
Change is coming, slowly, and sometimes without warning.
The rotten culture that has festered in the halls of some music companies should be brought to light by an ongoing national review, established to investigate sexual harm, harassment and discrimination in Australia’s music business.
The Review into Sexual Harm, Sexual Harassment, and Systemic Discrimination in the National Music Industry was announced late last year, with an ambition to learn and talk with all communities and roles within the music industry to understand what the sector looks like in 2022.
Led by “outside” consultants Alexandra (Alex) Shehadie and Sam Turner, the review is auspiced by music industry charity Support Act, and unveiled with support from lobby bodies APRA AMCOS, ARIA, PPCA and Australia Council, and has a total target budget of $400,00.
The project launched as Australia’s music industry finally faces its #MeToo moment, with companies and leaders across the sector sending the message in 2021 that offensive actions in the workplace would no longer be tolerated.
Two of the three major music companies, Sony Music and Universal Music, launched investigations into their own corporate cultures, and several high-profile employees were terminated, following investigations. UMA recently unveiled a restructuring of its senior leadership team following the departure of a co-managing director amid a review into its corporate culture.
For many, change can’t come soon enough.
- Changing of the guard at EMI as John O’Donnell announces his retirement.
- NZ extends copyright term
- Beth Appleton named CEO at Jaxsta
- Warren Costello passes
- Kate Bush is running to No. 1
- The Wiggles are the Hottest 100 champs
- SXSW is coming to Sydney in 2023
- SoundCloud buys Musiio
- Serenade expands in Britain, preps for U.S. adventure
- Jaddan Comerford launches investment syndicate Side Stage Ventures