New World Artists chief Owen Orford on building long-term live careers
As part of Australian Music Week in Sydney in November, Owen Orford will be conducting a hypothetical on building up an artist’s live performance career from the ground up.
As executive director of booking agency New World Artists, Orford has form in taking new talent to fame, fortune and Fortitude Music Hall.
Coming to grips with how performance deals are cut and slicing up the revenue pie, can be daunting to newcomers and seasoned players alike, especially when confronted with how the jigsaw pieces fit together and trading cash flow for profile.
In this case, the Hypothetical Live panel will take it step-by-step for easier consumption.
He says, “You will be observing artists, managers, booking agents, venue bookers, festival promoters, publicists and marketers negotiate.
“A live-action role-play of time-lapse scenarios, using actual or re-imagined experiences, to inform the discussion, and enlighten us about remarkable gig situations that have happened.
“We’ll fast track delegates through discovery, to manager and agent relationships, artist relations, manager to artist explaining the vision, manager to agent discussing the grand plan and promoter haggling.
“To design a considered strategy for the ‘hypothetical’ emerging artist.
“And, of course, everyone wants to get on the biggest festivals like Bluesfest, Splendour, GTM, Laneway and Falls.
“But there are other events, strategies and touring sequences that might be more appropriate and financially rewarding.”
Also to be discussed: when a young act unexpectedly takes off like a rocket and when an established artist has sold out the biggest venues.
“ A trained monkey (or AI ) could manage or tour this, and it could become successful regardless…up to a point.
“When everyone wants a piece of the artist, how does the team around them guide them to sustainable career paths?
“What will keep them special? When to say no? Where do we go now ?”
“Or does it end in a sad story that goes ‘Wow they burned bright and fast but three years later, no-one gives a damn’.”
New acts are discovered in a number of ways – in a support slot at a gig, online, word of mouth, demos, the list goes on.
Orford enthusiastically recalls a recent experience when he spontaneously slipped into a venue just to check if its night’s array of acts had any chop.
One knocked him out immediately.
“I didn’t know anything about them. They had chops alright – incredible musicianship, the singer prowled through the audience and was confronting. Unforgettable.
“You either loved them or hated them on the spot. I love bands that generate that visceral imperative.
“Turns out they were fresh out of university, well-rehearsed, no manager or agent, and this was their first gig!
“I could envisage them in 3-5 years playing the biggest venues in the land and am really glad I went to the event.”
Orford says that rule of thumb is that before being discovered by the industry, the act should be out there lighting a few bonfires to get their career going.
“Sometimes it’s better to start off by yourself, create your own sense of worth, work out who you are, what you stand for, where your audience is demographically and learn how to connect with audiences of other bands when you go on tour.
“Because sometimes you can play the wrong support slots. “
Three case studies of building ‘em up to last
There’s no one way to grow a band and achieve the planned result.
Orford chose three of the New World Artist roster to make that point.
#Grinspoon: twenty-five years ago, they were an alt-rock band opening for mainstream acts and getting to a non-sympathetic crowd, being paid $400 and not happy with their lot.
When he became their agent, Orford put them on appropriate bills with the like-minded Regurgitator, Spiderbait and The Living End.
The Grinners made great records, which were picked up by triple j and community radio, and then came the crossover ‘Chemical Heart’.
“Overnight they doubled their audience because a lot of women turned on to them.
“They started selling out the Hordern Pavilions and were doing large festivals.”
Having established their own crowd, appearing at the larger festivals heaved them up to the next level.
“When they appeared on a festival, they’d have a rabid crowd going absolutely berserk.
“The rest of the crowd might have been tourists, only probably heard a couple of songs on triple j, but they’d never experienced Grinspoon in full flight.”
Because of the strong base they’d built early in their career, the band could take an indefinite hiatus in 2013 and focus on their growing families and solo projects.
Two years later, Cold Chisel encouraged them to return for some dates, and in 2017 Grinspoon undertook a 20th-anniversary tour behind Guide To Better Living.
“It was the biggest tour they’d ever done, sold out 43,000 tickets.
“ That happened because they had worked hard in the early days to set up their own crowd and NWA harvested that asset by partnering with a great team of professionals.
“They’re currently on the Chemical Hearts tour, and are at the top of their game.”
#Mallrat: she emerged with a swag of exciting songs but had no live experience or show as such.
Orford recalls: “Everyone wanted Mallrat, every label in the world wanted to sign her.
“Promoters and festivals lined up to add her to under18s events.
“The pressure was on, should we put her out on everything that moves?
“The smartest thing management and agency did was to say no, we should hold her back, take things slowly and build up a sensibility around Mallrat and what she stands for to her audience. Allow Grace her space to actually become ‘Mallrat’ and engage with HER fans organically.
“So much so that Splendour invited her back as many times as we could.
“Those kids go nuts, singing every word to every song. They love her passionately.
“Now she’s touring America on the back of hits like Groceries and Charlie and Allday, her friend and the best mentor, is actually supporting her.
“It’s been a fantastic slow build and totally different strategy to most.”
#Sneaky Sound System: “They play more dance events and corporates than anyone else.”
Despite much radio support at first, they established an eleven-year residency at Sydney club Hugo’s on the down-low as Sneaky Sundays, and currently, four-month branded residencies on the Greek island of Mykonos and more recently in Bali.
“All the festivals want what they bring, last Christmas Sneaky scored a #1 on Beatport and in the dance charts in the UK.
“Black Angus Sneaky’s DJ producer is masterful at reading the crowd.
“Miss Connie (Connie Mitchell) delivers with a magical presence.
“She is one of the best singers in the world.
“When Beyonce, Jay-Z and Kanye West came to Australia and did some recording during their tour, guess whom they invited to collaborate on vocals?
“Connie is a singer’s singer, a note-perfect goddess of the stage with the amazing ability to eyeball the entire audience throughout the set , almost every person in that crowd thinks she’s looking at them.”
A worrying trend in the live sector
Orford explains, “There seems to be more revenue collectors appearing than normal.
“People who are wedging themselves between agent and artist, and between venue owner and agent, and between promoter and agent.
“Often they are not doing much ‘work’ to earn it in my opinion.
“Now I’m in the business of creating ideas and shows to further someone’s career.
“But you get people who want to do two hours of work on their mobile phones and collect the money without motivating any business or selling tickets.
“You can’t get around them because they contract with the venue or artist, but they’re not doing anything to further the act’s career.
“By the time they are revealed as a hoax and a minimalist contributor, it’s often too late for that business to recover.
“I see that as the most detrimental thing for our industry. Give me inspired revenue creators any day!”