How Untitled Group Steered Through the Pandemic, and Set Its Sights on Growth
The pandemic lingers, and winter is coming. Though for many in the live music industry who’ve reached mid-2022 with a team and business intact, the hills ahead are filled with gold.
Untitled Group has survived, and, if a recent restructure can be used as a signal, the concerts and events company is positioned to thrive.
Independently-owned and based in Melbourne, Untitled’s round of hires and promotions follow a period of “huge growth,” say reps, both in head-count and box-office.
“We continued pushing ahead and kept all of our staff busy, never shutting down or taking a hiatus at any point,” explains group co-founder and director Filippo Palermo.
Since January 2021, when Victoria was racking-up nation-leading COVID cases, the group’s staff count numbered seven. Today, that figure has grown to 37.
Ticket sales across its suite of shows and events are expected to top 500,000 this year, well up on a typical, pre-COVID year, when Untitled Group shifted some 300,000 tickets annually.
That growth should be fueled by the roll-out of several existing brands into new markets, and the welcome arrival of international acts to our shores, which includes Glass Animals, the “Heat Waves” hitmakers whose Dreamland tour kicks off July 14 at Perth’s HBF Stadium.
Also on the cards is the mushrooming of Grapevine Gathering into South Australia and Queensland; the expansion of Wildlands Festival into SA and West Australia; and the return of Beyond The Valley as a four-day camping fest.
As business rebounds, Untitled is in a festive mood. And why not. The group shifted 200,000 tickets across more than 60 events during its 2021/22 season, provided upwards of 10,000 jobs to the music industry, a rep confirms, and raised $400,000 for the Dylan Alcott Foundation through its fully-accessible Ability Fest since November 2021.
Its young team is reshuffled, revamped, and includes promotions for The Music Network’s 30 Under 30 Casey Katz (marketing director) and Steel Hanf (agent and managing director of Proxy Agency), while the group’s directors headlined Business News Australia’s 2021 list of Australia’s Top 100 Young Entrepreneurs.
It hasn’t all been sunny days. Palermo and his team were dealt a tough hand when the NSW leg of Grapevine cancelled in the week of the show. And nine artists were forced to cancel their festival sets on showday last year due to COVID, a blight that turned the Untitled Group office into a PCR testing site.
TIO caught up with Palermo for a look at the tricky road through the pandemic, and the path ahead.
The pandemic has been brutal for every business involved in live entertainment. How did yours pull through?
We continued pushing ahead and kept all of our staff busy, never shutting down or taking a hiatus at any point.
Whether it was working on the potential return on live music, investing in companies that would future-proof our business such as Mr. Yum, or hunting down and submitting grant applications that were available.
This meant we kept our team together and didn’t have staff turnover during the pandemic.
The upside of this is that our brands stayed relevant, the downside was that we experienced countless disheartening postponements, one of the worst being Grapevine Gathering NSW being forced to cancel four days out from the event, with infrastructure on site, artists in the state, all the advertising budget spent and tickets sold.
A moment that stood out to me when it felt like we were finally out of lockdown was our first camping festival back, Pitch Music & Arts.
It sold out instantly for the first time since its inception, showing the market’s hunger to return to a camping festival.
We were also really happy with the event experience, irrespective of supply chain issues we were facing to get the event delivered to that standard.
What has been your recipe for success until now?
We’ve strived to draw a lot of inspiration from festivals abroad, and are constantly challenging the blueprint of the more traditional live concert and festival space, as well as rethinking our own events.
Engaging unique locations such as the foothill of the Grampians for Pitch, warehouses and carparks, bespoke stage designs and unique artist programs are some examples of areas we regularly work on.
You’ve made some expansive moves with some of your events into Adelaide and Perth, markets that have been the undoing of promoters in years past. What did you learn from punters in these cities?
We have data which shows there is a growing appetite for Untitled events such as Wildlands and Grapevine to operate in these cities.
When booking a headline run, or a festival run, it’s important to offer artists as many shows as possible, while remaining commercially viable.
These expansions consider a lower take up in sales in cities such as Adelaide, and the costs and fees correlate with this consideration.
It would also be a shame to have so many talented artists in the country and only do Melbourne and Sydney all the time.
The business has just announced a raft of promotions and hires. You’re predicting growth.
We’re currently planning ahead and making sure we’re adequately resourced for the next 12-plus months. Especially with Beyond The Valley returning as a camping festival this year.
It’s exciting to welcome some incredible new team members, and I’m personally very proud of those that have recently been promoted.
It’s important for us that our team members are empowered, enjoy the space in which they work in, and have the tools, resources and guidance to be able to work autonomously within their department when required.
Opportunity for career growth is also a big priority for us.
How do you see the next two years for your business, compared with the previous two years?
More expansion in the touring and hard ticket space, venue acquisitions, investments into startups such as Mr. Yum and Muso, as well as doing more shows and festivals interstate, while focusing on making sure festivals like Beyond The Valley and Pitch still get the love they deserve and need.
This article originally appeared on The Industry Observer, which is now part of The Music Network.