Michael Chugg appointed to Music Australia Council
Veteran promoter Michael Chugg has been appointed to the Music Australia Council.
Established under the Creative Australia Act 2023, the council will provide strategic direction for Music Australia in its work to support and grow the country’s contemporary music sector.
Music Australia, which is backed by more than A$69 million (€41m) in funding over four years, is a key part of Australia’s new national cultural policy Revive, which will operate within new investment and advisory body Creative Australia.
The Chugg Entertainment founder is one of nine appointees announced by the Albanese Labor Government.
“Music Australia will deliver what the industry needs to grow and realise its potential, at home and internationally”
“Music Australia will deliver what the industry needs to grow and realise its potential, at home and internationally,” says arts minister Tony Burke. “It’s essential that Australian musicians and industry experts themselves have a seat at the table – and that’s what these appointments will achieve.
“With their dedication, passion and expertise in Australian music, the appointees will make sure that Australian music is the soundtrack to life in Australia.”
Chugg will join chair Adrian Collette (Creative Australia CEO), Lisa Baker (manager, creative cultural development, Northern Sound System), Fred Alale (co-founder/chair, African Music and Cultural Festival Inc), singer-songwriter Danielle Caruana, aka Mama Kin (co-founder/director, The Seed Fund) and Petrina Convey (owner/director, UNITY Mgmt Group).
The council is completed by award-winning musician Fred Leone (founder, Impossible Odds Records), Nathan McLay (founder/CEO, Future Classic) and indie folk singer-songwriter Dr Sophie Payten, aka Gordi.
Earlier this year, Chugg Music struck a partnership deal with Select Music and artist manager Dan Biddle to launch Wheelhouse Agency – a new specialist booking enterprise focused on Australasia’s growing market for Americana and country music.
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Remote control: New Zealand market report
With the pandemic in the rear-view mirror, concerts have returned to New Zealand, or Aotearoa as it is increasingly being referred to by many inhabitants, and touring is back in full force – mostly – in the world’s most remote market. Lars Brandle reports.
The home of the legendary Flying Nun Records, and the birthplace of Lorde, Broods, Benee, The Beths, stadium-fillers Six60, and many others, New Zealand has a thriving music scene.
With a population of more than 1.6m, Auckland remains NZ’s biggest market. But a glance at touring itineraries reveals the country’s touring landscape has hotspots on both islands.
Ed Sheeran’s 2023 Mathematics Tour of New Zealand (promoted by Frontier Touring) dropped into Sky Stadium in the capital, Wellington, and Auckland’s Eden Park – the nation’s home of rugby.
Rod Stewart played Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin and Mission Estate Winery in Hawke’s Bay in April 2023, and blink-182 will visit in February 2024 (both Live Nation) with dates at the 12,000-capacity Sparks Stadium in Auckland and the 9,000-capacity Wolfbrook Arena in Christchurch.
When the Foo Fighters drop by in January 2024 for Frontier Touring, Dave Grohl and co will rock out on both islands with a trek that includes Auckland’s GO Media Stadium (Mt Smart Stadium), Christchurch’s Orangetheory Stadium, and Wellington’s Sky Stadium.
“The top end of the New Zealand market is doing incredibly well with huge success for P!nk across three stadiums, Harry Styles and arena acts Lewis Capaldi, Lizzo and Blink-182 also looking at sold out dates,” says Mark Kneebone, managing director of Live Nation NZ.
“It does feel like there are changes in our market. But that might be generational”
“We are back from the pandemic,” notes Brent Eccles, director of Eccles Entertainment, the full-service booking agency and concert promoter. “It does feel like there are changes in our market. But that might be generational.” Venues and cities all across Aotearoa have “become more professional” and are “keen to work with promoters to get international artists to come to town”.
Formed by Brent and Helen Eccles in 2000, Eccles Entertainment exclusively represents Frontier Touring, Illusive Presents, Chugg Entertainment, Arena Touring, and Roundhouse Entertainment in NZ.
The challenge, he continues, is making shows work on all levels in a busy marketplace. The sweet spot for ticket prices “is all-important, and we need to set these uniquely for NZ.”
The good; the not so good
NZ’s music scene is vibrant, and Kiwis rarely miss out on the big tours, although the problems promoters are faced with are many and varied. The tyranny of distance can’t be adjusted; it’s a challenge doing business in this stunning part of the world, whose Scottish influences can be spotted in town names from Invercargill to Dunedin, Balfour and more.
Caroline Harvie-Teare, chief executive at Venues Ōtautahi, reports “a strong return in international acts” and, “in some respects, exceeding pre-pandemic levels”. Mark Gosling, general manager for Spark Arena, says business “has been fantastic this year,” with shows “selling well albeit later than pre-Covid”.
Rising costs across the live music ecosystem are another issue giving promoters headaches. And the spectre of a recession was confirmed in June 2023 when NZ’s central bank raised interest rates to a 14-year high. The country is now in a “technical recession” as the economy shrank in the first quarter. Locals, who are already feeling the pinch from inflation, will also feel the sting of higher mortgage repayments. Whether it has a marked impact on discretionary spending, for concert tickets and food and beverage at shows, remains to be seen.
“NZ radio is far more supportive than Australia”
The NZ market “on most levels has always been solid, and they love their music”, says legendary Australian concert promoter Michael Chugg. “NZ radio is far more supportive than Australia,” and its fans plug into a “club and university circuit, with a few wineries and some beautiful regional town halls”, he notes. “It’s a strong local market for local and Australian bands and smaller internationals.”
Venues sizes, however, have always been a problem, notes Chugg. “For decades, you played outside, or you did venues up to around 3-4,000 [capacity].” Wellington, the capital, “desperately needs an indoor arena,” he adds. Having to use ferries to move equipment between islands, and “the cost of sitting around for two to three days makes it tough.”
Chugg Entertainment produced Elton John’s Farewell Yellow Brick Road dates in NZ, his business is behind The Chicks’ trek, which includes two concerts this October at Christchurch’s Wolf brook Arena, and Robbie Williams’ return, which will see him perform to 50,000 fans at two Mission Estate Winery shows. The outdoor winery network in NZ is, like its bigger brother, Australia, a popular destination with older, concert-loving audiences.
The plight of grassroots live music venues has an advocate in Save Our Venues NZ. When the pandemic closed music rooms around the country in 2020, the organisation, with support from industry support groups MusicHelps and Boosted NZ, raised almost NZ$500,000, to support 30 “crucial small music venues” across NZ.
Save Our Venues NZ celebrated a win in April 2023 when Christchurch City Council endorsed the commencement of planning changes and non-regulatory initiatives to protect live music venues in the South Island city. The organisation worked alongside venues to develop a solution with council that “mitigates noise conflict with residents and ensures there is a plan for the future of live music in the city,” reads a statement. It’s hoped councils in other populated areas will follow suit.
“We are staging on-sales across different cities at different hours of the day, even in situations where there might only be a few thousand tickets per market to put on sale”
The live music industry’s mortal enemy, Viagogo, doesn’t have any friends in New Zealand, where the Commerce Commission took the rogue ticketing agent to court for a civil trial. The Commission is tasked with policing the Fair Trading Act and launched proceedings at Auckland’s High Court in early 2023 following a flood of consumer complaints over Viagogo’s practices. At the time of writing, the court case was ongoing. The live music industry is monitoring the outcome.
As NZ tries to squash Viagogo, the country welcomes an international ticketing brand, AXS, whose domestic operations are led by Andrew Travis, CEO of AXS Australia and New Zealand. The AEG-backed operation has quietly ticketed a couple of major shows for Frontier Touring, also a partner with AEG Presents, including Foo Fighters at Orangetheory Stadium in Christchurch.
The incumbent ticketing companies in Australia and New Zealand “have real structural issues that have resulted in systems that don’t compare well to global standards in terms of reliability and capacity”, comments Dion Brant, CEO of Frontier Touring. “We are staging on-sales across different cities at different hours of the day, even in situations where there might only be a few thousand tickets per market to put on sale.” Ideally, he adds, the promoter “shouldn’t have to worry that your ticketing company might have issues handling the load if you put them up at the same time. We hope that the entry of AXS into the market will sharpen competition and force all players to improve. As the proverb says, ‘a rising tide floats all boats.’”
The great outdoors… Festivaland
Iconic festivals like Rhythm and Vines, which is now in its 21st year, regularly put up the “sold-out” sign and have become a rite of passage for young New Zealanders. The three-day music festival this year is held from 29 December at Waiohika Estate, Gisborne, with various packages currently on sale. A three-day GA festival pass with camping comes in at about NZ$525, inclusive of fees.
Endeavour Live operates a portfolio of festival brands including Spring City, The Golden Run, and Gardens Festival, in addition to touring talent at greenfield locations such as The Auckland Domain.
“There is room for new themed festivals in the market, with the likes of hip-hop and country opportunities to sit alongside more established genres like reggae and MOR – winery-style events”
Endeavour Live event producer Hamish Pinkham is confident there’s untapped opportunities. “There is room for new themed festivals in the market, with the likes of hip-hop and country opportunities to sit alongside more established genres like reggae and MOR – winery-style events,” he tells IQ.
Catering to an “elderly raver” market has proven a “strong proposition,” he continues, with recent tours from Groove Armada and Fatboy Slim selling out. Both British acts were able to play multiple outdoor venues around the country, including wineries. Also, legacy drum ‘n’ bass music acts like Wilkinson and Sub Focus “continue to do the business up and down the country,” with the former hitting three arenas, a “just reward for over ten years’ touring history in the region.”
Smaller club tours are facing the challenge of tightened discretionary spending and competition from the raft of stadium and arena tours that passed through during the busy southern summer. “It’s been difficult to flood new artists into the touring circuit recently,” says Pinkham.
Eccles has the last word. “As we recover from the Covid period, we seem to be seeing more and more artists on all levels touring Aotearoa and, in most cases, having successful tours.” When the big shows come to town, it’s creating a buzz and “everyone wants to participate.”
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Chugg: Elton tour set to make Australasian history
Veteran Australian promoter Michael Chugg has revealed that Elton John’s Farewell Yellow Brick Road Australia and New Zealand tour is on course to enter the history books.
The Australasia leg of the Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour was the biggest tour globally in the first half of 2020, according to Pollstar.
Sir Elton grossed US$87.1m from 38 shows during the mid-year reporting period, with a total of 664,749 tickets sold, before touring ground to a pandemic-induced halt that March.
Chugg Entertainment, Frontier Touring and AEG Presents have now announced a fresh run of dates by the star in the region for the beginning of 2023. Elton will play McDonald Jones Stadium, Newcastle (10 January), AAMI Park Melbourne (13 January), Sydney Football Stadium (18 January) and Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane (21 January) in Australia, in addition to Orangetheory Stadium, Christchurch (24 January) in New Zealand and two rescheduled shows at Auckland’s Mount Smart Stadium (27-28 January).
“People could have got refunds for those two postponed Auckland shows but 35,000 held on to their tickets”
In an interview with The Music Network, Chugg says the new shows will take the overall tally to 875,000 ticket sales, which would put it in third place in the all-time Australia and New Zealand rankings, trailing only Ed Sheeran’s 2018 Divide tour (950,000) and Dire Straits’ 1986 Brothers In Arms tour (900,000) in the all-British Top 3.
“Elton’s a great entertainer, his shows are fantastic. He delivers,” says Chugg. “He has this incredible rapport with the audience where he thrives on them and they thrive on him.
“Once you see Elton, you most likely will go and see him again. People could have got refunds for those two postponed Auckland shows but 35,000 held on to their tickets.
“Weirdly, he’s played a lot of shows in the Hunter Valley but he has never in Newcastle. So we decided on the Newcastle Stadium. It’ll be the first concert there in 32 years since we did the Newcastle earthquake benefit concert.”
Comprising well over 300 shows, the Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour kicked off in the US in September 2018 and it currently scheduled to wrap up in Europe in summer 2023.
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ESNS shares Steve Strange’s last interview
Steve Strange’s last interview before his tragic passing has been released today, courtesy of Chugg Entertainment, X-ray and Eurosonic Noorderslag (ESNS).
The renowned booking agent and X-ray co-founder took part in a 45-minute keynote interview – pre-recorded remotely due to the pandemic – interviewed by veteran Australian promoter Michael Chugg in January this year.
According to the Chugg Entertainment founder who went on to co-manage Australian act Sheppard, he and Strange met in the 80s and became “best mates”.
During the interview, Chugg quizzes Strange on weathering the pandemic, reimagining businesses models, and how he came to represent Eminem, Coldplay and Queens of the Stone Age from the beginning of their careers.
Read more about Steve Strange’s remarkable life and career in this IQ feature, which marked his 50th birthday.
ESNS will return to Groningen between 19–22 January 2022. For more information, visit esns.nl.
Michael Chugg: “We’re all saying let’s look at 2022”
IQ editor Gordon Masson sits down for a Zoom chat with veteran Australian promoter Michael Chugg to discuss his decision to branch out into recorded music, the return of international touring, the domestic situation in Australia and, of course, the long-term impact of Covid…
IQ: What’s been keeping you busy during the last few months?
MC: The label and management side of my business is doing very well. We’re having lots of success with the albums and doing a lot of streaming events – we’ve done about 80 or 90 streaming events with our acts now. Lime Cordiale just had a No.1 album and eight nominations for the ARIA Awards; Sheppard have just played the Aussie Rules grand final in Brisbane last weekend, which was very exciting. I’ve also been helping Gudinski with a lot of his streaming shows, as well as series two of The Sound, which is a rock and music television show that he is involved with and got onto ABC – that starts again next week and I’ve been helping him with that.
We’re about to sign a big deal with a young artist called Mia Rodriguez, who is definitely worth checking out on YouTube. Chugg Entertainment is now part of the Mushroom empire, which I could not have done at a better time really. But Chugg Music is my own thing. I’ve always been involved with Australian music, but I started Chugg Music eight years ago with Sheppard and with Lime Cordiale, and it’s just built from there. My partner in it is Andrew Stone and I’ve got a team of people who work on it. And at least it’s given me something to focus on or I’d be going fucking stir crazy without it.
“Chugg Music has given me something to focus on…I’d be going fucking stir crazy without it”
You opened a Chugg Music office in Bangkok earlier this month. Would that have been possible had you still been full on with promoting concerts this year?
I’ve been dabbling in Asia since around 89 when I did a gig with Bon Jovi. But not having any live touring, I’ve had a lot of time to look at things and then a friend of mine who had been running a music business in Bangkok for BEC-TERO rang me up one day to say he was out of a gig, so I asked him if he could do some work there for me because Sheppard have had a couple of hits up there.
So he started to work on it and then started to see what else we were doing – getting enquiries from Japan about Lime Cordiale stuff, for instance. So after five months we could see there was a business and we decided to open up properly with a Chugg Music office. Gudinski and I have both tried over the years to do things in Asia – we’ve both done quite a few shows up there – we had Laneway [festival] in Singapore for a few years, for instance – and it’s not the easiest market. But there has been a lot of interest recently in the Australian acts, through streaming and things like that, so why not give it a go?
It looks like international touring could be a bit stagnant, to say the least…
Yeah, well ten days ago I got a call from Canberra, from one of the advisors there, and they told us that the borders will not open until 2022. That’s in general – the mainstream – but they’re still trying to do the tennis in January. There won’t be any audiences though.
The Melbourne Cup, on 3 November, our big horse race, won’t have any crowds. But for the tennis in January, they are going to start letting people into the country – and the Indian cricket team is coming in a few weeks’ time. They will be playing cricket and nobody will be there, except maybe in Brisbane and Adelaide, where they’re starting to have limited audiences. There were 30,000 people at the Aussie Rules grand final in Brisbane, but now it’s gone back to 5,000 people for anything else.
I can’t see any touring here until 2022. A friend of mine who works for the premier of New South Wales also told me that’s what they’re talking about.
“When it all comes back and we get to a decent level, there should be quite a bit of Australian touring”
While that remains the situation, is this the greatest opportunity you might have to develop domestic talent?
It’s definitely a good time. Domestic talent here develops anyway, but obviously we’re looking to see what we can do with the acts we can work with. However, it’s also harmed the local acts. If we had not gone into lockdown, Lime Cordiale would be playing 10,000-capacity arenas right now. When it all comes back and we get to a decent level, there should be quite a bit of Australian touring.
We could do a tour now and go play to 30%-capped theatres and things like that, or go play small outdoor shows, but you can’t get into any of the fucking places. At the moment, the borders between Queensland and New South Wales, and New South Wales and Victoria, and South Australia and Victoria are all closed, so you can’t do a national tour right now.
A couple of my bands have played small, 5,000–6,000-capacity festivals in Darwin lately, and there are very few restrictions on audiences in Perth, but nobody can get there, so that’s really only an option for local acts, and that’s it.
But there are some positives. So if it keeps going the way that it is, maybe by Christmas all the internal border restrictions might come down and we can start thinking more seriously about shows.
But we have not announced Laneway – we moved the dates to March, but we haven’t announced because we can’t. If we were to put it up now and there was an outbreak of Covid some- where and they closed things again in January, then we’d lose a heap of money.
Do you think the model for live music needs to be revised on the back of Covid?
They’re planning a big outdoor show for 12,000 people in Adelaide for New Year’s Day with local Australian acts – but at the moment they can’t use Melbourne acts – and the Covid restrictions that have been laid down mean everybody has to be seated. The restrictions are not going to break the bank, but obviously all the toilets and the bars and all the social distancing measures are going to cost money.
We could nearly go ahead with CMC Rocks, our big country festival in Queensland in March. We get about 20,000 people and 11,000 or 12,000 of those camp, but as things stand, if you want to have a campsite, people have got to be 15 metres apart, so you’re fucked, you can’t do it.
“The Live Nation global touring concept might become a thing of the past”
Do you think the spirit of cooperation between rival companies will continue after Covid is gone?
Good fucking question. Look, there has always been a bit of an unwritten code down here. Yes, there’s always squabbling, fighting over tours and artists, but it was an agreement that worked. The Live Nation global touring concept might become a thing of the past. Before all that started, if you had an act, nobody else would go and bid against you. That was pretty much how it was down here.
If Michael Coppel had an act, I would not go after it. The only reason I would, is if the act decided they didn’t want to go with him any more. But the Live Nation thing came along where they were buying acts for the world and for a while Gudinski and ourselves managed to hold on to acts, but then, with the likes of Coldplay and another couple of acts, they would just throw another US$20–30m at them, saying that if they want this money, they’ve got to get rid of Chugg or Gudinski or they’re not going to get the world tour.
I don’t think that situation will be quite as severe as it could have been, and I also think a lot of acts who did those sort of deals, in reflection, probably won’t do them again, because you go from having relationships in 40 or 50 countries with people you’ve worked with for 10 or 15 years or whatever, and all of a sudden they are no longer involved. I know that a lot of the acts who went down that route have regretted it.
“In all the conversations we’re having with agents – and the same with Gudinski – we’re all saying let’s look at early 2022”
When do you think we will see the next Chugg-promoted concert?
I’d love to tell you it will be before June next year, but I doubt it will be before January 2022. We’ve had a couple of the big Australian acts ask us if we’d like to do their tours, but as I said earlier, to go ahead and put something on sale right now would be inviting drama.
We had a couple of postponed Elton John shows that we were going to do in January 2021 and they’ve now been rescheduled until January 2023. But in all the conversations we’re having with agents – and the same with Gudinski – we’re all saying let’s look at early 2022.
One of our big current affair shows on TV did a thing about the companies that supply the coffee machines and barista set-ups for the big shows and conferences: country-wide they were doing about 150 a week and sometimes as many as 100 a day. And they reported they had done four in the past nine months.
People who build exhibitions have not built a single one in nine months. Factories that live on the conference and theatre shows have been idle – there’s no work and everybody is fucked. It’s terrible, but I’ve got to say how great Michael Gudinski has been – everybody is still on the payroll and everyone is still getting paid.
Sydney-based Chugg Music opens new Asia office
Sydney-based Chugg Music, the artist services branch of Michael Chugg’s promotions company Chugg Entertainment, is opening a new office in Asia, spearheaded by Michael “Mick” De Lanty.
Australian expat De Lanty is a seasoned music industry executive based in Bangkok and has worked across the board, with roles in A&R, artist management, marketing, sales, publishing, promotions and brand development.
De Lanty spent 15 years with Sony Music Australia and he has also worked with independent labels in Asia and Australia, as well as in the UK.
The veteran will expand on the success of Chugg Music artists Sheppard, Lime Cordialeand Mia Rodriguez in the Asian region.
“Having been involved in many projects since the late 80s I am excited to actually be planting the Chugg Music flag in Asia,” says Michael Chugg.
“Andrew [Stone, co-founder of Chugg Music] and I are thrilled to announce that my long-time friend and colleague, Michael De Lanty, is running the operations from his Bangkok base. After five months testing the waters we have no doubt that this will be a great step forward for both Australian and Asian music.”
“Having been involved in many projects since the late 80s I am excited to actually be planting my flag in Asia”
Michael De Lanty says: “I am delighted to be working with Chugg, Andrew and their team, in launching Chugg Music Asia and very excited for the opportunity to help develop the careers in Asia of the formidable roster of artists that they have assembled, including Sheppard, Lime Cordiale, Mia Rodriguez, Casey Barnes, to name but a few.
It is an exciting period for music in Asia and no better time to introduce these incredible artists to Asian music lovers.”
Chugg Music Asia will aim to build strong platforms across the 12 major territories, which includes the world’s second-largest music market, Japan.
Chugg Entertainment was founded in 2000 by music industry pioneer Michael Chugg and has toured hundreds of major international acts including Dolly Parton, Coldplay, Radiohead, Elton John, Pearl Jam, Robbie Williams, Florence + The Machine throughout Australia, New Zealand and Asia.
Subsequently, Chugg Music was launched in 2012 with the help of Andrew Stone, offering management, label and publishing services.
Australian industry welcomes $250m rescue package
The Australian government has dedicated AU$250 million (€153.3m) to help rebuild the country’s entertainment and arts sector over the next year, as it commits to presenting a clear timetable for reopening.
The package includes $75m (€46m) for a competitive grants programme – with individual grants of up to $2m (€1.2m) – to provide capital for new festivals, concerts, tours and events, and $90m (€55.2m) in concessional show starter loans – backed with a 100% state guarantee – to assist businesses to fund new productions and events that stimulate job creation and economic activity.
A further $35m (€21.5m) will be used to provide direct support to Commonwealth-funded arts and culture organisations facing threats to financial viability, including those in theatre, dance, music and circus.
The final $50m (€30.7m) is dedicated to supporting film and television producers.
“We welcome the government’s support for both the live entertainment and live sport sectors as we push ahead with these plans”
The government has also committed to establishing a creative economy taskforce to implement a JobMaker plan for the creative economy, as well as working to give the entertainment industry greater certainty about the timetable for restarting business.
Although the funding is over $105m (€64.4m) short of the relief package previously drawn up by Live Performance Australia (LPA), industry organisations have widely welcomed the government’s support, with the LPA calling it a “significant outcome” for the industry.
The recently formed Live Entertainment Industry Forum (LEIF), which comprises Australia’s leading promoters Live Nation, TEG, Frontier Touring, Chugg Entertainment and AEG, as well as WME agency, major venues and operators, and a number of industry organisations, thanks the prime minister “for recognising the serious business of entertainment that employs hundreds of thousands of jobs and makes a significant contribution to the Australian way of life.”
LEIF chair James Sutherland adds the forum is working with health authorities to develop “nationally approved high-level principles for a safe return to live entertainment and sport at large venues”.
“Through this unprecedented collaboration across live entertainment and sport we are committed to delivering COVIDSafe live events and sport. We welcome the government’s support for both the live entertainment and live sport sectors as we push ahead with these plans.”
“I know there’s a strong desire among all Australians to see the return of gigs, performances and events”
LPA CEO Evelyn Richardson says the measures “reflect our industry’s unique characteristics and the challenges it faces”, as well as recognising “the significant economic contribution that our commercial sector makes to Australia’s economic and cultural well-being.”
According to Australian prime minister Scott Morrison, the package is designed to support “a broad range of jobs from performers, artists and roadies, to front of house staff and many who work behind the scenes, while assisting related parts of the broader economy, such as tourism and hospitality.”
“Many in the sector will find a new way to operate while the current social distancing measures remain in place,” says Morrisson, “and while that won’t be easy I know there’s a strong desire among all Australians to see the return of gigs, performances and events.”
In step three of Australia’s recovery roadmap, which individuals states can choose to activate from the start of next month, seated and ticketed outdoor venues of up to 40,000 people can hold up to 25% capacity, with larger venues limited to 10,000 people.
Indoor venues will no longer have a capacity limit, but must ensure there is enough space for four square metres per person.
Night clubs and “high-risk outdoor events”, such as unseated music festivals, are to remain closed.
This article forms part of IQ’s Covid-19 resource centre – a knowledge hub of essential guidance and updating resources for uncertain times.
New signings continue during corona lockdown
Nearly three months into the shutdown of virtually all concert touring globally, booking agents and artist managers continue to discover and sign new talent, with many using the opportunity to bolster their rosters in anticipation of live music’s return, they tell IQ.
“Discovering new talent is a big part of the agent’s job, and since many of us are stuck at home with no shows happening currently, that gives us extra time to listen to new music and get interested in new artists, even more so than before,” says Belgian agent Guillaume Brevers, who left London’s ATC Live to set up his own agency, Hometown Talent, earlier this year.
“I believe it wasn’t the case in the first few weeks following [the outbreak of] the virus, as most of the agents were really busy postponing their tours, discussing festival cancellations, etc. But more recently, I personally have found I have more free time to focus on new music.”
Similarly, Dominik Meyer of Austria’s Cobra Agency tells IQ that while the early days of pandemic were largely spent dealing with cancellations and postponements, there is now definitely “more time to listen to music and explore new stuff”.
One London-based agent (who asked not be named) says he, too, has been signing new acts during the shutdown, as there are “things that I am definitely excited about and that I feel I need to sign now.” He adds that discovering new talent gives him a feeling of normality in strange times – as well as “a sense that there is a business to come back to.”
“Signing new talent is a good way for agents to remain proactive while no tours are taking place”
Also keeping calm and carrying on is Australian artist manager Andrew Stone, who leads Chugg Music, the management, publishing and label division of Michael Chugg’s Chugg Entertainment. Chugg Music’s most recent signing is Mason Watts, who agreed a label deal with the influencer-focused City Pop Records late last month.
With City Pop, says Stone, “we’re looking to sign artists now more than ever. There’s a focus on artists who have developed in the influencer/social media space” – City Pop’s first signing was TikTok star Mia Rodriguez – “so we feel at least somewhat prepared for a more online model of artist development. I think it’s a good time to build catalogue and grow communities on streaming, socials and radio, so that when the artists are heading out on the road in the future they have more than two songs that people know.”
Signing new talent is “a good way [for agents] to remain proactive” while no tours are taking place, comments Brevers, “so when things hopefully get back to normal, agents will be effective immediately and ready to provide their clients with the service they deserve”.
“In an industry where everything happens especially fast, I’m taking advantage of this new free time to think about new ways to reinvent myself as an agent,” he adds, “as well as how this industry could evolve to meet the challenges we’re facing in today’s society.”
Stone says lockdown is “forcing us to get really good at online marketing and collaborations. We are collaborating more than ever with artists across Zoom, and having features from other countries and languages, so that our international audience development isn’t completely halted by our inability to tour.”
“As long as there are engaged audiences, there will be a creative and nimble industry that can make the most of connecting with them”
With the return to full-scale concert touring believed to still be some way off, it depends on the individual agent or manager – and their personal circumstances – whether they’re using their relative downtime to scout for new talent, or just trying to survive, says the London agent.
“I think it comes down to the people,” they say. “Some are nervous about the future and just holding on, and some are understanding that it will pass and that they have to check new things out.”
They’re in the latter camp, they say – and so is Stone. He concludes: “I hope we’re not in denial about the long-term outcomes, but I think that so long as there are engaged audiences, there will be a creative and nimble industry that can make the most of connecting with them – whatever the circumstances.”
IQ launched its monthly New Signings playlist, which features tracks curated by a selection of major booking agencies, last week. Listen here:
Tales from Covid: Michael Chugg Q&A
The impact that the coronavirus outbreak is having on the industry is plain to see, but the road to recovery still remains somewhat unpaved. As governments around the world crack down on the spread of the virus, the return to some kind of business as usual is looming. But just what will that look like and just how hard will the vestiges of the virus be for the industry to shake?
IQ is catching up with major industry players to determine how they are coping with the drastic changes to both professional and personal life, the path they will take to help business recover from the crisis and the long-term changes that we can expect to see.
Up first is veteran Australian promoter Michael Chugg, founder of Chugg Entertainment and co-founder of Frontier Touring, who reflects on the resilience of the Australian live community, the potential pushback on international touring in the country and his love for British crime dramas…
IQ: What lessons have you learned from the coronavirus outbreak?
MC: I have learned that taking care of one’s health with attention to personal cleanliness and home environment is a priority and a major helper of immunity.
What do you expect recovery to look like, both for Chugg Entertainment and the wider industry?
The Australian and state governments are very much on the ball after a slow start. With the border closures and great campaign to the public on how to manage ourselves in mandatory quarantine, together with the community social distancing efforts, we are seeing a drop in new cases daily which hopefully will continue.
We are optimistic that Australian live music events and other public gatherings could be back as early as October or November, but it could be as late as January. However, I think international touring could be back here a lot later than that. If we manage to clean up Australia, the government may be reluctant to take the risk on international visitors bringing the virus back to us.
“We are optimistic that Australian live music events could be back as early as October or November, but it could be as late as January”
How do you think this will change the industry in the long term?
We are very worried about the long-term effect on the hundreds of companies involved in the production, presentation and running of tours, festivals and events, as well as the thousands and thousands of contractors, crews, security and other workers who lost all their income immediately when public gatherings were banned.
The doubt about when or if live entertainment can recommence is causing a lot of stress and depression worldwide, and I’m sure the industry will be a lot more cautious and careful about saturating the marketplace from now on.
First the bushfires and now Covid-19, the Australian live industry has had a tough few months – how has the industry coped as a whole?
It has been a tough six months and to cop corona on top of the bushfire season, which is right up there with the most disastrous fires ever, I think everyone is coping well. My partner and friend Michael Gudinski’s calmness and leadership has helped to keep the entire Frontier/Chugg family together and has been a great vibe for many people in the industry.
My partner and friend Michael Gudinski’s calmness and leadership has helped to keep the entire Frontier/Chugg family together
This week, the federal government – who had already been offering tax breaks, freeze on loans and mortage payments, no evictions by landlords and other economic measures – came up with their JobKeeper Payment, which is a AU$130 billion (€72.4bn) fund basically covering the equivalent of 50% of all Australian salaries for the next six months. This is taking an incredible amount of pressure off everyone.
Finally, how are you keeping busy in self-isolation?
Being a lover of books, movies and music, there is plenty to keep one occupied. I am mad for British crime and mystery shows, so there is a ton of them. I am spending a lot of time on video calls through Zoom with the teams at Frontier/Chugg Entertainment and Chugg music, as well as with my family. I also loving cooking and now I’m able to do it every day.
“A rescue umbrella”: New funding offers biz financial boost
As the coronavirus does its best to ensure venues remain shuttered for as long as possible, a range of organisations are stepping in to ease the financial pressures faced by live entertainment businesses worldwide.
In Europe’s largest live music market, Germany, the government has dedicated €50 billion to its creative and cultural industries. The financial aid consists of grants for small companies and the self-employed to cover overhead costs such as renting venues and studio space, and loans for business premises and leasing instalments.
A further €10bn will be provided to facilitate access to social security for self-employed workers for a six-month period, including unemployment insurance and expenses for housing.
Culture minister Monika Grütters calls the aid package a “rescue umbrella for the cultural, creative and media sector”. All cultural institutions in Germany remain closed until 19 April.
“The cultural sector, in particular, is characterised by a high proportion of self-employed people who now have problems with their livelihoods,” says Grütters. “These multilevel protection measures show that the Federal government is determined to do everything possible to counter the devastating consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic in the cultural and creative fields. We won’t let anyone down.”
The funding is part of a wider €750m aid package, approved by the German parliament on Friday, to protect the country’s economy from the effects of coronavirus.
“A high proportion of self-employed people now have problems with their livelihoods”
Other aid set to benefit the creative industries includes short-term work benefits, tax liquidity aids and €550 billion worth of loans, available from state business development bank KfW, with no upper limit set on credit offerings.
The government in Switzerland has also recently announced a targeted package for the cultural sector, totalling CHF280m (€264.6m). The funding has been welcomed by Swiss promoters’ association SMPA and the wider cultural and events sector.
The financial support comes after the Swiss government unveiled a CHF20bn (€18.8bn) emergency loan programme for companies affected by the coronavirus outbreak at the end of last week. After a quick initial uptake in loans, the government is already in talks to increase the available funds.
In the Netherlands, the government is working with industry representatives to potentially bring in legislation to allow event organisers to refund ticketholders with vouchers to spend on future events, rather than cash refunds.
Dutch promoters’ association VVEM recently sent a letter to the government estimating the damage done to the industry by Covid-19 could be as much as €1.5bn over the summer months, and asking for more concrete support with regards to finance and cooperation from local governments.
Rights societies have also been playing their part, with the German music licensing society (GEMA)’s €40m crisis fund for song writers and the UK’s PRS for Music offering grants of up to £1,000 to each of its members.
“We know we need to get money into the pockets of our members quickly and efficiently”
Recent support for the sector in Australia has come from Apra Amcos (Australasian Performing Right Association and Australasian Mechanical Copyright Owners Society), which is bringing forward its live performance royalty payout from November to May.
Members will receive a full year’s worth of royalties using data from last year’s reports.
“The Covid-19 crisis has hit every segment of Australia and New Zealand’s music sector,” comments Apra Amcos chief executive, Dean Ormston.
“From our songwriter, composer and publisher members to the venues, events and festivals and the managers, crew and SMEs of the industry, the impact of necessary government regulations has been immediate and devastating.
“We know we need to get money into the pockets of our members quickly and efficiently.”
The news comes as Australia’s three biggest live companies, Live Nation Australasia, TEG and Frontier Touring/Chugg Entertainment, form a music promoters’ taskforce to call for government aid for small- and medium-sized businesses during the coronavirus shutdown.
“As industry leaders we want to ensure the survival of the many small and medium-sized businesses that support our industry, so that we can continue to make a significant contribution to the Australian economy when we eventually emerge from this crisis,” reads a letter from the taskforce.
“As industry leaders we want to ensure the survival of the many small and medium-sized businesses that support our industry”
Performing rights organisations in France have contributed to the National Centre for Music’s €11.5m emergency fund for the entertainment sector, with Sacem, Adami and Spedidam, each adding €500,000 to the centre’s initial €10m funding package.
Industry body Prodiss had previously deemed the government’s targeted funding for the music and performing arts sectors – which totals €15m – “completely divorced from reality”, although it welcomes the government’s wider €45bn aid package for businesses.
The French government has also dedicated €22 million to support the “intermittents du spectacle”, or freelancers working in the entertainment industry.
Funding for the UK’s cultural sectors has come from a range of places, including significant funding from Arts Council England, which has dedicated a £160 million package for cultural organisations, freelancers and individual artists, £5m from the Help Musicians’ coronavirus financial hardship fund, plus a £500,000 boost from the Royal Society of Musicians of Great Britain, and £1m from the Musicians’ Union’s coronavirus fund.
New Zealand music industry charity MusicHelps has launched MusicHelpsLive, an appeal to support those facing hardship due to the Covid-19 outbreak. The charity aims to raise NZ$2m (€1m) for workers in the live industry.