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AEG’s Adam Wilkes talks Frontier’s new era

Frontier Touring chairman Adam Wilkes has given an insight the company’s new leadership structure and paid tribute to late founder Michael Gudinski in a new interview.

Wilkes, who has been president and CEO of AEG Presents Asia Pacific since 2016, became chair of the Frontier board earlier this year as part of a restructure following Gudinski’s passing in March 2021. A subsidiary of Mushroom Group, Frontier entered into a strategic JV with AEG in 2019.

The company’s executive team comprises Dion Brant as CEO, COO Susan Heymann, CMCO Reegan Stark, and CCO Andrew Spencer.

“I think that works. It allows all people to shine at what they do best.” said Wilkes in an on-stage Q&A at the Music Matters industry conference at Singapore’s Hilton Hotel, reports The Music Network.

“We’ve traditionally been the market leader in Australia, so all signs would suggest that will continue”

“Nobody can fill Michael’s shoes, it’s not a possible thing, he was a one of a kind,” he added. “But one of Michael’s legacies is the incredible company he built, and he had a really deep bench.

“We’ve traditionally been the market leader in Australia, so all signs would suggest that will continue.”

Wilkes described Gudinski, one of the best-known and most-loved figures in the concert business down under for five decades, as a “titan”.

“He was integral to developing the live music industry in Australia since the 1970s, someone that I looked at as a mentor and a friend,” said Wilkes, who went on to discuss the health of the wider Australian live sector.

“The Australian market never ceases to impress,” he said. “It’s only 25 million people but it really punches above its weight when it comes to live performance. I think the per-cap spending in Australia is the highest in the world. It’s just so engrained in the culture.”

 


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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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Australasia’s Frontier Touring expands team

Leading Australasian promoter Frontier Touring has expanded its team with the double appointment of Kylie Jeffrey and Claire Marshall.

Jeffrey, who joins as ticketing director, was most recently national tours manager at Ticketek and brings 25 years of experience in the live entertainment industry, including tours by artists including Robbie Williams, Elton John, Prince,  Pink, One Direction, Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran, as well as Live Earth in 2007 and Fire Fight 2020.

Working closely with Frontier’s longtime ticketing guru Mary Bainbridge and tour operations director Ingrid Hook, Jeffrey will work across the company’s repertoire of tours as the concert business returns to full strength following the lifting of Covid restrictions.

Veteran media partnerships and marketing executive Claire Marshall, meanwhile, has been named partnerships director.

Marshall had a 17-year spell with Sydney-based Nova Entertainment where she held various leadership roles in programming before becoming music marketing director for the network in 2014. In 2020, she moved to Sony Music Entertainment as senior director, catalogue streaming & strategic partnerships.

“We are bringing in two of the best as we look to some exciting touring times ahead”

“The appointment of Kylie and Claire is another exciting step for Frontier Touring, adding to our talented team,” says Frontier Touring CEO Dion Brant.

“Frontier has a long and rich history with Claire in her previous roles, and we built great mutual respect and rapport over many highly successful projects. Kylie, I have personally known and worked with for 24 years. The regard with which she is held across our industry is deserved and reflects her incredible character and work ethic.

“Frontier is built on its great people and with these appointments we are bringing in two of the best as we look to some exciting touring times ahead.”

The company is handling forthcoming Australia and New Zealand tours by acts such as Ed Sheeran, The Script, DMA’s, The Killers, Justin Bieber and Nick Cave & Warren Ellis, with the likes of Arctic Monkeys and Florence + The Machine lined up for 2023.

 


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Live music business remembers Taylor Hawkins

Foo Fighters star Taylor Hawkins has been remembered by the international live music world following his death aged 50.

The Texan drummer died on Friday (25 March) at a hotel in Bogota, Colombia, where the band had been due to headline Festival Estereo Picnic. His cause of death has not yet been established.

The band, whose remaining South American tour date at Lollapalooza Brazil in Sao Paulo was also cancelled, released a statement speaking of their devastation. “His musical spirit and infectious laughter will live on with all of us forever,” they said.

Chris York, director of Foo Fighters’ longtime UK promoter SJM Concerts, is among the many touring execs to pay tribute.

“I share with my colleagues at SJM Concerts the deepest sadness at the tragic death of Taylor,” he tells IQ. “Over the last 25 years we have helped share the Foo Fighters’ global success. Taylor’s extraordinary musicianship, tremendous character and huge warmth was writ large. He was a force of nature.

“Our thoughts are with his family, friends and bandmates at this time of unimaginable loss.”

Live Nation mourned the loss of “one of rock music’s greatest drummers”. “Our hearts go out to his family, the band, and fans around the world as we all mourn this heartbreaking loss,” the company tweeted.

“We are grateful for all the unforgettable concert moments he gave us”

Hawkins, who also performed and recorded with his Taylor Hawkins and the Coattail Riders side project, was a touring drummer for artists such as Alanis Morissette prior to joining the Foos in 1997.

Australia’s Frontier Touring writes: “Vale Taylor Hawkins. Our hearts are breaking for his family and friends,” while FKP Scorpio, whose relationship with the band dates back quarter of a century, says it is “shocked and saddened”.

“We are grateful for all the unforgettable concert moments he gave us: his drum solos and singing instruments, his humour and his laughter,” it says on Facebook. “Thank you for the music, Taylor! Now you can play the beat in the big band of Freddie Mercury, John Bonham and all the other genius musicians who have already gone ahead. The memory remains for us. Our thoughts are with Taylor’s family, his friends, companions and of course the band and crew.”

In a lengthy tribute, concert series Austin City Limits, which has hosted the Foo Fighters on two previous occasions, says Hawkins “radiated enthusiasm and pure rock & roll energy”.

“We were looking forward to seeing him again when the band returned for their next taping,” it says. “But mostly we’re sending our thoughts and love out to his family and his bandmates, and we’re mourning our friend. May he rest in peace.”

Swiss promoter Good News Production posts: “We’re still a little blown away by the news from last Saturday’s tragic and far too early death of Taylor Hawkins. Over the years, we were allowed to accompany the Foo Fighters on several occasions, not least in summer 2018 at their show at the Stade de Suisse in Bern.

“Taylor’s open, vivid and cheerful style was not only on stage incredibly contagious and we will always remember him as the wonderful person and outstanding musician he was.”

The firm acknowledged the “uncertainty” over the group’s remaining 2022 concerts and says it will update fans in “due time”.

Foo Fighters have North American dates scheduled for April/May, with European festival and stadium shows lined up for the summer. The tour is then slated to return to the US before heading to Australia and concluding in New Zealand in December.

 


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Michael Gudinski statue unveiled in Melbourne

A statue of the late Mushroom Group founder Michael Gudinski has been unveiled outside Melbourne’s Rod Laver Arena, part of the Melbourne & Olympic Park precinct.

The life-size statue is in honour of the promoting legend’s contribution to Australia’s music, arts and entertainment industries, Melbourne & Olympic Park venues, and the state of Victoria.

The unveiling, which included speeches from Gudinski’s son, Mushroom Group CEO Matt Gudinski, Australian singer-songwriter Jimmy Barnes and Dan Andrews MP, premier of Victoria, formed part of the music company’s MG Day – a day-long celebration of Gudinski’s life and legacy.

“My family and I are humbled by this great tribute and recognition of my late father that acknowledges his contribution to the Australian music scene and the city of Melbourne and will stand as a permanent tribute to his legacy and importance to making the Australian music and entertainment landscape what it is today,” says Matt Gudinski.

The sculpture was created by Darien Pullen from local company Meridian Sculptures.

“To have a statue of Michael up here surrounded by the very venues that made Melbourne the home of everything to him seems perfect”

One of the best-known and most-loved figures in the concert business down under for five decades, Michael Gudinski died in his sleep at home in Melbourne last March aged 68.

The long-time ILMC member founded record label and music publisher Mushroom Group at the age of 20 in 1972. Mushroom went on to become Australia’s largest homegrown entertainment company, adding booking agency, merchandise, film/TV production and concert promotion services.

Frontier Touring, founded in 1979, remains Australia’s largest tour promoter, having worked with artists including Ed Sheeran, Kylie Minogue, the Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, Madonna, Paul McCartney and Foo Fighters. It merged with AEG Presents in 2019.

“To have a statue of Michael up here surrounded by the very venues that made Melbourne the home of everything to him seems perfect. From here he can hear the roar of the crowds from the MCG,” adds Barnes. “He can see and hear the punters leaving the Rod Laver Arena, or AAMI Park shouting about being at the best show they’ve ever seen. I think that would put a smile on his face. Especially if it was a Frontier show.”

Always Live, an initiative envisioned by the late Michael Gudinski to revitalise Victoria’s live music scene following the Covid shutdown, launched earlier this month.

 


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Mushroom, AEG unveil Frontier’s new leadership team

Australia and New Zealand’s leading concert promoter, Frontier Touring, has unveiled a new leadership structure for the company.

Frontier says that the new structure has been created to “ensure the legacy, mission, and culture of [the company] is preserved and nurtured” following the passing of its founder Michael Gudinski in March 2021.

The company’s new executive team will comprise four members of the current leadership team, all of whom are elevated to new roles within the company: Dion Brant as CEO, COO Susan Heymann, CMCO Reegan Stark, and CCO Andrew Spencer.

The executive team will report to the Frontier Touring Board, comprised of Jay Marciano (chairman and CEO, AEG Presents and COO, office of the chairman, AEG), Matt Gudinski (chairman and CEO, Mushroom Group) and Dion Brant (CEO, Frontier Touring).

In addition, Adam Wilkes moves to the role of chairman of the Frontier Board in conjunction with his position as president and CEO, AEG Presents Asia Pacific, which he has held since 2016.

“I know Dad’s legacy and the future of Frontier is in safe hands”

In 2019, Frontier (a subsidiary of Mushroom Group) entered into a strategic joint venture with AEG Presents.

Matt Gudinski says: “I couldn’t be happier announcing our new Frontier executive team. Mushroom Group is built on our great people, which is something we’ve always valued first and foremost.

“I’m thrilled that moving forward Frontier will be led by four incredibly dedicated, experienced, and strong leaders in Dion, Reegan, Susan, and Spence, working closely with myself, Adam, and the AEG Presents team.

“Frontier was founded on strong relationships, an artist-first approach and a never-ending passion for music and I know Dad’s legacy and the future of Frontier is in safe hands. There are exciting times ahead for the company.”

Marciano adds: “Michael Gudinski was a man of endless passion, energy, and creativity, with an innate sense for the business, and it was clear no one person could replace him. All of us who worked together on this new structure were bound by the same sense of duty: we’re committed to properly and thoroughly stewarding Michael’s vision for the future of Frontier.”

In the next 12 months, Frontier has shows planned with Ed Sheeran, Foo Fighters, Billie Eilish, Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, Justin Bieber, Midnight Oil, Paul Kelly, Tame Impala, Wallows, Courtney Barnett, Leon Bridges, Tyler, The Creator, The Killers, Robbie Williams, Lorde and more.

 


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Gudinski’s ‘Music From The Home Front’ returns

Frontier Touring has announced the second edition of Music from the Home Front, a special Anzac Day concert spearheaded by the late Australian industry icon, Michael Gudinski.

The second instalment will take place at Sidney Myer Music Bowl in Melbourne on Saturday 24 April, the eve of the national day of remembrance in Australia and New Zealand.

The Kid Laroi, Jimmy Barnes, Dean Lewis, Amy Shark, Tina Arena, Vance Joy, Lime Cordiale, Tash Sultana and You Am I are slated to perform.

Music from the Home Front was conceived by Gudinski, the late Barnes and Frontier Touring/Mushroom Group founder, to pay tribute to both the service people who were involved in the Gallipoli campaign (1915–16) of the First World War, as well as those who were “fighting on the Covid-19 front line”.

The inaugural Music from the Home Front was watched by over 1.4 million viewers on Anzac Day 2020.

“Music From The Home Front is a project [Michael Gudinski] was immensely proud of in 2020”

Matt Gudinski, the son of Michael and the newly elected CEO of Mushroom Group, told Billboard: “It’s incredibly fitting that Music From The Home Front, a project he was immensely proud of in 2020, was one of the events he was working on right up until his last day.

“That we can bring to life a broadcast concert version from his hometown of Melbourne, supporting the industry he loved, in a city he long promoted as the leading music capital of Australia, resonates deeply with all of us at Mushroom.”

Michael Gudinski passed away suddenly on 2 March 2021 at the age of 68.

Similar to last year, the concert will be broadcast live on television on Nine/9Now and on YouTube at 7:30 pm AEST. This year’s event is presented in partnership with the Victorian government.

Tickets for the Melbourne concert go on sale this Friday (16 April). For more information visit musicfromthehomefront.com.au and frontiertouring.com/homefront.

 


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“An extraordinary legacy”: Michael Gudinski passes aged 68

Frontier Touring founder Michael Gudinski, for five decades one of the best-known and most-loved figures in the concert business down under, has passed away. He was 68.

The sudden passing of Gudinski – who died in his sleep at his home in Melbourne last night (1 March) – sent a shockwave through the industry in Australia and beyond, with colleagues, artists, business rivals and parliamentarians sending their condolences and appreciation for a man Jimmy Barnes describes as “the heart of Australian music”.

Born Vale Michael Solomon Gudinski to Russian-Jewish parents in 1952, Gudinski founded record label and music publisher Mushroom Group at the age of 20 in 1972. Mushroom went on to become Australia’s largest homegrown entertainment company, adding booking agency, merchandise, film/TV production and concert promotion services.

Frontier Touring, founded in 1979, remains Australia’s largest tour promoter, having worked with artists including Ed Sheeran, Kylie Minogue, the Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, Madonna, Paul McCartney and Foo Fighters. It merged with AEG Presents in 2019.

In addition to touring some of the world’s leading artists and releasing, via the Mushroom Group labels, some of Australia’s favourite albums, Gudinski – a long-time ILMC member and frequent contributor to IQ – recently won praise for his assistance to the industry during the Covid-19 pandemic.

In a statement, Mushroom Group says, “with the music industry severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, Michael conceptualised and developed Music from the Home Front, The Sound and the State of Music, platforms designed to showcase and support contemporary Australian music in an incredibly difficult time. It speaks to the man he was that of his countless illustrious career achievements these projects, that supported the industry he loved, were ones he was particularly proud of.

“I’ve toured the world for the last 50 years and never met a better promoter”

Frontier is also part of the pan-industry Live Entertainment Industry Forum, which has worked with government to get Australia back to live music safely.

Frontier Touring co-founder Michael Chugg, whose on-and-off business relationship with Gudinski culminated in his rejoining Mushroom Group in 2019, describes the passing of his friend as “shattering”.

“I spoke to him at 9 o’clock last night – we were giving each other a hard time over making sure the [Chugg music artist] Sheppard album got to number one this week,” he tells Sydney radio station 2GB. “It’s just so shocking; I got the call early this morning. […] I first met him when he was a 16-year-old sitting at a desk at an agency in Melbourne, and we were friends, buddies and opponents ever since.

“It’s just one of the worst days of my life.”

Barnes, who performed at Music from the Home Front, is among the artists to pay tribute to Gudinski’s achievements. “He was there for everyone that needed him,” he says. “The music business turned, grew and moved forward in Australia because of Michael. He was a force of nature, a giant of a man. His boundless enthusiasm breathed life into our music scene.”

“My friend Michael Gudinski was first, last and always a music man,” wrote another, Bruce Springsteen, on social media. “I’ve toured the world for the last 50 years and never met a better promoter.

“The music business turned, grew and moved forward in Australia because of Michael”

“Michael always spoke with a deep rumbling voice, and the words would spill out so fast that half the time I needed an interpreter. But I could hear him clear as a bell when he would say, ‘Bruce, I’ve got you covered’. And he always did. He was loud, always in motion, intentionally (and unintentionally) hilarious and deeply soulful.

“He will be remembered by artists, including this one, from all over the world every time they step foot on Australian soil. My deepest condolences to his wife and partner Sue, and to the whole Gudinski family, of which he was so proud.”

Gudinski, added Minogue, was “one of a kind and forever family to me. My heart is broken and I can’t believe he’s gone. Irreplaceable and unforgettable, I’ll always love you, ‘the Big G’.”

Rival promoters also sent their condolences: TEG extended its “deepest sympathies to the Gudinski family at this very difficult time, as well as to everyone at Mushroom and Frontier Touring”. “Michael was a larger-than-life character whose legacy in Australian music is undeniable,” the Sydney-based company adds.

Live Nation Australia said Gudinski leaves an “extraordinary legacy” in live music:

“When he started in show business in his teens, Australian music was a cottage industry. He was instrumental in turning it into a powerhouse”

“I’m not sure we ever agreed on anything, except maybe Ed Sheeran,” tweeted actor and musician Russell Crowe. “It still didn’t stop us from being mates for 30 years. I’m going to miss him deeply.”

Gudinski is survived by his wife Sue, his son Matt and Matt’s partner Cara, and his daughter Kate, her husband Andrew and their children, Nina-Rose and Lulu, as well as the extended “Mushroom family”.

“You simply cannot tell the story of Australian music without Michael Gudinski squarely in the centre of it,” says Tony Burke MP, Australia’s shadow minister for the arts. “For nearly 50 years, he was a passionate and relentless advocate for the local music industry and the artists that make it great.

“When he started in show business in his teens, Australian music was a cottage industry. He was instrumental in turning it into a powerhouse, earning him the title ‘the father of the Australian music industry’.

“From Mushroom Records to Frontier Touring, he was a brilliant, pioneering businessman – but he never lost his passion for the music itself.”

 


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The NZ Normal: What live is like on the other side

When IQ catches up with Stuart Clumpas, he is at the wedding of Live Nation New Zealand chief Mark Kneebone, and the following morning is flying his plane to Queenstown for an outdoor gig. “How very New Zealand-of-the-moment is that?” he comments, adding how fortunate he feels to be in a place that has dealt so well with the pandemic.

“What New Zealand has been able to do, by a combination of fortuitous positioning on the planet, a little bit of taking a punt and getting it right, and just a very cooperative element throughout society, is to stop Covid in its tracks, and then put up strict-but-fair barriers to prevent the virus getting into the country,” says Clumpas.

However, while going to a gig remains all but a dream for billions of people around the world, the reality in the Land of the Long White Cloud is that live music professionals are suffering from some of the same issues as their peers in nations where concerts remain banned.

“We’re in a bubble that nobody can leave or get into”

Indeed, never has the term Kiwi been more appropriate, as the national icon is a flightless bird, very much symbolising the current dilemma. “I feel like I’m the living embodiment of The Truman Show,” confesses Clumpas. “We’re in a bubble that nobody can leave or get into.”

Former Live Nation chairman Clumpas, who still consults for the company but otherwise runs Auckland’s 12,000-capacity Spark Arena and sister venue The Tuning Fork (cap. 375), contends that New Zealand’s ‘new normal’ comes with caveats. “It’s normal to all extents and purposes, but there is an uncomfortable feeling or an unease behind it; everybody knows that it ain’t the norm, even though you go about life being normal… it’s hard to explain.

“In terms of business, though, we’re able to have shows without restrictions, as there is no community Covid here.” (At press time, the New Zealand government announced that a 56-year-old woman who had completed the compulsory two-week quarantine had subsequently returned a positive test. She was ordered to self isolate at home.)

“Covid-19 [has] had a massive impact on the number of events we’ve been able to deliver”

Staging shows
While anyone remotely interested in live entertainment might be looking enviously at the freedoms the people of New Zealand are enjoying, for those working in the territory the reality is a lot more fragile. Clumpas, for instance, reports that Spark Arena’s business is 85% down, while others disclose similar struggles.

“Covid-19 [has] had a massive impact on the number of events we’ve been able to deliver. Since lockdown we have hosted 61 performance events in our venues; for the same date range in the previous year we hosted more than 130 events,” reports Gus Sharp, event sales and planning manager for WellingtonNZ, which through its Venues Wellington division operates six buildings: Michael Fowler Centre (capacity 2,500 seated); TSB Arena (cap 6,000); Shed 6 (1,400); The Opera House (1,388 seated); the Wellington Town Hall, (2,200 mixed); and the St James Theatre (1,700 seated).

Sharp continues, “The largest single night event we delivered was a drum and bass rave at the TSB Arena which, on the night, had a capacity of 4,000.”

Detailing Live Nation New Zealand’s post-Covid journey, managing director Mark Kneebone, recalls, “We started off with smaller shows like the Together Again series which were among the first socially distanced shows in the world, which we kicked off at the Tuning Fork, Auckland in late May 2020.

“The largest single night event we delivered was a drum and bass rave at the TSB Arena which had a capacity of 4,000”

“Initially, the capacity for the events were 100 people, including all staff. These events were all seated, with fans in pods, and with lots of health and safety precautions such as temperature checks, socially distanced seating, table service, staff wearing PPE and contact tracing.

“As the situation in the country became under control and restrictions were lifted, shows could happen at full scale again and we were back on the road as quickly as we could be.”

Kneebone continues, “The biggest headline show we did in 2020 was Benee, with the tour covering eight shows ranging from theatre to arena level in four cities across NZ, and included two sold-out shows at Spark Arena.”

On the festival front, Live Nation benefitted from the demand for entertainment outdoors at its 29-31 December Rhythm & Vines festival, which with an all-Kiwi line up, selling more than 25,000 tickets and attracting 83,000 attendees across the four days.

“We also had to create our own gigs, which is something that others elsewhere might want to look at”

Away from music, WellingtonNZ also hosted the world premiere of Digital Nights – Van Gogh Alive, an out-door digital projection exhibition of works by Vincent van Gogh. “It had more than 44,000 people through the gates,” says Sharp. “This was a fantastic outcome considering that for part of the eight-week season, crowds were unavoidably limited to no more than 100 people a session.”

Creativity has also been a challenge at Spark Arena, where Clumpas flags up a successful beer festival. “We also had to create our own gigs, which is something that others elsewhere might want to look at,” he says, citing the world’s biggest ever pub gig, which was organised in partnership with promoter Eccles Entertainment.

“This harks back to the 80s when the likes of INXS and Midnight Oil would play to 2,000 people in these huge pubs – nobody would pay to get in but they’d all come in and drink like hell,” explains Clumpas.

“It was Brent Eccles’ idea, where he put on all these Kiwi bands who were big in the 80s. It was fabulous – we had 3,000 people and because we didn’t have an international Spark Arena in Auckland has introduced Covid tests at the venue’s entrances touring production manager to deal with, we ran the room and we were able to do a whole bunch of shit that never in a month of Sun- days we would have been allowed to do – and people absolutely loved it.

“Such ingenuity is needed because New Zealand’s limited talent pool has already been used – to great effect”

“For example, there’s a famous takeaway hamburger caravan called The White Lady in central Auckland where people go in the early hours on their way home after a big night. We brought The White Lady into the venue and put it at the back of the room.

“And above the stage, Brent had this video screen on a loop, saying ‘No shorts or stubbies or jandals allowed in this bar, mate. Get too drunk and you’re fucking getting chucked out.’ The bands love it, and every punter who came up to me thought it was hilarious and begged us to do it again.”

Eccles, too, was thrilled at the success of the format. “We’ll definitely do it again,” he tells IQ. “In fact, I have plans to take the idea to Australia, when it’s possible.”

Delighting at the details of the event, Eccles says, “All the bars were on the floor of the arena, like a pub, and we had signage up for legendary 80s places like The Globe, the Windsor Castle and the Gluepot, which don’t exist any more. Such ingenuity is needed because New Zealand’s limited talent pool has already been used – to great effect – but venues throughout the country are struggling to fill their many vacant diary dates.

“Our local acts are boosted by getting to work with that state-of-the-art production gear”

Boosting the domestic scene
There are, of course, silver linings. Clumpas points to the amazing production support that has flourished thanks to all of the international tours that have visited New Zealand in the last decade.

“Our local acts have worked incredibly hard to deliver some great shows, and they are boosted by getting to work with that state-of-the-art production gear so they can look and sound as good in an arena as any of the international acts,” he says.

“We’ve certainly seen some homegrown success stories come out of 2020,” agrees Sharp. “The 4,000-capacity rave mentioned earlier was a purely domestic line-up: that’s something that probably wouldn’t have happened before Covid reared its ugly head.

“We’ve also had homegrown superstars such as Benee doing three sold-out nights in a row in one of our GA venues. The demand for homegrown talent is a fantastic thing to see and may well be ushering in a golden era for New Zealand performers and audiences.”

“We may well be ushering in a golden era for New Zealand performers and audiences”

Live Nation’s Kneebone observes, “Demand has been really strong as we came out of lockdown which has been great to see. We of course wanted to give extra thought and messaging around health and safety precautions. There will never be a one-sized fits all approach for marketing, so we continue to partner closely with artist teams to determine the right strategy. We’ve found things work smoothest when fans have all the details upfront so their expectations are aligned from the onset.”

Kneebone also tips his hat to the way in which home-grown talent has stepped up to entertain their fellow citizens. “Domestic acts have the spotlight to themselves at the moment and are headlining all the festivals around the country,” he notes. “Fans have been incredibly supportive of that, too, which means the industry can keep the wheels turning while enjoying all the best that Kiwi talent has to offer.”

Although he is the New Zealand representative of Australian giant Frontier Touring, Eccles has had no acts from that agreement to promote during the last few months. However, Eccles Entertainment was established in 2000 and has been built on a roster of Kiwi talent that has helped its founders retain all their employees throughout the pandemic. Indeed, with local act Six60 in the midst of a stadium tour that has sold 120,000 tickets, the company has the biggest tour of the NZ summer.

“Six60 are capable of selling out Western Springs, which is 50,000 capacity and a hallowed ground, as its had gigs by the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, David Bowie, Bob Marley – all the massive acts – so they are huge in New Zealand,” he says.
Looking ahead, Eccles is having to pull on all his experience to come up with new and unique ways to maintain interest for his roster of domestic talent.

“There are a lot of challenges to deal with and it’s going to be an exciting year for New Zealand artists”

“I don’t want to give away any secrets, but I’ve been asking the acts if there is somewhere they’ve always wanted to play, or some other act they’d love to work with,” he reveals. “You’ve got to offer something unique, especially after it starts to get cold here in April. But I’m really excited, as there are a lot of challenges to deal with and it’s going to be an exciting year for New Zealand artists.”

The ability to rely on domestic talent has given the industry a lifeline, although it appears to be a limited one. Recalling the shows at Spark Arena with Benee, Clumpas notes that fans were generally being a little more conscious of each other’s personal space.

“Perceptively you can see people standing a little bit further away in the queue and not in each other’s face. And instead of rushing the door, there was a calmness as they gave each other a bit more space.” Indeed, such considerate audience behaviour prompted Clumpas to allow the audience to choose how they wanted to experience the concerts. “We had what we call free-flow, where nothing is allocated, and that allows people to stand for a bit, then go grab a seat. So it’s up to them if they want to go and sit at the front or the back. And it worked really well.”

The arena’s sparse booking calendar also allowed some imaginative formatting for Benee’s visit. Judging that she would sell about 10,000 tickets, the decision was made to spread that across two nights. “It was Benee’s first tour and rather than do 10k on one night, when she’d never even played to half that, her management, who are smart boys, decided to do two shows at 5.5k as that wasn’t so daunting for the artist,” says Clumpas. “We took the view that we could do anything – even a whole number of nights at 2,000-cap, because we weren’t doing anything else.”

“We only have four or five bands that can sell-out half an arena, so we’ve kind of run out of talent”

Skills shortage
Around the world, one of the key issues that the live entertainment business is having to face when it returns is a lack of personnel to kickstart operations.

Thousands of industry professionals have been made redundant throughout the pandemic, while others have simply moved into new areas of employment so that they can pay the bills, creating a significant headache for event organisers whenever the green light for mass gatherings is given. And despite a busy outdoor season currently underway, it seems colleagues in New Zealand are already facing identical problems.

Detailing the precarious nature of the NZ recovery, Clumpas explains: “Unlike in the UK, we have a very thin local market and that goes back to the fact that the business here used to be run out of Australia, bringing in loads of bands from overseas but never developing a local market.

“At arena level, we only have four or five bands that can sell-out half an arena, and the biggest comedian here can maybe sell 3,000 tickets, so we’ve kind of run out of talent: business is down by about 85% and we’ve had to lay people off because we don’t have enough things to put on at the arena.”

“We took an approach of leniency with contracts and generally acknowledged the completely unprecedented situation”

Sharp comments, “We have not escaped unscathed – even the relatively short disruption has had a huge influence on the industry and we are still feeling the effects.”

But, as with countless businesses around the planet, WellingtonNZ and its affiliates have been collaborating with others to try to mitigate the pain. “As a public organisation, our focus is on helping our partners through,” pledges Sharp. “We took an approach of leniency with contracts and generally acknowledged the completely unprecedented situation. This proved to be the right way to deal with the situation as it generated goodwill and strengthened relationships, both of which will bear fruit as the impacts of Covid on the sector start to recede.”

A team of five million
The willingness of the population to cooperate is key to New Zealand’s fight to keep the virus out, according to Scotland-born Clumpas, who emigrated to Auckland in 2002. “One of the first things that struck me about living in New Zealand is that there is a really strong community feel among its citizens, no matter who they are, rich or poor. And with Covid, everyone realised we are all in this together,” says Clumpas.

Highlighting that communal attitude, Clumpas refers to the Grab & Go facilities at Spark Arena, which relies on audience honesty to help themselves to food and drink and then pay before entering the auditorium. “It lets people move more quickly at the intervals and, of course, Kiwis pay – they would not dream of taking stuff and not paying. It’s remarkable but it sums up society here.

“Overall we are seeing similar ticket-buying patterns to pre-Covid times”

“Our prime minister, Jacinda [Ardern], referred to it as ‘a team of five million.’ It’s a genuine thing where people understand this is for the good of your fellow man, so they play the game. I find that hugely different to the US or the UK, where people might ignore the government because they don’t like their politics or whatever.”

Demand & supply
While industry leaders in Asia, Europe and the Americas speculate that the pent up demand of live music fans will propel the business back toward profit when the pandemic restrictions are lifted, it’s interesting to gauge how the Kiwis have handled their restart.

WellingtonNZ’s Sharp contends that marketing is still crucial to selling tickets, although “in the immediate post-lockdown period we did see huge enthusiasm for a return to live events and tickets flew out the door,” he admits. “The second lockdown definitely shook confidence, but overall we are seeing similar ticket-buying patterns to pre-Covid times.”

Eccles is revelling in those promoting challenges, citing his big- gest pub gig strategy as an example where he captured the imagination of ticket buyers. “We had a unique way of marketing the pub gig using The Sound radio station,” says Eccles. “We went on air with 100 tickets priced at $29.90 to announce the event, then as each band was announced we went to $39.90 for the next 100 tickets, then $49.90, right up to $79.90 when we revealed the headliner, and that kept people’s interest all the way through.

“Exemptions aren’t granted lightly, but they do show [that] the government understands the importance of live events”

“It was great fun and allowed people to remember the old days, as well as seeing the bands they used to see in those pubs back in the 80s.”

Underlining the local appetite to find entertainment, Sharp adds, “Overall attendance has been similar to what we’d expect in any other year. It shows that New Zealand crowds have confidence that they can safely enjoy events, which they continued to voraciously attend.”

International artists
New Zealand’s strict border controls make it tricky for anyone who is not a citizen of the country to visit. It’s not impossible for overseas acts to perform shows, but it’s not simple, either.

Sharp says international acts can secure a border exemption place on the grounds of their importance to the local events industry. “These exemptions aren’t granted lightly, but they do show [that] the government understands the importance of live events to both the cultural and economic wellbeing of the country.”

WellingtonNZ has benefitted from a number of acts who have taken the time to process through the quarantine procedures

But outlining some of the hurdles, Clumpas explains, “For anyone to get into the country now, you first have to book a space in the quarantine hotel, three months in advance. When your flight arrives, you go straight from the airport in a bus to the hotel, which is fenced off. The army run the thing and you are there for two weeks in managed self-isolation. If you leave without permission, you face three months in jail.”

WellingtonNZ has benefitted from a number of acts who have taken the time to process through the quarantine procedures. “We had Belgian drum and bass DJ Alix Perez play in November, and UK DJ Sub Focus on 7 January, both playing to sold-out crowds,” says Sharp. Elsewhere, the Wellington-based organisation has focused on securing alternative format events that can run for multiple weeks, such as Grande Experiences’ Van Gogh Alive concept.

“The exhibition was staged twice in New Zealand. The first was Digital Nights – Van Gogh Alive, which was the first time it had been held outdoors. It proved so popular that it returned for a run of indoor exhibitions at venues throughout the country,” says Sharp.

And with Spark Arena remaining dark for much of the time, Clumpas is currently exploring the idea of hosting dance events. “Perhaps by getting overseas DJs to go to their local club to set-up a video link so they can play to Auckland – they see us, we see them. I don’t think you can do that with a band because they need the interaction, but it might work with a DJ set,” he muses.

“Part of the issue is working out how we can scale up [crew] while making sure we retain that watertight border”

To attract others to physically visit, Spark Arena’s management is even looking at getting into the hotel business. “We have an idea to set-up luxury accommodation that we can run in conjunction with the army and security firms, and we pay for it,” says Clumpas. “So maybe we set up 20 suites where we can bring in an artist and they can rehearse there and stuff but keep isolated. It means that anyone who is prepared to come in and maybe do ten dates in 3,000-seater theatres, will be able to do that. I like to think we can get there.”

But looking at bigger international tours making their way to NZ is not on the cards, even though the likes of Six60 are visiting stadia. “We don’t have the likes of 140 crew places for people going into managed isolation, because we don’t have enough nurses and health professionals to manage the facilities,” Clumpas clarifies. “New Zealand is only five million people and you run out of people fairly quickly here. So part of the issue is working out how we can scale up while making sure we retain that watertight border.”

Lessons
As the only significant market to properly reopen after a national lockdown, New Zealand has the eyes of the world on it, as live entertainment peers examine its successes and failures to try to piece together their own strategies for relaunch.

Sharp applauds everyone that WellingtonNZ has worked with over the past few months for being flexible enough to reorganise their operations, name-checking the likes of Live Nation, Frontier and TEG; homegrown promoters Eccles Entertainment, Liberty Stage, Breaking Beats and Plus One; and resident outfits such as the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra and Royal New Zealand Ballet.

“Everyone, through to our smaller promoters and community organisations, has been deeply affected by the pandemic”

“Everyone, through to our smaller promoters and community organisations, has been deeply affected by the pandemic and shown their resiliency and adaptability in rolling with the punches,” he observes.

Our NZ professionals, meanwhile, warn others around the world not to bank too heavily on a surge of interest when markets come out of lockdown. “There’s no pent-up demand with people think- ing I must see loads of gigs,” says Clumpas. “But that might be different in the US or the UK or Europe, because we were not locked up for that long compared to elsewhere.”

Eccles agrees. “In our experience, the market didn’t come back as hard as people thought it would – it eased back in,” he tells IQ. “Demographics-wise, if the show is aimed at kids, or even teens into the late-20s, then they don’t seem to care. But the older age groups are definitely more wary.”

Sharing some of the negative lessons Eccles Entertainment has learned, he continues, “Looking back at 2020, when we came out of lockdown, we experienced quite a bit of attrition, which was hard to take. So, for a show where we’d originally sold 4,000 tickets, maybe only 2,000 actually turned up on the night for the rescheduled gig. It was quite demoralising.”

“We’ve seen some strange behaviour where pre-sales were soft but the general sale was strong”

But there have also been some pleasant surprises. “We’ve seen some strange behaviour where pre-sales were soft but the general sale was strong. That’s the exact opposite of what you’d expect and I’d never come across any pattern like that before. It’s very odd and I can’t explain why it happened.”

Sharp comments, “The NZ market is recovering well – we’ve seen a strong appetite for live events, which has largely been a result of the competent handling of the crisis by the New Zealand government.

“Having coped so well (so far, at least), it may be easier for us to see things in a more positive light. But there really isn’t much use looking at it any other way.”

It’s a precarious situation though, and Eccles is all too aware that the business is constantly on the precipice. “One thing is for sure, if we have another lockdown in New Zealand, then all the confidence in the market will go,” he states. Clumpas concurs, but he believes a better touring industry may emerge in the long run.

“What it might do, going forward, is that audiences might be more demanding in their expectations. So, bluntly, the venues that take care of the fans and who have got their shit together will do fine or probably better. But it could flag-up some of the venues that have been slack, as people will be more discerning and make choices on how safe they feel, according to the customer service they’ve experienced in the past.

“We will get out of this, but will the business be the same? I’m not so sure,” laments Clumpas. “But I’m hopeful that we will no longer see tours with 247 people on them, where artists might tour with a core of maybe 30 or 40, with advance teams of ten who go to a territory early and get local people to do a lot of the work. It would mean a shift but not necessarily fewer jobs: just less people touring, complemented by more people in each territory, which would mean much less of a carbon footprint, as well as giving places like New Zealand a real chance to grow.”

 


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Unsung Heroes 2020: Evelyn Richardson & Glen Rainsbury

Unsung Heroes 2020, published in IQ 95 just before Christmas, is a tribute to some of the organisations and individuals who have gone above and beyond to help others during a year unlike any other – be that through their efforts to protect the industry, or helping those who were in desperate need.

We turned to the readership and asked you to nominate worthy causes and personalities for consideration as the inaugural members of our Unsung Heroes awards. Now, IQ can reveal the dozen most-voted Unsung Heroes of 2020, continuing with LEIF’s Evelyn Richardson and Glen Sainsbury, who follow Paul Reed of the Association of Independent Festivals.


In late May of 2020, when it was clear that the industry was looking at a long and uncertain return to normal operations as Australia came to grips with the Covid-19 pandemic, the concept of the Live Entertainment Industry Forum (LEIF) was brought to life by TEG chief executive Geoff Jones and Roger Field, president of Live Nation Asia Pacific.

They enlisted key players from across the music, sport and venues sectors to form an executive committee that was representative of virtually every industry sector and each state and territory across the country – the first time that parties from the full breadth of the entertainment industry had gathered around a table to collectively advocate for the industry.

One of the key deliverables identified in the first meetings was to develop guidance for the industry to which venues and promoters could operate as safely as possible in the new Covid world – a task that Frontier Touring’s Glen Rainsbury was asked to co-ordinate.

“Working with LEIF chairman James Sutherland, we developed a structure that included ten separate working groups led by subject matter experts,” says Rainsbury. “The teams were tasked with developing guidance specific to their areas of expertise and which had to be general enough to be applicable to a broad range of event settings and reflect the regulatory advice of every state and territory, and venue types from clubs to stadiums. It required a very particular approach and discipline.”

“The work has been used by clubs, arenas, stadiums, festivals, and promoters in the development of their Covid-safe plans”

Rainsbury says the commitment of the 50+ contributors was immense. In a matter of weeks, the heavy lifting was largely complete and it was a case of honing the mountain of submissions into a cohesive work. “As it stands, the work has been used by clubs, arenas, stadiums, festivals and promoters in the development of their Covid-safe plans on their way back to operating,” he says.

Various states and territories have also drawn upon the guidelines in drafting their solutions, while Rainsbury and Tim McGregor, also from LEIF, have become the sole representatives from the commercial sector on the National Covid-19 Arts and Health and Advisory Committee.

“It was a privilege to work with the extraordinarily talented people from across the industry who gave their time and IP to deliver something that has assisted the industry to bounce back so quickly. It was the team’s fine work and effort,” adds Rainsbury.

As the chief executive of Live Performance Australia, Evelyn Richardson’s dedication to the live entertainment sector has never been in question, but while many in the industry were forced to pause their careers, Richardson doubled down on her workload to help LEIF lobby for assistance.

“It was a privilege to work with the extraordinarily talented people … who gave their time and IP to deliver something that has assisted the industry to bounce back so quickly”

With LEIF’s support, the LPA led the industry advocacy for federal government to provide emergency funding to the live entertainment industry. The A$250 million (€156m) package provided by government included $75m in grants and a $90m loans scheme targeted at the commercial sector.

LEIF and LPA have further called for the establishment of a business interruption fund to offset risks of cancellation or postponement over the next three years as the industry rebuilds.

Richardson tells IQ, “The most significant achievements of LEIF have been, firstly, the collaboration with our sporting colleagues with information sharing and support during a tumultuous period across the country and globally; and secondly, providing a united voice to governments with respect to advocacy, and raising the profile of the commercial entertainment industry, both in terms of its economic and social contributions to the broader economy.

“As we move forward, we hope to build on this, so our industry is recognised for the significant role we play as employers, providers of content to commercial and government-owned venues, and our critical economic alignment with other industry sectors such as tourism and hospitality.”

 


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