The New Bosses 2023: Michael Christidis, Untitled Group
The 16th edition of IQ Magazine’s New Bosses was published in IQ 121 this month, revealing 20 of the most promising 30-and-unders in the international live music business.
To get to know this year’s cohort a little better, IQ conducted interviews with each one of 2023’s New Bosses, discovering their greatest inspirations and pinpointing the reasons for their success.
Catch up on the previous interview with Lotta Widmer co-managing director of the Winterthurer Musikfestwochen here. The series continues with Michael Christidis, co-founder of Untitled Group (AU).
Michael Christidis is the co-founder of Untitled Group, one of Australia’s largest independent music and events management companies. Untitled Group’s connection to Australian youth has enabled their rapid rise with the group now operating hundreds of events each year including renowned festival brands Beyond The Valley, Pitch Music & Arts, Grapevine Gathering, Wildlands, Ability Fest and others more than 400,000 attendees annually.
Untitled Group as a company has seen rapid growth with the company scaling from 7 employees in January 2021 to 65+ full-time employees today and selling over 400,000+ tickets annually. Michael’s commitment to social change has earned him recognition, including a place on the Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia List.
Untitled Group is a very young company. What was the career path that led to you co-founding the business?
I’ve always been passionate about music however never really saw it as a potential career path. While studying a science degree at university (not super applicable now!) I started running club nights with Untitled business partners Christian, Nick and Filippo and was completely enthralled. Seeing people come together, the communities and culture we were able to build was something really special and something I knew I had to pursue. Reading autobiographies from people like Richard Branson and seeing how music can often be the gateway to much more further inspired me. Fast forward to today, Untitled Group still runs a regular club night (and has for the past 12 years) and so much more as Australia’s largest independent festival and event promoters including a domestic and international touring division, Proxy talent agency, Untitled management arm, and as a stakeholder in a portfolio of strategic ancillary businesses built or backed by Untitled. I’m extremely proud of how we’ve been able to grow Untitled as a business and more excited than ever for our future potential.
You have gone from seven employees to more than 60 in just two years. What are the challenges of overseeing such rapid growth?
Ensuring that our entire team is aligned with the company’s overarching vision and goals. When we had less employees it was a lot easier for everyone to be across our journey and ensure our passion resonates with every member of the team. It has been a challenge ensuring that the proper company structure and procedures are in place so that nothing gets lost from the smallest club event to large-scale music festivals. However, getting this right and building such an amazing team is what has made us able to scale while keeping true to our core values.
“We’ve had thousands of attendees with a diverse range of disabilities come and experience their first music festival”
If a potential partner or client has not heard of Untitled, what one-line pitch would you use to tempt them into working with you?
We create innovative and culturally impactful moments rooted in music that deeply resonate with our diverse and loyal audiences across Australasia.
Ability Fest sounds like an incredible event – can you tell us a bit more about the concept and what it has achieved so far?
Ability Fest was created with two core ideas in mind. Firstly, allowing people of all levels of ability, particularly those overlooked by the community, the opportunity to experience live music (an event most may take for granted). Secondly, we wanted to raise awareness and funds to support people with disabilities. The festival was conceived in collaboration with our good friend Dylan Alcott, who in addition to being a multiple Grand Slam and Paralympic Gold Medial Winner, was also named Australian of the Year in 2022. To date, we’ve raised over $1 million dollars for young Australians with disabilities with our great partner – The Dylan Alcott Foundation. More importantly though, we’ve had thousands of attendees with a diverse range of disabilities come and experience their first music festival. The event truly is one of a kind, not just with intentionally designed, fully-inclusive infrastructure – but also the atmosphere created. Everyone checks their ego at the door and looks out for each other to ensure a welcoming, safe and comfortable environment for all. The feedback has been truly overwhelming and Ability Fest is one of my favourite events to produce and attend.
“Currently, we’re developing our next product line and have our first major retail distribution upcoming”
Untitled Ventures seems to have caught the imagination of brands. What recent projects would you say best describe the ethos behind the concept?
Every venture has to be done with some greater purpose behind it. That’s why UGLY Vodka, our first in-house venture, is so exciting for us. With bar trade/alcohol being a major revenue stream for our events, we had constantly been pitched liquor brands to invest in or launch but it never quite made sense. UGLY Vodka is the world’s first Vodka made from cosmetically imperfect or ‘ugly’ fruit, that would otherwise end in landfill. It not only helps reduce food waste and emissions which are terrible for the environment, but also supports Aussie farmers by providing an alternative use for unutilized stock. For us, it made perfect sense to create a brand that is rooted in sustainability and would actually have a huge impact if integrated across our events. Our in-house creative agency, Underscore, developed the brand which we’re super proud of and UGLY Vodka launched in Dec 2022 at Beyond The Valley. Our first batch sold out, saving over 20,000 kgs of ugly apples from landfill. Currently, we’re developing our next product line and have our first major retail distribution upcoming so I’m excited to see this company and our impact grow.
In a very short time, Untitled has disrupted the marketplace to great effect. Do you have any plans to take the group into other territories?
Yes definitely, however I think music events in particular are hyper-tailored to the markets in which they exist. So, we would not enter a new market without a deep understanding of the local music scene, trends and operators. As such, we have been tracking the electronic music scene’s growth across Asia and are actively booking lots of tours and artists there. I’m excited to increase our footprint and network across Asia.
“I’d also like to see our impact grow across other facets outside of music with ventures such as UGLY Vodka”
And what about your own ambitions – where do you see yourself in five years’ time?
I would like to see myself and the Untitled team continue to raise the bar for music experiences in Australasia. Creating culturally impactful moments recognised on a global scale. With the magnitude of our events growing, the impact they have on performing artists’ careers can be significant – and I see myself as a driving force for the milestone moments of future artists careers within the Untitled ecosystem. For example, homegrown talent (now global superstar) Dom Dolla brought in the 2022 New Year at our flagship event Beyond The Valley which featured a surprise collaboration with Nelly Furtado. This was also Nelly Furtado’s first show in over 6+ years, and first time returning to Australia in over 20+ years – a milestone we hope to repeat with other global talents.
Untitled went on to promote Dom Dolla’s hometown headline shows – breaking the record for fastest-selling tickets at Melbourne’s iconic Sidney Myer Music Bowl with 2 instantly sold-out shows, 20,000+ tickets. We’ve worked with Dom and his team (special shoutout to Dom’s amazing manager and Untitled supporter – James Fava) for 8+ years – starting with our very first club nights together – and being part of artists journey like this, is the journey I look forward to being on with many other artists to come – with both domestic and international talents. We’re all super proud of what Dom is achieving globally and excited to see the next stages of his career unfold (particularly for what we have in store for these big Melbourne shows in December).
With our unique insight and connection to Australian culture, I’d also like to see our impact grow across other facets outside of music with ventures such as UGLY Vodka our partner media company ‘The Daily Aus’. Understanding the next generation of punters through Untitled means we can service them with better products, services and experiences – both in and outside of music.
“Australia’s live entertainment industry has historically bred fierce territorial competition between promoters in the country”
As a New Boss, if you had the power to change one thing in the live entertainment industry to make it a better place, what would you do?
Australia’s live entertainment industry has historically bred fierce territorial competition between promoters in the country. While there is a role for competition, Untitled has always, and will continue to, champion collaboration between and support of other promoters, managers, agents and artist’s teams as a means towards betterment. I think it’s important that this collaboration also extends to the government’s support of our industry. While there are a variety of grants and initiatives to support the Music and Arts industry, there is still a large gap that exists which could be filled and better aligned to the industry’s needs through active engagement with promoters. Great organisations like the AFA (Australian Festival’s association) which we’re proud to be a part of are helping push for these outcomes. For a successful and sustainable live entertainment industry, government help is crucial – especially with ever changing and difficult economic conditions.
Do you have a mentor, or anyone you rely on to bounce ideas off?
I think mentorship is very important. I’m lucky that most of my ‘mentors’ are also dear friends so while I very much value their advice and mentorship, I think it all comes down to deep friendship and finding people who are vested in your journey. People that enjoy seeing you develop will give you the right guidance to do so.
My first official mentor was my best friend Mike Bird (and his awesome business partners George Glover and Erica Sachse). Mike saw a lot of potential in Untitled from when we were just running small scale localised events and always encouraged me to think bigger. In 2020 he put me forward for an Entrepreneurs summit on Necker Island where I was very lucky to meet a huge inspiration of mine, Richard Branson, alongside so many other amazing people. The trip changed my perspective on business’s ability to be a driver to do good and introduced me to another valued mentor, friend, and successful Australian entrepreneur – Rob Phillpot. While I love music, I’m no expert in business and Rob has been a crucial advisor for me in the face of the new, unknown challenges encountered in scaling and diversifying businesses.
There’s also countless industry peers I bounce off of, particularly leaders of other independent companies like ourselves. Jaddan Comerford who runs UNIFIED music group (artist management, recordings, bookings etc) is such an experienced and inspirational figure within the global music scene. Jaddan and UNIFIED share a very similar ethos to our company and he is always very open to helping and supporting others. We’re always sharing knowledge and ideas to support each other and help empower other independent operators within the industry.
All in all, it’s just important to surround yourself with good people in every capacity. I’m not very good at being independent myself so luckily I have a very supportive family (although at first they weren’t thrilled with my choice for the music industry!), 3 amazing Untitled business partners who I’m constantly learning from and a team of 60+ who guide me. I hope to be a mentor myself to many great aspiring entrepreneurs and promoters in the years to come.
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