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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Aussie rules! Australia market report
With a population approaching just 26 million, Australia punches way above its weight in terms of ticket sales for live music tours and events. And bouncing back from the Covid pandemic with a new culturally savvy government, the demand from fans only seems to be increasing. Lars Brandle reports.
Floods, bushfires, Covid-19 – Australia’s live music industry has felt all the forces of nature in recent years, and by most accounts, has made a stellar comeback.
For a population of 25m, Australia’s live industry punches above its weight class, a space where a singer can sell 1m tickets on a single tour (Ed Sheeran’s Divide) and another can play – and fill – 58 arena shows (P!nk’s Funhouse).
It’s not all fun and games. Touring Australia, a country roughly 4,000 km wide – a distance greater than London is from Moscow – the concerts space has its complexities. The soaring cost of travel, haulage, and booking acts; ongoing pressure on inner-city venues from developers; and a shortage of skilled professionals, many of whom left the industry during the pandemic, are just some of the challenges faced by promoters and others in Australia’s live music ecosystem.
But with a new federal government in power, one that’s sympathetic to the music industry, and a bonanza of major tours performing well at the box office, optimism is high.
So business is back, although it’s not what it was.
“Right now is a very exciting time to be an Australian music fan”
For a continent as vast as Australia, some things are surprisingly the same wherever you go. Drive for days and the language, currency, and power-points remain the same. And all across the country, there’s an enormous appetite for live entertainment. Getting a show on the road, however, is never a cinch.
“Right now is a very exciting time to be an Australian music fan,” says Geoff Jones, CEO of live entertainment, data, and tech giant TEG. “Since the end of the pandemic, we’ve seen many artists flock to Australia to play for their Aussie fanbases, which has played a major part in boosting the economy.”
Among them, stadium treks by Guns N’ Roses (TEG Dainty), Ed Sheeran (Frontier Touring), Harry Styles and Red Hot Chili Peppers (Live Nation Australia) – all visiting these parts within the space of three months.
And while cost of living and inflation is a big issue that’s impacting Australians, “consumers have been highly resilient and are still keeping money aside to watch their favourite artists perform to crowds of thousands,” Jones adds.
“We’re still seeing buying patterns lean much closer to the festival or show date, and we expect last-minute purchasing to remain part of the landscape,” notes Zac Leigh, CEO and founder of Tixel.
“I think the per-cap spending in Australia is the highest in the world. It’s just so engrained in the culture to see live music and sport”
In the most recent summer (December 2022-March 2023), “Something like 20% of the tickets listed on Tixel were traded for less than 50% of the face value of the ticket and we believe the oversupply was due to things like illness, Covid isolation periods, inability to travel, and the clutter of rescheduled events,” Leigh explains. Now, less than 5% of tickets trade at that level – signs that the market is returning to a demand-supply equilibrium for tickets.
The backlog of shows after two-and-a-half years of Covid disruption and market and border closures resulted in a “huge summer touring season” across concerts and festivals, explains Evelyn Richardson, chief executive of Live Performance Australia (LPA), the trade body for the live entertainment industry.
The data isn’t yet in; the most recent figures were captured for LPA’s Ticket Attendance and Revenue Report 2021 – then Australia’s industry was largely mothballed due to Covid. Richardson says the market has since seen “significant activity,” an “exceptional summer,” and the trade body expects that the “upcoming touring schedule later in 2023 going into 2024 will be massive [in the region].”
For its population, Australia “really punches above its weight when it comes to live performance,” Adam Wilkes of AEG Presents Asia Pacific said during a keynote at Singapore’s All That Matters gathering in September 2022. “I think the per-cap spending in Australia is the highest in the world. It’s just so engrained in the culture to see live music and sport.”
Live Nation president Asia-Pacific, Roger Field, states, “Australasia is going great. This will be our biggest year ever and we’re seeing unprecedented attendances at all levels from club to arenas. We have more artists coming to our shores and we’re having our biggest stadium year.”
“It seems that the years of being unable to tour and operate have enabled a number of arena acts to take the leap into stadiums with huge success”
He observes, “It seems that the years of being unable to tour and operate have enabled a number of arena acts to take the leap into stadiums with huge success. This in turn creates the opportunity for more acts to step up to fill those arena dates – and fans are really getting behind these artists and demanding even more.”
Legendary concert promoter Michael Chugg handled the 40-plus-date domestic swing for Elton John’s Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour, through Chugg Entertainment and its partners Frontier Touring and AEG Presents.
It’s the “same old problem with rival promoters paying too much for artists,” he tells IQ, “not enough care going into ticket pricing; lack of personnel, security, food and beverage staff, crew; bullshit flight prices.” Add to the list an ongoing lack of support for homegrown music on commercial radio, a situation which, for several weeks in mid-2023, became acute when no Australian-made singles appeared in the ARIA Top 40.
The challenges are many and varied. Booking an itinerary with a relatively small number of venues and many concurrent tours, “it’s a jigsaw puzzle,” Chugg notes. “I don’t think we are truly back on track as an industry. We need new people and some who left [during the health crisis] to come back.”
Snapshot of a billion-dollar business
There’s truth to the stereotype that Aussies like few things more than a night (or day) out with their best mates for a good time. The numbers stack up. According to LPA’s pre-pandemic ticketing data, live entertainment is a billion-dollar-plus business.
Australia’s live sector is a sophisticated one with trade bodies and lobby reps working alongside its industry captains in each field
Australia’s live sector is a sophisticated one with trade bodies and lobby reps working alongside its industry captains in each field. In addition to the LPA, the Australian Festival Association (AFA) was presented to the media in December 2018, with a commitment to making “festivals safer for patrons and reduce friction between festival promoters and regulatory bodies,” and more. AFA holds a position on the executive committee of the Live Entertainment Industry Forum (LEIF), established during the pandemic to help support the return of live entertainment and sport.
Meanwhile, the Australian Live Music Business Council (ALMBC) was launched during the pandemic, to advocate for thousands of Australian-owned small businesses and sole traders that support Australian music in public performance places.
Festival specialists will gather 30-31 August at Sydney’s Luna Park for the 2023 Australian Festival Industry Conference. And for the first time, SXSW expands outside of its decades-long base in the United States with SXSW Sydney, set for October 15-22, 2023. TEG is event producer, and industry veteran Colin Daniels helms SXSW Sydney as managing director.
Australia’s leading promoters include Live Nation Australia; Frontier Touring, part of the Mushroom Group, which is now led by Matt Gudinski following the March 2021 death of his father, the great music entrepreneur Michael Gudinski; Chugg Entertainment; TEG Dainty, and others.
It’s a constantly evolving and growing space. In 2019, Frontier Touring struck a joint venture with Chugg Entertainment and separately formalised a years-long alliance with AEG Presents, ensuring the company Gudinski built would be the official partner for AEG treks in these parts.
“Our interest in venues of all sizes is partly motivated by having the ability to engage with a variety of artist content”
TEG continues to grow and expand, including a 2020 deal for Van Egmond Group, Garry Van Egmond’s concerts company, which has orchestrated blockbuster tours for Dire Straits, AC/DC, and many others. The following year, in 2021, TEG landed deals that brought the Laneway festival brand and boutique promoter and events company Handsome Tours into its empire, while its ticketing arm, Ticketek, now operates in 11 markets, including the UK.
Frontier Touring remains one of the world’s leading concert promoters, its founder, Michael Gudinski, posthumously recognised by Billboard in April 2021 as its International Power Player. The concerts specialist this year celebrates its 50th anniversary, which the Melbourne-based business will mark with an all-star concert in November.
Live Nation’s domestic arm continues to expand its portfolio of venues and live assets. regional boss Roger Field comments, “Our venue development is a huge priority for us across both Australia and New Zealand – we’ve just celebrated the return of the iconic Festival Hall in Melbourne to a fulltime live music venue after signing a multi-lease and that’s only the beginning. Our interest in venues of all sizes is partly motivated by having the ability to engage with a variety of artist content, even if we’re not promoting it, but also open to new ticket buying markets.”
LN’s suite of venues also includes The Palais Theatre in Melbourne, the Fortitude Music Hall in Brisbane, the Hindley Street Music Hall in Adelaide, and Anita’s Theatre, a historic venue in Thirroul, a northern seaside suburb of Wollongong, which in 2022 became the concerts giant’s first entry into regional Australia.
Australia’s concert promoters have, historically, been at loggerheads with each other. The late Gudinski was never short of a word or three for LN or Dainty. However, during the pandemic, the hatchets were buried and once-bitter rivals shared infrastructure on several major events, keeping costs down in the most difficult of times.
On 21 May 2022, when border closures still plagued the touring space, Australia took a left turn
One of the Australian events industry’s many success stories is the rise of Untitled Group. “The challenges posed by the pandemic allowed us to pause, reflect, and focus on the long-term growth of our business,” comments Nicholas Greco – co-founder/managing partner. Greco and his colleagues “took the opportunity to strategise and refine our approach. It was undeniably a difficult time, but it offered us a moment to breathe and strengthen our foundations”.
Untitled organises such events as camping festivals Beyond The Valley and Pitch Music & Arts, both of which, says Greco, have experienced a notable uptake, especially in the post-pandemic era. Independently owned and based in Melbourne, Untitled boasts 65 staff and shifts more than 400,000 tickets each year across its events.
Australia’s outdoor concerts network extends into wineries. A Day On The Green, created by Michael and Anthea Newton from Roundhouse Entertainment, operating as a joint venture with Mushroom Group, in November 2022 celebrated its 500th show with Crowded House’s performance at Mt Duneed Estate, Geelong.
After Covid – a new dawn, new government
On 21 May 2022, when border closures still plagued the touring space, Australia took a left turn.
After the best part of a decade led by the centre-right Liberal political party, a national shift occurred when Anthony Albanese and his Australian Labor Party (ALP), the country’s major centre-left party, swung into power.
“We need serious skills training; we need new venues, big and small; we need a regional circuit”
After a generation, during which time the music industry’s calls for support repeatedly fell on deaf ears with the Liberal leadership, the ALP represented a new dawn for the country’s live music community.
Prime minister Albanese and minister of arts Tony Burke moved swiftly and decisively to reward that belief. In June 2023, the Creative Australia Bill passed through parliament – a document that lays the legal foundation for the national cultural policy presented earlier in January 2023. The bill establishes Music Australia with AU$69.4m in funding which, for the first time in the nation’s history, explains APRA AMCOS CEO Dean Ormston, provides an opportunity “for a whole-of-government, cross-portfolio, strategic and long-term relationship with the breadth of the Australian contemporary music industry.”
Music Australia sits under Creative Australia, formerly the Australia Council for the Arts, or Australia Council, which was due to commence from 1 July and was presented in the government’s 116-page “Revive” document, a years-long roadmap for the music industry, which details new investment totalling $286m over four years.
The government’s initiative and “all that money will make a serious impact,” notes Chugg. “We need serious skills training; we need new venues, big and small; we need a regional circuit. I would like to see more shows in universities and schools, which in the 70s and 80s were amazing breeding grounds.”
The ALP now governs at national level and across every state, with the exception of Tasmania, the last remaining Liberal post. It’s “a government that cares,” he enthuses. “My late mate, MG, would have such a huge smile alongside all the Australian music icons he is hanging out with in heaven.”
Some positive trends have emerged in Australia’s post-Covid touring landscape, including a revival in country music and comedy
What’s hot, what’s not
The elite A-list acts have filled Australian stadiums in the 2022-2023 southern summer. The demand side of the business is “really healthy in terms of artists who have been limited in their ability to travel for several years”, explains Dion Brant, CEO of Frontier Touring. One of those artists is Ed Sheeran. The Englishman’s The Mathematics Tour did over 830,000 tickets and “left excess demand,” explains Brant. Those artists “that care about the audience and produce great shows, combined with pricing that is accessible and strong campaigns, can lead to record-breaking results”.
Some positive trends have emerged in Australia’s post-Covid touring landscape, including a revival in country music and comedy.
Morgan Wallen’s six-date tour for Frontier Touring in March, which included a headline slot at country-focused fest CMC Rocks QLD, was a hit and was reflected when Wallen led both the ARIA singles and albums charts, setting records along the way. Luke Combs returns to Australia and makes his New Zealand debut in August, for a trek promoted by Frontier Touring.
The resurgence of country has been powered by the likes of the late Rob Potts, and later, his son Jeremy, Chugg, and colleague Susan Heymann. As the country business grows, Chugg Music recently teamed up with Select Music and artist manager Dan Biddle of Wheelhouse Agency, to launch a new venture with an eye on growing the country music and Americana genre.
Though no brand has replaced the travelling festival juggernauts that were the Big Day Out and Soundwave, rock continues to roll along. Chris O’Brien is an aficionado of music of the heavier kind and wears multiple hats with Destroy All Lines (general manager of touring), Good Things Festival (promoter), and Knotfest Australia (co-promoter).
The price of putting on a show has escalated “in a way that needs to be properly looked at”
The appetite for rock and metal in Australia “continues to grow at an incredible rate,” O’Brien tells IQ. Between Good Things Festival and Knotfest, every show sold out, shifting just shy of 200,000 tickets. In the past 12 months, Destroy All Lines has sold over 650,000 tickets, he explains, and 2023/24 “is looking like we will get close to 1m tickets with what we have in the pipeline”.
Spiralling costs, less hands at the pump
Promoters and live event organisers are experiencing major skills shortages, particularly in technical, production, and stage management. Even sourcing riggers, drivers, and security is a challenge.
The price of putting on a show has escalated “in a way that needs to be properly looked at”, says Frontier’s Brant. Infrastructure on larger shows, such as stages, flooring, barriers, and chairs, are up by at least 50%. “Freight is through the roof.”
Production and touring costs have skyrocketed by 30-40% compared with pre-Covid levels, experts say.
At the same time, a shaky economy with high inflation and interest rate rises is having an impact on discretionary spending. “It may dampen some events,” notes LPA’s Richardson. “Having said that, we are seeing huge demand [for] shows going on sale for later in the year.”
“Suppliers to the industry need to be careful they are not trying to make up for lost time and squeezing the golden goose too hard”
Those on-sales include a trans-Tasman tour by Foo Fighters, organised by Frontier Touring; while Live Nation is promoting two special Coldplay dates at Perth’s Optus Stadium in November, as well as Blink-182’s arena run next year.
With the explosion in activity for stadium dates comes a heightened sensitivity to the replacement of turf, with rate per square meter said to be amongst the highest in the world.
“The cost to get to and from Australia is the highest it’s ever been,” explains Brant. “Fans want to go to shows and artists want to play to fans, but the suppliers to the industry need to be careful they are not trying to make up for lost time and squeezing the golden goose too hard.”
When the region’s venue operators gathered in May in Melbourne for the 2023 Venues Management Congress, Frontier Touring’s chief marketing and communications officer, Reegan Stark, quipped on stage, “I learned more about grass the last 12 months than I ever thought I needed to know.”
Where concert tours have “done exceptionally well,” notes LPA’s Richardson, “music festivals have had challenges both in terms of weather events disrupting or closing down events and changes in consumer buying behaviour with audiences buying much later than pre-Covid times.”
Peter Noble’s Bluesfest site was flooded ahead of the 2022 event, and, several months later, Splendour In The Grass, also held in Byron Bay, a picturesque beach spot in northern New South Wales, was inundated, leading to the cancelation of day one mainstage performances.
“We’ve all got to realise that this entire industry only works if everyone gets a slice of the cake”
The rotten weather of 2022, the abundance of shows in the early part of this year, and the wobbly state of the economy has put pressure on some festival brands. Noble and his team spent nearly a million dollars on waterproofing at Tyagarah Tea Tree Farm in Byron Bay. Attendance dipped from more than 100,000 in 2022, to about 70,000 in 2023, Noble tells IQ.
“We’ve all seen a bit of a drop off in festivals. I hope they all come back,” he says. Fests “have got some challenges”, he continues. “The attendances have been down, the costs are up. We’ve all got to realise that this entire industry only works if everyone gets a slice of the cake. And if you leave crumbs at one end, then you’re starving someone out of business.”
Bluesfest Touring “had a great season”, he notes, pointing to the 20 tours which worked the market, including Bonnie Raitt, Buddy Guy and the Doobie Brothers, and the launch of Bluefest Melbourne and Perth.
Climate change and the bad weather that comes with it is a blow to consumer confidence in ways that are difficult to predict, promoters say.
The festival and outdoor events industry “faces an existential crisis”, notes Richardson. “Adapting business models is a big topic of discussion right now.”
Another unexpected hurdle to doing business can be seen in the rising costs of renewing insurance for live music venues
Those forces of nature contributed to the travelling Falls Festival cancelling its 2023/24 edition. Led by Live Nation-affiliated concert specialist Secret Sounds, co-founded by Jessica Ducrou and Paul Piticco, Falls announced it would take the time out to “rest, recover, and recalibrate.”
Another unexpected hurdle to doing business can be seen in the rising costs of renewing insurance for live music venues. The public liability premiums for some venues have risen 15-fold, with one venue reporting a hike from $1,500 to $35,000. Rising costs are “the biggest issue in the live space right now,” explains Stephen Wade, chairman of the ALMBC and CEO of leading agency Select Music.
The so-called insurance cliff has been a “massive issue” for the industry and remains unresolved, although it is being addressed positively, he continues. In one potential solution, the trade body has approached several underwriters on behalf of its members, with the proposition to underwrite venues under an appropriate scheme that is both affordable and provides adequate cover.
Despite the challenges, business is roaring
The domestic live scene “is extremely vibrant and alive; on any Saturday night, we’re booking more than 25 shows at different venues across the country,” explains Darren Aboud, the former Universal Music Australia senior executive who recently joined Select Music Agency as chief operating officer. “Music has roared back post-Covid as people have longed for meaningful real experiences.” He adds, “Quality shows from quality artists will continue to sell.”
Those quality acts include homegrown talent. “Business is 100% on the up as far as we are seeing at our agency,” says Select Music’s Wade, “and we have a new wave of acts that we have been developing over the past 18 months who are all realising their potential and selling huge amounts of tickets.”
“We’re booking stuff into stadiums already into 2025”
As business grows, further investment is coming. Brisbane should benefit from at least AU$7bn in state and federal commitments for infrastructure, including the erection of the 18,000-capacity Brisbane Live venue.
Elsewhere, Cedar Mill Group has a raft of developments on the go, including winery circuit venues designed to integrate seamlessly, and a major project at Lake Macquarie. That planned 30,000-capacity venue on the doorstep of the Central Coast and Hunter region north of Sydney, “will be within reach of over a million people”, explains Paul Lambess, managing director at Cedar Mill Group. It represents the “first time an arena-sized venue in Australia will be built and funded by a private individual rather than a multinational corporation or a government body.”
Cedar Mill’s venues plans “are just as robust as the current touring cycle”, he continues. “The development runway is long and the investment substantial.”
Luke Hede, vice president of touring at Live Nation, says the outlook is excellent. “We’re booking stuff into stadiums already into 2025,” he told the audience during the Promoters Panel at the 2023 VMA Congress in May. “Hopefully, it won’t all be concertinaed like it was this year in the first quarter. But there’s certainly a lot of product coming through. 2019 was our biggest year ever with Live Nation. We’ve already surpassed the ticket sales this year for 2019. So, it’s been a phenomenal start. It looks like it’s going to continue.”
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Titans unite to create Oz country music agency
Artist manager Dan Biddle has inked a partnership deal with Chugg Music and Select Music to launch Wheelhouse Agency – a new specialist booking enterprise focused on Australasia’s growing market for Americana and country music.
The new company will see Dan Biddle Management combine its expertise with the extensive live touring and country music market knowledge sets of Chugg’s Andrew Stone and Michael Chugg, and that of Select’s Stephen Wade and Rob Giovannoni to provide a premium agency service for artists in the country and Americana genres.
Giovannoni and Biddle will take on the roles of agency co-heads continuing in their existing roles – Giovannoni as senior agent at Select, and Biddle as special projects manager for Chugg Music and Dan Biddle Management. Katie Krollig, who has been part of the Select Music setup for over six years, joins the Wheelhouse team as lead agent while continuing to service her roster of Select clients.
“It was clear that the market needed a new agency to service the many great new artists coming through, along with the established artists who are kicking major goals”
“The growth of country music in Australia over the last few years has been well documented and it was clear that the market needed a new agency to service the many great new artists coming through, along with the established artists who are kicking major goals,” says Chugg. “With our many decades of experience across all facets of live touring, combined with our knowledge of the country music industry, there is no better team in Australia to help artists develop their live careers and grow their audiences.”
The agency is launching with an impressive roster of award winning and best-selling artists combined with some of the most exciting emerging acts in the genre. The Wheelhouse roster includes Amy Sheppard, Andrew Farriss, Bud Rokesky, Casey Barnes, Henry Wagons, James Blundell, Kingswood, Lane Pittman, Leroy Macqueen, Loren Ryan, McAlister Kemp, Sara Berki, Sara Storer, Shannon Noll, Sweet Talk, Taylor Moss, The Paper Kites, Travis Collins, and Wagons.
Artist Henry Wagons comments: “I’m excited to be in the sublime twangy company Wheelhouse have corralled. What a great broad ranging stable for live country music of all shapes and sizes.”
Elton tour on target to be biggest Oz/NZ run ever
Elton John’s Farewell Yellow Brick Road run is shaping up to become the biggest tour in Australia and New Zealand history after promoters announced a fresh slate of shows.
Staged by Chugg Entertainment, Frontier Touring and AEG Presents, dates have been added at the 30,000-cap McDonald Jones Stadium in Newcastle (8 January), the 30,000-cap AAMI Park, Melbourne (14 January) and the 45,000-cap Allianz Stadium in Sydney (17 January).
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 in March 2020.
The all-time list is currently headed by Ed Sheeran’s 2018 Divide tour, which racked up 950,000 ticket sales, and Dire Straits’ 1986 Brothers In Arms tour, which moved 900,000. However, Farewell Yellow Brick Road will go to the top of the list with 980,500 tickets sold if the remaining concerts sell out.
“If we sell every ticket, we will be just shy of a million”
“If we sell every ticket, we will be just shy of a million over all the Farewell YBR shows,” promoter Michael Chugg tells The Music Network.
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.
Prior to the new shows being announced, the overall sales tally for Australia/New Zealand leg was set to settle on 875,000, putting it in third place in the region historically. Tickets for the latest set of dates went on sale on Monday (1 August).
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.
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.
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.