Michael Gudinski is coming off the hottest of summers. The Mushroom Group chairman had a record-busting year with his Frontier Touring company, which shifted more than 2 million tickets, an all-time high.
One tour in particular, Ed Sheeran’s Divide, did astonishing business at the box office, setting the all-time sales record for a single tour in these parts (more than 1 million, consigning Dire Straits’ Brothers In Arms tours to No. 2) and smashing venue records (18 stadiums, ousting AC/DC’s Black Ice tour).
“Ed was a freak,” Gudinski admits. “But with or without Ed, this would have been a top 5 summer.”
Frontier is one of more than 20 Mushroom businesses, which cover just about every aspect of the business, from publishing to booking agencies, labels, merch, management, creative services and more. Its big year saw Gudinski recognised last month as one of Billboard’s international Power Players.
Mushroom is an evolving, growing indie business and its Melbourne-born and bred boss isn’t resting on recent successes. TIO caught up with the music industry legend to test the pulse of his company and the wider industry.
What’s your take on the record business right now?
Labels in general have become much more profitable. The majors have obviously received a lot of money out of Spotify.
They’re reinvigorated so it’s an interesting time in the sense that there’s more confidence on that side of the fence. We’ve been very lucky this year that we’ve had a No. 1 single with Childish Gambino and two No. 1 albums with Kylie and with Vance Joy, who is much bigger in America than he is in Europe. He’s huge.
On the label side, a lot of acts are going independent in general. A lot of artists don’t know when to change, for certain styles of music its certainly working, being independent. We’ve started to notice, when it comes to pop it’s expensive. That’s really the major label’s area.
In our end it was a major coup that Nick Dunshea and Liberator signed Childish Gambino. Another great independent act we’ve picked up for Australia and NZ only is Wolf Alice. We’re finding we’re engaging with the major labels more in setting up artists.
Also, what I’m noticing more and more is my own people telling me how long a lead time some of the set up on these records are. My son, Matt, is very much part of teaching me that first albums can take two or three years, but first albums are like people’s third albums in a sense that you can have so many songs beforehand — EPs, singles.
Look at Post Malone for example. Music in general is more relevant to the widest audience in our lifetimes.
Because there are so many countries involved, it’s very important to be in the right spots at the right time in the set up. It’s also very important acts understand the difference between doing festivals which are huge, great social events, putting young, new acts in front of people, to when they make the move to headline.
The biggest frustration for me in the Australian market is there are very limited television opportunities. It’s very important that acts underplay.
You can always move up a notch with a venue. Illusive is playing a big role with that, which is quite inspiring for me. It’s only a matter of time before this reselling of tickets gets under control.
I still can’t believe how Viagogo is still at the top of most sites for music concerts for ticketing is beyond me. It’s a disease not just in Australia but NZ and America, and in England, the house of commons has talked about it. It’s a national issue.
Ed has been particularly strong on it and it has inspired me. It’s a great concern about promoters discounting and prices being too high here for normal tickets. The day you see a Frontier ticket on Lasttix, you can shoot me. Seriously.
What the music industry’s biggest worry right now?
Ticketing in general is a huge issue. The power of Live Nation is obviously concerning, particularly when they make decisions not based on financial viability but perception of share price. I’m just very proud that in our territories that we’re standing strong. It’s certainly not easy.
The fans are the most important people in the business and they seem to be feeling unloved in some ways, they don’t care so much who promotes the act but they certainly do know who heavily discounts. We won’t, it’s a disease that will kill the business.
Promoters, agents, manager and acts who are putting themselves in a position where they are being heavily discounted at the end could possibly be the downfall of a burgeoning live industry.
Which Aussie acts are next in line for breakouts?
A number of Australian artists are continuing to make inroads. It’s a problem that is slowly starting to be dealt with; the local support from radio and online services for local artists needs to be addressed.
I’m getting a feeling that, as it happened perhaps a decade ago, a lot of Australian artists have got to make their mark internationally before they are accepted in their home country, which I don’t think is right.
People are starting to take notice of what I said as far as ARIA and other bodies (CRA and APRA) are getting into (meeting commercial radio’s content quotas). Government support could always be stronger.
There are a handful of incredible artists coming through. Fergus James, who supported Ed Sheeran, Jack River, Tash Sultana are making big inroads internationally. It’s very important for the whole industry that they are career artists and live artists.
Jack River should be a superstar. She’s like a modern rock Joni Mitchell, she’s got the smarts, she runs festivals and she’s very independently minded, she’s one of these acts I’ve been involved with signing with (I Oh You founder) Johann Ponniah.
Watch Jack River’s video for ‘Fools Gold’ below:
At the moment, developing new artists whether they’re big on a label level, touring level, publishing level, it’s just critical. You can put out indie eps, whatever, but when you play the main league every move is critical. You’ve gotta be ready when the sun shines on you.
The Mushroom Group has had a strong year.
I think we’ve had a remarkable year. The fact we got (to tour) Sir Paul McCartney, which is something I’ve been desperate for many years. And to end up doing Springsteen and the Stones in my lifetime I would never have expected.
And to stay relevant and to work with younger acts that I relate to, obviously Ed Sheeran is one of those, (has been great).
My son very much involved not just with Illusive but all the labels and other ventures and (Frontier Touring promoter) Gerard Schlaghecke and Harry (tour director Michael Harrison) have been such a part of the heart and soul of the touring company. The Killers at the AFL Grand Final was outstanding.
We’ve had a record breaking year for Frontier. You can’t leave out the Foo Fighters, Midnight Oil, Lorde, to name a few. With Ed Sheeran, to be involved in a true act from the start and just think how and what he’s achieved is remarkable.
Australia and NZ were the first markets outside of England that really happened for him. On this tour, there wasn’t one night that was a bad night performance-wise or sold out-wise.
The records that have been broken is a long list. We’re over 1.1 million people. In Dunedin, we had 101,000, which is a curious fact. When the Beatles came out they didn’t sell out. It’s true. The impact he’s had? Remarkable is the only word and it’s a record that won’t be broken for many years.