Gang of Youths have just signed a massive global deal with Warner Music out of the UK.
On face value, it might seem like a big blow for Sony Music Australia, who released their break out record Go Father In Lightness globally. And yes, it may not be ideal for Sony, however it really poses as a huge financial benefit for the label long term.
Gang of Youths are the most likely Australian rock band to get to a stadium level fanbase, and they have defied odds every step of the way.
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Driven by a very passionate manager Kurt Bailey, whose belief in the band was absolutely unwavering, he was able to engage both Sony Music Australia and Universal Publishing in 2014 when (let’s be honest), white, understated music was mostly all that was getting national attention.
The trend was swagger over heart and so there’s no doubt about it, it was a big risk for both Heath Johns (Universal Music Publishing at the time, now at BMG), and Paul Harris (Sony Music) to sign a band like Gang of Youths.
Gang of Youths are a guitar-driven rock band of immigrants who make big, emotional, conscious music and their success certainly didn’t happen right away.
As expected for the kind of music Gang of Youths made, early singles were getting slept on by both the public and the media. However, to Bailey and Sony’s credit, they were stubborn in their efforts when all signs were pointing to “Gang of Youths are a great band at the wrong time”.
For context, themusic.com.au reviewed their live show in 2013 (below) and absolutely missed the mark. It makes me laugh now but it’s a great barometer to see what the band was up against as they were honing their craft.
For a major label, what they did can’t be overstated. Firstly, most majors wouldn’t take on a risk of an “out of trend” band. Secondly, when early signs don’t work, a lot of artists either get dropped or de-prioritised by their labels.
It is a massive credit to Denis Handlin (CEO), Paul Harris (A&R), Ian Grady and Wayne Ringrow (marketing) who worked closely with the band and management to ensure they kept the course and didn’t pivot the band to sonic or aesthetic trends of the time. The result? Multiple Gold Records, a #1 album, multiple ARIA awards and over 50,000 tickets sold on their most recent Australia national tour.
Sony managed to break Gang of Youths locally in a way that has primed the band to do the same in the US and the UK, which they’ve already begun to do.
Naturally, if you do your job right as a label, which Sony Australia did, there was going to be a massive bidding war from competitors globally when Gang of Youths hit the free market again.
One would think if Sony could have kept global rights for Gang of Youths they would have. However, given how most major labels are structured these days, you’d imagine the only way that would have been possible was if the international Sony labels came to the party with a significant investment. If they did, it would have been perfect for Sony Australia and for Gang of Youths.
Maybe Sony Music Australia could have put up the investment themselves without international support? Sure it’s possible, but I don’t believe that would have been wise.
Why would they take on an international level of investment alone without their international partners as invested too?
That P&L exposure would have been too big. It also would have made it all that much harder for Gang of Youths to work international markets when the international offices themselves were not forking out the dosh from their own budget. International offices need to have skin in the game for a band to have the best chance of success.
So what unfolded was Warner Music (UK) committing to the band in a way that no other international label did, and this is the next best thing for Sony Music Australia. Warner Music have taken the global rights ex-Australia and New Zealand and are investing millions of dollars in order to get Gang of Youths to the level they deserve, stadium level.
This is great for Sony Australia for two reasons:
- They license all the back catalog, including Go Farther In Lightness which will no doubt go down in history as one of the most iconic Australian records ever released. So from what I’d assume Warner are investing millions in growing Gang of Youths globally, Sony will reap the benefits of massive back catalogue revenue with absolutely no financial risk.
- If Warner Music succeeds in taking Gang of Youths to stadium levels, Sony Australia will always be able to point to that success as their doing. And they would be right in doing so. They broke a band nationally and paved the way globally for a guitar band that never should have worked in the sonic climate of 2017. It was a masterstroke.
Can Gang of Youths break internationally? Clearly most international labels don’t think so, or they would have beaten Warner Music’s offer. It’s not like Gang of Youths have popped up overnight either, the band have been touring the US & UK since 2013 and not one major has made a real commitment till now. With that said, you can’t blame them either.
Like 2014 in Australia; conscious, emotive big guitar bands just aren’t working in the USA or the UK right now. However, Gang of Youths have a track record of defying trends and doing big business.
This “on paper risk” is sure to pay off for Warner Music, the band has already started selling thousands of tickets internationally and will only get bigger.
Gang of Youths are now living in the U.K. and their co-manager Kurt Bailey, who has been with them since day one, will be joining them later in the year.
Congratulations Gang of Youths, Sony Music Australia and Warner Music. Here’s to a massive future for the band as they become the massive act this country, and the world, needs right now.