Australia’s 2012:
Optimistic Despite Blips

Australian live music suffered a few blips through 2012, including a softening in the festival sector, while mid- to small-size venues lost business.

But the Australian economy remained in better shape than most music markets. The arrival of half a dozen subscription services including Deezer, Spotify and Vevo saw new music rise to the fore.

Physical sales toatled  63.3 percent to digital sales of 34 percent, but PriceWaterhouseCoopers estimated these will balance out in two years. Commercial radio remained criticized for its minimal support for new domestic acts.

Only one Aussie track, Matt Corby s “Brother,” made it into the Top 10 most played songs of the year while just 13 were in the Top 100. Last year, none were in the Top 10.

A New Reality

Reality TV shows including “The Voice” and “Australia’s Got Talent” enjoyed high ratings.

“Some of the music industry can be antagonistic to these shows,” said Frontier Touring managing director Michael Gudinski, who was named Melburnian of the Year by the City of Melbourne, “but they put music in front of millions of consumers. We need more music on TV. We don’t have late-night shows, as in America, which have bands on each night of the week.”

Michael Chugg, whose Sydney-based Chugg Entertainment sold 400,000 tickets in the first half of 2012, suggested that given the level of ticket sales and volume of acts coming through, “I would have to say we’re the strongest market in the world right now.”

Michael Coppel, president of Live Nation Australia/NZ, which set up in 2012 with the veteran promoter out front, pointed out that Triple A acts are doing strong business, “But a lot of the ‘B’ and ‘C’ tours are struggling because people are being really selective.”

An Ernst & Young report, “The Economic Contribution Of The Venue-Based Live Music Industry in Australia,” found that live music injected $1.2 billion into the Australian economy.

This first-ever national study of the value of live music put profits and wages at $676 million and supported almost 15,000 full-time jobs. In a given year, 1.97 million patrons attend 328,000 venue-based live music performances at 3,904 venues across the country.

“This report confirms the great audience interest in attending live music and provides evidence of the economic benefits to venues when presenting live music,”  said Paul Mason, director of music at the Australian Government’s funding body, the Australia Council for the Arts. “With this report we have a benchmark for measuring any changes in activity around the country, and this will be invaluable in informing discussion amongst policy makers and stakeholders about how to maintain and develop this important industry.”

A Plea For Support

Now armed with credible economic data, the live biz was able to approach Government departments with a host of demands. These ranged from protecting music venues from noise complaints by recently arrived neighbors and less red tape for venue owners wanting to showcase acts, to more export funding for acts and managers to attend key networking events and tax incentives for those who invest in the recording and touring careers of acts.

The loyalty shift from consumers from record labels to concert and festival promoters was underlined in the forecast bv PriceWaterhouseCoopers’ annual entertainment report, “Media Outlook 2012-2016.”

It predicted a 5.5 percent yearly average increase for the Australian live sector, which would be worth $860 million in five years. Its spokesperson, Megan Brownlow, pointed out that the relatively strong economy is just one factor in the sector’s strength. Another is that promoters are driving the market with new non-traditional venues – vineyards are expanding their music content, while zoos are also becoming popular – especially to cater for the over-35 market. “These are producing good growth results in that market,” Brownlow said.

“Demand for live entertainment remained strong,” agreed Evelyn Richardson, CEO of peak association Live Performance Australia. Its annual “Ticket Attendance & Revenue Survey 2011,” released mid-2012, showed that audience grew by 0.6 percent. The survey covered contemporary music as well as opera, dance, ballet, musicals, classical, theatre and children’s genres. Contemporary music remained the largest sector, with a 41.3 percent share of revenue at $559.17 million and 34.2 percent share of ticket sales, at 5.9 million.

Pressure on promoters and venues to lower ticket prices saw overall revenue drop to $1.34 billion, from $1.36 billion in 2010.

The average ticket price was $89.04, down slightly from $89.63 in 2010. The survey also showed that more than 17.3 million tickets were issued (Australia’s population is 22 million), up from 2008-2010 but far from pre-Global Financial Crisis levels of 20.88 million.

The Talent

2012 was also a global year for Australian music. Gotye s “Somebody That I Used to Know (featuring Kimbra)” was best-selling single of the year after shifting 10 million units and topping 25 official charts including the United States and Britain. It went nine-times platinum in Australia and became the biggest ever single in Denmark. Its video had 357 million views on YouTube.

It was also a time of finding new global markets for acts including singer-songwriters Missy Higgins, Kimbra, Matt Corby, Chet FakerSarah Blasko, rock acts The Temper TrapThe PresetsTame ImpalaDZ DeathraysThe Jezabels, hip-hoppers Hilltop Hoods and Drapht  and dance names Nervo, Kez James, Timomatic and The Stafford Bros.

There were 50 acts at South By Southwest, the event’s largest Aussie turnout. Similarly, the 20-strong Aussie showcase at Canadian Music Week was the largest contingent outside North America.

Promoters also continued to think globally. Big Day Out’s Ken West, after a limp 2012, signed with Lollapalooza promoters C3 Presents as co-partners, returning in 2013 with a bill with Red Hot Chili Peppers and The Killers.
Melbourne-based Paul Dainty and London-based Richard Branson set up Virgin Live to take on Live Nation, launching with shows by the Rolling Stones.

Dainty and former Big Day Out co-partner Viv Lees, who returned in 2012 with tours by Billy Bragg, Primal Scream and Iggy & The Stooges set up Two Worlds Touring for “select concert and entertainment-related projects” that didn’t fit in with their respective companies.

Michael Chugg looked increasingly at the bourgeoning Asian market while festivals like Bluesfest and Laneway continued to eye possibilities in staging in other countries.

Bluesfest co-founder Peter Noble told The Music Network that concert promoters who offered 2-for-1 ticket deals had “a deteriorating effect.” He warned that venues with 1,500 to 3,000 capacity had lost 20 percent of business, and those seating fewer than 1,500 probably halved their share.

“It’s this area that is experiencing real problems. The festival market has reached saturation point. It is going to get a whole lot tougher before things improve.”

The Live Performance Australia survey showed that multi-act festivals posted a 4.4 percent decline in gross takings, to $100 million down from $104 million, while attendance dropped 4.2 percent, hitting even the major festivals.

Too many same acts, too many similar experiences. But promoters are promising that will be addressed in 2013.