Australian music’s boss women and the deals they make to get international acts here


Posted

October 11, 2018 05:46:01

Behind Australia’s music scene is a small group of women in powerful leadership positions. They scout new talent, book international acts and are the ones “making the cogs turn” backstage.

Key points:

  • A small group of women is making big deals at the top of Australia’s music industry
  • They book major international acts and help to shape an industry in a time of change
  • The Inaugural Australian Women in Music Awards recognised their work

After 15 years in the business, Susan Heymann is the managing director of Chugg Entertainment and responsible for touring some of the biggest names in music, including Elton John and Robbie Williams.

“My very first tour was Robbie’s tour in 2003 and I escorted the photographers in and I remember standing at the stage and watching the show from closer than any one of the 50,000 people and just thinking it was the coolest thing I could ever experience,” she said.

“Nowadays, if I ever take photographers in, I find myself turning my back to the stage and looking at the front row people. That gives me just as much of a rush to see those people who lined up early … that they are having that experience.”

Standing backstage as the last song plays is the final part of a huge job to get international tours to Australia.

“There is never a quiet period,” Susan said.

“I’m either working on soliciting business and trying to source new opportunities, or I’m working on the deals … or I’m actually working with the teams to get the tours announced and on sale or you’re at the shows.”

Susan said her days were long and often spent on ideas or deals that may never come off.

“It starts usually with dealing with business from the US in the morning and then dealing with Australian business throughout the day and then just when you think it’s winding down, the UK wakes up and it picks up again.”

Elton John and Robbie Williams are just two of the big names to sign tour deals with Susan. Florence and the Machine, Sia, Radiohead and John Mayer have all played for Australian audiences because of her work and, often, the job is not at all glamorous.

“We presented one show with Amy Schumer a few years ago,” Susan said.

“We found out she was coming in … and we had about five days from when she was arriving in the country to secure a deal and put a show on and we just took shifts.

“I think she [co-promoter Emily York] worked until about 4:00am and I was up at 5:00am just to stay on the agent’s case.

Just to make sure the deal got done.

“It all happened very quickly and I think we stood backstage when she left in her car and looked at each other and thought well we didn’t know that was going to happen a week ago, so, that one was fun.”

Why do gigs cost so much?

While talking to an Australian music boss, we took the opportunity to ask her just how ticket prices come to be.
This is what Chugg Entertainment boss Susan Heymann said:

“Generally ticket prices are driven by a budget that is based on what the costs are to run the show, how many tickets you think you’ll sell and what the artist needs to get paid.
“And the artists on the other end are also working out what it’s going to cost them to come all the way to Australia and pay their band and their crew.
“As they get more successful, their shows get bigger, their production gets bigger, more crew come on the road, their price goes up, we go into bigger venues and we put the ticket prices up.”

At the heart of every tour is the deal to get the artist to Australia. It takes a love of music and a passion for live performances, but also business nous to make money in this game.

“I’ve always said to people that ultimately it always comes down to the deal,” Susan said.

“You can pick the hottest act in the world and still lose money on them if the deal isn’t structured the right way.”

Susan said striking those deals was challenging, but also rewarding.

“There are a lot of artists who have incredible careers in Australia and in some ways it’s their strongest market outside of their home town because we do have great audiences who will return and who will spend money,” she said.

Women in music leadership is a big deal

Chugg Entertainment was founded by Australian businessman Michael Chugg, and although a man’s name is on the door, it’s significant that Susan is running the show.

Chugg’s competitors Frontier Touring, Live Nation and Handsome Touring are all led by men and across the industry women are poorly represented in management roles.

In terms of who is shaping the industry, — the labels heads, radio station music directors, touring company director, festival promoters — it’s still men who make up the majority of key decision-making positions.

Artists are running the numbers too, with Melbourne band Camp Cope speaking out about the lack of gender diversity on the Falls Festival line-up during their set in January.

There are also no women on the board of the ARIAs.

On Wednesday night the inaugural Australian Women in Music Awards (AWMAs) were held to directly address the gender award gap.

There was an award for music leadership and Susan was nominated along with two other industry leaders: Linda Bosidis and Jen Cloher.

Other winners include:

  • Songwriter: Gordi
  • Diversity in Music: Mission Songs Project
  • Studio production: Anna Laverty
  • Music photographer: Wendy McDougall
  • Creative leadership: Zoe Hauptmann
  • International breakthrough artist: Camp Cope and Amy Shark
  • Artistic excellence: Ngaiire
  • Filmmaker: Claudia Sangiorgi Dalimore
  • Live production: Robyn Jelleff
  • Musical excellence: Lydia Davies and Nerida Tyson-Chew
  • Educator: Dr Anita Collins
  • Memorial: Deborah Cheetham AO
  • Lifetime Achievement: Renee Geyer, Patricia ‘Little Patty’ Amphlett, Margret RoadKnight

Linda was just made managing director of Mushroom Music Publishing, the biggest independent music publisher in Australia.

Within industry circles Linda is known as, not only incredibly talented, but also empowering of other emerging women in the industry.

At this year’s One of One brunch on International Women’s Day, she gave a moving speech, that was later published by Mushroom, saying:

“The women I work with at Mushroom Music are the backbone of the joint.”

Jen Cloher is an artist but also a leader for emerging artists and won the leadership award on the night.

She runs Milk Records with her wife artist Courtney Barnett and in her thank you message she reinforced how important it was for performers to independently manage and maintain their creative lives.

The AWMA leadership award was to recognise a woman “making significant impact in music industry leadership”.

“I think that’s what’s great about these awards. The categories are really reflecting who are making the cogs turn and getting the work done behind the scenes,” Susan said.

‘It hadn’t been done before’

Susan has collected a few stories in the 15 years spent working her way up the ladder of a major entertainment company.

But there was one story she wanted to write herself: the all-female line-up.

“It was always a bit of a dream idea,” Susan said.

“Then as we started working towards it and talking to agents about potential acts for the line-up, there were just an abundance of options so we committed to the concept.”

At the end of last year the company put on two stadium shows headlined by Sia and supported by Charlie XCX, Mo and Amy Shark.

“It hadn’t been done before. To my knowledge, there had never been an all-female line-up,” Susan said.

“We really wanted to create an event rather than just a concert. And that’s where the multi-act bill came from and having an all-female line-up just gave us another story to tell.”

There are firsts and lasts in Susan’s stories from backstage.

As the industry scouts for new talent, it is preparing to say goodbye to a great on his farewell tour: Elton John.

Chugg Entertainment has toured Elton John many times and was there when he played the last show at the Sydney Entertainment Centre before it was demolished.

That’s a good story too.

“Elton John holds the record for the most number of shows ever at the Sydney Entertainment Centre so it was fitting for him to close proceedings there,” Susan said.

“We just thought it wouldn’t be the right kind of send off without taking to backstage with some markers and some spray paint, dressing up for the occasion in a nice silk dress and spray painting a yellow brick road on the walls of the backstage corridors.”

With a career built on hard work, good stories and solid deals, Susan is now in a position to shape the industry at a critical time of change.

“I had no expectations this is where I would end up, but I’m enjoying every minute of it,” she said.

“I wanted to be a pre-school teacher. I’m getting good at dealing with tantrums and childish behaviour, but I’m definitely not following that path anymore.”

Topics:

arts-and-entertainment,

music,

music-industry,

music-awards,

community-and-society,

women,

australia





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