Q&A: Michael Coppel, Live Nation Australasia Pres. on Strong Aussie Touring Market, Pink's Down-Under Domination

Mushroom Group chairman Michael Gudinski says too many acts visit these parts?
Yes. It’s difficult to say when you’re on the wrong side of too many. Everybody wants the chance to practice their craft and earn money in a strong market. The reality would be you have to cut back on the expectation. With promoters, you get pushed to, say, buy 12 shows, because that’s the only way an act will come down here and make it work. Well, probably six or eight might be the ones you want to buy. The artist might be worth 2,000 or 4,000 (tickets) in a market, not 6,000 or 8,000.That’s a mistake a lot of us are making, because you want to hold onto relationships. And you don’t want to give in to competitors. Usually, if you don’t agree with what’s put forward, the agent or manager will look somewhere else and find someone who does say “yes” and tour-up even if it doesn’t make sense ultimately for the band to come down here.

What are some of the other big issues affecting the biz here?
We’ve so many festivals and they’re all dependent on a competitive line-up, even acts who aren’t traditional festival acts are being drawn into that world. That creates an issue about longevity for artists. Artists can’t keep coming back and playing festivals, they have to build their audience. The money that’s available in the festival market keeps driving the prices up, which keeps ticket prices high. That’s a big factor. In general though if the economic things could work themselves out, you’d have to argue it’s a strong market.

When we last spoke, you were looking at getting back into the festivals game having split with V Fest. Have there been any developments on that front?
Only if we can define a competitive point which makes sense for us to come into the market. There’s so many festivals now, the only way you get a line-up is to pay more money than the other guy. I just don’t think that’s a basis of doing a festival. The festivals that have strength are the ones that kept a connection with the key idea, whether it’s Stereosonic with dance music, or Soundwave with hard rock and heavy metal. And regional festivals like Splendour or Falls, they have a bedrock idea that they’ve kept faith with.

What is the ambition of Live Nation Australia with you at the helm?
To grow and be the biggest and the best promoter in the country. When I was running my own company, we were big. We were the major promoter for one or two years in every three years, depending on how our clients were working. But it wasn’t my ambition to be the biggest. With Live Nation now because of the big products which come through the company worldwide, we’re destined to become the biggest promoter. And I want to maintain the standards in doing that. I want to be able to develop and build the marketplace, and not just be an output for acts that are signed to the company worldwide. We are growing. There’s a lot of developments in marketing, particularly in online and digital, that we’re working on.

It’s very important for us to develop a focus on and programs to succeed in breaking artists internationally, and not harvesting the success that artists have built up. It keeps new fans coming in and it gives you as a promoter a new generation of artists to work with. We did Ben Harper’s sold-out solo acoustic tour. It’s not what you’d call a traditional Live Nation tour, which connects with arenas and multiple dates in the mainstream pop and rock field. But it’s something we really enjoyed doing as a company, because it gives us a freshness and keeps us in touch with micro-managing as well as macro-managing the promotional process.

There are many live venues on the block in Australia. Is LN looking at buying into that business?
We’ve looked at it, it’s of interest but it’s not the focus. It’s probably premature in our development cycle. We want to provide the infrastructure we need to conduct our tours. At the moment, owning venues is not a key factor in that.

Big Day Out founder Ken West has described you as “a gourmet sausage factory.” Do you have fine tastes in terms of the artists you book?
(Laughs) Ken gave me a backhanded compliment with that. I guess that indicates he felt my choice of artists was to be applauded even if the level of activity at the company was something he deplored. If you promote the artist you listen to as a fan, you go broke very, very quickly. If you don’t have objectivity as to what their place commercially is in the marketplace, and you bring an act to Australia and don’t sell tickets, it’s a mistake that will cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars.

You have a degree in law? How did that background help you on this tricky path to being a concert promoter?
Well, it probably made me appreciate the freedom. Friends of mine who’ve stayed in the law, I look at some of them being very sour and jaundice, and I’ve not ended up that way. So it’s probably a good thing I switched.

Will we see more consolidation among promoters?
If you look at the personalities, it’s hard to see it. I’m seeing consolidation in the festival field. I don’t think Chugg and Gudinski will ever merge their businesses. I think Gudinski will want to remain independent. He’s always expressed his desire to do that. I think Michael (Chugg) is such an idiosyncratic character, it’s hard to see him consolidate with anyone else. Dainty has clearly decided he has to get bigger and bulk up and compete internationally, rather than just in this market, so he moved into business with Richard Branson on the Stones tour. Generationally, all the major promoters here have reached their 60s. So in the next 10 years there’s got to be a shake out, through retirement and mortality.

It’s been the same list of major promoters for the last 20-plus years. Even 30 years. I don’t think that’s normal for any industry. It’s not normal for any concert market any where else in the world. The problem is, the cost of entry to become a mainstream promoter is 10 times, a hundred times what it was when I started off. I started with 10 grand. Now I don’t think you could do a club show with 10 grand. Unless you’ve got several millions of dollars of capital behind you, it’s really hard to see how you can break as a concert promoter.

Any pearls of wisdom for folks who want to be a concert promoter?
I’ll give some free advice. If anyone wins $100 million in the lottery, take it and enjoy your life. Don’t become a promoter working 80, 90 hour weeks and take 6 or 7 flights a week and have people complain to you. They complain to you when you’ve done well, because you could do better. And they complain to you when you’ve done badly, because you haven’t done well enough. I learned my lesson early in this business. You’ll never please everyone. There will always be someone who says, “You could have done better.”