Michael Gudinski, Legendary Australian Independent Music Entrepreneur, Dies at 68

Michael Gudinski
Photo credit: Mushroom Creative House

Michael Gudinski

BRISBANE, Australia — Michael Gudinski, the Australian music industry pioneer whose Mushroom Group would become the template for independent companies and who, with his exuberant personality, became the face of his country’s music scene, died Monday (March 1) at the age of 68.

Gudinski died peacefully in his sleep at his home in Melbourne on Tuesday (March 2), and as word spread it sent a shock throughout Australia’s music industry.

Speaking with Billboard just last week, Gudinski was his typical, enthusiastic self, looking ahead to new TV projects, the vaccine rollout and the return of full-scale touring in these parts.

No other figure has done more to shape the Australian music industry than Gudinski.

In a keynote interview at the 2010 Bigsound conference in Brisbane, Gudinski told this reporter how, at the age of just seven, Michael flexed his growing entrepreneurial muscles on Caulfield Cup day when he charged race goers for parking spaces in a vacant block.

Gudinski would go on to greater things.

In 1972, at the age of just 20 years, Gudinski launched Mushroom Records, which would develop into the largest independent record label in Australian music, and later its publishing arm Mushroom Music, which remains the principal independent publishing company in the country.

Mushroom enjoyed early success with Skyhooks, whose debut album, Living In The 70’s, logged 16 weeks at No. 1 in Australia, selling 240,000 copies, a feat no Australian album had achieved at the time.

Over the decades, Gudinski would guide the careers of countless artists, from Kylie Minogue and Jimmy Barnes to U.K. signings Ash and Garbage.

In 1998, MG sold Mushroom Records to Rupert Murdoch’s News Limited Group (now News Corp), the proceeds from which enabled Gudinski to realize his dream of building an independent music powerhouse, covering touring, record labels, publishing, merchandising, booking agencies, film and television production and creative services.

Today, Mushroom Group spans more than two-dozen businesses and brands from Frontier Touring, to The Harbour Agency, labels I Oh You, Liberation and Bloodlines, Mushroom Music Publishing, neighboring rights operation Good Neighbour, and the new addition, Reclusive Records.

Frontier Touring, established in 1979, is Australia’s leading independent promoter, and a record breaker. Gudinski and Frontier Touring produced Ed Sheeran's all-conquering Divide tour of Australia and New Zealand, which shifted more than 1.1 million tickets, an all-time record for a single trek.

In 2018, Frontier was ranked as the third largest promoter in the world according to Billboard Boxscore with a gross ticket sales of $245.1 million and 2.77 million tickets sold from 440 reported shows.

The following year, 2019, Gudinski sold a 50% stake in Frontier Touring to American concert promoter AEG, unifying a long-standing relationship that widened the pipeline for both artists and audiences between the two continents.

"Michael Gudinski was one of a kind," says Jay Marciano, chief executive at AEG Presents who brokered the final details of the merger directly with Gudinski. "In a business built by forward thinkers and risk takers, he still stood head and shoulders above so many of his peers. The global music industry as we know it would not be where it is today without Michael’s vision and creativity. Our business has truly lost a legend, AEG has lost a partner, and I’ve lost a friend. He will be missed."

The AEG deal came just as Gudinski was reuniting with former partner Michael Chugg, who announced a joint venture in March, bringing their firms together 40 years after forming Frontier Touring in 1979 and then splitting into two companies in 1999.

Eagles manager Irving Azoff said the promoter's death represented the "End of an era" for Aussie music promotion. "He was everything to importing and exporting music in and out of Australia," Azoff told Billboard. "My heart goes out to Sue and the family. He was one of the greatest promoters that ever lived.”

The latest jaunt under the Frontier Touring banner, Midnight Oil’s Makarrata Live Tour, kicked off Sunday (Feb. 28) at Mount Cotton in Queensland.

With the pandemic bringing a halt to touring in 2020, Gudinski found a way to keep the music playing. MG spearheaded the small screen properties From The Home Front, The Sound and The State Of Music.

“This is not about my labels,” Gudinski told Billboard in an interview last year. “This is about Australian music.”

And on the pandemic that threatened to take down the live industry, Gudinski mused, “I’ve learned you’ve got to turn something negative into something positive.”

Gudinski achieved almost everything in his extraordinary life and career, including a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) medal in 2006 for services to the entertainment industry and a Melbourne Cup win. With his passing, Gudinski misses out the one thing he quietly coveted: a U.S. No. 1.

Gudinski leaves behind his wife Sue, son Matt and partner Cara, daughter Kate and husband Andrew and their children Nina-Rose and Lulu, and upwards of 200 Mushroom Group staff, who he often referred to as “family.”

“Michael was one of the last true colorful characters in our industry. He was always full of energy [and] optimism, all with an intense passion for live music," says Rob Light, CAA's head of music. "He was one of the great promoters, whose productions were events. He touched every aspect of the music industry, and all with great success. And if you ever found yourself in Australia, there were no better hosts to show you an amazing time than Michael and his wife Sue."

Dave Brooks contributed to this story.