The Australian music industry’s proverbial head exploded today when news broke that Secret Sounds — the company behind Australia’s biggest festivals Splendour In The Grass and Falls — had sold its controlling stake to US giants Live Nation.
The Secret Sounds crew have rushed to reassure concerned punters that it’s still “business as usual” at both fests, telling Music Feeds: “Nothing will change with Splendour in the Grass and Falls”.
“Our ethos and concepts will remain as they always have – to bring the best artists and experiences from around Australia and overseas to our events,” Secret Sounds CEOs Jessica Ducrou and Paul Piticco promise.
“We’ve had multiple investors over the years and we are thrilled to welcome Live Nation on board who understand the music business completely. We’re really excited about the future.”
But some others in the Aussie music industry aren’t quite so pumped:
— AJ (@iamnotshouting) December 5, 2016
Speaking with Music Feeds, former Soundwave top dog AJ Maddah — who witnessed the collapse of one of Australia’s biggest international festivals (and we’re talking about the Big Day Out here, not Soundwave) first-hand after an American festival promoter, C3 Presents, took the reigns — reckons that we’re likely to see Splendour & Falls get slightly more expensive.
“It has been coming for a good 6 months despite all the protestations to the contrary by all involved,” Maddah says of Secret Sounds’ new ownership deal with Live Nation.
“The European experience with most of the festival takeovers by LN has been quite good overall. Sure there tends to be a higher level of squeezing additional dollars out of the festival experience than what independent operators would; but by and large they have managed to maintain the character and quality of events which is great.”
So the effect on punters should be minimal. However, the SW boss also reckons the move could end up hurting local bands, promoters and suppliers.
“The main effect on the industry will be the eventual centralisation of artist booking rather than the Falls/Splendour model of taking artists from other promoters. This may be a serious blow to the independent promoters who have enjoyed the patronage of The Falls & Splendour for many years,” he warns.
“There will also be an eventual squeeze on local suppliers whose business will depend more and more on LN who can use their economies of scale and leverage to dictate prices and force discounts.
“Last but not least, we can expect to see the ticketing switch to LN owned Ticketmaster, who are slowly but surely dominating the Australian market.”
While Maddah is offering plenty of predictions about what could potentially change in the industry going forward as a direct result of this new deal, others seem to be nursing nothing but questions.
Damian Costin, Director at Melbourne’s 123 Agency (which books a stack of top local artists like Harts, Trophy Eyes, The Delta Riggs, Kingswood and Stonefield) says he’d be interested to know what the artists think “about being represented by such a huge organisation”.
“It will definitely affect how artists get remunerated in the future that is for certain,” he tells Music Feeds. “Globalisation is alive and well in Australia for sure!”
Offering a completely different take, Narara and Wollombi Music Festival head honcho Adrian Buckley reckons the move could end up having a positive impact on other local festivals and events.
He predicts that Live Nation’s new ownership could send both Falls & Splendour in a more “mainstream” musical direction, meaning pressure would be amped on national youth broadcaster triple j to redistribute much of the free promo it usually reserves for both giant sell-out festivals to other, smaller local events.
“It’ll be interesting to see the direction that the festivals go,” the renowned straight-talker tells Music Feeds. “Potentially [Splendour & Falls] could get a little bit more mainstream-ish in a way, that’s what I think.
“The real issue for me — and I think it really needs to be addressed — is that these festivals are massively successful, that’s the reason that Live Nation have bought in to them, because they see it as a fantastic financial investment… To say that they’re going to push these festivals to be better and bigger?
“That’s a bit of bullshit to be perfectly honest,” he continues. “It’s money, they’ll be getting paid. [Secret Sounds] will be getting millions and millions of bucks to sell their stake in those events, because Live Nation believe that they’re financially worth the investment, it’s worth a lot of money.
“But my perspective on that is: these events have gotten to the place where they’ve got to because of incredible largesse from the public via triple J. Now that they’re 51% owned by an overseas company, what does that mean about that kind of level of coverage? That’s the question that I’m most interested in.
“You’re an Australian taxpayer-funded radio station, you’re giving these guys free coverage that’s worth hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars. Maybe it’s time to look at the coverage you’re giving events like that and start to spread it out? They’re gonna have to move away from it, because it kind of goes against the charter of what triple j’s meant to be about.”
Buckley, who’s been openly critical of what he views as triple j’s lack of support for certain Aussie festivals in the past, reckons that a redistribution of triple j support for other local events would help more to thrive and grow bigger.
“I’ve never criticised Splendour In The Grass or Falls Festival,” he clarifies. “Hats off to them… But if triple j divest some of their energy supporting what are clearly incredibly financially successful events into helping other events become more secure and stable — because that’s the big issue that faces all small to medium-sized events is actually being financially viable.”
Live Nation is yet to respond to Music Feeds‘ request for comment.
Naturally, only time will tell whether any of these predictions come to fruition. To quote a truthbomb dropped on us by 123’s Damian Costin, “The only consistent thing in the music business is change.” Hopefully, this new deal will lead to some positive ones.
While we wait and see, you can catch the full lineup and ticketing details for this Summer’s Falls Festival here.
UPDATE 06/12/16: Splendour & Falls organiser Jess Ducrou has denied that the sell-off will result in “more commercial” lineups.
Gallery: Best Of Splendour In The Grass 2016 – Day 2 / Photos: Maria Boyadgis