“When I write obituaries, I try to inject a bit of poetry,” rock historian Glenn A. Baker tells me, his voice wavering.
Glenn is often called on to eulogise rock’s departed, but this one is particularly personal – his old friend Michael Gudinski.
“There’s so much to work on with dear Michael,” he says. “Who was a friend of mine for almost 50 years.
“He was the friend of a great many, many, many people.”
His huge contribution to the music industry aside, Gudinski was a key figure in getting Australian bands back on track during the pandemic, and Baker’s observation about his networking talent mirrors a wider industry concern over the fate of music in this country.
Baker lists several dozen artists who were nurtured by Gudinski, many of whom hit the number one spot.
“Artists have done phenomenally well out of Michael Gudinski’s largess, his ability to be there for them,” Baker says, citing the success of Jimmy Barnes and Kylie Minogue.
But it is his work in the last year that has often bailed out the music industry in a time of strife.
“The thing he was working on before he died was a series of concerts with the Victorian State Government, to actually reignite the music industries and give musicians work… they’ve been doing it unbelievably hard this past year,” adds Baker.
The State of Music initiative began last May, with six live-streamed episodes of exclusive performances and interviews. Gudinski teamed with the Victorian Government again this year to deliver 2021 Sounds Better Together, promoting live music across regional Australia.
“I think he thought he had a responsibility to see that this community of people, of which he was the head… had a future, that they could actually be encouraged,” Baker says.
There were already questions about the extent of the government’s financial support for the music industry, and whether it was enough.
Despite widespread unemployment in the arts and entertainment sector during the pandemic, the 2020-21 Federal Government budget gave only $898 million to the arts, with an anticipated fall to $714.3 million across 2021-22. In addition many musicians missed out on JobKeeper because of their freelance status. Meanwhile, over the same period businesses across Australia were propped up with some $100 billion in JobKeeper stimulus.
I Lost My Gig, which was set-up in response to the pandemic-led recession, estimates the lockdown and safe distancing rules have cost Australian musicians a collective $345 million throughout COVID-19. Across February to August last year an estimated 26,000 industry jobs were lost. Ticketek Australia announced over 100 cancelled music events in 2020.
Former Operations and Events Manager of Glebe’s Bed Bar, Miguel Hernandez, says his business had to adopt a rotation cycle for concerts and trust that bands would be willing to participate.
“It was a big battle to try and keep live music venues up and running during COVID-19,” Hernandez, a guitarist, says.
He believes there should be improved government support for bands and venues that adhere to COVID-safe requirements.
“There should be an incentive for this, because as soon as we go back to normality, a lot of people are going to need entertainment. It’s been a really dire situation for everyone… we’re gonna need music, we’re gonna need arts.
“If there was some kind of [government] recognition… some kind of plan, that would be beautiful,” Hernandez says.
And it was Gudinski who seemed to realise this raw need for music during one of the industry’s most testing times.
Tenacious for his cause, Baker laughs: “A lunatic, a mad crazy bastard.”
And one Australia was very grateful for.
Main image, top. An image of the late music industry impresario Michael Gudinski looks out from among of sea of street posters in Marrickville. (Photo: Martin Newman).