Michael Gudinski

Music was in Michael Gudinski’s blood. Often referred to by those in the know as the Godfather of Aussie music, he is widely recognised in his life as the most powerful and influential figure in the Australian music industry. As Chairman of the Mushroom Group – the largest independent music and entertainment company in Australia and New Zealand, home to Frontier Touring, Chugg Entertainment, eight record labels and over two dozen other specialist divisions – Gudinski’s clout was undeniable. Born and raised in Melbourne, Gudinski’s multi-faceted business and proud advocacy for artists created an empire. His passion for music was legendary. Voted #1 in The Music’s ‘Power 50’ list in 2020, it was his fifth time at the top spot since its inception in 2012… All this, despite not being able to play a single note – music legend Jimmy Barnes once telling his friend to “not even sing in the shower”.

Born 22 August 1952 to Russian immigrant parents, Michael Solomon Gudinski got his first taste of the entrepreneurial life at seven-years-old, charging Caulfield Cup race goers for parking in a vacant block next to his house. At 15, he was organising dances and earning $500 a week, with bands showing up on his parents’ doorstep for payment. Booking acts like The Aztecs and Chain (who he also managed), Gudinski dropped out of his final year of high school and established his first booking agency, Consolidated Rock, in 1970.

1972 would be a pivotal year. Aged 20, with a new business partner in Ray Evans, Gudinski booked a major musical coup: the inaugural Sunbury Festival. Over 35,000 fans paid $6 for a three-day ticket. Spying more opportunity, Gudinski also managed the event’s watermelon stand… which he did up until 1975, when torrential rain left him with thousands of melons to dispose of.

His first international tour as promoter also came in 1972: John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers. “It was the most money I’d ever made in one night in my life,” he later told a biographer.

May 1972 would see Gudinski make his biggest move: the announcement of a new independent record label, Mushroom Records. Based in Wellington Street St Kilda, Mushroom was a ‘360º company’ decades before the industry term was common. Mushroom Records would become the largest independent label ever in Australia’s music history. 1973 saw a complementary sister company form in Mushroom Music Publishing, which remains the most successful independent music publisher in Australasia today.

Mushroom Records scored big in 1975 when one of Gudinski’s management clients, Skyhooks, released their debut album, Living In The 70’s. It was the biggest-selling local album ever released up to that point, spending 16 weeks at #1 and selling over 240,000 copies.

Not long after, Gudinski struck gold again with the signing of New Zealand expatriates Split Enz; their 1980 album True Colours and the hit single ‘I Got You’ were huge successes. Jimmy Barnes celebrated countless #1 solo albums, starting with 1984’s debut Bodyswerve. The artists released on Mushroom Records reads like a who’s who of Australia’s finest talents: Kylie Minogue, Archie Roach, Hunters & Collectors, Paul Kelly, The Angels, Yothu Yindi, and many, many more.

In 1973, Mushroom also became home to what is currently Australia’s most accomplished booking agency for domestic acts: Melbourne based Premier Artists. Sydney’s The Harbour Agency came under the Mushroom fold five years later. In 1979, Gudinski would launch a new international tour promotion arm that would change the game.

Frontier Touring is the most respected, long standing, and proactive concert promoter in Australia and New Zealand. In Pollstar’s Q1 2020 report, Frontier ranked at No. 5 globally, shifting 900,000+ tickets in a mere four months. A year earlier, thanks to the inclusion of a record-breaking run with Ed Sheeran, the company sold a whopping 2.7+ million tickets – 440 shows in 12 months. For over 40 years Gudinski’s Frontier Touring has delivered the world’s biggest acts down under: Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Liza Minnelli, The Rolling Stones, Madonna, Bruce Springsteen, Guns N’ Roses, Taylor Swift, Paul McCartney, Foo Fighters, Leonard Cohen, Kylie Minogue, Justin Beiber, The Killers, Billy Joel and countless more.

After establishing a Mushroom UK office and new label Infectious Records – which enjoyed global success with signings such as Ash, Muse, Peter Andre, Garbage (four Grammy nominations) and Kylie Minogue’s stratospheric rise – Gudinski would go on to first sell a share of Mushroom Records to Rupert Murdoch’s News Limited Group in 1993.

Gudinski sold his remaining stake in the label to Murdoch five years later, in 1998 – but retained the ‘Mushroom Group’ name. That sale coincided with the label’s 25th Anniversary, which was celebrated with a spectacular concert at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Over 75,000 people caught 60+ artists across nine hours, the concert broadcast on TV and raising $150,000 for Melbourne’s Royal Children’s Hospital.

Today, the Mushroom Group contains an enviable roster of current labels which continue to showcase Gudinski’s enormous enthusiasm for the artists he championed: Vance Joy, The Temper Trap, Dan Sultan, Julia Jacklin (Liberation Music); Jimmy Barnes, Archie Roach, Mark Seymour (Bloodlines); Faith No More, Childish Gambino, CHVRCHES (Liberator); The Rubens, The Teskey Brothers, Alpine (Ivy League Records); Violent Soho, DMA’S, Jack River (I OH YOU) and many more.

Gudinski’s wide-ranging businesses don’t stop with music. There’s Mushroom Pictures, co-founded in 1993, which co-produced feature films such as Chopper, Wolf Creek and Gettin’ Square, plus hit TV productions (“Molly”, “Head First”).

He was also the founding patron of the Australian Music Vault (a free and innovative permanent exhibition celebrating the story of Australian contemporary music) – launched in 2017 in partnership with ARIA, the Victorian Government and located in Arts Centre Melbourne. He is a two-time winner of the prestigious Melbourne Cup horse race, as co-owner of 2016 champion Almandin and 2017 winner Rekindling.

Further cementing the Mushroom Group’s power, in 2019 Gudinski oversaw a joint venture with Chugg Entertainment – reuniting him with former Frontier Touring partner Michael Chugg, the pair having first worked together 40 years previously. In April of the same year, he signed a key partnership with US giant AEG Presents, one of the world’s leading music and sports entertainment companies and the face of Coachella and London’s Hyde Park summer series.

On Anzac Day 2020, Gudinski delivered the most unique televised concert ever screened on Australian television – Music From The Home Front. The concert – created as a response to the global COVID-19 pandemic crisis and as a tribute to frontline workers – featured performances by over 50 of Australia and New Zealand’s most iconic musicians, filmed in isolation. It was the #1 most-watched show on television and reached over two million Australian viewers across two screenings. In June, the accompanying compilation album debuted at #1 on the ARIA Album Charts, with 100% of proceeds going to music industry charity Support Act.

Gudinski also teamed up with the Victorian Government in 2020 to create The State Of Music, a six-part initiative featuring exclusive performances filmed in iconic Melbourne locations, including the Melbourne Cricket Ground, National Gallery of Victoria and State Library. Designed to celebrate Australia’s rich musical talent while encouraging viewers to stay at home during lockdown, it reached a combined audience of two million viewers, from Australia and beyond.

In July 2020, with Gudinski at the helm Mushroom Vision launched the acclaimed music TV series The Sound, screening weekly each Sunday night on ABC and iview. Across 14 episodes and two seasons, The Sound showcased 165 artists filmed at 149 locations for 97 live performances; and included the biggest and best names in Australian music, bringing them to free-to-air TV each week, nationwide. Critics and fans were unanimous: The Sound was a hit, music site Junkee, “The Sound is carving out something entirely new, and completely breathtaking.”

Michael Gudinski worked with enormous enthusiasm across all facets of his companies and was frequently seen trekking from pub gigs to arena and stadium spectaculars in Australia and abroad, looking for the next big thing to promote – be it through his record labels, touring companies, agencies or publishing arm.

Sadly, Michael Solomon Gudinski passed away peacefully in his sleep at home at age 68, on 02 March 2021.

Personal Awards

1992 – ARIA Lifetime Achievement Award and inducted into the ARIA Hall Of Fame

1998 – Ted Albert Award for Outstanding Services to Australian Music, APRA (Australian Performing Rights Association) Awards

1999 – Sir Charles McGrath Australian Marketer of the Year Award, AMI (Australian Marketing Institute

2003 – ILMC Bottle Award, International Live Music Conference, UK. (Equivalent to a lifetime achievement award.)

2006 – Gudinski awarded Member of the Order of Australia medal (AM) for service to the entertainment industry through the promotion of Australian music recording artists, as an advocate for young people in the music industry, and to the community.

2006 – named Ernst & Young Southern Region Entrepreneur Of The Year; included in ‘100 Most Influential Australians’ by The Bulletin

2009 – JC Williamson Award, Helpmann Awards, foremost honour that the Australian live entertainment industry can bestow

2009 – listed in The Age Melbourne Magazine’s 2009 Top 100 for his work on the Sound Relief benefit concerts which raised more than $8 million for victims of bushfire and floods

2010 – invited to be keynote speaker at 44th annual industry conference MIDEM in Cannes, FR

2010 – keynote speaker at annual industry conference Bigsound, QLD

2012 – #1 in ‘AMID Power 50’, a list of the top 50 most influential people in the Australian music industry (now named The Music Power 50)

2012 – awarded ‘Melburnian of the Year’ by the City Of Melbourne

2012 – invited to speak at the prestigious National Film & Sound archive Thomas Rome lecture on the future of the Australian music industry

2012 – Frontier wins Best International Contemporary Concert award at Helpmann Awards with Kylie Minogue tour

2013 – ARIA Industry Icon Award

2013 – presented with ‘Rolling Stone’ from Rolling Stone (Australia).

2013 – presented the GQ award for Lifetime Entrepreneur on behalf of GQ Magazine at their GQ Men Of the Year awards

2013 – inducted into The Age Music Victoria Hall Of Fame for his services to the local music industry

2013 – Frontier wins Best International Contemporary Concert award at Helpmann Awards with Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band tour

2014 – named one of ‘25 Victoria’s Living Treasures’, a tribute to people who have made a special contribution to the state of Victoria

2014 – #1 The Music Power 50 (a list of the top 50 most influential people in the Australian music industry)

2014 – Frontier wins Best International Contemporary Concert award at Helpmann Awards with Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band tour

2014 – honoured in US Billboard’s ‘International Power Players’ list

2015 – #1 The Music Power 50

2015 – Frontier wins Best International Contemporary Concert award at Helpmann Awards with Ed Sheeran tour

2016 – Melbourne Cup winner, as part-owner of Almandin

2017 – Melbourne Cup winner, as part-owner of Rekindling

2018 – Frontier wins Best International Contemporary Concert award at Helpmann Awards with Paul McCartney tour

2019 – #1 The Music Power 50

2019 – added to Australian Music Vault’s ‘Wild Ones’ permanent display

2019 – named as honoree on Billboard’s International Power Players list

2020 – #1 The Music Power 50, his fifth entry at the top