Five years is a long time in the music industry. For the Asia Pacific touring business, it’s enough time to witness a lifetime of change.
Brett Murrihy has seen it all from up close. The Australian-born WME executive has a front row seat in his role as head of Asia Pacific for music.
Murrihy was affectionately known as the “super agent” in his homeland, a moniker picked up during his days as senior booking agent with Premier Harbour Agency in Sydney, and then in 2010 when he co-founded Artist Voice with Matt Gudinski, managing director of the Melbourne-based Illusive Entertainment, through a joint venture with Michael Gudinski’s Mushroom Group.
In 2015, William Morris Endeavour acquired Artist Voice in a deal that saw Murrihy join the powerhouse U.S.-based talent and media agency, and take on duties for expanding and managing its presence in the music space throughout the region.
Today, its clients include Dua Lipa, Lizzo, Nine Inch Nails and chart-leading newcomers Olivia Rodrigo, 24kGoldn and The Kid Laroi. To date, WME is the only global agency representing the Asia Pacific market.
The pandemic has called a halt to pan-Asian touring, for the time being. Murrihy, however, anticipates the region’s touring circuit will open-up once vaccinations roll out, with Australia and New Zealand positioned to emerge earlier than its neighbors.
Billboard caught up with Murrihy for a glimpse at the Pan Pacific live business of 2021 and where it’s heading.
Billboard: Congrats on those five years overseeing Asia Pacific. How did the business grow in those years before COVID changed everything?
Brett Murrihy: Thank you. We have continued to build on our global strengths, but with an Asian focus. Our Asia Pacific reach and infrastructure has enabled us to expand exponentially.
The Sydney office alone has over 100 staff currently, along with offices in Melbourne and Townsville, and with further Endeavor offices in Asia (Bangkok, Beijing, Gurgaon, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Mumbai, Seoul, Shanghai, Singapore, Taipei, Tokyo, Taipei, Seoul) representing various verticals across the Company, including talent representation, marketing and licensing, content development, content distribution and sales, fashion, film and television, literary, digital, event management, and sports.
The music team in our Sydney Office represents 48 countries in Asia, making it the only global agency in the territory. Our clients are leading artists ranging from Dua Lipa, Lizzo and Nine Inch Nails to Hugh Jackman and The Killers, along with current chart toppers Olivia Rodrigo, 24kGoldn and The Kid Laroi.
We are also involved, as a company, in initiatives and events in Asia from Beijing Fashion Week to Miss Universe in the Philippines to The Color Run in Hong Kong and Sneaker Con in China.
Your former colleague Marc Geiger literally freaked-out the live music world when he said early on that COVID-19 would pause full-blown touring until 2022. He was on the money. What are your thoughts on when touring will crack open in APAC?
Government discussions are already taking place around travel bubbles between Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea and Japan. Given the state of low infection rates compared to other regions in the world, it is feasible to suggest that the first return internationally for live touring will be Australia/New Zealand.
Vaccinations have already commenced rollout in many regions in Asia including Indonesia, Singapore, China, Hong Kong, India with Australia and New Zealand to commence shortly.
After this, we hope to begin international touring in Q4 2021. This highly anticipated return will see international artists prioritize the Australia and Asia Pacific markets as the destination of choice.
This is similar to the many Hollywood stars currently undertaking film and televisions projects in Australia. Those artists that commit and announce early will be the beneficiaries of the pent-up demand and the safer health environment.
You came into the role with deep experience in live music here in Australia. Asia is something else. How so? What has surprised you about the regional touring circuit in those five years or so years? And what are some of the lessons you’ve learned.
Touring in Asia in the last five years has completely changed with the increasing emergence of global promoting powerhouses and major independent promotors investing heavily into the region.
The rise of streaming has also changed the way music is consumed and discovered which leads to a heightened awareness of Western artists in Asia and the promotion of Asian artists to the West.
Our APAC business is heavily based around trust, relationships, and respect.
This is not something that happens overnight; it is ever-evolving. These parameters couldn’t grow without physical proximity, investing and attention towards building a long-term touring market. I feel the need to specifically cultivate and maintain these relationships with clients with a hands-on approach. For me personally, learning Mandarin over the past 18 months is a part of the cultural integration as well a mark of respect for the importance of the China market for the future of our artists and their careers.
Ten years ago, there was a sense within the live music community that a lack of high quality venues was a sticking point. Is it still?
While Asia continues to work on its venue infrastructure the introduction of high quality venues is changing. In the last ten years, we have seen the construction of Coca-Cola Arena, Dubai, EM Live and Bangkok Arena; Mercedes-Benz Arena, Shanghai; the National Stadium in Singapore and the to-be-completed Seoul Metropolitan Arena. Japan National Stadium, opened in December 2019, and seats up to 80,000. And the 15,000-capacity Ariake Arena in Tokyo will be appropriated for events after the 2021 Olympics.
The development of A-class nightclub circuits throughout China has provided DJs with the infrastructure to tour and build into secondary and tertiary markets that western artists would never have played ten years ago. All examples are world-class and welcome additions to the territory.
In 2019 we saw India and Singapore open up by hosting U2 stadium shows, produced by Live Nation, and China’s live market has taken strides. Were there any specific watershed moments, or shows that pushed the business forward?
India is on target to become a new economic superpower. Witnessing this first-hand in Mumbai in late 2019 when the city hosted stadium shows at Patil Stadium for Dua Lipa/Katy Perry and U2 was electrifying.
It was evident that the streaming, online ticketing, festivals, brand placements and infrastructure aligned successfully so that the country was able to host tours of this magnitude, successfully capitalizing on renewed interest in artists from outside of Asia and creating more touring options.
China is also at the forefront with the Beijing Municipal government disclosing plans to place Beijing as an “international music capital”, projecting that revenue from the music and related industries to reach ¥120 billion (US$17.2bn) by 2025.
This proposal allows for Beijing to build more small-sized live music venues (1,000 capacity) to offer artists better copyright protections and increase development of the digital music industry. It’s an exciting innovation for Chinese music and it represents significant new opportunities for our artists.