Michael Gudinski, the Australian music pioneer whose Mushroom Group would become the template for independent music companies and who, with his rambunctious, exuberant personality, became the face of his country’s music scene, has died. He was 68.
Gudinski died peacefully in his sleep at his home in Melbourne on Monday night, his passing a shock to everyone connected with 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 with this reporter, Gudinski recounted how, at the age of just seven, Michael flexed his growing entrepreneurial muscles on Caulfield Cup day when he charged racegoers 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, he 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.
The latest jaunt under the Frontier Touring banner, Midnight Oil’s Makarrata Live Tour, kicked off Sunday at Mount Cotton in Queensland.
With the pandemic bringing a halt to touring in 2020, Gudinski found a way to keep the music playing. He spearheaded the online and television concert series Music From The Home Front, The Sound and The State Of Music.
“This is not about my labels,” Gudinski told Billboard in a 2020 interview. “This is about Australian music.”
On the pandemic that threatened to take down the live industry, Gudinski recounted, “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, he misses out on the one thing he quietly coveted: a U.S. No. 1.
He is survived by 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.”
This story first appeared on Billboard.com.