The simultaneous Sound Relief fundraisers in Melbourne and Sydney worthily raised millions to assist the Victorian bushfires and Queensland floods, and took many of us for a stroll back down memory lane.
Call me cynical, but in among all that hype about the selfless sacrifices being made by the artists in donating their time and talent, it’s not as if they still don’t get some financial return or career rub off beyond rightly having their reputations enhanced for participating. The music business is always quick to respond to worthy causes. Not only can it make a very significant and fairly immediate contribution, the whole exercise becomes a giant piece of marketing for all concerned. Reformations are no bad thing as the Oils, Hunters and Collectors and Icehouse confirmed (Split Enz have not aged well); but the most unlikely revival came courtesy of Coldplay’s royal invitation to John Farnham.
Obviously chuffed to be “the voice” in their unlikely collaboration and fresh from the farm where’s he been grazing in a good paddock, watching “Farnsey” had you worried whether he could get through the Coldplay endorsed “national anthem” before stroking out. But the crowd ate it up and now we get to learn that off the back of the euphoria of his Sydney Cricket Ground “comeback” his record company has spun into action, looking forward to releasing a new studio album later in the year — no doubt in synch with that latest comeback national tour he’ll also be undertaking. There’s even talk he might approach Coldplay about donating a song to his recording — and why wouldn’t you?
While estimates put the concert receipts at $10 million, with $5 million touted as the likely dividend to the two states relief funds, and the two driving forces Michael Gudinski and Michael Chugg created a high water mark in this kind of musical event in Australia, let’s hope the event generated more than a 50% return on income. I think they managed to put on a similar scale Wave Aid benefit concert in Sydney that saw the previous Oils reunion for about $600,000, and this Sydney event looked little different. At least it won’t follow in the footprints of a controversial charity concert in Sydney featuring INXS in the 1990s as bill toppers, where it was claimed after all expenses were deducted, that it actually made no money.
Sound Relief is testament to the best of what’s great about the generosity of the music industry, but the pious beating of do-gooder breasts should also acknowledge there’s some financial reward for many of the big boys involved. For a start, there’s going to be a significant sales spike in back catalogue for all the artists. Farnham is already on his way.
Then there’s also the concert DVD and CD offering more exposure, with hopefully all proceeds after break even costs also being tipped in. I remember questioning record labels about their frequent release of charity CDs and DVDs in the early 1990s after the industry cottoned on to charity records as marketing and revenue opportunities. There was good money to be made and a unique way for artists to be exposed. These releases invariably came with “proceeds from this recording will be” blah, blah, blah! Of course, there was no figure explicitly stated; and only part of the proceeds found their way to charity.
Unless you have the Sound Relief “all proceeds” caveat, the music business is making money out of charity. Money raised is naturally welcome; but when it’s presented as something other than what it really is, then it’s not driven by pure altruism. It’s a calculated money-making marketing exercise with participants working together as professional fundraiser.
There’s no shortage of stories these days as to the deft commercial exploitation by Saint Bob Geldoff, who’s built a lucrative career around his original brilliant idea to put together the Live Aid Christmas single and all that flowed from that. At the time when Geldoff’s career was in the toilet, surrounding yourself with stellar talent to do a charity single is as good a career move as you can make when your band is dying.
It doesn’t mean his original motive in being stirred by the plight of a starving Ethiopia wasn’t sincere — but just like the business that gave him his start in life, he surely wasn’t neglectful of the possibilities any success would have on his future.