Meet Michael Gudinski, the man behind Aussie music

Living Well | Interview: Peter Wilmoth | Photos: Matt Harvey | Posted on 11 February 2020

From Jimmy Barnes to Kylie Minogue, Mushroom music founder Michael Gudisnki is the man behind some of Australia’s biggest artists.

I never played music. I’m not a frustrated pop star but I’ve always had a feel for it. You stay enthused because, you know what – there are people who are surgeons, firefighters… I’m very lucky to have the life I have.

I didn’t finish high school. I was promoting rock dances, putting up posters around town. I’ve been fortunate to find a job that I love and achieve what I’ve achieved. I’ve always had that principle – if you’re a plumber and love your job you’ll be a better plumber and a better person. It doesn’t matter what you do.

Michael Gudinski
Michael Gudinski
Michael Gudinski


I started Mushroom when I was 20.
It was a different era then. I never really had a long-term vision. I just roll with the flow, but I had a dream. (Former prime minister) Paul Keating said to me once, ‘I managed bands in the ’60s. You were in the right era. I couldn’t make a quid.’ He was a great inspiration to me.

Credibility is the most important thing you can have. When we started it was a very fly-by-night, backyard business. Australian fashion, Australian music and Australian cars were all second to the imports. To see music and fashion change that… if I’ve had a bit to do with that it makes me feel good.

I made a conscious decision to stay here in Melbourne. I could have been more successful if I’d moved to America or England, but I had such a special feeling about this town. I am quite humbled at being spoken of these days as having shaped the city in some way – and humble is not a word people generally associate with me.

We don’t have the Harbour Bridge or the Opera House but Melbourne has always had a much better layout for music. There were so many small venues that were the university for people like Paul Kelly. In that pub circuit you had to be a good live band to get to a certain point. Melbourne encouraged that. And then there’s venues like the MCG, Rod Laver Arena, Myer Music Bowl and the Forum in Flinders Street. These are some of the best venues anywhere in the world. It bothers me that a lot of Melburnians take that for granted.

Melbourne was the right place for the Australian Music Vault (a celebration of the Australian contemporary music story at the Arts Centre) of which I’m a patron. As we worked on it I said to (Premier) Daniel Andrews, ‘Whatever we do, it has to be free to get in’. I didn’t want anyone to look at it as a business. I felt it had to be in Melbourne and I worked tirelessly for it. Music is everywhere, so many different styles here. The love of music is so widespread.

I’ve been fortunate to find a job that I love and achieve what I’ve achieved.

Molly (Meldrum) and I have always been very close. I’m proud to say that through all the fights, all the drama, having a label together (Melodian Records was an offshoot of Mushroom) we are still friends. Molly has done more than anyone else to make this city the live music capital of the southern hemisphere.

Great artists take time to develop. If you look at the top 10 singles chart, half of those acts couldn’t fill the Corner Hotel (in Richmond). Kylie Minogue signed with me when she was 18. She’s now 51 and she’s still going strong. I’ve never raised my voice to Kylie. She’s family and a true superstar.

I never liked Jimmy (Barnes) screaming. I managed him for a long time. He’s over 60 now. He had such a great voice but I remember many years ago when we were flying high, I said ‘Jimmy, if we last the distance, how’s your voice going to be when you’re 60 or 70?’ And he looked at me and said, ‘You know James Brown? His voice got better and so will mine’. I never forgot that and his latest album My Criminal Record proves it.

I still go out to a lot of gigs and I’m older than the parents of half the acts I sign. I’m usually the oldest person in the room.

Every day to me is a winner. I’m lucky to have the life I have. You don’t know how long you’re going to be around but it’s good to know that my son and daughter (Matt and Kate Alexa) will continue the Gudinski name at Mushroom Group. But I’m certainly not going to put my feet up. I’m going to keep an eye on the legacy.”

Find the Australian Music Vault, incorporating the ARIA Hall of Fame, at the Arts Centre Melbourne. australianmusicvault.com.au.
 

Skyhooks cover

Flashback: Growing Mushroom

The year was 1972. The Brady Bunch was on TV, Gough Whitlam was telling Australian voters “It’s Time”, and in a paddock north-west of Melbourne a precocious teenager named Michael Gudinski was selling watermelon to the long-haired masses who had descended for the first Sunbury Pop Festival – Australia’s answer to Woodstock.

By the time Sunbury 1973 rolled around the following January, Michael was not only managing several bands on the bill, he had also struck a deal to record and release a triple live album of the festival on his fledgling Mushroom Records label.

Despite the success of that Sunbury 1973 Live album, Mushroom teetered close to bankruptcy in its first couple of years, but its fate was set when it signed a young Melbourne band with an outrageous stage presence and a clutch of clever songs about life in the suburbs. Skyhooks’ debut album, Living in the ’70s, released in early 1975, became the top-selling Australian LP to date and propelled Mushroom to the forefront of Australian music.

The label would dominate our music scene for two decades, with a roster that included Split Enz, Kylie Minogue and Paul Kelly. Although he sold the record label to News Corp in the ’90s, Michael retained the Mushroom name and remains a force in music publishing, promoting and touring.