Michael McMartin, Celebrated Artist Manager, Dies at 79

Michael McMartin, the Canada-born entrepreneur who settled in Australia, where he established the framework for a professional music management community and guided the Hoodoo Gurus for four decades, died Sunday (March 31) following a lengthy illness. He was 79.

“Michael had been undergoing treatment for cancer for a number of years but, despite the best efforts of his medical team, he succumbed to his illness peacefully around noon on Easter Sunday, surrounded by his beloved family,” reads a statement from the McMartin family.

Born on Vancouver Island on March 12, 1945, McMartin completed his BA (Political Science) at Loyola College in Montreal. He relocated to Australia in 1971, and, several years later, joined forces with producer Charles Fisher to form Trafalgar Records, the independent recording and publishing enterprise.

In 1985, he established Melody Management. His first clients were the Hoodoo Gurus, whom he signed to their first record deal in 1982 and commenced managing three years later, in 1985. It was a relationship that would see the Gurus enter the ARIA Hall of Fame, in 2009, and would last until McMartin announced in February of this year that he would be stepping down from that role due to ill health.

“I really can’t find the words to express my feelings at this time but respect, love and gratitude would be among them,” he wrote in a message distributed Feb. 22, announcing his decision to hand over Gurus duties to Mick Mazzone of Mighty Management. “Thanks to the Hoodoo Gurus I have lived a life that I only otherwise could have dreamt of.”

McMartin was a founding member of the Music Managers’ Forum in Australia, he served as chairman and then executive director of the International Music Managers’ Forum (IMMF), the umbrella organization for managers from some 24 countries which has NGO status at WIPO, the United Nations agency dealing with worldwide copyright issues, and was, for 19 years, a board member of Support Act, the music industry benevolent charity.

The much-loved artist manager received the APRA Ted Albert Award for his lifetime contribution to Australian Music in 2007, one of the Australian music community’s highest honors, and in 2015 he was awarded the Medal of the Order Of Australia (OAM) for “services to the performing arts, especially music.”

He’s the reigning legacy award recipient at the AAM Awards, presented last year in Sydney.

John Watson was on hand to present McMartin, his mentor, with the special honor. “When someone passes it’s easy to list what they did but it’s much harder to explain how they did it. In an era where far too many men acted badly, Michael proved that nice guys don’t have to finish last,” Watson writes in a statement to Billboard. “He was an unbelievably kind mentor to hundreds of people, including me, and his political advocacy for the industry as a whole – and managers in particular – was an inspiration across decades. Without him there would not be an AAM and Support Act would be nowhere near the force that it has become.”

Colin Hay, former frontman of Men At Work, remembers McMartin for his kindness. “After I was dropped by MCA Records in 1991, I was unsure of what to do next. I knew Michael McMartin a little. He said to me one day, ‘why don’t you just make an acoustic album, and I’ll release it.’” That happened, and the pair became friends. “Friends that could tell each other the truth. He told me one day that I was wallowing in self pity, and that I could be a much better person. He was right. He helped me whenever I asked, even when I didn’t,” explains Hay. McMartin was “a rarity among men,” someone who “believes in making the industry that we inhabit a better place for all, a place that fosters creative endeavor, instead of the all too often obstacle course that this here music industry can be.”

McMartin “left an indelible mark on the Australian music industry, and his loss is acutely felt within our management community which he supported and uplifted so generously,” reads a statement from the Association of Artists Managers. In recent years, the AAM points out, McMartin “formalized his desire to lift up developing managers” by spearheading the Patron’s Gift; a fund that would enable opportunities to bring in diverse communities, POC and First Nations emerging managers.

McMartin is survived by his wife, Saskia, and his son, Hamish and his extended family, including Michael’s two grandchildren, Kiara and Koby.

A private family funeral held in the coming days and, a little later, an announcement of a public gathering to be held in Sydney to celebrate the late music man’s life and legacy, with friends and music industry acquaintances invited.

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