It’s been one year since I wrote a piece for Music Business Worldwide about being fired on maternity leave (twice). That was in the early days of the pandemic when we spoke eagerly about “rebuilding” and were influenced by the huge social re-awakening happening globally.
Our enthusiasm for a new start was high and as an industry we tried to unify for what was going to be our greatest comeback. We knew it would be long, but I don’t think we really understood that we would need to keep this energy up for a full year and through it, facing the massive and slow moving change that is unfolding in front of us.
It was midway through this first pandemic year when I decided to come back to Australia from Los Angeles. It was clear that my family needed to take refuge, to live a life fuller than staying within four walls for the next nine months, but I returned with a sharper focus than I expected.
After ten years of managing artists internationally I felt disillusioned with the lack of substantial progress you can see in the US music industry. The industry mirrors the country; individualist, slow to evolve, and lacking in real group interest to find a better way to do things. I saw the Australian industry as more flexible and ready for change. I wasn’t wrong.
I still choose to see the industry that gave me my first years of training as one of a few which can be nimble enough to sprint through the hurdles we’re seeing on a global scale and benefit from the depth of talent we’ve developed (and those making their way back home). The hierarchical systems of celebrity and power feel less pronounced here than in markets which thrive on only lifting up a few. This puts us in a unique place for positive adaptation and I felt this opportunity to direct my energy back to where it could be felt was important.
But now reality is beginning to present itself more clearly. Our attempts to ‘get back to normal’ are being obstructed from all sides. The ever changing border closures, the end of Jobkeeper for arts workers still without work, the huge cultural gulf left by Michael Gudinski, the disproportionate cancellation of Bluesfest. What more can we take?
The answer, and I suppose the real reason for writing this, is a lot more. We can and will take a lot more shit to get back to where we were. But even then, is that where we want to be? In our collective minds, with the change we’ve seen this past year, what are we trying to get back to?
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We’ve seen and heard enough to know that the scale of problems in our community is not just our lack of importance to government. It’s the seedy way the industry has been built, and what we have tolerated, which is holding us all back. If recent senior executive departures are any indication there is a reckoning taking place within our walls.
It isn’t just our historic acceptance of rampant sexual harassment, unacceptable behaviour and senior executive gender inequality which we need to leave behind. From our lack of progression in more equitable artist contracts to the outrageous expectations around work/life balance, we have created our own environments.
As you start again, re-hire staff, sign a new artist – think about what your ideal version of the industry looks like. Question WHY “it’s always been done like that”, and try to find a better way. Update the language in your inclusion riders to support First Nations artists.
Provide resources for mental health support in your day sheets. Find a female sound engineer. Employ a pregnant person. This is a call – again – to look at what we had and to want BETTER. To ask for more. To find your place, but find one for someone else too. Someone who was missing out.
Make your choices consciously and bravely, the world is changing with us and the decisions we make now will as always, influence culture at a large.
There’s no one saviour in our story. We can hold our mentors up, rely on them, ask them to guide us – but none of us have the answers. This rule book is being written anew and the voices in it have to be different. Fairness isn’t something we create, it’s something we demand.