As we enter the new year, it's important to recognise changes in the music industry that impact us all - you have more power than you may think
It’s no secret that almost all heads of Australian music companies are men. There are some brilliant female CEOs and senior executives like Rachel Comerford (Unified), Jessica Ducrou (Secret Sounds) and Jacqui Louez Schoorl (Jaxsta) however when it comes to heads of Australian music business, women are firmly in the minority.
The Australian music industry is most definitely in a boom. New companies are emerging and are quickly becoming extremely influential which means now there is both a new generation of senior executives as well as a long standing old guard who have been leading their legacy companies for decades. Some of the new generation are fantastic operators, some are unfortunately continuing the sins of past eras.
Likewise, some of the old guard have recently been incredibly progressive in changing the way they operate and improving their company culture for the better…..others, not so much.
This puts Australian music professionals at a very unique moment in human history. We aren’t just working with a handful of executives at the top who control everything anymore.
There are more influential companies than ever, which means there are far more senior executives (yes, still all mostly male) who each have very different styles and approaches to running their businesses.
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For the first time ever, the “Dictatorship power” in the Australian music industry does not rest with a handful of older generation executives year after year.
To understand this, we must be clear on the two main types of power at an executive level in our industry;
To best explain Adoption power I’m going to compare it to Bitcoin. For those who don’t know, Bitcoin is intended to be a replacement for the Dollar or any mainstream currency. Fans of Bitcoin (or cryptocurrency) see it as a revolution that will end government recklessness and financial control.
So when considering the most powerful people in the Australian music industry, we need to ask ourselves, do they have dictatorship or adoption power? Once upon a time, it was definitely dictatorship. The space between fans and artists was enormous, so managers and artists needed high level executives at music companies to have any success.
This meant that whatever these execs wanted, they got. Don’t like it? Well that’s when phrases like “I’ll crush you”, or “you’ll never work in this business again” were yelled back at you. And in the old days, those claims could be backed up and followed through. A handful of senior executives controlled the gateway between artists and fans, and they held all the budgets, curation control and means for success.
It wasn’t just artists and managers who were in the firing line though, if you were an up-and-coming A&R or marketing manager, you only had a few places you could possibly work. So again, all the power was with the few men at the top. However, the current industry climate tells us we have shifted from these men having Dictatorship-type power, to Adoption power.
What’s the difference between Dictatorship and Adoption power in the Australian music industry?
There is a massive difference. Dictatorship power means there is almost nothing anyone can do to challenge or object to a powerful person’s decisions (wrath) if they go off the rails or get greedy. Short of death or retirement, you are at the mercy of their whims. Adoption power means that the powerful are only powerful if we believe they are or buy in to their way of operating.
In 2019 there are many pathways to fans, many career options for industry professionals. No longer do we need to appease, at any cost, a handful of execs at the top to have success.
To be clear, I’m not saying heads of big music companies don’t have influence. Of course they do. They still manage big budgets, playlists, lineups and/or have HR control. But the difference now in 2019 is that if you get fired by some asshole, you have many other companies you can go and work for. Or if a label won’t sign your band, you can release it yourself.
I know many Top 10 hottest 100 artists who didn’t spend more than $15k on their release and did the whole project themselves. Anyone can earn $15k by punching six months of shift work at McDonald’s.
So why are people still so scared of high level executives? I believe it’s because they are confusing Dictatorship power with Adoption power. I can’t think of one person in the Australian music industry who truly has Dictatorship power anymore.
Some of these execs believe they still have Dictatorship power, and they believe it so strongly they’ve convinced a lot of people that work for or with them that they still have it too. But we don’t need to buy into their delusion or desperation anymore.
I want to use two examples to help illustrate what I’m talking about. The first is a personal one, the second is commentary as an outsider.
1. Speaking as a business owner, I’ve learned all the power is with the staff
Over the past two years, Seventh Street Media has grown from four staff to 20, and we are always looking for talented people. Some of my friends who have bigger music businesses than mine are in the same position too, we are all desperate for talented, motivated people to come work with us. So what does this mean? Don’t be scared of your boss. He can’t crush you, he can’t “drive you out of town”.
If you feel like the executive team at the place you work are abusive, there has never been a better time in the Australian music industry to look for another job. Seriously, new start ups are launching every six months and job ads for the bigger companies seem to be always on. As an employer, I’m at the mercy of my talented staff, and that’s the way it should be.
If you are talented, hard working and aren’t appreciated where you are, move on. Know you’re in an industry of Adoption power, not Dictatorship power.
2. Sticky Fingers
The second example is one I can only comment on as an outsider. I know it’s a controversial example but it’s one that highlights the fact we are in an industry of Adoption power not Dictatorship.
In a past era of the Australian music industry, this would have been the end of a band like Sticky Fingers. The most powerful people and companies have all shunned them and cut them off. However, they recently sold out two Hordern Pavilions and seem to be bigger than ever.
Why? Sticky Fingers prove that the music industry’s power players can’t stop anyone accessing their fans. Can’t stop them releasing more music and can’t stop their growth. Please don’t take this example as my personal support for Sticky Fingers, I’m simply highlighting the absolute lack of Dictatorship power any music industry executive has in this circumstance.
We are in a new age, the age of Adoption power. Just because someone had Dictatorship power a decade or so ago, doesn’t mean they still have it today. No one in the Australian music industry has it today.
However it’s important to note that there are amazing, humble, super motivated executives in this country who I personally love and am close with, we shouldn’t paint every executive with the same brush.
If you’d like to hear my conversations with many Australian music executives, listen on my podcast Fear At The Top.
What should be the clear this year is that if you’re talented, no one can put the breaks on your career anymore, those days are over.