It’s the end of an era at Sony Music Australia, as Denis Handlin departs with 51 years on the board.
Before the dust settles, the music major’s top brass in New York City will trigger the recruitment process for a new Australasian chief, an action that hasn’t occurred in 37 years.
Expect the dragnet to be cast wide.
“It is time for a change in leadership,” Sony Music Group CEO Rob Stringer told staff in a statement earlier in the week.
“And I will be making further announcements in terms of the new direction of our business in Australia and New Zealand in due course.”
TIO identifies some of the obvious candidates for Sony Music’s new direction, and some less so.
The Top Five
In terms of major label chops and international experience, Beth Appleton is hard to beat. She has clocked up a quarter century in the music biz, starting with EMI in London and transferring to Australia for the first time in 2000. She returned to the U.K. to work for Richard Branson’s V2 label and Universal Music. A marketing wiz, Appleton recently departed Warner Music Australia after ten years, where she recently served as General Manager Australia and Senior VP Marketing Australasia. Appleton will absolutely be in the mix for the top job.
Never miss industry news
Get the latest music industry news, insights, and updates straight to your inbox. Learn more
See above. Many in the music industry thought Caught was a favourite for the Warner Music Australasia gig left vacant by Niko Nordstrom’s departure. Dan Rosen ultimately got the job. Will Caught get the top spot at Sony Music? Don’t bet against it. Like Appleton, Caught has major label experience on multiple continents. She’s also an ex-Sony Music pro. Caught started her career in her home town of Adelaide in 1992 as branch secretary for Sony Music Australia. From March 2009-October 2010, Caught was GM Australian artists and Day One Entertainment with Sony Music Australia, having previously served as GM with Columbia Records for Sony Music U.K. She also had stops with Warner Music, EMI and MTV Networks Europe. In 2018, Caught launched the marketing services company The Annex.
Could Tim Pithouse go to the Penthouse? His name will surely be on Sony Music HR’s wishlist. Formerly General Manager of International Marketing and Artist Development at Sony Music Australia, Pithouse left the comforts of Sydney in 2018 for a position with Sony-owned The Orchard. He’s currently General Manager, International Marketing and Artist Development at the digital specialist.
Universal Music Australia’s Managing Director is what the Americans would call a triple-threat: He’s a Sony Music alumni, he’s worked in multiple territories and a major label boss. Taylor was a Sony Music assistant A&R in the mid-90s, where he worked with a young singer and actor by the name of Delta Goodrem. He would go on to A&R Delta’s Innocent Eyes, one of the biggest-selling albums in the history of Australia’s record industry. Taylor climbed the ladder, becoming Head of A&R with the merged Sony BMG company, and then Senior Director at Sony’s Epic Records, before joining Universal Music Group. Taylor was the inaugural chief of Island Records Australia and is regarded as one of the top major label executives in these parts.
Susan Heymann has a reputation for getting things done, sometimes in the most trying of circumstances. With a background in artist management (Black Yak Artist Management), major and indie labels (EMI Music Australia, Fish Records), and media (The Music Network), its in the live space where Heymann really shines. Currently serving as managing director at Chugg Entertainment, Heymann can boast Michael Chugg and the late Michael Gudinski as two of her greatest cheerleaders. When Frontier Touring and Chugg Entertainment struck a joint venture in 2019, reuniting the two Michaels, Gudinski told this reporter that Heymann was one of the live industry’s great assets. When Gudinski loves your work, it counts.
The one-time wunderkind of Australia’s music biz, Comerford is now one of the captains of industry. As CEO of Unified Music Group, Comerford has built an indie empire with offices in Melbourne and Sydney, and both sides of the Atlantic. Jaddan is familiar with Sony Music’s machinery. In 2018, Sony Music Entertainment Australia and UNIFIED Music Group struck a global distribution deal.
Island Records Australia’s GM started her career with EMI, before launching her own PR firm and joining the ranks of Universal Music Group. Richards played a big part in Dean Lewis’ rise, and Lewis has been effusive in his praise of her, describing Richards as the smartest label exec in the country.
Watson, the consummate artist manager, who operates Eleven: A Music Company and John Watson Management, has a long history with Sony Music that continues to this day. Murmur, the label he started with John O’Donnell back in 1994, was an imprint of Sony Music Australia. The label’s crown jewel Silverchair recently struck a deal that sees the trio’s entire catalogue of recordings gathered at Sony Music Australia, and Watson’s client Midnight Oil is a Sony Music signing.
Like Watson, O’Donnell is a former journalist who entered the record business and climbed to the very top. O’Donnell ran EMI Australia as CEO from 2002 until 2008, and returned five years later, in 2013, to take the role as managing director. During his first stint at EMI, he broke Missy Higgins, Jet, Empire of the Sun, and Angus & Julia Stone, all of whom won “best album” at the ARIAs.
Another former EMI Australia leader, Poston’s CV includes stints in London and Los Angeles. At the time of EMI’s sale and split in November 2011, Poston was Chairman and Senior VP marketing of the Australian company. He departed in 2013, returning a year later in the role as MD of the local companies of Warner Bros. Records and Parlophone. Poston is back in Sydney after a time in L.A.
Regan Lethbridge formed Lemon Tree Music with his Bonjah bandmate David Morgan and life have been giving him lemonade ever since. Lethbridge guides the careers of several artists on Sony Music’s books, including Tash Sultana and Tones And I, one of the biggest breakthrough artists on earth in recent years.
You just never know
Michael Chugg’s business partner at Chugg Music has runs on the board and youth on his side. Stone has got away Sheppard, Lime Cordiale, Mia Rodriguez and more.
A live music expert, the Lunatic Entertainment managing director has unique experience as co-founder of Laneway Festival, an event that grew from a one-day event in Melbourne, into an international roadshow that visited New Zealand, Singapore, and, in 2013, the United States.
Holland got his promotion in 2019, to lead the A&R activities of EMI Music Australia, where he has worked with the likes of 5 Seconds Of Summer, Troye Sivan, Tina Arena, Empire Of The Sun, Alison Wonderland, Missy Higgins and Paul Kelly.
Think someone else would be amazing for the role? Reply to our tweet here.