‘Run by dinosaurs’: the fresh air women inject into Australian music

Singer Katie Noonan, who was previously signed to Sony Music, said the decision to appoint a woman as chief executive has made the industry more like the society she makes music for. This is “another strong and important step in the right direction for our industry,” she says. “In addition to appointing Annabelle Herd as ARIA’s first female CEO and Natalie Waller as ARIA’s first female chairman, I believe our industry has breathed a collective sigh of relief that the higher echelons of our industry are finally seeing the reality of our modern world.

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“I hope we continue to see the change we need to see in our industry and that Australian women feel empowered to be who they want to be.”

Music industry veteran Tatiana Marchant worked at Sony Music and experienced it first hand to be toxic work culture before leaving. She said Picken’s arrival was the breath of fresh air Sony needs.

“The music industry has been run by dinosaurs for so long, I think it’s an exciting time for Sony,” she says. “Everyone I’ve spoken to has said it’s a great move, but I think the most important thing is that the company can move forward.” [from the toxicity of the past]†

But while change is in the air, dinosaurs are not extinct.

When Herd started her role at ARIA, she said it was a shock that a woman got the job

“I was a little surprised that people in the market and in the industry were surprised that a woman was selected for the role,” she says. “In my previous experience, many industry organizations have been led by women. My leadership team at Channel Ten was half man, half woman, so when people came up to me and said ‘oh my god, there’s a woman hired for ARIA’ I was surprised.”

ARIA CEO Annabelle Herd

She became immediately and acutely aware of the workplace culture issues facing the industry. “I came in” [the music industry] not fully aware of some of the challenges it faced,” she said. “A lot of these challenges are faced in every industry, by the way, but I think there are some specific structural issues in our industry that make things a bit harder and maybe there wasn’t the progress we’ve seen in other sectors.”

Structural issues, such as the fragmented nature of the industry and its temporary workforce and the sheer power wielded by a handful of people, are just some of the unique challenges music takes to address systemic cultural problems. But change is underway.

“The pace of change has been really incredible when you consider what has happened over the past year and a half. And that’s incredibly positive to see,” says Herd.

She firmly believes that more diversity in leadership positions can only help the industry take bigger steps towards safer workplaces and a more positive culture.

“It’s a no-brainer to have more women in music leadership roles because there aren’t enough of them,” she says. “And not just women. More First Nations leaders, people of color…diversity in leadership has been shown time and again to make better decision-making, more innovation and better business.”

It’s a feeling where Dr. Jeffrey Crabtree agrees. He is an academic at UTS, where he teaches music business and professional practice. Last year, he published a groundbreaking study on sexual harassment at work and sexual harassment in the music industry, which found that nearly 10 percent of people working in the music industry had experienced severe harassment.

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He says having more women in leadership roles will be part of much-needed broader change in the music industry.

“It will contribute to it, but it is not the only solution,” he says. “There is no single solution, because there is a cluster of serious problems.”

However, Crabtree says that women in leadership roles can help address one of the key issues. “When women are not in power, older men are much more likely to abuse their position,” he says.

Until now, the responsibility to instigate and effect change has largely fallen to women in the industry. A rally that was held last May after a torrent of negative stories about the culture of the music industry was attended almost exclusively by women. Women formed the whole of the working group that was set up from that meeting. Crabtree says men have to do the heavy lifting too, and he thinks they will.

“I’d also like to think that … younger men in the industry think differently about the relationships they have with women, they grew up with different values,” he says.

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