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Features November 26, 2019

2019 ARIA Awards: Basil Cook talks ABC Music’s 18 nominations

Senior Journalist, B2B
2019 ARIA Awards: Basil Cook talks ABC Music’s 18 nominations

113 ARIA wins since 1974.

With a staff of 12, led by head of ABC Music Natalie Waller, the label has continued to punch well above its weight at the annual ARIA Awards.

Its current roster includes Mojo Juju, Tim Rogers, All Our Exes Live In Texas and The Melbourne Ska Orchestra

Basil Cook, manager of Contemporary Labels, explains the elements that perpetuate the success story.

18 nominations for the ARIAs, you must be pleased with that?

Extremely pleased! ABC Music represents a very diverse roster of artists, and each year we always punch well above our weight bracket.

Moments like this are a great celebration for our amazing artists signed to the label.

We are an independent record label with a small team of people, and to outperform some of the larger labels (including major labels) – it is a nice zap of motivation we must be doing something right.

113 ARIA wins since 1974? Has anyone beaten that?

Haha – it’s a big number, isn’t it?

Would love to know where we stand in the ARIA long list of winning record labels… especially for an independently operated label like ABC Music, we feel this is a remarkable feat.

What do you attribute to your punching above your weight?

ABC Music represents an extremely diverse range of genres; children’s music, country, classical, jazz, blues & roots, rock, ska, punk and a variety of other music releases including ABC TV soundtracks and films, plus all the triple j music releases!

As a result, we rightfully earn numerous ARIA Award nominations (and wins!) each and every year with our artists on the label.

Would it be fair to say the misconception about ABC Music is that it’s taxpayer-funded like the rest of the ABC? In fact, you’re an independent label that has to make commercial decisions to survive – AND give up profits to the ABC!

100%. We tackle this very issue every single day.

It’s wild that there are many peer labels and pockets of our own industry who are not aware how our label operates, and how all revenue we make goes back into the running of the wider ABC and its amazing broadcast contributions that truly benefit all labels in Australia.

There are actually even some pockets of our own ABC who aren’t aware of our label and the amazing work we do!

Has ABC Music’s strategy for contemporary rock music changed in recent years, and what’s the difference between ABC and FOURFOUR?

I would say that historically ABC Music has suffered a slight identity crisis, and branding and positioning of the label is challenging at times as the ABC in general means so many different things, to so many different people.

FOUR FOUR was a sub-label set up with the strategy to directly tackle this head-on.

As I mentioned previously ABC Music covers a very diverse range of artists, however, when we started to look at signing punk and ska bands on, we felt that was a stretch even for us!

So, we set up the sub-label FOUR FOUR as a new focus for acts like this – Born Lion, The Snowdroppers, Melbourne Ska Orchestra, Little Bastard, and many others.

Essentially it is the exact same label team as ABC Music, yet with a different logo/branding.

Mojo Juju

Can we talk at length on how you found and built up Mojo Juju, All Our Exes Live in Texas, Tim Rogers and Melbourne Ska Orchestra?

I guess what I would like to say at the start is that the artists we are lucky enough to work with are the real superstars. They make the amazing music, and we just try our best to help them out along the way through.

I signed Mojo Juju way back in 2011 in time for her first-ever solo album, which ABC Music released in early 2012.

Mojo had been on the scene for a long time as a seasoned player her band The Snake Oil Merchants. We have worked with Mojo right through her solo career for many years.

She is so ridiculously talented and amazing in a billion ways.

It is amazing for us all to see the much deserved and earned breakthrough she is finally enjoying on Native Tongue which is now her third record with us.

I think back to a meeting that myself and Peta Chew (label manager, ABC Music) had with Mojo in late 2015 when Mojo was so disenfranchised with the state of the music industry and desperately wanted to pack it all in then and there.

It was like we were trying to talk Mojo back from a cliff, and it was horrible to see someone driven to such a state. We just said take all the time and space you need and we will continue to support you 100% as we always have through whatever decision she made.

This is how ABC Music has always operated, that we stand by our artists for more than just one album chance and they are dropped.

The story of Native Tongue is of her channelling so much of that dissolution, anger and frustration into a pure creative outlet, and the end result of that album was so truly amazing!

Mojo Juju is truly a ‘one of a kind’ artist, and she will only continue to grow and be bigger and better in years to come! We absolutely could not be any prouder of her if we tried.

We had been keeping our eyes on the awesome foursome of Georgia, Hannah, Katie and Elana, otherwise known as All Our Exes Live in Texas for quite some time.

As chance would have it, (it was) through a relationship Nick Webb (label manager, ABC Music) has with producer Wayne Connolly.

Wayne had sent the rough mixes of the When We Fall album to Nick to check out. Nick shared them around the team with a flurry of excitement and we were all hooked!

I went and made time with the band manager at the time, and also with the girls and we hit it off, so a deal was done!

The girls absolutely worked their butts off on that album release, touring relentless both all over Australia, and also multiple trips all over the world too.

It was an absolute success story, and for us all to win the ARIA Award in 2017 for ‘Best Blues & Roots’ album just felt like the most delicious icing on a very scrumptious cake!

When those 4 get together it is magic; they are side-splittingly hilarious, quick-witted, and self-deprecating of the best order…but then when they all sing and make music together it is just so beautiful and emotional and captivating too.

The girls are having a bit of time out right now…but we can’t wait to hear and see what their next moves are going to be.

Tim Rogers obviously needs no introduction! And of course, it was a no-brainer for us to sign on to work with Tim. We have done two Tim Rogers solo albums now and watching Tim work and the way his brain operates creatively is masterful.

His solo albums are very different to his rock work with the brothers You Am I, and we love working with Tim at ABC Music.

I first heard and saw the mighty Melbourne Ska Orchestra at Bluesfest in 2012. I was exhausted after a big day walking around the festival and was about to sit down and eat some Gumbo, when I heard this music I just had to walk into the tent as close possible and witness!

I danced myself stupid that evening, and upon returning to Sydney a few days later I quickly went into research mode.

As luck would have it I know their manager Anna Coelho and made a joke to her that “well, the ABC has recordings with all the symphony orchestras in Australia, why not us make a record with the Melbourne Ska Orchestra…

Five minutes later Nicky Bomba (frontman of the band) rings me and that was it – we were on!

Let me just say publicly that I truly love working with the Melbourne Ska Orchestra – they are a dreamboat of creativity.

A real melting pot of so many beautiful personalities, varying cultures from all corners of the globe, so much life experience all wrapped up together with master musicianship and the best damn live show that anyone will ever witness!

They dress well, they are warm to be around, and organising 35+ players to make albums and tour surely seems like madness, but these guys are more together and easier to handle than some 4-piece groups! Haha.

We have done seven albums together now and won 2 ARIA Awards, I was lucky enough to see the band perform to 50,000+ people in Montreal, Canada, and tour through UK and play Glastonbury Festival.

So many happy memories and they truly make working at the label fun to turn up each day. Nicky Bomba (and a cut down MSO) even played at my wedding recently – that’s familia right there!”

What are your thoughts on how the advent of streaming being a financial boon for Australian independents, and in terms of faster global exposure?

The global picture of music streaming is so crucial to us right now, and the ability to reach so many audiences in countries far away from our little office in Sydney, Australia is something we focus on daily.

We are having some remarkable successes through music streaming for certain genres; for example kids music is such a unique thing to study as children don’t care what is deemed “cool” at all, and really just want to listen to the same Wiggles song over, and over, and over again – bring on the repeat streams we say!

With the huge popularity of triple j’s Like A Version segment (and the ARIA #1 albums we have released) we now also release the majority of the Like A Version singles just one week after they go to air.

We are seeing some massive success with that brand, as people love the songs. There is a really strong playlisting presence across all DSP’s too.

Sadly, the major labels refuse to clear rights for any of their artists to get all songs released via this tried and tested method, much to the chagrin of their own artists!

Many other genres we represent though are much slower to catch up, and so this ‘financial boon for Australian independent labels’ you mention, can you hurry that up happening soon please!

Music streaming revenue flows at a greater rate when you have a larger back catalogue to represent (or you get lucky with a runaway hit…), and in regard to many Australian independent labels, they simply don’t have the big catalogue that major labels dine out on to keep the cash flowing in.

So, I feel we indies are still transitioning to music streaming and that revenue flow is still yet to be truly realised for many.

What has been ABC Music’s overseas strike rate?

We represent a whole bunch of artists global rights and we are continually building on growing this.

Some big wins recently include the triple j Like A Version branded singles, which are seeing huge numbers in many parts overseas.

We also represent The Wiggles internationally, and work with them all over the globe tied in with their touring efforts and popularity and we are now seeing amazing returned growth in markets like Canada and the USA.

This is a band who once sold out Madison Square Garden multiple times in a row, and was on the cover of the New York Times.

Would The Clash get a record deal today or have times changed since those heady days?

Of course, they would! The Clash had it all – great pop songs with frenetic energy, political songs that actually meant something!

Strummer/Jones were an almighty songwriting duo. They had a real “look” to the band too, and a true conviction of exactly who they were and their core values and beliefs.

And really… which A&R wouldn’t sign a band with Paul Simonon! The coolest bass player that has ever graced a stage


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