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Features June 28, 2021

Inside the Australian music industry’s toxic underbelly

Inside the Australian music industry’s toxic underbelly

The local music industry’s culture problem is no longer an open secret reserved for those who have been exposed to it. It’s in mainstream headlines all over the country, and an industry that’s supposed to be about connection, culture and creation suddenly looks to be the exact opposite. Here, The Music Network’s editor and content director Vivienne Kelly joins Tim Ferguson the director of Leading Teams, and former radio host turned podcaster Byron Cooke to uncover the behaviours, management practices and cultural norms which have allowed this toxicity to fester, and what might be done next to ensure the momentum for change doesn’t stall. 

The Australian music industry operates on a culture of fear and silence, but it is increasingly making a lot of noise.

With a seemingly never-ending stream of negative headlines exposing the industry’s deep dark web of power, abuse and toxicity, this could be the moment it changes, however everyone has to be willing to do the work.

TMN editor Vivienne Kelly cautions people against assuming change is guaranteed.

“The Australian music industry operates on a culture of fear and silence. That’s the reason so may people who are coming forward are doing so anonymously, because it’s a very small bubble, and you’re warned straight away not to burn bridges, not to upset the powers that be, not to be the noisy, angry female. It’s just instilled in you from the get go and you know that there could be ramifications, even if you don’t know what they will be,” she says on this week’s episode of The Byron Cooke Show.

“There are so many people who are pleased there is a moment of change happening, but even that hasn’t given them the confidence to come forward, because you just don’t necessarily want to be painted with that brush. It can cause road blocks for you, it can cause problems for you, and sometimes being complicit in the silence becomes the easier game for you to play if you want to survive in this game. So a lot of people just don’t have the confidence to come forward. And there’s also a perception that in a lot of instances, human resources, regardless of the company, aren’t on your side, they’re on the organisation’s side, and they’re going to operate to protect the powers that be, the CEOs, the boys’ club, whatever it is, rather than operate in their best interests.”

Instead, this is only the beginning of the end of all the industry’s problems if everyone’s willing to make it happen, she says.

“This could be the moment, but there is no guarantee. Just because something’s started, just because a few executives have been stood down… it’s not a guarantee that there will be cultural change. It has to be something that people work on every single day. It’s not a ball that’s started rolling that’s guaranteed to keep rolling. Organisations will have to do the work. Sony, for example, will have to put someone in charge who can effect change, but one person can’t change an entire industry with decades and decades of an insidious and toxic underbelly. You have to have the cultural want there, the cultural need there, and people every day have to assess their own behaviours and hold other people accountable if anything’s actually going to change.”

Tim Ferguson, meanwhile, says given the behaviours of the past can’t be erased, organisations in Australia’s music industry need to create safer environments for people to come forward and call out bad behaviour.

“Ultimately… what you want is an environment in your organisation or your team where people actually feel safe to have the conversation. And I think for me that’s one about feeling safe, so if I want to raise something, it’s okay for me to do so, there won’t be any ramifications, but I guess the second thing is someone’s going to listen.”

He says if organisations are finding out about allegations of bad behaviour via the press or anonymous social media posts, they need to ask themselves “Why can’t we create an environment in our business to say how they feel?”

The new episode of The Byron Cooke Show also covers the entertainment industry’s problematic reliance on non-disclosure agreements and how organisations can start to change and call-out bad behaviour – including everything from starting meetings late to alcohol-fuelled parties.


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