‘We need to do better’: Dan Rosen talks ARIA’s diversity dilemma
What would normally be a few hundred music industry executives packed inside the Art Gallery Of NSW was replaced with a prerecorded reveal, uploaded to Google’s YouTube video platform for the world to watch from the comfort of their loungeroom-turned-office, including Rosen.
“It was a weird feeling this morning, waking up,” he told TMN after the YouTube premiere.
“I’m usually suiting up, rehearsing a speech and making sure everything’s ready, so it was definitely different. I took my kids to school and then sat in front of my computer.
“There were a lot of watching parties, a few ARIA people got together. I know a lot of label people got together too. So in its own way, I think it brought the community together.
“We’ve had thousands of people that have already been able to watch it and be engaged. And so that, to me, says it really turned out to be a massive win, to get more people into the room.”
But not being in the room had its disadvantages too, at least for some. The virtual setting meant any sniggering and bickering with coworkers was reduced to Slack rooms and text messages – or, worse, Twitter – as Nine’s Brooke Boney roll called the nominees.
Also missed this year – again, at least for a handful – was to see the looks on some executive’s faces as it became apparent that Australia’s thriving independent record labels were to dominate.
ABC Music collected 20 nominations, Mushroom’s labels 17 nods and the fully independent Chugg Music stole today’s headlines with nine nominations – eight of those for Lime Cordiale.
“It’s a fantastic effort, the brothers have been going for a long time,” Rosen told me. “I think they were one of the acts this year that didn’t let COVID stop them.
“I was lucky enough to see [Lime Cordiale] play the Oxford Art Factory. They had a tour booked and they ended up doing two shows a night cabaret-style, and really making sure they were still out there for their fans while making new fans.
“And Tame Impala, we know that they’re global superstars. To see the band rewarded for that, and also Kevin as producer and engineer is great. He’s an extraordinary talent in his own right, and then also what he does with the band is just remarkable.”
And then there’s Sampa the Great, this year’s most-nominated solo artist. In 2019 Sampa won Best Hip Hop Release but was snubbed during the live television broadcast, despite delivering a powerful speech covering diversity and inclusivity.
“It’s really bittersweet that in 2019 I’m the first woman of colour to win in a hip hop category, and I really hope I’m not the last,” she said via video message last year.
“I hope the change of this category pushes us to talk about how diverse Black music can be, and I hope the Australian music industry starts to reflect what our community looks like.”
2019 was also the year ARIA rebranded Best Urban Release to Best Hip Hop Release – a missed opportunity for the industry body to showcase itself as a global leader (it was only this year that many labels and awards finally scrapped the U-word).
“We should have handled it better last year in acknowledging the important reforms we made to change that award and, in particular, acknowledge the historic wins by Sampa and Kaiit.
“I regret we didn’t take the opportunity to provide the national platform that those wins warranted and I apologise for that. We need to do better this year and will continue to improve as an organisation and how we best represent the diversity of our artists and our industry.
“We know we need to continue to get better and to improve, and we’ll do that this year.
“ARIA needs to continue to represent what our industry is at this moment, and hip hop’s such an incredible force for change, a force for good, and a catalyst for our business.”
ARIA has made small steps in other areas, like renaming an offending chart while also adding a hip hop and R&B albums and singles chart for Australian artists. Early last year it also revealed the “most diverse board in its history”, by adding four women.
But as many in the industry will tell you if you let them – and you should – there is still so much to be done if ARIA is to become the organisation that many know it can be, should be.
And with Rosen just months away from departing for his new posting at Warner Music after a decade of service through the digital transformation, you could argue that right now is the perfect moment for ARIA to set a new standard for the recorded music biz – not just here, but globally.
As they say, there’s really no time like the present.
With Rosen set to end his tenure in December, the year 2021 could mark a new era for ARIA. Its next phase brings with it a rare opportunity to effect change for the next generation.