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News October 27, 2015

“Like any big family, it is love and war” – George Ash talks UMA and the ARIAs

We caught up with George Ash – President, Universal Music Asia Pacific – a few days out from the ARIA Awards to chat about Australian music, and life inside the newly-expanded label.

A lot has changed for UMA since last year’s ARIA Awards. How have the internal moves and acquisitions affected the day-to-day running of Universal, if at all?

It is really quite exciting with the two companies active in A&R in Australia, competing for success with their respective international artists and at the same time working together to create special opportunities for the business. The dynamic of having so many special individuals who are passionate about music is invigorating our activities right across the spectrum… it’s bloody great!

Universal received 32 ARIA nominations this year (we counted the records you distributed, too), do you feel a different sense of responsibility to Australian music, considering your label houses a lot of the big Australian artists?

I think we are killers for Australian music, no matter where it comes from, who it is or where it sits, we live it, we invest hugely in supporting our artists. Yes we feel completely dedicated to doing everything we can to support success for them here but also to taking artists to the world. We are very fortunate to have great people and great labels who are helping great artists to be the best they can.

Are the different sub-sections of your label competitive with each other?

Oh hell yes, and at the same time they will help each other if it gives an act a chance to break. I guess like any big family it is love and war.

Looking at the nominated acts this year, what do you think it says about the music industry’s current landscape?

Well it’s always a great flashpoint to showcase what is breaking in the industry but you have to also look beyond the nominations, there’s so much amazing music being created right now, so many artists and producers and songwriters pushing the boundaries and breaking down barriers, I love it. I think there is, at this moment, more media support for Australian acts than there ever has been, there is more opportunity to get music to fans than ever before and there are more people across the business fighting for acts to get recognition. So to that point, I think the incredible finalists are just the tip of the creative mass that has come this year – it has been a very special year all round.

What changes would you like to see? Are there any genres you’d like to see better represented?

I think it is all about the artists, and what they create, I think music, or artists these days defy categorisation more than ever and to that end it is really about the industry, and the media being open minded as success comes from everywhere.

What could the Australian industry do differently to further push our music overseas?

We have to challenge ourselves to push to the limit our creative freedom, we have to always give ourselves the best opportunity for success and we have to support each other. Every time an act breaks no matter where from, it opens doors for everyone else: just look at Lorde out of New Zealand, her phenomenal success around the world has put a fierce focus on NZ and the creative individuals who are there. Success breeds success. We must always put artists first and in the current environment we have to lead a social revolution for our acts globally.

What is your favourite ARIAs memory? Or a few, if you can’t narrow it down.

There’s the good ones and the bad ones. I love a surprise. The year Powderfinger won album of the year for Vulture Street, we were convinced they wouldn’t get it, the whole night was leading it away from them and then at the last minute they got the nod. We went bezerk, it was incredible, especially as I know how much it meant to the band and to everyone who had supported them throughout their career. I hadn’t been drinking for two years, that night Paul and Bernard got me back to the bar big time…

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