Q&A with Natalie Waller
Natalie Waller has had a big few weeks. Firstly, the label she heads up – ABC Music – was nominated for Independent Label of the Year, an award it already took out last year. And then, yesterday it was revealed she would succeed Denis Handlin as chair of ARIA.
Just before her appointment to ARIA, Waller spoke to The Music Network’s Vivienne Kelly about the tough year the music industry has faced, why she believes a happy team is everything, and what she did when she got kicked off TikTok.
VK: I wanted to chat to you about the Independent Record Label of the Year nomination. Why do you think you’ve been nominated for this award? What have you achieved to lead to the nomination?
NW: At ABC Music we represent such a broad range of music, we do punch above our weight in certain genres, particularly niche genres, our team is very hard-working, and I think they’re very well-respected. We have a really good working relationship with our artists and managers who are really fantastic to work with, and we do have a real team environment. Those are some of the ingredients that I would see ‘why’. Outwardly, it’s hard to know, but inwardly that’s what I see why we’ve been nominated, just because of that real team environment.
This year we’ve had some really great success. Some really great signings. And it being The Wiggles’ 30th anniversary year, we’ve had some really big activations across this year with The Wiggles – that’s probably been a bit of a stand out for this year.
Did you hear their ‘Like a Version’?
VK: And why do you think the ABC label is important? What role does it play in the wider music landscape?
NW: Obviously it’s important. The representation of the niche genres as mentioned before, and predominantly Australian artists is important.
We’re very different and unique given that we’re part of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in that we give our profits back to the ABC for content creation and promotion, that in itself is important – to give back to the arts industry.
The representation that we have across many genres and emerging artists and also established artists and long-standing relationships with artists – and that’s why I think that we’re really important and it’s our point of difference too.
VK: And it’s been a really tough year for the arts and entertainment sector, but for ABC Music, what’s been the biggest challenge this year?
NW: There’s obviously what everyone’s had, which is the unknown world with touring and COVID and the knock-on effect for all involved in our industry, and that’s been enormous for the whole industry.
We’ve had to change the way we do things because of that, and support our artists in different ways. Another challenge has probably been just not being able to meet in person with our artists, with our managers, and being able to go to shows and hear new music live.
We’ve signed some artists this year which we’ve never met, other than on Zoom. So, having Zoom – it’s not the way we’re used to working. We’ve had to adapt to that change.
The team being split up and not being in the office has been a challenge, but I think it’s also been something that we’ve learnt and it’s been, I suppose, a positive thing that we actually have adapted to the change of how we can work not being in the same office, and how we can work not being in the same room with our artists or managers or whoever we’re working with.
So definitely it’s been a challenge, but we’ve definitely learnt from the challenge too.
VK: So given it’s such a different kind of year, have the goal posts moved at all? How will you define success for 2021?
NW: Look I think the goal posts do move, but I think that without touring, our marketing and so many different ways we do things change. Our activations change.
But overarching, sweeping statement of ‘How do I define success for 2021?’ would be just a happy team working with happy artists and managers. Working together and achieving goals that we set as a team. I think that’s what defines success.
I think success is different for each person, each artist, each thing that we do. So I think it’s really working to the strategy of the team and what success looks like for each release, each artist, is different.
And just having a happy team and happy artists and managers is really important.
VK: And so what’s the most rewarding part of your job then?
NW: Well I’ve talked a lot about my team and artists and managers, and I think that’s a rewarding part – working with such fabulous people, and working with such a diverse group of people across the industry.
But if I was going to pinpoint something that for me really makes me smile and feel rewarded it’s seeing an artist achieve their success whatever that is, and their goals, and seeing engagement from fans and the reaction from the artist – that pure joy of reaching people. I think that’s probably the most rewarding part of my job.
VK: And how about the biggest challenge?
NW: For me in my role is probably keeping up-to-date with the latest trends and platforms and consumption of music.
It’s obviously very exciting, but it’s definitely a challenge for me. Luckily I have a team around me that are very up-to-date with all that and keep me up-to-date, but that I do find challenging, just for me personally in my role. That would probably be the biggest challenge….
VK: So keeping up-to-date with all the TikTok trends?
NW: TikTok, yes. I got kicked out of my TikTok account, and I was like ‘How do I get back in?’ So I set up a new one, and then I was like ‘Oh, hang on, there I am’. And I reconnected to my old one.
My team are like ‘Natalie, here we go.This is how you do it. It’s quite easy’.
It was much easier back in the day, but it creates opportunities to learn something new every day. I’m learning every day. I think that’s a challenge, but it’s also really exciting.
Waller was announced as ARIA chair yesterday. Her statement on being appointed to the role was:
NW: It is an absolute honour to be elected as ARIA’s new chair. At this time of change and challenge for the Australian music industry, I’m determined to give my all to continuing ARIA’s mission of championing our fantastic artists and industry. I’m thoroughly excited to get to work with the board, Annabelle [Herd] and the ARIA team.