Features August 27, 2020

Ollie Wards will write a playbook for Aussie artists on using TikTok

Former Assistant Editor
Ollie Wards will write a playbook for Aussie artists on using TikTok

Ollie Wards is unphased by recent headlines around privacy and believes TikTok is the music industry’s next generational game-changer.

TikTok named Wards its inaugural Australian director of music this week, just days after he called time on a 10-year tenure at publically funded youth broadcaster triple j.

Speaking with TMN, Wards says joining the platform’s new office in Australia was an opportunity too good to pass up, because TikTok is a once-in-a-decade disrupter to the music industry.

“When things like TikTok come along, it’s always exciting. There are revolutions in platforms and tech that you can point to once every decade, and I feel like this is one of them,” he explains.

“When this opportunity came along, I was like, ‘Oh wow.’ To be in the mix for that is super exciting. It feels like its the next phase of the music industry intertwining with the tech industry.”

Having recently clocked a full decade at triple j after starting out producing the Tom & Alex Breakfast show, Wards says leaving the ABC was inevitable.

“You’re sort of a caretaker of the place for a little while, and you get to carry the torch. And then you’ve got to realise that you pass that on,” he says.

“After 10 years, I did almost everything I wanted to do there. I’ll always love radio.

“I spoke to everybody about how everybody there is a temporary baton carrier in the relay of triple j. And being a youth broadcaster, you get older, they stay the same age.”

TikTok had been on his radar for over a year before this opportunity came up, and Wards says he immediately had a feeling the platform could be a game-changer for the industry.

“I was at a radio conference in LA last March, and there was a lot of chat about TikTok. Everybody was passionately talking about how TikTok was the biggest indicator for programming.

“A lot of people were talking about breaking their acts on there, that kind of stuff. So that was my first like, ‘Okay. I really got to get around this thing.’”

While there have been headlines both in Australia and overseas highlighting concerns about data and privacy, Wards says he’s “focussed on staying in my own lane” and is centred on the music.

“I don’t really look at that kind of stuff,” he revealed. “I’m just focused on staying in my lane, on making sure that Australia and New Zealand artists get up on the platform. 

“All of that other stuff is for people outside of my pay grade. But I trust that the impact that artists can have on TikTok is something I want to be part of, and that’s a positive thing.”

So what are his plans for the new gig?

“I would say to people, give me some time. I don’t even have an email address yet,” Wards laughs.

That’s not to say he doesn’t envisage what the role could represent, and he’s already thinking about ways to help the local music industry when he begins.

Wards feels like local artists have been tackling TikTok with a blindfold on, and he’s ready to help those using the platform as well as guide others in making the first step.

“That’s one thing that I see is really great about this role in joining the team here in Australia, is everybody is coming at it with like let’s forge into the unknown sort of attitude,” he says.

“One thing I would like to see is some sort of best practice resources for A&R people and artist managers, about how to use the platform.

“I think the best thing for me to do will be to provide resources for people to know exactly how to get the best use out of the platform.

“I’ve got a few acts in mind that I think could really, really go well on the platform and breakthrough globally. And that’ll be my mission, I reckon.”

So how should artists, managers and labels go about getting his help and advice?

“Watch this space,” he chuckles. “Give me a little bit of time to get in there and figure it out.” It’s going to be impossible for me to get around every single emerging act.

“I’m not going to lie, I’ve already had the DMs blowing up from the announce.

“But look, I’ll be keeping an eye on things pretty quickly. And I really want to, as much as possible, be a local face, a local voice, a local contact for the industry. 

“I’m hoping to be accessible for the music industry between Australia and TikTok.”

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