What is the correct response to the damage Denis Handlin has caused?
Even though I thought I was ready… I felt a mix of anger and disgust and relief after watching Four Corners on Monday evening.
I know many current and former music industry staff who share this view. There were were folks who were reduced to tears and who have been knocked off-balance from the feelings they had buried from this very malignant and open secret that has affected so many. When I talk about the music industry I often say you will never meet a more incredible, passionate, hard-working team of people who do what they do because they believe in, and love music.
Tuesday morning I found myself thinking of all the team at Sony Music turning up for work after Four Corners. They have managed to keep the train on the track for their artists despite weathering the storm without a worthy leader. Its very admirable how they have soldiered on through all of this.
So what is the correct response to the damage and the dark stain that Denis Handlin has caused our incredible, vital music industry? I put it to you that in order to heal – justice must be seen to be served. There must be consequences for inappropriate behaviour if we are serious about a future of equality and diversity and integrity for the Australian music industry.
I believe the immediate action needed is for ARIA is to strip Denis Handlin of his ARIA Icon Award. I put it to you that this man is anything but an icon. You could say he is iconic for all the wrong reasons – that would be a better summary. Perhaps the right way to frame this might be that this particular kind of Icon must never be allowed to exist ever again.
Why is that? It’s because we do not tolerate or stand by anyone who abuses their power of our people and the artist community and uses it for their own gain and benefit by wounding and hurting others – especially in the creative and arts space.
It cannot be underestimated how much collateral damage one man with a capital D has caused our industry and that it will take years to repair the damage. Above that is the human cost, which will keep revealing itself in terms of morale, perceptions, retention of key talent and most importantly attracting new creative talent and future leaders.
I have many friends in other industries – as I am sure you do – and the optics are abominable. How we react and deal with it is the positive and the catalyst for the kind of future we all want for the industry.
I don’t know about you but honestly I feel like I am still processing because being in the music industry is more than a job … it’s a belief and a calling. Its an all-or-nothing industry. Our people are feeling this hurt. Its an uncomfortable and unflattering light being shone on us right now.
It must be said again that many of the good people who have been affected were not treated with respect or decency or with a duty of care – and that it had become the norm to just bury things and work around the problem. Its a highly regrettable set of circumstances that are complex and nuanced.
We all know there are worse stories and truths and that the lawyers and defamation laws have repressed these (so far). We all know there is more to come on this. So this is the time to shift paradigms and this is the time for leaders who believe in equality regardless of gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation.
Old paradigms and structural inequality and patriarchy have no place here anymore when there is a levelling of the playing field based on ability, talent and integrity. That is why taking quick, decisive and positive action from the industry bodies is required.
This is a large issue condensed into economic choice of words. The actions right now have huge implications and carry weight for the future. I took this time to write it down because just like with the media stories and so many folks being scared to tell their truths… it’s a reminder and part of human nature that not everyone is brave (and perhaps free enough) to go on record to help correct history and help create the future we want.
We cannot let the ARIA Icon Award remain. We cannot let the Ted Albert Award remain. This is not the kind of person who is worthy of an Order Of Australia. Quite the opposite. All of the good people in our industry do not support this man and these disgraceful and unprofessional behaviours.
These are not the qualities we expect and deserve from a good leader. This man was responsible for people, artists, key issues and overseeing the industry body while being paid millions of dollars each year to do it while artists and creatives live hand-to-mouth. We have been let down royally.
Actions are louder than words (especially in the music industry of 2021). Taking action and stripping the ARIA Icon Award sends an important and very clear message about a new music industry built on equality and fairness equal to the huge revenue we generate into the economy – and the intention for our future.
After all, what is the one common lineage that kept us all sane through Covid and lockdown… The music and the art and the work of the artists. The next battle seems to be this Government realising that and supporting more. One battle at a time…
This is the time to cause good trouble and use your voice if you are strong enough to.
This article originally appeared on The Industry Observer, which is now part of The Music Network.