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News October 27, 2015

The Hot Seat: Mark Poston

Mark Poston is back in the biz. The former EMI Australasia chairman is making a homecoming of sorts, TMN can exclusively reveal. He’s taking on duties as Managing Director of Parlophone Australia and as Managing Director of Warner Bros. Records Australia. Parlophone, the legendary EMI division was sold as a requisite of Universal’s acquisition last year of EMI. Warner Music picked up the global Parlophone Label Group last February for £487 million (around $765 million at the time) and has integrated its asset across its markets. It was that mega-merger of Universal and EMI which also led to Poston exiting EMI after more than a decade. The new role reacquaints Poston with Warner Music Australasia Managing Director Tony Harlow. Poston served under Harlow when the Brit-born exec ran EMI Australia back in the early noughties.

Mark, welcome back to “the show.” What are your goals for the year ahead?

These are two of the most important labels in the history of popular music. There’s an honour and a responsibility and a gravitas that comes with that, both in terms of working for the labels and in signing new talent to those labels. I couldn’t be more ready for all of that. What I hope is that with the musical history of both Parlophone and Warner Bros., and with the offering we have to artists – in terms of a top-notch team with intellect, intuition and sheer passion for music – is that we’re a very attractive proposition to the artist community. We want to take new and different approaches in how we develop artists and how we build fanbases. I like to change things up and there’s no better time to test and try new things. This is something I’ve said a lot in my past life and I guess it’s a mantra of sorts, but it’s all about “art vs commerce”. With that, I mean it’s about finding the right point on the dial. Without artists we are nothing. Artists make the world a better place.

We have to accept that making money is not a dirty word, both for the artists and for the music companies who invest in that process. The artists should be paid for their art, and the companies need to make a return on that investment so we can keep investing, employing, taking educated risks so that we can find the next Prince, the next Chris Martin or the next Kate Bush. And while we’re talking about it, perhaps the next David Geffen or Richard Russell. That’s the real “Holy Grail” stuff right there.

What are some of the projects on the cards?

With Parlophone, we’re kicking off with the Kylie single that will go this week, and of course she’s working incredibly hard living between London and Sydney, and appearing on The Voice, which will be a fantastic platform for the single and albums. We’ll have her in front of millions of homes every week. As always she’s so focused, she has a new management deal with Jay Z’s Roc Nation, she’s hungry to have one of her biggest records ever. A Coldplay record is coming soon, which is exciting. As a band, they’re really keen to reach new heights and make their best record ever. Lily Allen’s record is happening soon, there’s a Chromeo record, Bat For Lashes record, a Damon Albarn record. There’s rumours of a Gorillaz record, and will we ever get this Blur record? I caught up with David Guetta when he was here for Stereosonic. He’ll have a record in the middle of the year. He’s got a great list of collaborators and he’s definitely got the right attitude; he really set the bar and changed the game and has been such a leader. Tinie Tempah’s here in a few weeks for Future Music, 2 Door Cinema Club record will be a big one.

The Warner Bros side has a great roster.  There’s Foals, Greenday, a Chili Peppers record, there’s Kimbra’s follow-up record, a Jason Derulo record’s out and doing really well here. The Black Keys are recording, Michael Buble will be here April May. There’s an English rock duo Royal Blood who a lot of people are excited about, their record will be out this year. They appeared in the BBC Sound of 2014 poll; they’re touring with the Artic Monkeys in the U.K in February-March. We hope that Warner Bros is a really sexy label and artist destination. Part of what Warner would like and part of my role is that we fill out and use our best instincts as music execs to which label artists go to, whether it’s Parlophone or Warner Bros, or obviously Atlantic or the other Warner strands.

For Australian artists, this is an incredible time with so much possibility. Everyone is looking at what is going on in this part of the world and the calibre of artists coming through.

Harlow was heading-up V2 when you were in the U.K. with EMI. You’ve been in each other’s orbit for most of your 13 years at EMI.

Totally, he’s been one of the best people I’ve worked with in my career. And finally I get the chance to work with Mardi Caught (managing director, Atlantic Records). It’s a dream to work with two of the best in the business; it makes Warner a really exciting destination for artists. We’re putting together one of the best teams in the business that will work across both labels and we’ll also be supported by the local Warner company.

What have you done with yourself in the time since you left EMI?

I had a beautiful gap year. For anyone who’s done that before, it’s a strange and terrifying and exciting time. When I decided to leave and walk out the door, I needed more space to decompress. I’d given 13 years of my everything. I left, and the next morning I went to Hobart to the Museum of Old and New Art, and I wasn’t interested in taking any calls about new jobs or talking about what I was going to do next until I’d had some time and space. I went travelling. I visited about 15 countries. I got married. I learned how to meditate. I did a lot of exercise and did a bunch of gigs. It was life stuff. I enjoyed taking the dog for a walk, seeing my family. Swimming in the ocean, breathing the clean air and smelling the flowers. All that stuff which I think is hugely important to do in life if you get the chance.

And you want to go back to the music business after all that? You’re mad.

[Laughs] Well, it was interesting because I’d got a bunch of offers and some were outside of music. It helped me make an evaluation of what was important for me. I just went, “this music thing is in my blood. If I was given the chance to work in it again, I couldn’t say no.” Incredible roads led me to where we are today.

Was there a time in your gap year when you thought beach and yoga would be enough, and would chuck it in with music?

I just made a deal with myself, that I’d be open to anything. I was open to considering something else for sure. I’m here now saying, “who are you kidding?”  You’re so lucky if you get the chance to have a career in something you love and you’re passionate about.  It made me really think if I was going to come back I needed to be more passionate than I’d ever been. You can’t be in the music industry anymore unless you’re committed to working really hard. You’ve got to be crazy about it and passionate. I feel having that break has made me more hungry, more passionate, more excited. More ready than ever. We need to nurture Australian artists and provide a positive framework and positive examples of what a great record label can be to help artists and to develop and nurture them, and so that we bring in new blood and new talent into the music industry and record labels, hopefully one day we’ll be the next Michael Chugg, or Tony Harlow or Michael Gudinski. That’s the good stuff.


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