5 questions to answer after the departure of Denis Handlin


With the dramatic sacking of longtime Sony Music Entertainment CEO Denis Handlin yesterday, there was a feeling across the industry that we might be stepping into a different world – we’re no longer in Kansas. Despite the monumental moment, however, there are too many unanswered questions and issues that need to be resolved – whether it is the entertainment and media industry’s reliance on nondisclosure agreements that feeds the silence. insidious and the culture of fear that permeates the industry, or how Sony Music will reassure its staff that they must stay true to the organization.

Here the editor of TMN, Vivienne kelly, explores the top five issues we need to make noise about, and further asks why we face a wall of silence.

After a tumultuous tornado and the professional death of Sony Music’s longest-serving global employee who ruled and ruled the local music scene for decades, some industry stalwarts have said they are feeling lighter and that the world seemed safer, brighter and more optimistic yesterday. The munchkins were singing, if you will.

Others, however, fear that there are still large-scale “evil” forces, whether they be flying monkeys or corporate heavyweights complicit in the industry’s culture of fearful silence. broad sense that cannot be transformed or overcome with just one high level output. .

As we descend the Yellow Brick Road to find out what’s next and who is behind the curtain, there are still a number of important questions that need to be answered.

It is certainly not over yet.

  • Will there be more exits?

Rumor mill – and industry WhatsApp group chats – are already overworked over who else might be leaving Sony Music Australia following the local organization’s global workplace culture survey .

Speaking on The project last night reporter Nathaniel Cooper, who broke the story of Sony Music’s investigation into its local operations, echoed the sentiments of many of these conversations and whispered conversations, noting that there would be more than one or two men in the industry secretly wondering when their own comeuppance might come.

While this year feels like the #MeToo moment of the music industry, there are still plenty of untold stories, and plenty of executives and leaders with a lot to hide.

Already RTM understands that two executives close to Handlin are “on leave” as the Sony Music external workplace culture investigation – first reported by Cooper – continues.

  • Who will replace Handlin?

Handlin has worked at Sony Music, and in fact in his most senior position, for longer than many of his younger employees have been alive, so replacing him was always going to be a daunting task.

Add to that Handlin’s dramatic exit and the potential to inherit a toxic workplace riddled with allegations of harassment, bullying, discrimination, alcohol addiction and a culture of fear, d anxiety and burnout – and suddenly, that might not be the dream job Handlin painted it for. to be.

Handlin has been with the organization since 1970

Just because an executive is qualified to succeed Handlin doesn’t mean he will want to.

If Sony appoints someone to the local operation – anyone seen as Handlin’s right-hand man (or woman) – the outlook will be that the company’s boys’ club culture is here to stay.

If it goes global and involves an experienced executive who knows the work methods, policies, procedures and politics of the global business, it is more likely to appear ready for change.

Even with this approach, there are issues with skydiving in an international operator. In this case, it would be hard not to sound like a job of internal clean-up and cover-up, driven by Sony Music’s overall desire to clean up its image, rather than bringing in an Australian who knows the issues and has a local appetite to actually change them.

Which brings us to the third option: a local music industry insider with no massive ties to Handlin or Sony. They would be aware of whispers, rumors, problems, but could have a more balanced perspective on how to turn it around.

Some people RTM said Sony Music would face a huge optical problem if it nominated a man in the role, regardless of his credentials, but convincing a woman to take the job won’t be a walk in the park.

The last option is to take a similar path to ARIA, and look completely outside the island music industry.

ARIA appointed Annabelle Herd, former TV director and government advisor, as CEO, rather than an existing label director or industry insider.

ARIA herd have an outside take on how the music industry could be better

Herd has experience in policy and government relations, as well as over 15 years with Network 10, more than two of which have prepared her for the CEO role as COO.

She entered the music industry fully admitting that she doesn’t know who is who in the zoo, and has open and honest conversations about the needs of the industry, how she and ARIA can help, and what business and corporate expertise it can offer to an industry which traditionally only employs insiders and may now be able to do things a little differently.

Names currently circulating as potential successors include Tim Pithouse, a former Sony MusicEntertainment Australia executive who moved overseas to a position of Global Head of Artist and Label Services at The Orchard in 2018, and the former Warner Music Australia executive Beth Appleton, who left earlier this year.

  • Should I stay or should I go?

A number of Sony Music employees in Australia are now wondering if they are staying for what they hope will be systemic change, or if they are simply stepping out now to avoid further disruption and negative attention.

It is of course not that simple, with no guarantee that another company in the Australian music industry will be spared the same fate.

With such a level of anxiety and uncertainty, many young Sony Music staff seek reassurance from the global team or someone who knows – and is authorized to speak – about what is going on.

TMN posed a number of these questions to Sony Music’s global communications team, including what the organization would say to reassure local staff considering leaving the ship, what work for the organization might look like at the future and what advice they can offer on how the culture could be improved.

Sony Music declined to answer any of the questions.

  • How do you solve a problem like “toxic workplace culture?” “

Sony Music’s global head of human resources, Andrew Davis, previously said the organization “does not tolerate harassment, bullying or discrimination in any part of the business” and that it “takes[s] seriously and look[s] on all allegations submitted to us and I have reviewed recent complaints ”.

Beyond Handlin’s sacking yesterday, however, it’s hard to understand what that looks like and what’s going on behind the curtain. Global communications remain silent and locally there is little transparency as to what happens next.

As Cooper put it The project last night: “They’ve been stoically silent throughout this process about the investigation, about what’s going on within Sony Music, and now today why Denis Handlin was fired.”

After an investigation of several months, Cooper shed light on allegations senior executives inappropriately touching women, women who have been sexually harassed by their bosses, allegations of physical assault and discrimination – “the list goes on and on,” as he put it – but even he could not get answers from the guards.

And last night The Guardian reported even more allegations of misconduct, assault, alcohol-fueled culture, harassment and discrimination.

Once again, the Global Communications team has remained silent, making this another question sung by the Munchkins, Ironmen, Lions, Scarecrows, Totos and Dorothys of the industry. Everyone calls, no answer.

  • How to overcome the culture of silence and secrecy?

Silence comes at a price.

Last night’s group chats may have been buzzing and buzzing, with music industry employee phones running out of battery much earlier than a normal day.

Yet with every notification, ping, and vibration, there was freezing silence from those whose voices we needed to hear.

Musician Eilish Gilligan sent an equally hilarious and depressing tweet, highlighting the industry’s propensity to keep these conversations away from public forums.

She continued with the astute observation that “resorting to whispers and sub-tweets is the saddest thing ever because people are still really scared so do what you want with it.”

Indeed, even beyond people’s (very reasonable) fear of the repercussions of speaking out, lies the legal motivation behind some people’s silence.

Many people The Guardian who we spoke to, who have since left Sony Music, have signed Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs).

The entertainment and media industries’ dependence on NDAs fuels the insidious silence and culture of fear that permeates the industry.

No one would fault a former employee for signing one – it’s often the only thing they can do to get their money back and get out – but organizations’ reliance on them really needs to be questioned.

Should an organization that cultivates its ability to entertain, enlighten and enliven people through sound, experience and connection really depend on a document that is the antithesis of all of these values?

Silence comes at a price, and it’s time we all stopped paying for it.

Sony Music refused to break its silence over this story.


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