Inside the Sony Music Conference: ‘We have to continuously strive to remain the best in market’

Delegates from many international markets meet under the banner: “Directing change, not changing direction”.

Australia’s and the Asia-Pacific’s leading music company set a cracking pace as it learnt from the best in the business and celebrated its artists at its annual conference. Terrigal on the NSW Central Coast has long been a favourite destination for Sony Music – taking the teams just far enough away from the Sydney music bubble. The main conference hall was packed at 9am with a solid 10 hours of sessions and artist performances each day before the action moved to the bar where delegates from Australia, the Asia Pacific region, the UK and USA and special guests enjoyed artist showcases.

Mediaweek got an insiders look at the 2018 conference, which Denis Handlin, AO, Chairman & Chief Executive Officer of Sony Music Entertainment Australia and New Zealand and President of Asia, had branded “Directing change, not changing direction”.

Handlin opened the 2018 conference with a stirring call to action for the company to continue its market-leading performance as he noted it needed to be focused on the music at all times. “A&R and creative ideas are at the core of our business.”

Ruel closed day two of the conference performing new music from his forthcoming EP
L-R: Tim Pithouse (General Manager, Marketing & Artist Development, Sony Music Australia); Nate Flagrant (Director, FAM); Denis Handlin (Chairman & CEO Sony Music Australia & New Zealand and President, Asia); Jason Iley (Chairman & CEO of Sony Music UK & Ireland)

He also introduced a different format for the conference, telling his teams from around the region: “We have set the bar high for this conference by taking a fresh approach to presentations, panels, special guests and Q&A sessions. Get ready to expect the unexpected!”

Handlin explained that the music industry is in an extremely exciting time with very solid global growth and that the Australian music market was up 10% last year while the Asia Pacific region as a whole is forecast to grow by approximately14% this year.

He said the climate is right to build on Sony Music’s strong performance and, commenting on their successful business diversification, added: “This year, we must go harder and set our sights on even bigger brand deals. We have always focused on the marlin and not the goldfish, but this year, I want every country to bring in huge whale sharks!”

Handlin emphasised the importance of having the right people in the business, talked about some recent recruitments (some of which are not public yet) and then announced 22 internal promotions across the region reflecting the strength of the Sony Music team.

As part of his closing remarks Handlin said: “I believe 2018 is going to be an even better year for this company. We have to continuously strive to remain the best in market. Don’t forget that we’re never in it for the silver or bronze medal – it’s always about the gold.”

The first of two days of insightful sessions was a songwriting master class.

Alan Walker is presented with an award in recognition of 7 billion streams in the Asia Pacific region after showcasing an incredible set at Florida Beach Bar, Terrigal
L-R: Ariel Fung (Managing Director, Sony Music Hong Kong, South Korea & Vietnam and EVP Commercial & Marketing, Asia); Denis Handlin (Chairman & CEO Sony Music Australia & New Zealand and President, Asia); Alan Walker; Andy Ng (Group Vice President, Tencent Music Entertainment); Gunnar Greve (Managing Director, Liquid State)

Sony Music revealed that it had just finished negotiations to sign singer/songwriter Conrad Sewell. Handlin joked the artist had come close to asking for an AVO as he persevered to secure his signature on a contract.

After performing three songs including his forthcoming brilliant single, Sewell took part in a songwriting discussion session with Jamie Hartman. The UK-born and now LA-based leading songwriter co-wrote Rag’N’Bone Man’s international hit “Human”.

Sewell and Hartman spoke about working together in Los Angeles and what it takes for the magic to happen. A suggestion from the audience saw them live workshopping a song about change. It started to sound pretty good, very quickly. “I hope someone is recording this,” joked Hartman.

He also spoke about spending time with John Farnham in Melbourne recently. Even though he is not co-writing with Farnham, Hartman said it was important to spend time with him to get to know more about the artist to shape the songs he will write for him.

Unified Music presented an update on what was happening within the Melbourne-based global music group. Founder and CEO Jaddan Comerford was in the US with artist Vance Joy and sent a detailed video presentation. Sony Music’s Amy Shark, managed by Unified, performed on the opening night of the conference including her new single “I Said Hi”.

President of music label Eleven and former Sony Music executive John Watson gave a presentation drawing on his years in the business that featured his top 10 tips for success in the sector.

Isaiah is presented with an award in recognition of platinum ARIA accreditation and 165 million streams globally for ‘It’s Gotta Be You’
L-R: Isaiah Firebrace; Denis Handlin (Chairman & CEO Sony Music Australia & New Zealand and President, Asia); Jessica Mitchell (Senior Manager, Marketing, Sony Music Australia)

Watson remembered it was at this Central Coast Sony Music conference where he spent his first day at the company and that one of his first projects was to promote the MiniDisc format in Australia.

Watson recalled his days managing Silverchair and how they tried to buy all the photos of the band to stop them being promoted as a poster band.

Watson asked his audience: “Are we adding value to the relationship between artists and the fans? Or do we want to just take a clip of the ticket on the way through and hope nobody notices?”

Watson’s Top 10 tips included be creative, push the boundaries, listen, tune in to what is being said, be insightful, relentless and collaborative, develop authentic relationships, and think globally.

Another key conference session featured some of the stars managed by Parade Sports Management, one of the newer divisions with the Sony Music Australia business.

The division doesn’t just manage sports stars, it also looks after Fairfax Media’s Andrew Webster. The chief sportswriter for The Sydney Morning Herald hosted the sports session with guests Mal Meninga, Alex McKinnon and Mitchell Pearce.

Former Queensland Origin coach and current Kangaroos coach Meninga spoke about leadership, team building and making the transition from playing to coaching. He told Webster he faced a big challenge taking on the Queensland team in 2006. His team lost the first of the three-game series that year, but then turned things around to win the series and then win the next seven series too.

Delta Goodrem is presented with an award in recognition of 200 million streams after performing tracks from her forthcoming album ‘I Honestly Love You’
L-R: Ken Outch (Director, Artist Management, Sony Music Australia) & Delta Goodrem

The conference featured many artist showcases, including Delta Goodrem’s performance Tuesday afternoon with two songs from the forthcoming soundtrack to the Olivia Newton-John: Hopelessly Devoted To You miniseries being released this week: “I Honestly Love You” and the title track, which was featured in Grease, “Hopelessly Devoted To You”.

Goodrem sounds better than ever after seven seasons working as a coach on The Voice, where her artists have won the two most-recent seasons. She remembered at conference how she first signed to Sony Music in 2000 when she was just 15.

She also talked about signing on to the Seven miniseries produced by FremantleMedia Australia. Speaking with Sony Music exec Ken Outch, Goodrem originally said no to the series as Olivia expressed doubts early on, later changing her mind. A video of Delta and Olivia recording “The Gift” together in Los Angeles, which also appears on the album, was also screened.

Three presentations from the international teams on new music and strategy started with Jen Mallory (EVP, International Sony Music Entertainment), Afo Verde (Chairman & CEO, Latin Iberia, Sony Music Entertainment) and Jason Iley (Chairman & CEO, Sony Music UK & Ireland) showcasing an exciting menu of new releases including, from the UK, George Ezra and Tom Walker and, from the US, LSD (the supergroup of Diplo, Sia & Labrinth), Christina Aguilera, Travis Scott, A$AP Rocky and the Deadpool 2 soundtrack.

Verde delivered a fascinating look at the Latin America market which boasts a population of 700m+ with territories including Spain, Mexico and countries across South America.

One of the hottest tracks this year has been “Hey DJ” from CNCO, a group put together by Simon Cowell. There is also a “Spanglish” version of “Hey DJ” released internationally. Also tearing up the charts and breaking streaming records has been the collaboration between Shakira and Maluma.

Guy Sebastian is presented with an award in recognition of 250 million streams after his performance on the second night of the conference
L-R: Talina Cruz (Senior Manager, Digital Marketing & Visual Content, Sony Music Australia); & Guy Sebastian

Brad Navin, CEO of The Orchard, hosted a session profiling the growing business and its unique offerings to labels and artists that have been part of Sony Music for three years.

The Unified presentation was delivered by Luke Logemann (Chief Creative Officer) and was followed by a performance from their new artist Didirri.

The very busy Gunnar Greve took attendees through the Liquid State JV that partners Sony Music and Tencent launched earlier this year. Only 12 weeks old, the label has some seriously good releases to come, including with Alan Walker, K391, Corsak, Enzo Ingrosso and Junkilla. Walker has been a huge hit in China where he dominates the electronic music scene. He was a surprise guest at the closing showcase on Thursday night, having flown to Australia for his first time here for the gig. At the end of his set Handlin presented Walker with a plaque recognising an incredible 7 billion streams in Asia Pacific.

Andy Ng (Group VP Tencent Music Entertainment) was also a guest at the conference, talking about the new Liquid label and extensive business reach and innovations from internet giant Tencent.

Sony Music has always had excellent relationships with media companies and partners with channels and programs in the supply of artists to perform music for programs and promotion. One thing that Denis Handlin and his team have been wanting is a successful late night show that could feature live performances. Handlin announced a new collaboration with a program partner for an evening night show featuring music performances with the details to be revealed shortly.

One of the most anticipated sessions on day one was from Endemol Shine Australia CEO, Mark Fennessy, who updated conference guests on the latest in the TV sector and offered a glimpse on some forthcoming company productions.

Samantha Jade is presented with an award in recognition of career sales exceeding 1 million units following her performance of tracks from her new album, ‘Best Of My Love’
L-R: Jessica Mitchell (Senior Manager, Marketing, Sony Music Australia) & Samantha Jade

“It’s all about the content,” said Fennessy, who commented on the continued disruption of the FTA model, the impact of technology and the growth of new and emerging platforms, the importance of brands, the golden age of drama and the growth of the booming non-scripted genre.

He teased the audience with a few details about a couple of new projects including the forthcoming singing show All Together Now, which is heading to Seven with Julia Zemiro hosting, as well as previewing some exciting new scripted projects including a gritty teen drama jointly developed with Sony Music.

Dami Im performed a short two-song showcase late on day one, which featured her wonderful work on the piano. She covered “Feeling Good” and “Autumn Leaves”, two tracks from her recently released “I Hear A Song” album.

Day two conference sessions included guest speakers and presentations from streaming music giants Apple Music and Spotify.

A&R executives from Australia, Asia and New Zealand presented a host of new music releases and Leigh Gruppetta and Stu Harvey presented the Cooking Vinyl label.

The last night of the conference saw a special staff awards dinner at the Reef Restaurant, recognising 10, 20 and 25-year service awards as well as Handlin’s annual Chairman’s Special Recognition Award which was presented to Ken Outch.

Other performances across the three evenings of music included Amy Shark, Daryl Braithwaite (who shared the closing bill with Alan Walker), Ruel, Joy, Maddy Jane, Robinson, Teeks, Graace, Morgan Bain, Guy Sebastian and Samantha Jade.

Top photo: Amy Shark is presented with an award in recognition of 3 x platinum ARIA accreditation & 60 million streams globally for ‘Adore’, after opening the conference with a performance at Crowne Plaza

L-R: Paul Harris (Senior Director, A&R Sony Music Australia); Denis Handlin (Chairman & CEO Sony Music Australia & New Zealand and President, Asia); Amy Shark; Tammy Hofbauer (Senior Manager, National Communications, Sony Music Australia); Nick Yates (General Manager, UNIFIED Artist Management)

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