The Hot Seat: Nick O’Byrne

Published in The Music Network

TMN speaks to Nick O’Byrne, GM of AIR about the Independent Music Awards.

Nick, why does the indie music community need its own ceremony?

One of AIR’s main goals is to publicise and promote the music of the independent sector. The Jagermeister Independent Music Awards is the most effective means we have of attracting widespread coverage of indie artists, their music and the sector as a whole. We’re not trying to be a “little ARIAs” and we’re not trying to fill the same role as the AMP (Australian Music Prize). We’re creating a place where truly great music of all genres is put on a pedestal for the public to admire regardless of commercial success. There’s a stack of artists who combine serious talent, resourcefulness and hard work to achieve a hell of a lot without major label backing. A celebration like this makes our members, artists and labels feel good about the work they do. It should make them proud to be independent.

There’s a seemingly never-ending stream of conjecture about what an “independent” really is? How does AIR define an “independent”?
If the masters aren’t owned by Sony, Warner, EMI or Universal. If they’re 100% Australian-owned by artist or label then we classify it as independent for the sake of the awards.

The Awards took some criticism in the music press last year for honouring artists whose works were distributed by major labels. How does AIR respond to that criticism?
I understand the point-of-view and I respectfully disagree. We need to take into account the commercial realities of a changing industry. So many of our members are vehemently independent but they still enter third- party relationships with major labels for distribution. When you talk to labels like Soulmate (360, Pez), UNFD (The Amity Affliction, The Getaway Plan), Ivy League (Cloud Control, Sparkadia) or Golden Era (Hilltop Hoods, Funkoars), there’s no mistaking the fact that they run their own businesses, as they want, independently.

Is there a chance your Awards will ever journey north to Sydney?
Of course! There’s even a chance we’ll travel further north to Brisbane… or west to Perth! This is a national event and we’ll move the event to a city and location that we think serves it best.

The ARIA nominations are on the same day as your ceremony. Is ARIA stepping on the toes of AIR?
Yes. While I know it wasn’t intentional, I do think it was careless. We’re trying to solve the issue. ARIA have always made it clear they support AIR. But it’s a kick in the teeth for us and our sponsors. We’re worried that an ARIA nominations event will overshadow any press that we can get for the winners of our award.

Let’s consider the indie music community. Is it in a healthy state?
We did some studies last month at AIR based on market share of sales in Australia. We realised that our combined members were consistently achieving 25% – 35% market-share in Australia. That’s a massive chunk of our industry. We also estimate that more than 85% of the different titles commercially-released in Australia are indie. We’re seeing many of our members diversify their businesses into publishing, management and touring. We’re also seeing more artists and managers establishing their own labels in order to develop careers where in the past they might have signed their acts direct to a larger label. That said, there’s still a bunch of issues that indies are faced with.

What are those issues?
We’re worried about how many of our distribution channels are owned by our major label competitors. We’re worried about collection agencies worldwide adopting systems which inherently favour major labels. We’re worried about any situation where an imbalance in bargaining power affects indies’ ability to get fair remuneration for their music. These are things we work against on a daily basis. It’s the reason we’ve needed to acquire the ability to collectively bargain on behalf of our members.

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