The Hot Seat: Ashley Sellers

Published in The Music Network


British-born Ashley Sellers spotted a gap in the market for cutting-edge music. With a passion for dance and electronic music, Sellers set about filling that gap with Inertia. The Sydney-based music company launched in March 2000, sourcing international recordings that didn’t already have representation Down Under. Now employing 35 staff across various units, the company is enjoying a decade in the game. TMN caught up with the Inertia Founder and CEO.


Ashley, congratulations on the 10-year milestone. What’s been the winning formula?

We are fundamentally a music company. We’ve set our own benchmarks and we exist in a bandwidth we like to call our own. And we have maintained a fairly strict signing policy. While we’ve branched-out, we are a service company and have maintained that service ethic. We can pick and pack records or do a fully-fledged deal which possibly involves touring. What we like to be perceived as is a relevant 21st century music company. It’s always been organic. That goes from the first 20 cents I put into the bank to open the account, which I’m sure I still have a record of somewhere? I’m a fairly heart-on-sleeve kind of boss, the team here is very close knit and the culture is really strong.


How’s business been of late?

We’ve had more gold records this year, and we’ve got more to come. We’ve doubled our marketshare in the last 12 months. It’s a self-contained indie record company and its 100% Australian-owned. We still have our warehouse in the same premises. Our biggest client is the Beggars Group. They have an amazingly big catalogue and a number of labels that consistently put out an album a month. We probably (distribute) 40-50 core labels that are consistent with their output and we do a number of one-off deals. From the start, we’ve maintained a fairly strict signing policy. We’re very careful about what we take on. It’s essential our capacities are managed within the departments.


Are there other business opportunities might Inertia move into?

We’re the best part a distribution company, but we’re looking to develop in new areas. We have aspirations to get involved with publishing and we’ve talked to a number of people. Management is an opportunity in front of us. It seems like a nice, natural progression for the services we offer. The Civil Society live division we started five years ago has been a major business for us. It was a fairly organic and reactionary process to support our clients, but it’s done really well. We’re bringing in anywhere up to 30 tours a year, like the XX, Grizzly Bear, The National, Metric and Dandy Warhols. We did that again because of the flexible base that is Inertia. We also co-ordinate merchandise for partners and touring acts, and we distribute merch.


Is there a negative perception of Australian indie distributors following the collapse of Shock and Stomp?

No, it is very specific. It’s a shame what’s happened. I wouldn’t want that on my worst enemy. There are still at least two really strong indies in Australia and opportunities will come to those companies based on the shake-up. It’s a natural cycle of things. There’s going to be opportunities to grow in the next couple of years. Already in the last month we’ve picked-up Sub Pop (from Stomp) which is a label very dear to us.


Is life particularly tough for the indies at large?

As far as the changes in the climate, the indies are in a much better position to adapt and change. It’s the analogy of a great big oil tanker trying to move versus a speed boat. The indies are the speed boat, or they should be. If we’re acting like the oil tanker, then something is going wrong. The physical side of everyone’s business is not what it was 5 years ago. You’ve got to manage that. The market is the driving factor there. I can only see on the horizon mergers with the majors in the next few years.


Do you often receive offers to sell Inertia?

There’s been interest over the years. The most important thing that I’ve always wanted to maintain is our brand and not have that diluted or affected, and also maintain the staff and reputation that we have. I would start to lose sleep at night if those things didn’t remain intact.


So how will Inertia celebrate its 10th anniversary?

We have a logo for the 10th and we’re going to have a knees-up in late November to celebrate. We’ll have a few acts playing and enjoy a night we can lock in our minds. It’s been a good year, we’re really happy with what we’ve achieved.

The Hot Seat: Colin Roberts

Published in The Music Network


Cutting his teeth in music as a freelance journalist at the age of just 17, Roberts went on to edit the British music website Drowned In Sound. Later, the Brit shifted into artist management, first as a talent scout at London-based Big Life Management, home of La Roux, Klaxons, Richard Ashcroft and Dananananaykroyd.

Now, at just 25-years-of-age, Roberts has risen through the ranks to become a frontline artist manager at Big Life, working alongside the notorious artist manager Jazz Summers. He also heads up the company’s digital activities and runs the associated online PR and strategy firm, Work It Media.

Colin, if I had a dollar from every band who asked me how to get a manager, I’d be rich. What’s the answer?

Great songs. The beauty of the digitally-connected world we live in and the way music is distributed means within five seconds of me hearing about a great band, I can be listening to them. I can message that band. If you have great songs, people will find you quicker than ever. Everyone in music talks. The way to get a great manager is to be a great band. You will be found. It’s not as though you need to send a tape and hope.

Are you actively looking for bands?

Yes, always.

What tools do you use?

Word of mouth, probably more than anything else. It’s still the biggest way the industry finds out about anything. I get probably 20 emails a day from bands looking for managers. I can’t listen to every link, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to manage the bands I already do look after. If someone I respect tells me about a band, that’s the start of a process. I’ll immediately then go to MySpace or Facebook or wherever the band’s music is being hosted. Obviously, to get to that stage as a band, you have to be making great songs.

What do you make of the Australian market?

Australia is a really exciting country because you take rock a lot more seriously than Britain. I like rock and I love working with rock.

There’s no school for artist managers, but is there solid mentoring support?

There’s a lot of support among the younger artist managers; we’re all in it, trying to become successful. It’s about learning on the job, seeing the trials and tribulations of looking after certain artists and the stress that can brings. There’s no rocket science to it. You have just to do the right thing by the artist, and everyone wins. The job of an artist manager is changing.

You’re now involved in setting up labels and publishing companies.

We’ve been at the forefront of doing that.When Futureheads left 679 Recordings, we put the money in and did it ourselves. We released that record out of Big Life, it was promoted by the pluggers we paid, everything was centralised. Our job is evolving, but it’s still very much about making sure the artist’s best wishes are represented. That will never change. What’s best for the artist isn’t necessarily now about doing a massive record deal. Maybe, it’s pooling everything with one core group of people who care about your band more than anyone else ever will, and who are prepared to invest a little bit of money, and put out a record. Putting out a record has never been easier. Selling them is harder.

Would you suggest your artists pursue a 360-degree deal?

It makes sense in certain circumstances. When you’re a Robbie Williams or Korn, who have done gigantic advance deals that take money from live and merch and other areas, fair enough. If the music company is going to take 20% and actively help your live show, then great. But they’re got to put something in. I can’t see the sense of giving up those profits from live or merch if you could have done it equally well by your existing methods.

Will the four major labels still be doing their thing in five years from now?

Yes, but in a different way. They’re changing and they’ve got to change. I’m not one of these people who has a big problem with the majors. They have a purpose to serve and with the right artists — the big pop acts — there’s noone better to work with than a major label. They invest in the right places, they know how to do it and they sell more records than anyone else. That’s partly because they have more money than everyone else, but they do have a plus. Whether there will be four, three or two majors, I don’t know. But they will still exist.


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Click here for Lars Brandle’s “Bigsound” interview with Colin Roberts.

The Hot Seat: Michael Chugg

Published in The Music Network


With the release of Michael Chugg’s memoirs Hey, You In The Black T-Shirt (read an excerpt here) last week, we speak to the iconic promoter about finally writing the book, and whether he’s expecting any repercussions, legal or otherwise.

Michael, your book delves into drink, drugs. Did you need to get something off your chest?
No, but I suppose that’s come in to it. I wanted to make sure it wasn’t just another piece of bullshit, a fluff piece like so many things are these days. I was pretty honest about it all. People have been hassling me for ten years to do it. We haven’t dumped anybody in it as such. I just wanted to get it out. It’s that classic story, if you want to do something you believe in enough, you can do it. I wanted to get that across to people.

Does this mean you’re bowing out of the promoter game?
No. Shit no. No way.

So what made you finally agree to do the book?
(ARIA Awards event producer) Mark Pope drove me crazy. In the end, I gave-in four years ago. We did about 40 hours of recording in Byron Bay. Then Mark said, “I can’t make it laugh on paper”. Amanda Pelman and I had been looking around for authors and (publicist) Gaynor Crawford suggested Iain. Two years ago this November, Iain came up to Phuket for a week and we began. He had a big start with Mark’s work, and away we went.

Shedden himself has spent time as a member of The Saints. What did he add to the process?
Certainly a fair bit of knowledge, and great researching into the vagaries of a lot of it. He was able to capture my voice. A lot of people who have read it have commented that it’s just like listening to me talk. I couldn’t have done it without Iain, that’s for sure.

What did you learn about yourself from writing this book?
I’ve had to face how I was when I was young, and all my insecurities. It’s made me feel better about myself.

What were you nervous about publishing?
I felt nervous about the whole thing. Twelve weeks ago I was having second thoughts about letting it come out. That didn’t last long. I’ve been as honest as I can.

What was cut out?
We had about 30 pages of comments from the attorneys. We changed a few things around, dropped a few parts and there are a couple of chapters that could have gone in but didn’t.

Are you expecting anyone to sue?
No, I’m not. (Mushroom Group Chairman) Michael Gudinski was obviously worried about it. We let him read the first grabs of it, and he’s been telling people it’s a great read. There will be a few pissed-off people, but I’ve told the truth. You can’t really get into trouble for telling the truth.

Gudinski says he’ll never write a book because he wouldn’t be able to tell the true stories.
Yeah, maybe. But he’s doing a documentary. He tried to get it out before my book, but I beat him to it.

Did you ask for an early edit on that doco?
No, I couldn’t give a fuck. That’s never bothered me.

What’s your favourite story from the book?
There are so many. The Crowded House story – Farewell To The World. There are a few things in there that nobody really knew about, like the six days in the county jail. But there’s nothing in there I’m ashamed of. People have read it and said to me it’s given them the courage to attempt things they’ve been considering. If it gives them courage and makes people feel good about the music business, then I think I’ve done my job.

Finally, what’s you take on the health of the live scene?
Since they’ve called that election, things have started to look grim. The big artists are slowing down and there’s too many acts coming in December. It could be a tough summer.


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